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Semi-endless Winter and 6 weeks of Pre-race Panic

In Minnesota, even in the southern-most tropical region of the state, the abundance of this winter’s snow harvest continues to pile up. The 3.5 feet sitting in my yard no longer represents a winter wonderland, but a multi-layered, crusted reminder of days, weeks and months of wind-whipped bitter cold.

However, in the winter of my discontent, I’ve found my cycling motivation for the upcoming year. I followed an actual training program, spending about 8-12 hours a week on the trainer, mixed in some strength training, ate smart and worked with a trainer partner that kept us both motivated. I managed to drop about 15 pounds so far, a couple more veins have chosen to make their appearance on my calves and I’m feeling a lot stronger. All in all, pretty damn happy with the way this winter has gone.

The rest of the winter’s program has me targeting building up more fitness and riding strength along with dropping another 10 before the pretty ambitious race schedule I set out for 2010 comes about this spring. No problem, let me see now…check the calendar…Holy S#@t, my first race is in 6 weeks.

All of a sudden I find myself less worried about whether or not the winter will end and if the snowmelt will leave us in a giant Great Plains-sized flooded mud pit until after the 4th of July and more worried the starting-line jitters building in my gut and how I’m going to attack the first climb. I know it’s a bit premature, but given my stellar effort at last year’s offseason training stupidity, early season incompetence and overall failure in my racing ‘program’ last year, I’m anxious for this year’s racing to start. I took the time to learn from my mistakes, train smart, make progress and set goals…you know, all that stuff they write about in magazines and people pay coaches to help them with.

The Glory I’m searching for is glory on a Very Small Scale. Cat 4 Masters Road and Citizen class MTB wins. Results that you have to scroll down 3 pages to find my age group and class to reach. The fun I’ll have pursuing this Small Scale Glory and the happiness I’ve had along the way will be far greater than any medal I might receive. The smile on my face that was missing through many years of workaholism is back, and I don’t want it to leave anytime soon.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to contain my starting line nerves until I actually reach the starting line. However, my outlook has changed a little – the winter can’t last forever, I can now envision myself out riding in the sunshine and my competitive side has started to stir. So, for those that will be at the opening Psychowpath race on April 3rd – just know I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the slightly catatonic, overly caffeinated guy with the big grin on his face.


Prying Inside the Mind of Vaughters

Until their breakthrough in the Vuelta last year, Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters did a tremendous job of gaining favor, goodwill and those precious impressions in the media by telling a story after the race of “we were close, but we’re clean.”  For some unknown reason, the message of “hard-working” has always been mixed in.  I’m not sure there are any real ‘”slacker” teams; my guess is the verbiage is innuendo that since they’re so squeaky, the other teams are relaxing on the beach, transfusion equipment in tow.  That bridesmaid/underdog/good guy image along with their multi-musketeer TTT focus was a wonderful marketing tool.  Then when Cavendish wasn’t around, they won.  Now what?

Apparently, the only guess I can come up with in reading the Mind of Vaughters is that he’s going to instigate, incite and otherwise infuriate a few other teams.  Once he’s accomplished that and the competition crushes them mercilessly, he can prop the team up back to that role of underdog or, more likely, the nice guy with a black eye.

The first test of this tactic was last year’s unexplainable peleton-driving effort at the 2009 Tour that kept George Hincapie out of yellow.  Vaughters took the “did not” tactic afterwards, but seeing the action and hearing the feedback of Garmin’s own riders convicted Garmin of being that little rich kid that you just want to punch.  That move ensured that HTC-Columbia and BMC will take the quick kidney punch if available.

Then came Wiggo-Gate.  I do think Garmin was legitimately wronged in this situation.  There are certain aspects of professional cycling that make it better than other sports – the storied traditions and honor.  Compared to other pro sports where contracts represent nothing than a bargaining chip, cycling hadn’t devolved to this purely business approach.  Garmin gave Wiggo a chance and a home, and while business is business, Wiggo was wrong in doing what he did.  However, the bad blood created another story in Sky v. Garmin.

Over the weekend, courtesy of the British Press (The Times) came this little gem tucked into Vaughters heartbreak over losing Wiggo.  “The 2009 Tour route was suited to Brad, but 2010 is less so.  In 2009, the tactics worked in his favor and Astana were soft-pedaling a bit to not embarrass Lance.”

