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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Heras and Dopage, Cont'd

Just back from yet another work trip... and I thought a couple items from the thoughtful chatter on the Heras post were worthy of pulling out for another post.

* Lifetime bans: I don't agree with Sarah that we need lifetime bans. The guys getting two years are also getting a big-time stigma. Presumably even Virenque, the only one to come back from a ban and, um, succeed, presumably he had WADA trailing his every move. These aren't lifetime federal judicial appointments, we don't need to hold riders to higher standards than we hold the rest of society. We just need them to serve a significant amount of time to pay their debt, then let them ride again, albeit on a very short leash (re: constant testing).

* Some good arguments were made about the reliability of the testing, to the end that it's hard to think of guys like Heras and Hamilton maybe being innocent. I can accept that; even though Cycling is in uncharted territory, they appear to be exercising due diligence, at least when they nab someone. This raises the question: of you know you're going to be triple-tested, why would you still try to dope? Especially if you've got a GC leader's jersey on your shoulders, where you can be certain of extra scrutiny. Is the prosecution still very selective (even if, when they select someone, they go all out)? Are there still easy ways to avoid detection? Certainly riding a huge TT on a long, flat course, with your little 135-pound frame is NOT an easy way to avoid detection. And it appears, EPO isn't either. It's hard to determine what the state of the cat-and-mouse is from the outside. I guess the only way we can know anything is by listening to riders who have retired recently and can speak their minds. And I don't mean Lance, he's not a representative sample.

Surly Drew's Old TIme Barbecue: Welcome to Surly Drew's!

Why is Drew so Surly?

Hey Chris, Isn't Drew going to be fun to hang around with when he's 70?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hedunnit!

So what to make of the Heras scandal? This is the worst one in a while -- the last time a grand tour would-be winner got busted was Pantani at the 1999 Giro, the one that sent him spiraling into madness. Will Heras maintain his innocence like Pantani did? More to the point is Heras innocent?

Even more to the point, why would Heras dope, assuming he did? He was already a three-time Vuelta winner, which for a Spaniard should be about enough. And he had his fourth win well in hand. While we're at it... what does this indicate about his past, including his time with Postal? EPO is a little easier to figure out, a little less of a mystery as to its effects and its detection, compared to Hamilton's chimerism, which I am still not sure how to pronounce. So, assuming Heras is guilty, is this the first time? Was the last time trial the first time?

Personally, the whole thing didn't shock me at all. So many guilty cases, so many big names involved... why not? And it's worth mentioning, the system doesn't acquit many people -- maybe cuz none of them are innocent, but another explanation is that Cycling is on a witch hunt, going to great or even extreme lengths to correct a problem.

Sorry for all the rhetorical questions. These doping cases are starkly lacking in cold hard facts. I mean, nobody can say for sure that Heras didn't rock a long, flat time trial, right??

Saturday, November 26, 2005

RIP Jim Price

http://www.kusa.com/acm_news.aspx?OSGNAME=KUSA&IKOBJECTID=c9eb73a8-0abe-421a-01dc-ad1d2b8bef62&TEMPLATEID=0c76dce6-ac1f-02d8-0047-c589c01ca7bf


A Denver area cyclist Jim Price was struck by a 17 year old motorist, that was text messaging while driving. Mr. Price, 63, died from his injuries. I had the pleasure of discussing cycling topics with Mr. Price on Cyclingforums.com where he went by the name "Boudreax". His no BS viewpoint was always delivered with his own special brand of humor. I found him to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful in a fun albeit cantankerous kind of way. This tragedy is certainly a wake up call for all of us that trust that the cars behind us are mindful of our presence. Good bye Boudreaux my friend.

Pete

Monday, November 21, 2005

Staying Tuned

Later today the lab in Spain holding Roberto Heras's B-sample from the Vuelta is expected to make its determination. Not the same as saying they will announce the determination, but with a panting European media standing by, there is a strong possibility we will learn something today. So go to Cyclingnews.com and set your browser to refresh every 30 seconds.

Or check back here after lunch.

UPDATE!! VeloNews reports that results aren't expected until Wednesday. So stop refreshing your browsers and get back to work.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Quantity or Quality?

No, this is not a column about blogging virtues. It's merely an effort to settle the ancient question: classics or Grand Tours?

I must admit I was a little confounded in the top-5-all-time debate that unfolded in Petey's Fignon post. I haven't had much time lately to focus on the necessary considerations (namely, reading the cycling history books I've been stockpiling every time I go to Powell's in Portland), and frankly think it's a difficult question to answer under the best of circumstances. Thanks to Vinovelo, who pointed us in the direction of the Cycling Hall of Fame for it's take. [Aside: Check out VinoVelo's site, where the author's roots are a mystery until three words into his post where the word "gobshite" provides a clue.] [[Double aside: I had three Dubliner roommates once. Was everyone there under the age of 45 an extra in the Commitments?]

