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Cycling News and Opinions
Unbalanced and Unfair
September, 2009

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

September 29: The UCI's License Commission granted a 4-year license to the Italian Lampre team and a 1-year license to Milram (also Italian). It rejected the applications of the French Bbox Bouygues Telecom and Cofidis squads, which were ranked 19th and 20th in the UCI team rankings, below a few non Pro Tour Professional Continental teams. Both Bouygues Telecom and Cofidis have already been assured of Tour de France entries in 2010.

Bouygues Telecom is home to top-level French riders Pierrick Fedrigo and Thomas Voeckler. Fedrigo has already said he wants out and has no interest in riding for what will now be a Professional Continental team. Without the Pro Tour license, Bouygues Telecom will not get automatic entry into the world's top races and must depend upon wild-card invitations. His team has made it clear that Fedrigo's leaving the squad is not up for discussion.

In a matter near and dear to Alberto Contador's heart, the UCI continues to examine Astana's condition and whether it should be allowed to keep its Pro Tour status into 2010. If the UCI pulls the plug then Contador might have a legal basis for bolting the team and signing with an outfit he considers a better fit. The UCI is also still looking at Lance Armstrong's Radio Shack team application for a Pro Tour license. The UCI said, "It will announce its decision at a later date."

Both the Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race obtained 4-year Pro-Tour licenses (2010 -2013).

September 24: Thank You! Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you! At its meeting during the world championships at Mendrisio, Switzerland, the UCI's road commission made the sterling recommendation of outlawing 2-way radios during bike races.

Do it, UCI. Kill the radios.

The radios remove one of the most exciting aspects of bike racing, the fog of war. With the banning of the radios the tension that uncertainty brings can return to cycling. During a stage of the Tour of California the radios didn't work and the peloton didn't know how far off the front a break was. No one in a follow car was pulling the puppet strings and the riders finally figured that they had to chase and catch whoever was up the road, wherever they were. They had grown lazy and weren't monitering the action at the front.

The sprinters' teams will have much more trouble exactly timing the catch of breakaways. A little chaos will return. The pack will have to go back to racing bicycles.

Some riders and nearly all the managers hate the idea. A no-radio day was attempted during the 2009 Tour and the pack had a hizzy-fit and refused to really race.

The managers have thrown up chaff, trying to block the ban imposition, saying that the radios are needed to warn the riders of safety problems coming up in the road. What a lot of hooey. They don't want to lose control of their teams. U23 riders aren't allowed to use radios and I've heard nothing to the effect that if they just had radios fewer U23 riders would be crashing in road races. And, it is important to remember that professional bike racing is a business. The managers and teams have their own priorities, often very short-term, which do not necessarily coincide with making bike racing the best possible sport. The riders and teams did everything in their power to prevent the imposition of effective dope-testing in the 1970s and 1980s.

So far it's just a recommendation, but it is a terrific step to take is restoring excitement to bike racing.

September 22: It's bicycle trade show season. I'm off to Interbike to work in the Torelli booth but I'll also be cruising the show floor and will post reports when I get back next week. In the meantime, the world road cycling championships start Wednesday, the 23rd. With the exception of the elite men's road race on Sunday, the results will be posted late in the day rather than in the morning. The Worlds results will be on this page. I've also posted course maps and elevation guides.

Alberto continues to hope for a way out of his Astana contract. If the UCI decides thinks are still hinky with the team and therefore denies Astana a 2010 Pro Tour license, Contador might be able to get out of his contract. But since the UCI is going to do a full-body-cavity search of the Kazakh team, the UCI's decision is weeks away. Agence France Presse says Quick Step is so desirous of signing the gifted Spanish rider that they haven't filled their 2010 rider roster in case Contador does ride for them and wants certain rides to come along. If that happens Quick Step boss Lefevre will finally have his Tour de France GC rider. Bet recruiting Contador will cost close to the entire gross national product of Belgium.

September 18: Alberto Contador held a press conference at the Vuelta's 19th stage today. He didn't really have any news. His contract with Astana doesn't have buy-out clause so if Astana wants to keep him, he is more or less stuck. He wants out and said he had been in negotiations with Garmin-Slipstream, Caisse d'Epargne and Quick Step. It is not yet certain that Astana will continue being a Pro-Tour team, but a decision from the UCI is not going to happen for a while. What a mess.

British papers reported that the new SKY team had bought out Bradley Wiggins' (4th, 2009 TDF) contract with Garmin-Slipstream. The Garmin team says flat out that Wiggins is riding for Garmin-Slipstream next year. I can't see team manager Jonathan Vaughters letting one of the hottest Grand Tour riders mosey away from the team without a superior replacement. About the only rider I would trade for would be the currently unavailable Contador. Maybe these changes might still happen.

Speaking of SKY, the UCI, I guess impressed with the team's freespending ways, gave them a 4-year Pro Tour license. Ag2r got its Pro Tour license renewed and made good until 2012. No news yet on Armstrong's Radio Shack team's application for a Pro Tour license.