Proof of the Anti-Vaughters French Conspiracy

From a PR standpoint Vaughters, it’s brilliant.  Vaughters just ensured his team was constantly mentioned by directly ticking off The Boss.  Phil and Paul will overplay and beat that story bloody through July.  That is the only possibly benefit I see, because all the other implications just make Vaughters look like his fact-checker had the day off and forgot his filter in his mother-of-pearl buttoned, ostrich-skin messenger bag.  Although Garmin came closest, Astana handled the field pretty easily at the TTT at the TDF while Garmin seemed to be slinging riders wayward. Lance came back from retirement and injury to beat Wiggo and reach the podium with his team soft-pedaling?  While the odds are stacked against Lance returning to the top step in July, he believes he can do it, and he’s won the thing a few times – I wouldn’t write him off.  However, the steely-eyed Texan doesn’t like to be challenged and he has minions.  The core of the team that dictated the race at will last year is now wearing jerseys with a big R on the chest.  They’re fairly strong.  Lance has a fairly well-documented history of making those who challenge him end up with tire tracks across their chest.  If he can’t do it himself, he has the people to send up the road to make it happen for him.

Classic Vaughters "Up and to the Right" Pose.

Garmin does have some very likeable folk pedaling for them – Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Dean, Martin and Pate are quality riders with exceptional personalities you want on any team.  Bobridge and Stetina represent legitimate Future Big Things.  But, the “we’re cleaner than everybody else” mantra has to start being intertwined with actual results.   Maybe Vaughters is perfectly executing his private plan to develop nasty rivalries with every team to ensure Garmin is constantly talked about.  It just seems to this uniformed outsider that if you’re going to push how much Garmin represents the boy you’d bring home to mama, the talk should match the walk.

Final parting shot – does Vaughters have some sort of secret media agreement that photos can only be taken from his left side and why he’s always looking up?  We’re aware of the sideburns.  My diatribe aside, people gripe about the Twitter battles and the outspoken, adolescent squabbles.  However, give me this any day over the uber-sanitized, homogenized, personality-free comments that come out of an NFL player’s mouth any day.


Bike Pure’s semi-religious (and not in a good way) zealotry

By nature, advocates – both individuals and organizations – have a belief they are undoubtedly sure is unquestionably true, morally justified and they are passionate in its defense.   Generally, that is a good thing.  The world needs advocates on many levels to stand up and make the world a better place.  However, advocacy does have its perils and limitations. The slippery slope for advocates comes when they go from be a defender of their faith to believing they represent judge, jury and executioner.  I deliberately use the word faith to elicit the comparison to religion; any religion can look back on history and see some significant point where that line was crossed by those who believed they were ordained to carry out extremism.

To ensure there is no confusion on my stance in regards to doping and cycling, let me state unequivocally for the record – I want cycling (or any sport) to be clean and if there are rules regarding banned substances, those rules need to be adhered to and appropriate punishments should occur for those caught breaking said rules.  I believe cycling has a long-standing culture of both doping and Omerta that activism is required in order for that culture to change.  Hence the reason an organization like Bike Pure is good in concept to help change the culture of the sport.

However, Bike Pure is an advocate.  Advocates require public opinion on their side.  Unfortunately, cycling’s court of public opinion sometimes has as significant of a voice as the actual authorities; that court is cynical and believes in guilt first.

Myles McCorry of Bike Pure has crossed that line and started down the slippery slope.  At this point, he seems to have anointed himself as cycling’s doping priest, charged by a higher power to condemn, charge with sin and deliver salvation.  Anybody who has been reading my blog knows I believe in Tom Zirbel being a person of high moral character and innocent of deliberately taking synthetic DHEA.  (If you want the litany of reason and logic behind my belief, please read my past posts.)  All parties acknowledge Tom has tested positive for DHEA.  Tom “broke the story” himself.  He’s not denying what happened, he is denying the knowledge and intention.  But Myles doesn’t see it that way.

To quote Myles on his post left on Tom Zirbel’s personal blog, “If when reality bites and you want to come clean, please contact BikePure.org and we will give you a fair ear. Please show respect to your fellow athletes, and begin the repair.” Following the rules of logic, the only conclusion Myles has reached is that Tom is a liar and cheat in his eyes.  Myles has sugar-coated it; advocates don’t garner positive PR via public venom.  Myles (as well as many others) also states “All pros and most amateur cyclists take their training/ food/supplements seriously and know exactly, or find out the contents or everything entering their body.”  Myles also does a spectacular job of quoting the science (whether overstated or not) that makes his argument look better.  In his article on bikepure.org, Myles quotes an industry leader saying DHEA was the “superhormone” when it was released.  Last I checked, any time a new product is released, it generally is the greatest thing ever or a more affordable, advanced second.  Further in the article, it states that the New York Academy of Sciences carried out the “most in depth study” on DHEA.

