and we begin again

March 2nd, 2008 by Sarah

So, the season’s starting up again. Well, in some ways it never stopped, because there was road cycling throughout the off-season, only it was in Australia. Technically, it’s the European season that’s beginning anew. The real question, though, is will this year be any different than last year?

Do I even have an answer to that question? I don’t know, really. I mean, I want it to be different. I want things to have changed, for cycling to go forward. But … To be honest? I don’t think it will be. I mean, maybe things are going on the right track. But teams are being excluded and included on a relatively subjective basis. As in, I can’t for the life of me come up with a good reason.

But I suppose that’s not the point, is it? Teams are there or they’re not. Riders get to race, or they don’t. Some (High Road) are getting screwed over, while others are lucking out (Slipstream – and in this case, they deserve to be there). Others shouldn’t even exist (Astana) and the list goes on and on. I don’t know where I stand, except that my fantasy cycling team appears to have more High Road riders than any other team.

I feel that this year could be different, but only time will tell. As usual. We just have to wait and see.

Posted in 2008 cycling season, cycling teams, high road, slipstream having no comments »

link of the day

December 18th, 2007 by Sarah

Italian doctor given life-time suspension

Italy’s Olympic committee has handed down a life-time ban to Carlo Santuccione, the doctor at the center of the “Oil for Drugs” investigation that has involved several high-profile athletes, including Giro d’Italia winner Danilo Di Luca.

A disciplinary panel of Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on Monday ruled that Santuccione could no longer associate himself with athletes, sporting events or organizations for the remainder of his career because of his involvement in the distribution of performance-enhancing substances. Santuccione had already served a five-year suspension from cycling, starting in 1995.

This is a start, but will it end here or will there be repercussions. In some ways, this is similar to what’s going on with baseball. A focus on the past and people who have a proven past track record involving doping. But at the same time, this also involves current riders. Will Di Luca be punished? Is there in evidence to punish him that’s not circumstantial. Also, people should remember that even though it seems to be in everyone’s best interests to confess (re: David Millar and baseball’s Andy Petite, for example), most people don’t. Their protests fall flat and we’re left wondering what the truth is.

Of course, just because we think someone dopes, that doesn’t mean they do. It’s hard to know anything these days. And with all the protests against the tests and DNA passports, etc, we might never know. But, hey, the more action taken, the better things might end up. And hopefully the new teams with their new doping measures will go a long way to turning this sport into a clean one.

Posted in danilo di luca, doping having 1 comment »

is it really the high road?

December 10th, 2007 by Sarah

Well, this is a start.

High Road Takes The Highest Road

From the team site: Team High Road is implementing a new comprehensive and independent anti-doping program. The program will be managed by Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE), a company that provides anti-doping monitoring and testing programs to prevent and detect doping behavior in cyclists.

“Last year we made a strong commitment to fight against doping,” said Bob Stapleton of High Road Sports. “It is the most comprehensive program out there. It is what the team needs and what the sport needs.”

Through this program, each of the team’s riders will give a minimum of 26 random blood AND urine samples per year. This is dramatically more testing than any other program conducts and will allow ACE to build profiles of each individual rider so that they will be able to detect small changes in the body chemistry that may be caused by blood transfusions or banned substances. The profiles will use blood and urine to build hematological parameters and a urinary steroidal profile. ACE will send test results to the UCI, to WADA and to the team.

I kind of applaud them for going this route. It almost seems as if they’re dedicated in the same way Slipstream is. The next step, of course, would be for more teams to go this route. Hopefully both Slipstream and High Road will prove that cyclists can ride clean.

Posted in doping, team high road having no comments »

T-Mobile gives up

November 28th, 2007 by Sarah

As practically everyone knows by now, T-Mobile decided to pull their sponsorship. A lot of people seem to be shocked about this and at first I was kind of surprised, but then I felt kind of silly. Why? Because, to be honest, how could we not see this coming? It didn’t start with Sinkewist (which people conveniently forget), instead, it kind of started with Jan Ullrich. Remember him? It all went downhill from that point on. To be honest, what surprised me the most as the T-Mobile survived this long.

I’m sad about the boys who are left without contracts, and glad that it seems Stapleton and something called High Road will keep the team going for two years (if they’re lucky). But, again, I have to be honest here, I think this is a good thing. As much as I’ll miss seeing the pink jerseys of T-Mobile, this change can only be good. If only some of the other teams will follow T-Mobile’s example.