Still, I thought I'd try to simplify the question by asking first: Classics or Grand Tours?

I was always a GT guy -- it's the starting point for every American, thanks to the TV coverage's inability to comprehend that there are races besides the TdF. But over time more info has become available, including the fact that there are other races before the Tour, besides Paris-Roubaix. A whole slew of them, in fact.

And now, at this point in time, I'll take them over the Tour. Maybe this is the Lance hangover speaking -- I've stated in print about 750 times this year that the Giro kicks serious ass -- but the Classics have all the elements that make Cycling great: beauty, history, tradition, physical demands that would break a draft horse, wide-open drama, and (these days) truly great competition. Do the grand tours? Let's check the tale of the tape.

* Beauty: nuthin better than the cobblestone Cotes and Muurs in April,or the Arenberg Forest coated in flying mud. The Tours have their answers though, primarily in the form of high mountain passes. Call it a push.

* History: hm, several of the Classics are older, but then the Tour has been going on since 1903. No meaningful difference here.

* Tradition: here's where things start getting interesting. Yes, the Tours have their traditions -- Alpe d'Huez, the other famous passes that show up more often than not, the format that makes for the drama... but not all the time. The Classics vary somewhat each year, but for the most part the route that Boonen and DiLuca ride nowadays is the same that Kelly, Gimondi, Bobet, Merckx and so forth rode back in their day. Fans and local clubs have their spot on the route they occupy every year. The calendar barely changes, and same goes for the keys to the race. Get over the Poggio in position and you're king of La Primavera. The northern classics have their own climbs toward the end that are usually decisive. You know it's coming each year, and they rarely disappoint.

* Physical demands: apples and oranges here. The Classics (except maybe San Remo) are brutal, grueling slogs across rough old roads with sharp climbs, one after another, for 250 kilometers or so. In sheit weather. They are single-day wars of attrition. Hard to compare to the grand Tours, though, which are rightfully considered the most demanding tests of any sport. The Tour is head and shoulders above the Giro and Vuelta, whose shorter stages and slower speeds often make for more reasonable demands, but even an easy course gets old after a few weeks. I guess the Tour wins out, but it's close. Or at least it's different.

* Drama: Classics have it all over the Tours. Occasionally a Tour will produce a surprise winner (like this year's Giro) or some last-minute shakeups. More than enough of them have healthy strategic action to keep us coming back, but there are plenty of snoozers too. Worse, the Posties drew up an unbeatable strategy that everyone copies these days: making your mark on the race at the first big climbing stage, and bide your time on all climbing stages until the day's last hill. The Classics are predictable in their strategy, but completely unpredictable as to who's going to be there. Every factor is magnified -- get a flat in the closing miles and you're done. Fall behind a crash early on and you're blowing your strength playing catchup. And so on.

* Competition: Classics, all the way -- for now. This can't be the decisive factor, since competition changes with each wave of new champions. And maybe by this time next year we'll think of it as even. But for now, the Tours don't have the level of competition for the GC that the Classics do. Boonen looks hard to beat for the next few Rondes, but Roubaix pits him against Backstedt and Hincapie and potentially another 5-6 riders at any time. The Ardennes Classics are even more competitive: Vino versus DiLuca versus Rebellin, with Boogerd good for a narrow defeat, and the big summer names strutting their stuff hunting for early glory, especially at Liege where a Cunego or Basso could easily get away.

Obviously this is a subject for debate, and perhaps merely a matter of personal choice. But you know where I land here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRIS!

Digital Peloton founder, avid cyclist, devoted husband and father and my little brother, Chris F turns 40 today. Happy Birthday Chris and have an extra latte on me.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fignon, where does he rank?


I was tooling around on the 2006 Giro homepage and I happened to notice that in 1989 Laurent Fignon came within 9 seconds of the Tour/Giro Double. In 1984 he won the Tour and came in second in the Giro. If memory serves me correctly, I believe that year the winner (Francisco Moser) won the final time trial in a controversial fasion (a low flying Italian-TV helicopter created a very nice draft for him). Where do you rank Fignon among the greats? Was he a victim of the Lemond-Hinault error (like Ullrich to Lance)? Did injuries in his prime hold him back? What is he doing now?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I (Heart) the Giro!

I don't have time to deconstruct this thoroughly right now, but my reaction to the Giro presentation is to give it a score of 10 (out of a possible 10). The route, in one fell swoop, accomplishes all of the following worthy goals:

* punishes the girly men sprinter types (not that the Italian teams have guys like that);

* vindicates the climbers;

* shakes up the standards with things like double-days;

* drafts Belgium, the world's coolest cycling nation, even if it's the wrong half of Belgium;

* offers killer TTs, including the world's only proper TTT of any consequence;

* disses the Tour openly;

* and saves the decisive stages for last.