Oh, and some more Iberian riders tested positive for EPO. I guess it counts as news because they were caught and some Spanish judge hasn't bottled the case up. Three riders on the Liberty Seguros team seem to have had some difficulty with the mass spectrometer. The insurance company pulled it sponsorship. This is the second time Liberty Seguros has been stung this way in the last decade.

September 14: A little disheartening news. Italian rider Maurizio Biondo (Flaminia) tested positive for EPO. Biondo, who was second in this year's Tour of Denmark, hasn't asked to have the "B" sample tested yet. The UCI has suspended Biondo pending a decision by the Italian federation.

Three members of the Ukrainian team, a soigneur and some other guy assisting the team attending the Tour de l'Avenir were arrested for having doping stuff. The team has withdrawn from the race which is run on national team lines specifically for young riders. It's supposed to be the "race of the future".

Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.

September 10: The new British team, SKY, is starting to drop a few veils. We are finally getting a look a what is turning out to be a substatial lineup. It will be interesting to see who gets one of the few available Pro Tour licenses. SKY is certainly making a serious bid.

Moving from Columbia are Edvald Boasson Hagen (Gent-Wevelgem and Eneco Tour winner), Thomas Lovkvist and Greg Henderson (Vuelta stage winner) and Morris Possoni.

Cevelo rider Simon Gerrans, who just won a Vuelta stage as well as a Giro stage in May and the big-deal GP Plouay 1-day race is joining SKY as are Juan Antonio Flecha (from Rabobank and a very good 1-day racer), Kjell Carlstrom (from Liquigas), John Lee Agustyn (ex- Barloworld), Kurt Asle-Arvesen (Giro and Tour stage winner, from Saxo), Lars Petter Norhaug (from Joker, and a Tour of Ireland stage winner).

Russel Downing, winner of the Tour of Ireland leaves Candi-TV for SKY.

Also, with Barloworld pulling the plug, there is some good talent there and SKY snagged Steve Cummings, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

The team is planning to be 25-men strong, so there are more signings to come.

Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), who turned up postive for EPO in June had his "B" sample come back, confirming the presence of EPO in his system. Astarloza steadfastly maintains his innocence. His director sportif stands by him, saying that dope testing is unreliable. He must be right must be right since, as disgraced racer Berhnard Kohl noted, the testing has trouble catching the cheaters. I think the unreliability leans way towards avoiding false postives and letting the cheaters keep racing. If the Spanish want us to think they give a tinker's dam about doping they'll start playing fair and stop this disgraceful covering up for all their doping athletes.

September 2: Is the new generation of electronic shifting good for racing? Larry Theobald of CycleItalia argues for a pure sport.

Electronic shifting-an unfair advantage?

With the availability to any consumer who can pony up the amazing price, Shimano's new electronic Dura Ace component group could change bicycle racing forever, but not in a good way.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is responsible for regulating bicycle racing worldwide. They make and (sometimes) enforce rules regarding minimum weights, types of wheels and handlebars allowed as well as other equipment on the bicycle and on (and in) the rider. The UCI regulations specifically "assert the primacy of man over machine."

Since bike racing began a century ago, a battle has raged between cycling's rule makers, who are out to create a competition among ATHLETES using bicycles, while the bike industry tries to create a contest among BICYCLES powered by athletes. We've all seen ads touting "Brand X Wins the Tour!" when in reality Joe Crankarm (the athlete) won the Tour using a Brand X bicycle. The ATHLETE wins the race, not the bicycle. In the past this conflict resulted in the Tour de France actually banning industry-sponsored teams entirely, instead supplying national teams with identical equipment in order to eliminate the bike business' influence in the sport. The battle rages on even today with the recent formation of a sort of lobbying group of manufacturers of bicycles and components—with the stated intention of influencing the UCI rules to favor their commercial interests.

If the sport is to continue to be a contest of athletes using bicycles rather than vice-versa, electronic shifting should be seen as giving an athlete using this equipment an unfair advantage. Moreover, it opens up the possibility of battery-assist doing much more than simply moving the chain from sprocket to sprocket without the rider making any physical effort beyond the simple push of a button.

Shimano has wisely (so far) made no claim about athlete energy saved with their electronic system. Previous electronic systems (like Mavic's ZAP) used the movement of the derailleur pulleys to actually move the chain instead of a servo-motor, so while the athlete was spared the effort of actually moving the chain with a lever, his efforts in turning the cranks provided the energy to make the shift while the tiny battery and switches served only to index the system and carry out shift commands.

The Shimano system is very different in using battery-powered servo motors to actually move the chain. The athlete simply pushes a button. The difference in actual effort versus a cable-operated mechanical system (especially with today's smooth acting cables and the tiny distances modern ten and eleven cog systems actually move the chain) may be small, but the significance of the change—the athlete's physical effort being replaced by the work of battery-powered motors— could eventually loom large if the use of these systems is allowed to continue.