I know you probably think I’m crazy, but maybe Quickstep needs to go, too. I think it’s time for a purge or cleaning out or something. There’s too much history — and it’s not the good kind — on these teams. A history of doping, of cover ups and of lives. It’s time for change, and T-Mobile tried to do it from the inside with their new doping policies. Of course it wasn’t going to work, how could it? This is a chance for this new team to be like Slipstream, to take those forward steps that having T-Mobile as their sponsor wouldn’t allow.

There’s nothing at stake now, nothing except the reputation of the sport. The team is it’s own team now, there’s and it’s up to them and High Road (quite an ironic name, if you ask me) to make this work. I think there’s a good chance that it will. While it’s sad to see T-Mobile go, it’s about time.

Posted in doping, sponsorship, t-mobile having no comments »

Doping + Fandom

November 21st, 2007 by Sarah

In some ways, a lot has changed since I started watching cycling in 2003. Doping, of course, was going on strong (and we even have quite strong evidence of that fact) but denial was a way of life. As a new cycling fan, I was naïve at best and clueless at worst. My first “brush” as it were with doping in cycling was with Tyler Hamilton. The year before, I had been fans of both Armstrong and Hamilton, but the gloss of domination (on Armstrong’s part) and lack of interest in Hamilton had caused me to move on to lesser known cyclists. Thus, Hamilton’s betrayal did not hurt me as it has hurt others. In fact, it was just a part of cycling and I went back to that oh-so familiar state of affairs that cycling fans know well — denial.

Little did I know where we were heading. Perhaps David Millar’s confession should have clued me in to what was going to happen, but as usual, it didn’t. I don’t recall the order of who was caught, but eventually allegations were laid at the feet of those who I like — such as Jurgen van Goolen (who was accused of recovering too soon after being hit by a car and must be doing — I have no idea if he did or didn’t, but he’s ridden for both Quickstep and Discovery, and we all know the rumors).

Perhaps Millar’s confession should also have hit me harder than it did. And in the scheme of things, I’ve been a lucky fan. My boys are not good enough to be doping (or at least that’s what I tell myself). They don’t win the big races, they haven’t been caught and I just can’t see Philippe Gilbert doping. Of course, Sylvain Chavanel is French and that country’s cyclists have been through so much doping that you wonder why they’d do it again. But of course don’t and won’t ever know (not really).

The moment it really struck me was Landis. I know what you’re thinking, Landis? That’s, what, 2006? And I know, you’re absolutely right. It’s a travesty on my part and I fully admit to taking part in willful denial. I worked harder during the 2006 Tour de France. Not only was I writing for cyclingfans, but also for Bicirace, a cycling news site that no longer updates, but I was trying to get a friend of mine into cycling. What cyclist was she interested in? Floyd Landis. No, I’m not kidding. While I wasn’t particularly devastated, it really sealed the deal for her. She wanted nothing to do with cycling and try as I might during the ’07 Tour, she was having none of it. And I’ve got to be honest, who can blame her? Certainly not me. Had I become a cycling fan only to discover the guy I was rooting for was a doper (and yes, I believe Landis did dope, regardless of his protests), I might not have kept up with the sport.

As a new fan, I was lucky to start in ’03, right before everything exploded. I had my innocence preserved for a tour and a half and then everything started going out of control. My friend was not so lucky. She’s gone back to the other sports she loves and I can’t even be upset. Disappointed, yes. In her? No. In the sport? Of course. How do I get my friend to like a sport where people take drugs, are caught, and then play the system when it turns out that they’re guilty (after protesting). I suppose some might ask how I can be a fan still, and sometimes I don’t know how. But I’ll just cling to the hope that my boys are clean and I believe they are. Some might say that I’ve got my head in the sand, but Chavanel wasn’t on Cofidis when Millar was and the Cofidis rider who was caught at the Tour, was one of the ‘old school’ riders. The ones who should be confessing left and right and yet aren’t.

But what do I know, right? I’m just this girl in the US who hasn’t been to a pro cycling race in her life. Why should I care? Why should people listen to what I say? Well, to be honest, you probably shouldn’t. Does it seem like I know what I’m talking about? No? I’m just expressing my opinions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I’m not giving up on this sport. I’m not letting these betrayals change how I feel about watching cycling. I’m not going to abandon a sport that has giving me so much and that I’ve put so much into. I’m not one to take being a sports fan lightly. I take losses personally and I change my life around to watch sporting events, it’s just part of who I am. If I let doping take cycling away from me, then perhaps I never really loved it.