While visuals are difficult via the web-printed word…I’m now the guy in the back of the room raising my hand and clearing my throat; I’d now like the other side to be heard.

“Athletes have to know what’s going into their body” Yes, they do – within reason. They cannot know everything – it is theoretically impossible.  Argue with me otherwise and then I’ll be forced to go to the ridiculous lengths of explaining every step of the way where contamination of any kind could take place.  To quote the opposing science, there is almost no real QA/QC to ensure any supplement isn’t at risk.  Organizations such as NSF and HFL have shown the need for supplement testing/certification and the current problem of contamination of steroids and prohormones.

Shown below are a number of quotes from the paper titled “Supplements and Banned Substance Contamination: Offering an Informed Choice” written by Drs. David Hall and Catherine Judkins, there is a problem in that “athletes have to know” equation.  (I love it when others do the much more educated writing for me”

“It is clear that all forms of supplementation should be considered as a potential source of a positive drugs test for elite athletes, as a direct result of inadvertent contamination…”

“It is neither possible nor appropriate to test supplements for “everything on the WADA Prohibited List.”

“Also, the most likely source of contamination is from materials inadvertently introduced by the raw material supplier or in manufacture.”

“Those compounds most likely…for example DHEA which is still available over the counter in the US.”

“Research has shown that steroids and stimulants banned by WADA have been found as contaminants within some supplement products.”

“WADA advise elite athletes that they should not take supplements – recommending…a balanced diet will provide…necessary nutrition”

“WADA has effectively banned WADA-accredited labs from offering….effective quality control….to avoid inadvertent contamination”

Additionally, both the IOC/WADA and independent testing bodies have done significant testing that shows how significant the contamination problem is.  For those reading, the information listed below would be the wow factor, punch line, climax…

The IOC/WADA lab in Cologne investigated contamination and purchased 634 standard retail products in 13 different countries – 15% were contaminated with steroids/pro-hormones, 20% of those purchased in the US. (International Journal of Sports Medicine 2004)

HFL tested 58 supplements purchased through standard retail in the USA in 2007 – 25% contained low levels of steroid contamination and 11% contaminated with stimulants.   DHEA was the most common (showed all positives) of the contaminants.  In an HFL Case Study – a major US manufacturer that produced DHEA product alongside other products and wanted to investigate cross contamination.  Every sample, including the men’s room tap water was positive for DHEA.

All acknowledge that DHEA is a legal supplement in the US and those who don’t think incidental contamination from raw materials, manufacturing facilities or other processes is possible is absolutely ignoring the science that doesn’t agree with their standpoint.

I don’t want to go too deep into the science for two reasons. 1) I’m not a scientist. I’m a writer and acknowledge my lack of expertise and 2) DHEA is a naturally occurring substance that does great things naturally within your body.  Unfortunately, those naturally occurring processes many times get ascribed to the supplement…I don’t want to muddy those waters further.  As far as the argument of synthetic, OTC purchased DHEA supplement’s perceived benefits – by this point, it has been clinically proven that there are about none.  It was actually semi-painful to read how far McCorry had to stretch to make some sort of performance-enhancing argument.  It ended up reading like “Tom cheated because he might not have caught a cold because of DHEA.”

However, the Mayo Clinic is pretty good at that science and medicine stuff…to quote from Mayo’s website “a 2006 Mayo Clinic study examined use of DHEA supplements in older adults over two years and found no anti-aging benefits. While DHEA levels went up to the same levels found in younger people in the study participants who took DHEA supplements, there were no differences between those who took DHEA and those who didn’t in body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity or quality of life.”

Given all my arguments above, I’ll restate that Bike Pure has an honorable intention, cycling has a long-standing cultural doping problem and I emphatically agree that cycling needs to be a clean sport.  I disagree when advocates, such as I believe Myles McCorry has done in this instance, cross over to blind zealotry.   I’ll step down from my soapbox and wait for the barrage of name-calling and nasty emails.


LeMond and Ricco – Lost In Translation

Cycling goes into a semi-lull this time of year.  Races have started, but not many truly pay much attention outside of the finish of the cyclocross season.  Transfers are over, teams have been announced, training camp previews have taken place.  However, the cycling industry does not disappoint in providing juicy tidbits and places to read between the lines.