How? If battery power is allowed to perform physical effort previously performed by the athlete, where does the UCI draw the line? What other tasks normally performed through the athlete's physical effort could be performed by battery-powered motors? Could a battery be connected to the bicycle's drivetrain? Allowing any type of energy storage system (other than the athlete's own bodily energy stores and food/drink taken on during the event) to replace any physical effort by the rider is a dangerous precedent.

Is it science fiction to imagine a battery running a small motor installed in the bicycle's bottom bracket or rear hub? A motor capable of providing a few extra watts of power to allow an athlete the extra edge to beat Mark Cavendish to the line or to gain those GPM points? With the difference between winning and losing so small, a system like this could be an advantage, an unfair advantage. This may be improbable today, but unless battery-powered motors of any kind are banned from competitive cycling events, there could come a day when this is a reality.

Even if the athlete was required to power a charging setup to replenish the battery power, the concept of having any type of power source capable of replacing any athletic effort, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant should not be permitted by the rules.

The UCI should step in and ban this now, BEFORE battery-power gets taken too far.

September 2: Updated rider transfer news and guesses:

Lance Armstrong (Astana) to Radio Shack
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) to BMC
Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld0 to Liquigas
Janez Brajkovic (Astana) to Radio Shack
Graeme Brown (Rabobank) stays with Rabobank
Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) to Caisse d'Epargne
Marcus Burghardt (Columbia) to BMC
Anthony Charteau (Caisse d'Epargne) to Bouygues Telecom
Alberto Contador (Astana) to might just stay at Astana
Tiziano Dall'Antonia (CSF) to Liquigas
Laurent Didier (Designa Kokken) to Saxo
Julien El Fares (Cofidis) stays with Cofidis
Brice and Romain Feillu (Agrutbel) to Vacansoleil
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) to SKY (?)
Simon Gerrans (Cervelo) to SKY
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia) to SKY (?)
Mathew Hayman (Rabobank) to SKY
Greg Henderson (Columbia) to SKY (?)
George Hincapie (Columbia) to BMC
Chris Horner (Astana) to Radio Shack (?)
Robert Hunter (Barloworld) to Garmin-Slipstream
Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) stays with Cervelo
Kevin Ista (Agritubel) to Cofidis
Frederik Kassiakoff (Fuji-Servetto) to Garmin-Slipstream
Kim Kirchen (Columbia) to Katusha
Servais Knaven (Milram) stays with Milram
Michael Kreder (Rabobank Continental) to Garmin-Slipstream
Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) stays with Liquigas
Karsten Kroon (Saxo) to BMC
Levi Leipheimer (Astana) to Radio Shack
Thomas Lovkvist (Columbia) to SKY (?)
Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream) stays with Garmin
Tony Martin (Columbia) stays with Columbia
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) stays with Cofidis
Steve Morabito (Astana) to BMC
Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) to Caisse d'Epargne
Danilo Napolitano (Katusha) stays with Katusha
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) stays with Liquigas
Grischa Niermann (Rabobank) stays with Rabobank
Sergio Paulinho (Astana) to Radio Shack
Alessandro Petacchi (LPR) to Lampre
Yaroslav Popovych (Astana) to Radio Shack (?)
Morris Possoni (Columbia) to SKY (?)
Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) to Katusha
Sebastien Rosseler (Quick step) to Radio Shack
Emanuele Sella (1-year doping suspension) to Carmiooro
Michael Shar (Astana) to BMC
Nicki Sorensen (Saxo) stays with Saxo
Constantsin Siutsou (Columbia) to Caisse d'Epargne
Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) to Caisse d'Epargne
Gert Steemans (Katusha) to Radio Shack
Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko) to Garmin-Slipstream
Chris Sutton (Garmin-Slipstream) to SKY
Rein Taarramae (Cofidis) stays with Cofidis
Johan Van Summeren (Silence-Lotto) to Garmin-Slipstream
Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r) stays with Ag2r
Alexandre Vinokourov (2 years in the wilderness) to Astana
Jens Voigt (Saxo0 stays with Saxo
Tom Zirbel (Bissell) to Garmin-Slipstream

September 1: It looks like Alberto Contador may be resigned to remaining at Astana for the balance of his contract, which goes through 2010. La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote that he may very well ride the 2010 season for the Kazakh squad.

Now that the riders are free to reveal their 2010 contracts, I'll update the rider transfer list tonight. Alessandro Petacchi is going to Lampre, Kim Kirchen is moving to Katusha. George Hincapie is leaving Columbia and will ride for BMC.

Robbie McEwen, who was badly injured in the Tour of Belgium in May, has ended his season. His doctors told him he is not ready to race. In 2010 he is planning to ride the Tour Down Under, Milan—San Remo, the Giro and the Australian championships.