Archive for January, 2010


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.


Cycling Memories – Man v. Peaceful Creature Sprint, Enjoyment at Speed

As winter winds howl across the prairie again, creating a curtain of snow and a carpet of ice, I find myself thinking back to the sunny days of riding last summer.  While I repeatedly admit I’m not a big deal, where I differ from most of the cyclobloggers is my environment.  Where most have to curse their bike-hostile urban landscapes and occasionally get the opportunity to escape to a peaceful environment where the true enjoyment of riding can occur, my escape takes about 3 minutes riding to be in the countryside, with hundreds of miles of paved freedom at my disposal.

It’s when I’m riding that these simple pleasures of a simpler life come about.  Watching the sun set over the purple and red-hued pipestone ridge of the Blue Mounds; crossing the Rock River as it slowly winds through the fields, slews and bands of trees that pop up, always slightly out of place across the agrarian patchwork that dominates the landscape; looking to the side and watching the rows of corn fly by my field of vision – all these are simple things that just cannot be enjoyed in the same manner if you’re constantly worried about a taxi taking a hard right turn in front of you.

The one  riding memory I’ll carry away from last summer was on a late afternoon ride, about 30 minutes into my ride on a relatively flat patch of county highway.  I was pedaling along at easy cruising pace when my peripheral vision picks up a young whitetail deer leaping out of the cornfield and starts running and bounding alongside me in the ditch parallel to the highway.  I clicked down a couple gears and climbed out of the saddle, wondering whether or not I had it in me to take my first man-beast sprint.  For slightly longer than the next mile, I kept pace with the deer (or so it seemed) but found myself laughing out loud at the sheer wonder and enjoyment of this experience.  As I was about to approach the first of a few rolling hills, the deer apparently bored of my less-than-competitive speed.  With a few quick strides, a gap was immediately opened and the deer leapt out of the ditch and bounded across to the other side of the road and stopped to watch me continue on.  I thanked him for his time and enjoyed a sense of wonderment and my smile was a little wider the rest of the day.   A little more than two weeks later, while heading back toward town after a quick 25-mile ride, the same deer came out from a cornfield at the edge of the Blue Mounds and ran alongside again.  He must have sensed I was a little tired from attacking the rollers over the last few miles and entertained my slower pace, but bored quickly and leapt across the road again.

For those who chastise those of us who go out to ride faster, stating that we’re missing the point, my reply would be that I get the point and still get it, regardless of my speed.  Unfortunately, those who live in the bike war zones have to slow down for both safety and to see the myriad of things they’re passing by.  I hope that sometime, they can see it my way.


Pro Cycling’s Other 2010 Battle – Trek vs. Specialized

While many focus their pro cycling fanaticism on athlete vs. athlete, one of the more interesting spins to come out of the Lance v. Contador mental battles has been the escalation of the battle between bike industry icons Trek and Specialized.

As with most things in cycling, change is a constant – riders change teams, teams change sponsors.  The standard reaction is usually all you read about – Rider X is really excited to be on a new team and really likes his new bike.   Specialized came into the mix when Contador’s status with Astana was still up in the air with an astounding $1,000,000 individual sponsorship, targeting the top step of the Tour de France podium.   This new sponsorship also caused an unceremonious split with Quick-Step which, call me crazy but sponsoring a Belgian team with Belgian cycling heroes Devolder and Boonen as well in 11 other Belgian cyclists, given the fact that Belgium is well…Belgium.   I’m guessing there was a pretty high PR and related sales as a result of their efforts.

When Lance retired in 2005 and Trek (temporarily) lost its Icon, sales suffered.  The Big Red S took steps forward, primarily at Trek’s expense.  Even having Contador riding Trek to his earlier Grand Tour victories didn’t seem to have nearly the desired impact.  However, Specialized didn’t get to where it is without marketing savvy.   Factor the probability that Contador could win again multiplied by an X factor of (insert insane value here) as a result of the magnitude of press that comes in the media coverage of Lance v. Contador Part Deux, apparently your answer is $1,000,000.