And, to be honest, that’s not the case. But I can’t bring other fans to this sport, I can keep on watching, but will others? And what happens when the crowds go, when casual cycling fans only ride their bike and ignore the pro circuit?  I don’t have an answer, I don’t know that anyone does (regardless of what Slipstream says). Only time will tell, and perhaps this is the turning point. Maybe this time something will change. I cling to that hope, but at the same time I can’t let myself (like some) get carried away with it. Slipstream can only do so much. Without the rest of the teams following their path, nothing will change. Or maybe the dopers will still find a way.

We’ll just have to wait and see. And, maybe, that’s what our sport needs. Just don’t give up hope, not now. Not when we’re on the verge of something big.

Now playing: Sondre Lerche and the Faces Down Quartet – Nightingales
via FoxyTunes

Posted in cycling teams, doping, floyd landis, friends, jurgen van goolen, slipstream, tyler hamilton having no comments »

an essay on the fan culture of one

November 16th, 2007 by Sarah

It’s been a long time (over a month, to be honest) since I’ve updated this blog. A lot has happened in the cycling world. And most of us are not surprised. I’m not going to rehash all the doping arguments going around the cycling world, it’s been done before and it’ll be done again. But I do have something to say.

All of this doping crap has made me think. About what? Well, me as a fan. No, before you get all upset, I’m not about to stop being a cycling fan. I think what’s going to change is the way I watch/root for the sport. I’ll watch it however I can (listening to it via Eurosport, or catching it on Versus when it’s on), but I’m done with teams.

I know, the Slipstream fangirl is no longer one. I’m calling it quits. Why? I just don’t have the loyalty to the teams — in fact, they don’t really encourage it. We’ll compare it with the spot that’s slowly becoming my second favorite: soccer/football. There are three main teams I’m a fan of (leaving out the US national team): Arsenal, DC United and AC Milan. There are other teams I follow (Birmingham City, Odd Grenland, Chivas USA and SC Heerenveen — but for slightly fickle reasons, I like certain players more than the sum of their team). But with cycling, I’ve lost too much faith in the ‘team’ part of the team sport of cycling.

I know it’s hard to imagine, and I’m not saying that cycling isn’t a team sport, because it is. But not for me as a fan. I have a friend who loves T-Mobile, regardless of who rides for them. I have another who loved USPS/Discovery, regardless of their riders. The same with CSC and so on. I thought that was me. Why? Because I love my soccer teams for the sum of their parts instead of individual players. I would be sad if, say, Cesc Fabregas left Arsenal — but I’d get over it (case in point: Thierry Henry leaving Arsenal). The team means more to me than even my favorite footballer (who does happen to play for Arsenal).

But not when it comes to cycling. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it stems from bitterness I have surrounding T-Mobile and the quitting of my former favorite cyclist. In a way, it felt like the team betrayed my trust as a fan. Sure, it’s not the same as doping and yeah, it was Werner’s fault for not sucking it up and riding on a lower team like other riders who have recently made (or are making) comebacks. And maybe he saved himself from the whole doping saga, but to me there’s not a lot worse than your favorite cyclist quitting. I know, doping allegations suck, but there you go.

So where does that leave me? Well, rooting for riders. As people who read Wannabe Bike Girl know, I love several riders. On the top of that list are Sylvain Chavanel, Philippe Gilbert, Kjell Carlström, and Francis Mourey. While two of those four riders are on the same team (Gilbert and Mourey are on FDJ), the other two are not. And, to be honest, I don’t necessarily root for their teams. I thought I did, I even tried to care when Cofidis riders won stages at the Tour and other races. But to be honest, I just don’t care.

What’s important to me is Chavanel or Gilbert winning races. It’s how my boys do compared to the rest of the pack. And, Slipstream, I like some of your riders (Steven Cozza being one example), but I can’t really get behind the team. I support their anti-doping efforts, just like T-Mobile and the other teams trying so desperately to change the sport. But I’m not rooting for you to win everything you race in, because the riders are more than their teams.

The more I think about this, the more I realize this is because the teams are not teams in the sense that European soccer teams are. They change and they change relatively often. Why get myself attached to a team, when next year it could disappear. I’ve had too much fan heartache for me to expend that much time and energy. So instead, I root for the riders themselves. I support the teams in that they support my riders, but that’s it.

Perhaps I ask too much as a fan, but I don’t think so. I think, perhaps, the problem is that we, as fans, don’t ask enough of the teams. I doubt that will change, and I’m fine with that. I’ve made my peace, as it were, and I know where I stand as a fan. And that’s what’s important.

Posted in being a fan, cycling teams, essay, sylain chavanel, watching cycling having no comments »

It’s the truth — or something like it.