Trek v. LeMond

The news emerged that Trek and Greg LeMond had settled their differences yesterday without the predicted spectacle of a full-blown trial.  The press release made semi-believable statements including that both seemed to be “pleased” repeatedly.  Trek is “pleased” to give $200,000 to LeMond’s charitable organization and LeMond is “pleased” to resolve the issues and move forward with things he deems important.  While the mission behind LeMond’s organization is very important and should be to all, where I believe this gets lost in translation (despite all of this happening in my part of these United States – the area that doesn’t have any accent) is LeMond perhaps not fully understanding the meaning of the word “pleased.”

For Trek to write a couple checks for $100K is a gift.  Trek’s lawyers better not only get a hefty holiday bonus, but a Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving bonus.   If Trek would have been given the chance to write this check at the beginning, they would’ve gift-wrapped it and put a big bow on it.  Trek gets a tax-deductible write-off, avoids the trial of what would have been an outright attempt by LeMond to call up anybody and everybody including the person who changed the sheets on Lance’s hospital bed in an attempt to generate circumstantial evidence of his belief of Lance’s doping.  LeMond didn’t show up at Armstrong press conferences or give speeches without desperately wanting to create the far greater worldwide, mainstream media exposure that would have resulted from a trial.   The taste of bile in the back of his throat salivating about this possibility was something he hasn’t tasted since being told that the Badger wasn’t going to play domestique.  Apparently in LeMond-speak “pleased” means either “I’m really tired” or “Lance’s secret forces have placed an explosive charge inside of my brain and Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible Team isn’t taking my calls, so I better sign this.”

I’m not sure how they did it, but score 1 for Trek.  Maybe now they can push some of those legal dollars back into R&D and catch the Madone up to the Tarmac.

Ricco vs. His Mouth

The following comments may seem judgmental, but when will Riccardo Ricco realize that any time he opens his mouth, something really bad or really dumb comes out?  Guys, myself included, do plenty of things to screw things up on our own.  We don’t need this guy getting us slapped just for being a member of the same sex.   Again, I’ll give a small chance of misinterpretation to something being lost in translation, but here are a couple of his latest jewels (along with my potential interpretation and judgment) in the wake of his baby mama’s CERA positive.

Quote 1 “I know as much as anyone else. I’ve been away from home for 3 months.” Alternate interpretation – “Plausible Deniability.”  Judgmental comment – she stood by him during his implosion, he’s still banned from the sport with a newborn and hasn’t been home, definitely showing once again, it’s all about him.

Quote 2 “When I was positive, I confessed everything. I was honest.” Alternate interpretation – “I lied, cheated and stole, but when they caught me, they said they would reduce my suspension if I squealed like a pig.” Judgmental comment – He was honest from the time it took to strip away the web of lies in his brain and answer the doping authorities’ questions.  After that, the rest, including his so-called “remorse”, is really questionable.

Quote 3 “Cycling isn’t for women, it hurts too much.” Alternate interpretation – I’m a complete ass. Judgmental comment – Maybe that works in the OId Country, but having a “barefoot and pregnant” attitude doesn’t work too well in the modern world.  You’re on your own…and I wouldn’t recommend any US stops.


BMC – the Most Likeable Team in the Peleton? 2010 Preview

I can already see the cheesy promo montage in my head – Mark Knopfler subtly wails out “I want my Bee Em Ceeeeee….”, the guitar kicks in and images of Hincapie, Evans and Ballan stream by in rapid succession, intermixed with subliminal messages of Swiss precision bicycle manufacturing, displaying images of power, determination and victory.  Yes, it’s in my head, but it would make for a sweet intro video on the BMC team website.  I’m not sure how to rewrite the “money for nothin’” line to correlate it to the Hell Pro cyclists put themselves through, but dammit Jim, I’m a writer, not a songwriter/poet/bard.

In a silly season marred by Sky’s relentless approach to poaching the riders they wanted for their new team, BMC quietly (although not completely without controversy) pulled off the unexpected and possibly became the most likeable Pro team in the peleton.   With the media focusing most of their attention on the birth of the “superteams” Sky and Radio Shack, BMC accumulated arguably the best classics team this side of Quick-Step with riders like Kroon, Burghardt, Ballan and Hincapie; a GC Contender and current World Champion in Evans and did so with a combined total of 15 riders coming from Switzerland and the U.S. of A.  The subtle irony of the combination of riders from the neutral nation and the world’s heavy-handed police aside, it’s a team that with some improved marketing pieces could out-Cervelo Cervelo when it comes to presenting a team that creates a remarkably positive team/brand image along with creating immediate hype about the bike.

