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Those Damned Fans

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The one thing that separates cycling from all other sports is the fact that it is free to watch at the highest level.  Imagine turning up at the World Cup Final and watching the match with your camper van and BBQ at the side of the pitch.  Or standing on a hill overlooking the Superbowl with a few beers and your mates watching the game unfold.  Or walking into the Augusta National with a pair of shorts and a vest on the final round of the Masters.

You can’t.

But that’s exactly what you can do at every single cycling World Tour event.  And that is why cycling is by far and above, the most inclusive and remarkable global sport. More

It’s the Tour de France – everything will be OK

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Tour_de_France_logo_2016Today is the day folks.

The 2016 Tour De France is upon us, cycling’s biggest event, with the biggest teams and the best riders taking part.

In terms of predictions for the overall win, it’s going to be Froome (Sky) at 5/4, Quintana (Movistar) at 7/4, Contador (Tinkoff) at 5/1 or maybe, just maybe Aru (Astana) at 16/1.  Strong riders, clever riders, strong teams but there’s not much value there for a three week stage race.

I might have more fun looking at individual stages, today for example will be for the sprinters.  It’s not your ordinary sprinter stage.  The winner of today’s stage gets to wear the Maillot Jaune (the Yellow Jersey), cycling’s most coveted prize. More

How much is too much?

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The confirmation yesterday (31st January) that a bike used in this weekend’s World Cyclo-Cross Championships was fitted with a motorised device is possibly the answer to this post’s question (see Cycling News for details if you must).  The top level event in possibly the purest cycling discipline.

There have been rumours of “mechanical doping” for a while now but most of us struggled with actually believing it.

All the instances of bikes being hurried away to the privacy of the team trucks could be attributed to a number of dodgy, yet understandable reasons.  Teams may add some lead weight into the seat tube to hide the fact that the bike they have doesn’t come under the regulation minimum weight.  Individual riders may prefer certain pieces of equipment which are not their sponsors so want to avoid losing the financial support.  For example, tyre manufacturer brands are blacked out which can’t be noticed when the bikes are being ridden but can be at the finish area.

But a motor in the frame was the stuff of myths.  Surely the additional weight would offset any advantages?  Surely the increase in power available was negligible at professional levels?

Well, apparently not.  There are mainstream manufacturers out there as Matt de Neef reported last year in Cycling Tips.

Some of these products claim to provide over 100 watts of power which is a significant boost if you’re trying to maintain a gap on the peloton or struggling up the final climb in a major race.

So if one of these devices can provide an extra 100 watts of power with a 60 minute battery and if bikes are already too light then it kind of makes that apparent massive leap to the professional ranks slightly shorter.

But mechanical doping requires a significant level of subterfuge with many characters involved.  Mechanics, riders, engineers, quite possibly manufacturers and even sponsors.  It requires wholesale corruption.  If this is the case, professional cycling is well and truly broken and deserves to be thrown to the wolves. It is just frankly, beyond the pale.

So where does it leave me?  Well, I am a massive fan of professional cycling.  I’ve seen it tear itself apart with doping scandals.  I’ve seen it ridiculed with dodgy governance.  But I have remained with it because I still believe in the majority of cases it’s one man or woman on a bike riding as fast as he or she can and that’s something I can relate to.

I’ll give it another season – this season (2016) and if it becomes apparent that mechanical doping is rife, then that’ll do me.  I still can’t believe that this is the case but we have been fooled before and if it is so, I will turn my back on it and I won’t look over my shoulder.

Still riding but with a somewhat cynical grimace.

The Giant

Good Idea – Wrong Person

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So Sir Dave Brailsford has called on the UCI to require World Tour teams to publish their rider performance numbers in the interests of transparency, similar to what Chris Froome did last month.
It certainly appears positive that the head of the world’s best team (well, best resourced team) is making such a statement.
Team Sky has a well stated zero tolerance policy for doping which even includes zero tolerance for any of their non-riding staff who may have been implicated in past misdemeanours. We saw the moonlight flits of Bobby Julich, Steven de Jong and Sean Yates.
Furthermore, David Walsh, that bastion of integrity when it comes to outing the dopers concluded after spending a good while inside Team Sky that they’re doing it clean.
And Chris Froome’s numbers published in December kind of stack up too.
So what else can Sir Dave and the men in Rapha gear do?
Well to be honest Sir Dave shouldn’t be calling any shots at all. He and all his World Tour counterparts should be towing the line. It is the UCI which is responsible for anti-doping policy and they should be imposing whatever action they feel necessary to further enhance the credibility of top tier cycling.
Remember what happened with Lance Armstrong? He dictated the UCI anti-doping agenda which well suited him and his EPO infested comrades.
We’re supposed to jump for joy when no positive tests showed up in this year’s Tour De France (I exclude Luca Paulini as he was taking cocaine to dance better rather than ride faster) or the Vuelta but the dark clouds and mistrust of the Armstrong era still hang over the sport. It’s almost like the till balancing to the penny at the end of trading, desirable, but highly unlikely and an indicator of fraud.
I’m not a naysayer, I believe in this sport and I believe in the efforts being made throughout the peloton to deliver tremendous racing and therefore great entertainment. I believe in Sir Dave Brailsford, Jonathan Vaughters and Brian Smith.
I believe in Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin and Peter Sagan.
I can even just about believe in Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde.
But I don’t believe in Alexander Vinikourov, Bjarne Riis or Matt White and I don’t believe in the governing body’s anti-doping protocols being driven by the very people it may one day have to sanction for breaches of such protocols.
It’s because of these characters and Sir Dave’s so-called advice that the UCI needs to impose its authority by either getting them out of the sport or being creative in how it deals with the issues. European Law more or less discounts the former as an option so it’s the latter route that has to be pursued.
And to be fair, the UCI is trying to reform but it’s a slow process with many barriers including the owners of the Tour De France and the Vuelta (ASO), sponsors who may get scared off at the thought of longer term commitments and the general constipation usually experienced in Civil Service departments where inertia is the easy way out.
So what about a stage plan as follows:
1. Hand over responsibility for the anti-doping programme entirely to an independent body;
2. Have clear policies and legal standing so that the Astana debacle of late 2014/early 2015 doesn’t happen again; and
3. Change the structure of racing to enable more stability for riders, particularly those young riders who are trying to make a career in the sport without either forcing them out or forcing them down a road to ruin.
Anyway, who am I?
Viva pan y agua.