October 1st, 2007 by Sarah

So, Bettini won Worlds. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. I gotta be honest, I’m not. As soon as I saw he was in the big break near the end of the race and then in the smaller one that pulled away, I knew any hopes for a podium finish or a win by someone I liked was over. That’s not new, it’s not news. And it wouldn’t have been a problem (aside from my inherent dislike of Bettini) except for the fact that the only reason he was allowed to race was because the courts failed to ban him. I’m not saying he dopes, but it’s hard to see how a suspected doper would be allowed to race after all that Germany’s done to keep people out. But then again, Allan Davis and Valverde were both allowed to race and their names have been used in connection with doping allegations.

I’ve got to be honest, anyone who views an anti-doping pledge as something akin to extortion really doesn’t garner a lot of respect from me. I know, who cares what I think, right? Well, I’m certainly not the only one who is tired of this bullshit. I’m not about to up and abandon my sport. But for god’s sake, something has to be done. I don’t care if it’s asking for DNA or peeing in the damn cup before and after every race. In fact, maybe those should be the requirements! But you don’t see the UCI pounding down people’s doors, do you?

Maybe they should be doing that. Maybe cyclists should be aware that at any second they can be tested. And then there should be scheduled tests in addition. Perhaps the Slipstream model is best, or maybe there should be stricter models. But something’s got to change. Cyclists have to be willing to be tested and they have to be willing to accept the consequences. And if cyclists will be allowed to sue then perhaps nothing’s going to change after all. Maybe Bettini’s innocent, but my guess is not. I have no evidence for this fact except that he’s from that same old school group as Ullrich, Vino and Zabel. He rode previously with Patrik Sinkewitz and it was Sinkewitz who pointed the finger at Bettini.

No, it’s not damning evidence. Hell, it’s barely even evidence at all. But it doesn’t matter in cycling. And, I’m not sure it should matter. What should matter are test results. People should be willing to stand up and say ‘test me, I’m clean’ and if they’re not, they should just own up to it. There’s nothing better than a clean rider, right? But there’s a lot to be said for cyclists who confess.

So, guys. Just suck it up and tell the truth. No one wants liars hanging around their sport. And cycling already has too many.

Posted in alejandro valverde, allan davis, doping, paolo bettini, patrik sinkewist, world road championships having no comments »

Is doping all we talk about?

September 28th, 2007 by Sarah

In a word? Yes.

That’s not entirely true, I know, but it certainly feels like it. Especially since doping is what this entry is about. It seems every day there’s a new doping story and the worst part is that it’s true. Sometimes it makes our sport look good (dopers are caught) and sometimes it looks bad. This week has been a mix — and to be honest, almost none of it looks good. With the World Championships going on this week and throughout the weekend, the crackdown (sort of) on dopers is heating up. Or not.

In spite of rumors to the contrary, last year’s winner, the Italian Paolo Bettini, will in fact race. He was cleared to race today (ironically, as I’m typing this, the BBC World Service just reported the same story). Although he’s refused sign the UCI’s anti-doping pledge, the courts, I guess, were unable to ban him. This reflects badly on the UCI, the race itself and, of course, Bettini. He should just sign the damn thing already, enough with the playing games. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then stop acting like it.

Also cleared to race is Australia’s Allan Davis. Remember Operación Puerto? Davis was one of the Liberty Seguros riders who was ‘named’ in the investigation. He was later cleared by the UCI. Although he was cleared, the UCI had tried to ban both Davis and Valverde because of their connections to doping. The UCI lost it’s case against Valverde, and just threw in the towel and Davis will race. Who knows if these two are dopers, but if the UCI wants to take hard line against doping and suspected dopers, this isn’t the way to do it.

Not everyone is so lucky, though. Giro d’Italia winner Danilo Di Luca has quit Worlds. Why? Connections with doping, of course. How are you even surprised? Not only has he pulled out, but CONI (Italy’s Olympic committee) has suggested he be banned for doping (four months or something). There’s no clear evidence (that I can tell) against Di Luca, but at the same time he’s one of those riders whose names are often mentioned when people talk about suspected dopers. But who knows, right?

Sometimes, though, doping allegations (regardless of how odd they appear at the time) come true. The most recent example is former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer, Michael Rasmussen. Remember him? Reuters is reporting that:

“Dane Michael Rasmussen returned a non-negative test for the banned substance erythropoietin (EPO) during this year’s Tour de France, the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) said on Friday.”

So, it turns out he was guilty of something at least. This makes his being kicked out of the Tour more like a smart move than a rash decision. It also does pretty awful things to the morale of Danish cycling and Rabobank. Hopefully Rasmussen will be banned properly and stop racing in that strange yellow jersey concoction he was wearing earlier this summer.