The Giro rocked the Tour, and perhaps the rest of the calendar, in 2005. Lance's departure opens the door to the Tour to be fun again, but the Giro is light years ahead right now.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Stem Warning

In my neverending search for the ultimate bike equipment (good looks, solid, well built and light weight) I have noticed certain trends in the industry toward shaving grams wherever possible (nothing new, I know). This has involved the use of titanium hardware in load bearing components. Titanium bolts on my Campy derailleurs are fine, and holding a bottle cage with a ti bolts certainly won't lead to catastrophic failure either. Snap a bolt on the face plate of your stem during a sprint finish and the next snap you'll here will probably be your collarbone (or worse..).
Here are a few stems to be mindful of. 3TTT Zepp XL uses a ti bolts and a two bolt front cap as well as ti bolts on the steerer clamp. This model was actually recalled on Cannondale bikes a couple years ago because of repeated failures. The standard 25.8 mm Zepp also uses ti bolts but there have not been widely reported failures, possibly due to the smaller face plate design (the larger face plate possibly causes more torque if physics has taught us anything). The Cinelli Solida uses a similar design and has also led to bolts being sheared off. The Deda Newton (used by Postal until they switched over to the Bontrager model) uses a four bolt face plate but all four bolts are ti. With a four bolt design, it is probably less of an issue, because if you break one, you still have three more to hold the bar in place until you can get home or at least off the course. Of course, try tapping out a ti bolt broken off inside your stem with a steel drill bit. Trust me, it will become a $114 paper weight (and not a good one either since it's so freakin light).
I know we all drool over titanium frames due to their high strength to weight ratio, but remember, this allows the builder to use more material in critical areas (BB shell for one). If you own a stem with ti bolts the answer is simple. Swap them for some stainless steel ones. The 5-10 extra grams might be the best weight gain you'll ever experience. Otherwise the next piece of titanium hardware you might own will be the screw holding your shoulder together.

Giro d'Europe?

I was just taking a look at the preview of the 2006 Giro d'Italia and noticed that the first stage is taking place in Belgium. Now Italy looks like a pretty big country (I'm guessing it's somewher between Idaho (yes, of course you are Ralph), and California in size. It also has a couple pretty big mountain ranges and many miles of scenic coastlines and valleys. So physically speaking, it shoud be able to host three weeks of cycling without riding the same pavement more than once. From a fan perspective, Italians strike me as rabid cycling fans (Simoni Hooligans come to mind) so I would imagine they would be lining the streets to catch a glimpse of their heroes. So why do they feel a need to start their national tour in another country. It's not like Belgian fans in May are starved for cycling since their country is the epicenter of the sport in April. The TDF has always touched a couple neighboring countries as a friendly gesture, but in 1998 the prologue and first couple stages were in Ireland(!?). I guess I just don't understand why a national tour needs to ride anywhere else beside the host country.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New USCF Categorites

Amateur racers will be interested to note that the USCF is making some interesting class distinctions in the peloton:

"Moving forward, in addition to age-related categorization schemes, the USCF will recognize drivetrain differences in the domestic peloton. Separate classifications for indexed 9/10 speed and indexed 7/8 speed will be instituted. Racers using friction systems may ride in either group. Riders will race together though be scored separately. Overall results for events will reflect actual order of finish, with drivetrain classification noted parenthetically.

"Cycling has always been a bit of an arms race," said a USCF official who asked his name be withheld. "Dividing the fields along drivetrain classifications will clearly separate the fashion whores from the curmudgeons but, more importantly, the aggregate results will show who is training and racing properly regardless of what they ride."

Asked whether this is the beginning of a trend toward micro-categorization in the sport, the official shrugged. "We never wanted to go this route. But with the looming carbon fiber shortage in the industry... well... Let's just say steel bikes might get their own starts in the future"


I am not exactly sure what the source of this is; it came to me in a club email chain. Still, the use of quotes makes me think it was lifted from a published source, and is thus legit.

This raises all sorts of interesting questions about what real fairness is in cycling. For example, I have terrible will power when it comes to dieting, owing largely to my own poor character as well as a heavy travel schedule. Well, I would prefer to be judged by whether I am "training and racing properly," and should therefore only be grouped with others who have similarly poor will power. A category for riders under 6 feet and over 170 pounds... I could clean up!

Meanwhile, Washington State has redefined the masters category as 35-plus years of age. A grateful almost-fortysomething thanks the WSBA.

Heras Non-Negative!

Cycling News is reporting today that Roberto Heras has been suspended by Liberty Seguros for a non-negative sample from Stage 20 of the Vuelta. You might recall that Stage 20 was the final time trial, where Heras exceeded all expectations and sewed up his historic win. It's just a non-negative A-sample so far, with no details about the B-sample. So stay tuned.

But if it's confirmed... this could be one long, ugly winter.

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