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The Giant

Why It Should Be Lizzie

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On Sunday 20 December the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) event shall be held a few miles down the road from me in Belfast, the latest of a long list of major events which Northern Ireland has proudly hosted.
This year’s contenders are:
– Lizzie Armitstead (cycling);
– Lucy Bronze (football);
– Jessica Ennis-Hill (athletics);
– Mo Farah (athletics);
– Chris Froome (cycling);
– Tyson Fury (boxing);
– Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1);
– Andy Murray (tennis);
– Adam Peaty (swimming);
– Greg Rutherford (athletics);
– Kevin Sinfield (rugby league); and
– Max Whitlock (athletics).
An impressive list as ever, highlighting the strength and depth of UK sporting talent in 2015. OK, it’s a little bit English-centric and also a tad male dominated but it is what is. The list does reflect who has achieved the most during the year and now it is up to the general public to decide who should receive the accolade.
My own personal opinion?

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Lizzie Armitstead.
Armitstead has achieved huge success in her career to date and 2015 saw her reach new heights with the following wins:
– World Road Race Champion;
– Road World Cup Champion;
– British National Road Champion;
– Tour of Qatar;
– Trofeo Alfredo Binda;
– Boels Rental Hills Classic;
– Philadelphia Cycling Classic; and
– GP de Plouay.
Her victory in this year’s World Road Race in Richmond, USA was acknowledged by her peers as a justification of her form and talent.
But what is most impressive is that she plies her trade relatively quietly, across the globe, in a sport which still has a long way to go in terms of rewarding its participants with financial security.
Yes, cycling in the UK is one of the fastest growing and popular sports but women’s professional cycling remains a bit of a novelty as far as the UCI (cycling’s governing body) is concerned. The UCI say the right things but they aren’t really delivering for this element of the sport.
UCI President, Brian Cookson, stated earlier this year in an interview with Shane Stokes from http://www.cyclingtips.com
“I think it is important that we allow women’s cycling to grow in that economically sustainable way. I think that we are seeing that now. We are involving women in the decision-making processes much more than has ever been the case before and I think we are seeing the benefits of that now.”
That’s great Brian, slightly condescending and a little bit patronising but at least you and your organisation seem to be getting it.
Oh, but wait a minute. In the same interview he also said:
“I think that within a short period of time we will be in a position to have rules about minimum wage and I will take advice from the women’s commission, from women who are involved in the teams and the riders’ associations and so on as to when the right time for that is.”
The right time for a minimum wage? THE RIGHT TIME FOR A MINIMUM WAGE?
How about 2015 Brian? How about remembering that you don’t represent an organisation or a company but that you represent a sport? How about thinking about saying that last statement in the presence of Beryl Burton who would have made sure you wouldn’t be able to sit down for weeks? Or have you gone native in a such a short period of time?
It is despite the UCI that Lizzie Armitstead and all the other women professional cyclists are performing to the highest level, providing entertainment to the public, delivering quality events and scraping a living. They do it because fundamentally they love the sport, are hugely talented and are fiercely competitive.
I digress, apologies.
Why Lizzie Armitstead over the others?
Armitstead is at the top of her game. She has consistently delivered results not just in 2015 but for the last five years. She doesn’t just turn up for the big events. She doesn’t talk up her achievements. She doesn’t disrespect her fellow professionals. She is clear blue sky with no clouds lingering around her. She rides a bike with grace.
But maybe the most compelling reason for Armitstead to win SPOTY this year is the perfect symmetry of it being exactly 50 years ago when the late, great Tom Simpson became the first cyclist to win the award.
A minimum wage FFS Brian.
The Giant