What does all of this mean? Nothing. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. Why not? Because when it comes to cycling, nothing changes. Sure, when I started watching back in 2003, doping was an unspoken rumor. Cyclists who confessed were retired, never current. Cyclists weren’t caught doping or results were explained away. And yeah, that’s changed. Dopers are caught and suspended (or at least they are trying to ban them) at a higher rate (hm, I wonder why). But has anything really changed? I doubt it. We’re still letting suspected dopers race (which, to be honest, is fine — prove that they dope, but until then let them race. But if they refuse to comply — DNA/blood tests/etc — take some action!) and names keep getting dropped. These leaks have got to stop. Guilty until proven guilty and never innocent (no matter what the courts say) again.

Some people come back (David Millar) and some people won’t go away (Tyler Hamilton). I like Millar and I want him to do well. I admire him for confessing (regardless of the circumstances, he did confess, which is more than I can say for Landis and Hamilton — and others, I’m sure) and for diving head first into the anti-doping world. I just wish others would follow his lead. But, the bigger the name and longer they’ve been part of the ‘old school’ of cycling, the more likely they are to refuse to do this.

Maybe things will change, but I don’t hold out much hope that they will. Of course, it won’t stop me from watching or writing about cycling. Perhaps I’m just a masochist after all.

Now playing: Michigan Radio
via FoxyTunes

Posted in allan davis, danilo di luca, doping, michael rasmussen, operación puerto, paolo bettini, uci having no comments »

A little rant, among other things, and the end of the Vuelta (for this year)

September 24th, 2007 by Sarah

It’s been a quiet weekend, cycling wise. At least controversially speaking. Mostly people have been talking about the Landis verdict, which I’ve already covered. But also, over the weekend, the Vuelta ended. I mentioned earlier that fewer people are watching the Vuelta than the other two Grand Tours. Well, it turns out I’m one of them. For most of the three weeks, I’ve watched as many stages as I could. Except for the final stage yesterday.

I was distracted by several things, none of them pressing or important. And somehow time got away from me and I completely forgot to watch the race. I blame, at least in part, US tv for not showing the races. What better things do they have to show in the morning? Fishing? Paid programming? I mean, seriously. Of course, I could have gotten decent enough coverage on, but as many of you know I don’t like their commentators. And even if I did, their price is far too much for me to be able to afford right now.

So I worked around it, but it also meant that I sometimes forgot to watch. Like yesterday. I don’t necessarily feel bad about missing the final stage. But at the same time, watching the final stage gives me some sort of closure on the race. Maybe next year.

What I do hope, and what we saw this year, was that a lot of riders who hand’t consistently raced the Vuelta were there. I’d like to see more of these “big names” (regardless of how big they are — from van Goolen to Chavanel to Menchov) racing in Spain. It does good things for both the race and cycling in general.

Next up — Worlds. Who knows what’ll happen or who’ll race. I’ll try to watch, but again, it’s not on TV, so that makes it hard.

Posted in vuelta a espana, watching cycling having no comments »

It is just a joke now?

September 21st, 2007 by Sarah

I’m not entirely awake, so just bear with me.

Over the past couple of days we’ve had one doping tape revealed, the Landis verdict handed down, a former Canadian cyclist confess to doping and now a second tape has been made public. I haven’t and won’t listen to these and I cannot vouch for their credibility, but from all accounts, they’re pretty damning (links to the audio thanks to cycling fans anonymous [CFA]).

And you know what? It’s turned this whole doping thing into a farce, maybe even the sport. How do I know? Check out these headlines collected by CFA. This sport had turned into a joke and yet what has changed? Nothing. For all the talk, there are still so-called suspected dopers who will probably race (at least they’ve been called up by their national teams) to race at Worlds. That guy (you know who) who won the yellow jersey at this year’s TDF was under suspicion of doping (later it came to light that several members of his old team had doped). I’m not accusing anyone, I’m saying that if cycling wants to clean up it’s act, it should have started yesterday.

It’s not too late now, but seriously, things are getting out of hand. At this rate the whole sport is going to turn into a joke. I do not subscribe to the belief that all sports will end up going down this path — but I do believe that if cycling doesn’t do something drastic, nothing will change within the sport or outside of it. Cycling, as everyone keeps saying, has a chance to make things (mostly) right. But right now they just seem to be treading water.

And what happens then? This farce. Thanks for making the sport look bad, dopers. And thanks to the anti-doping and cycling agencies as well. You’ve done a great job of doing nothing.

Posted in doping having no comments »