What has been surprising so far is Contador’s gushing love-fest statements about his new Specialized ride.  Statements reflecting that he “demanded the best” and therefore “required” Specialized as part of his conditions for staying with Astana.  Recent items from press conferences and releases included Contador stating that the additional stiffness and power of the his Tarmac SL3 required “a couple of days to get used to” and that he was very happy with a recent BG-Fit and work with Dr. Andy Pruitt, which had helped his positioning and power output on the bike.

If you read the various reviews, the reality is that he’s not speaking out of line or making absurd claims.  Most reviews absolutely rave about the Tarmac as a precise, efficient Pro Tour-caliber steed.  By comparison, the reviews on the Madone seem less enthusiastic – usually stating “it’s a gre..good bike, but” with quick references to how the Madone doesn’t have the stiffness and acceleration found in other top bikes.  Obviously, the magazines don’t want to rip on a review for fear of losing an advertising buck.  My experience with these bikes echoes the same sentiment, to the point where I recall test riding a Tarmac and being astounded by the stiffness, quickness and power (but slightly nonplussed by the excessive road feedback on a road that recently had the summer pea gravel/tar treatment).

Now the “if” parade begins.  If Contador loses with a team dedicated solely to him and given better equipment, is the only reason that the team wasn’t that good?  (Yep) If Specialized has so much vested in Contador and Astana, why the contrasting Red/White/Black paint? (Either they thought Contador was going to Caisse d’Espargne or realizes Astana’s color palette is so awful they didn’t want to make a bike they couldn’t sell)  If Armstrong pays his typical obsessive attention to detail, will he realize he might be giving up a couple transferred watts and have Trek go away from the ‘off the rack’ mentality and add a couple layers of magic black fabric? (He might want to)  If Contador sits on top of the TdF podium this year, does it equate to Specialized giving a quick rabbit punch behind Trek’s ear?  (Who knows?)

In either case, as long as Lance is around, Trek sales will rebound/rise.  However, if Rocky Contador loses his Apollo Armstrong, is the value to Specialized as great or won’t we know until he’s reached the 5+ win club?  Either way, I’m sure the magazines will be able to sell a few more ad pages this year.


Faulty Presumption and Cycling’s Cynical Climate.

For the record, I do not have any great personal connection with Tom Zirbel.  If he had an entourage and I was part of it, it would purely be for comedy relief purposes – the juxtaposition of me next to a guy who could rest his arm on top of my head.  From the e-mails and unpublished comments I’ve received regarding my defense of him and his plight, just like presumptions of his he-must-be-doping guilt, presuming is the wrong approach.

I will admit to becoming mentally invested in the story.  I have had a lot of contact with a number of those who know him best.  One of Tom’s last media interviews was last Sunday on the Kim West Cycling Radio Show out of Des Moines.  Before you go Google and rush to listen to pick apart every word and condemn him further, relax and try to think with an open mind.  I don’t have any Matthew McConaughey “A Time to Kill” or Matt Damon “Rainmaker” legal epiphany type arguments, but try to think back to a more innocent, pre-Festina time.  If you’re in the right frame of mind to listen, click here.  Given the comments he is making, his candor, his outlook and above all, his remarkable openness regarding the situation – do you want to lump him in with the serpent-smiling face of  “yeah, I was doped but I climbed like Pantani” Ricco?

While you’re still in this open frame of mind, cast away a number of other presumptions.  The list could be really long, but I’ll leave it to the following:

– Don’t presume to know Tom Zirbel.  You don’t personally know his motivations and ethics.  You don’t know that he about quit the sport in despair earlier last year over one of his Bissell teammates being caught.  You don’t know the encouragement he gives to kids and time to the fans.  You don’t know the teammates who have been around him and understand him better than us bystanders do.  You don’t the story of his life or his character.  Most people want to believe in every other part of life, character counts.

– Don’t presume to know Tom is a “seasoned pro” and has an education regarding nutritional supplements.  If you listen to the interview – he’s not a vitamin and supplement type guy.  He was dehydrated; he could’ve picked up nutrition bar X because he was hungry or water bottle Z because he thought it was his.  He wasn’t raised in the European doping culture.  He wasn’t on big budget for the last 9-10 years or part of some development program. He was the guy that 5 years ago would show up to race in a t-shirt.  He was the guy who couldn’t run marathons anymore so he picked up a bike.