Adding Hincapie instantly provided class, along with the marketing visibility of his US Championship on this side of the pond.  Between earning the Rainbow Stripes and joining BMC, I even slightly warmed to Cuddles.  I’ll admit, I’ve rarely had much nice to say about Cadel – the whole “don’t step on my dog” episode and general festivus-style airing of grievances to the media he seemed to engage in set most who wrote about him in a less-than-supportive role.  However, he seems to wear the Rainbow well (perhaps credit to the Hincapie Sports kit) and his attitude seems positive coupled with a bit of bravado to match his attacking style that emerged last year.  Ballan suffered through health problems and the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey last year, but nobody should be quick to forget he is only two years removed from his Vattenfall and Flanders victories.

Early season rumors had tied Levi Leipheimer to BMC along with his buddy Scott Nydam.  I recall reading the rumors and thinking it would have been a bad choice, but little did I know the dramatic steps this team was taking.  Obviously, addition of another key player such as Leipheimer would have reduced the likelihood of the latter additions, but nevertheless, add Leipheimer to a team like this and the other proverbial superteams could have found themselves wondering what happened.

The other effect this immediately had was raising the status of the bike brand.  While many I know in the sport, including myself, found the brand intriguing but believed some of the design features to be ornamental, the perception now seems to be different.  Even more intriguing is the fact that Hincapie has chosen the Racemaster as his stars-and-stripes laden steed, a frame that is made of (gasp) quite a bit of aluminum, albeit a good choice for Big George, who has the need to emphasize durability and reliability.  Cadel Evans Rainbow Striped machine initially wasn’t the brand’s new top end machine, but the Pro Machine.  Then Competitive Cyclist’s own stylemaster Andy Clark comes out and says he’s so impressed with the new Team Machine that he might (the horror) retire his Cervelo?  Me thinks BMC might have just climbed to the top of the podium as the most likeable bunch in the peleton this year and I’m guessing you might start to see a few more BMCs riding atop a few Touaregs and X5s.


Looking for Postives in spite of the Positive

Judging from the number of emails and messages I’ve already received, most of you have read Tom Zirbel’s confirmation that his B sample came up positive.   Tom had foreshadowed this a couple weeks ago in a number of interviews, so this was not a surprise.  As has continued to be the case, Tom has been upfront with the situation with the news ‘breaking’ on his personal blog.

While Tom and those around him (seemingly also including some within the USADA who took samples to additional labs for additional tests) held out hope that the B sample would come up clean or vary enough to be inconclusive, there has been a gradual acceptance of the system’s inevitable results.

While the ‘another day, another doper’ jackals initially came out in full force, ripping at somebody they didn’t know, over time you found a significant number of people who knew him personally or knew his character well enough to come out in support of Tom’s proclaimed innocence of knowingly ingesting any USADA banned substance.  Velonews’ Ben Delaney came out in the latest issue with a supportive editorial piece, which was a welcome surprise for those supporting Tom, as most of the cycling press, much less a leader such as Velonews, has a defacto cynical response or no response at all.  Unfortunately, the only external quote Velonews on their web story today was garnered was from Jonathan Vaughters, the Garmin-Transitions boss who unceremoniously disposed of Tom’s contract via email with no contact otherwise.

Many will say that a professional athlete has to be responsible for the knowledge of what goes into their body.   While in principle, I believe that to be the case, unless an athlete decides to eat nothing but organically grown yams from their backyard garden and drinking regionally isolated, triple-distilled rainwater, an athlete cannot truly know unless only taking supplements from the limited number of companies who have submitted themselves to having their supplements certified for sport and surgically implant a video recording device to document every instance they consume anything of caloric value.  Given the degrading circumstances athletes have to go through just to submit a test sample (for those looking for photo verification, check out Comeback 2.0), one has to wonder if this could be a next step.

Conspiracy/future wacko theories aside, my comments all along on Zirbel’s case still hold true.  Tom Zirbel has demonstrated himself to those who know him to be a person of tremendous character.  He has shown that he has a well-centered outlook on life and while he enjoys racing his bike, it wasn’t the tipping point to throw his life’s balance over the precipice.

Those who point to Tom’s hiring of legal and expert assistance as the standard play of a guilty party would be well advised to do some self-examination.  If you were accused of a crime you were innocent of knowingly committing, would you do anything different?

I still believe in Zirbel’s innocence of knowingly ingesting DHEA.  I hope he’s able to find the cause of this sidetrack to his career quickly and the system can find a fair and just resolution before two of what should have been Tom’s best years pass him by on the bike.  Above all, I wish the best for Tom and those close to him as he deals with this detour on his path to success.

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