– Don’t presume that if somebody is a pro bike racer, they must read everything written about the sport.  Just like celebrities avoid reading the tabloids, if everything written about you and your sport was negative, would you read about it?  I hope Tom or any other pro avoids most of what’s written, especially message boards where people pass personal, often times vicious judgment with no foundation other than what they’ve read.  That is, of course, if the people on boards aren’t just arguing with each other for argument’s sake.

– Don’t presume because you befriended somebody who was a former professional doper who is now “reborn”, that everybody who rides a bike dopes.  No – your new friend doped.  He was likely part of a culture that doped or in it for a significant amount of time.  Or he was so driven to succeed that his life didn’t have enough meaning off the bike to balance it.  Just like I don’t know why your buddy doped, I don’t presume to know his motivations, what tipped him over the edge or why so many reformed dopers take the approach of condemning everybody else instead of attempting to change the sport.

– Don’t presume every supplement is clean.  People quickly shove the “tainted supplement” argument aside.  However, estimates range from 10-25% of all supplements are tainted or have unlisted ingredients.  Just for fun, go to the NSF site ( and look for your favorite supplement brand to see if it’s on the list for being Certified for Sport…only 21 companies are on the list.   I can think of many an endurance-specific brand that aren’t.  It’s a nightmare of an unregulated industry.

– Don’t presume anybody who is interviewed or writes on the subject is an expert.  I know I don’t have a PhD in Organic Chemistry or Medical Laboratory Science.  I’m guessing most of you don’t either.  Ironically, Zirbel is probably closer to it than 99% of us since his undergraduate degree is in chemistry was pursuing graduate studies when the peleton tugged him away.  Regardless, time to call somebody on the carpet, if for nothing else a complete lack of professionalism.  In a January 6th story on PEZ Cycling News, Paul Coats, PhD was interviewed.  When listing the reasons why Tom would have an elevated DHEA level, one of his reasons was “He is a dumb-ass: applying Occam’s razor principle (ie. the simplest explanation or strategy tends to be the best one) this seems the most likely.”  First, who with a PhD says that in a media interview?  Second, you don’t apply “Occam’s Razor principle”, you apply Occam’s Razor (I am educated in Philosophy, but that was last comment was just snide and nitpicky on my part).  Third, I will freely admit I don’t know Paul Coats, but I’m guessing his knowledge of the human body and chemistry far exceeds mine hundreds of times over.  However, Google Paul Coats.  Examine what fields he is a researcher in and what his specialties are.  Let me save you the time…”Dr Paul Coats is an active researcher within the cardiovascular (Integrated Mammalian Biology) group within SIPBS. His research focus is vascular physiology (health) and pathophysiology (disease).

The study of both large and small blood vessels is core to the research directed by Dr Paul Coats.

General research areas are:

  • Pressure-dependent autoregulation in small resistance arteries
    • The role of the vascular adventitia in modulating vascular tone
    • Modulation of acute vascular tone by reactive oxygen species
    • Myogenic autoregulation of blood flow in stroke
    • Myogenic autoregulation of blood flow in ischaemic vascular disease
  • Pressure-dependent vascular remodelling in small resistance arteries
    • Hypertensive and hypotensive remodelling of the arterial wall
  • Vascular adaptation to changes in environmental stimuli (pressure and flow)
    • In-vitro culture of intact pressurised/ perfused blood vessels
  • Effect of vascular injury on vessel structure and function”

Ironically, if you click under his “Publications” tab, it goes to a page saying nothing but “test.”

(From the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences website)

Does it sound like Paul Coats is probably a really educated, intelligent guy? Yep.  Does it sound like Paul Coats has dedicated his life studies to becoming an expert on doping and/or these type of reactions and/or specific body chemistries related to this case.  Not really.

– Don’t presume the system is perfect.  Tom came up clean both 8 days before and 3 days after this positive test.  That’s fact.  No residual metabolites 3 days later.  To deny the potential effects of his dehydration on test results and the political nature of this system is to be blind to the obvious.  Anybody who is an expert will fight to the death to retain their reputation as an expert.  In this case, the experts would have such an imbalance of resources, there isn’t any way this could be a fair fight.  While I’m happy that cycling has made great strides through the biological passport and more advanced testing, the presumption of guilt and having the same 2-year penalty for popping a cold pill as RBC-enhanced CERA-doped blood is ludicrous.

Obviously, if you’ve listened to the interview, you fully expect (as Tom conceded) that there will likely be some news regarding his B-sample probably being positive this week.  It seems he may have others in his corner within the establishment, given they took additional steps of testing outside the original lab.  I’m sure those who have already condemned Tom already have their posts ready to say “I told you so.”  He’s not railing against Darth USADA, he’s not proclaiming the evils of the system.  He’s just a guy who likes to race his bike.  Somebody you would probably like to know.  Somebody if you did, you might not presume as quickly again.


Review – The Sufferfest’s “Downward Spiral” and “Fight Club” training videos

Winters in the northern plains can be a harsh mistress.  While I’ve never had a harsh mistress, I imagine if I did, she would be a succubus that would siphon energy and motivation away while slowly gnawing away at the bloody stumps that represent your ego and self-worth, leaving you feeling like your recliner and a lot of beer is the best option to escape reality.  At least that’s what the early part of this winter has done for many.  Visions of a mild winter with rides enjoying the winter wonderland quickly got buried under a few feet of snow and -50 wind chills.

Those wanting to make progress on their 2010 cycling goals and fitness found themselves locking into their trainers earlier with the knowledge there is a lot of winter left.  After spinning away to a cavalcade of online TV re-runs, a few movies and plenty of training DVD’s, boredom easily sets in.

Enter The Sufferfest.  The Sufferfest  ( currently offers two videos – “Downward Spiral” and “Fight Club”.  Both are approximately an hour of effort and feature brief warm up and cool downs.  Both do an excellent job of providing driving, beat-intensive alt-rock music that helps push the tempo and video that puts you “in the race” and matches the required pace and effort.  Each video offers clear cue sounds informing you when to ramp up and wind down your efforts.  But that’s where the similarity ends.

“Downward Spiral” starts you off on a fun 10-minute warm-up with downhill MTB video bouncing by followed by some criterium action that starts to ramp up the efforts a little bit by prodding you to bridge the gap.  After that, the fun (and the work) begins with two sets of eight descending intervals.  What makes this different is the video footage – Paris-Roubaix and Fleche-Wallone.  The video footage matches the intensity level you need to put out, encouraging you to put a better effort forward as you try to make the selections in the Arenburg or close the gap after watching Hushovd go down.  After a brief recovery riding through some Oregon forest, the second set puts you through the same paces (with a little bonus work) through Fleche-Wallone.  After an urban bike cool-down, you’ve put in a good, but manageable effort.

“Fight Club” is an entirely different beast.  It’s sadistic, it’s cruel, but it’s the kind of effort needed to become a better bike racer.  The scene for “Fight Club” is all based around the 2009 World Championships.  After a brief warm-up (depicting you on a bicycle with a basket)…it’s off to the races.  It’s a 5-lap “race” with the first lap breaking you in slowly with tempo work and a brief recovery.  By slowly, I mean a tempo effort that is intermittently broken with +15 rpm 10/10 effort to chase down attacks by those damn Italians.  That’s where the pain of Fight Club comes in; where most videos take you from sprint intervals down to a recovery, with Fight Club, you return to your previous intensity level.  That level, for the next 4 laps, is TT effort and Climbing effort (7-8 out of 10 levels).  23 of these attacks come at you randomly, some in pretty quick succession throughout the hour.  The Sufferfest folks aren’t completely sadistic – they do let you have 3:00 minutes of solid recovery after each lap.  My first effort riding “Fight Club” resulted in a tire meltdown during lap 3.  My second effort made me realize this is one tough, but rewarding workout.

While I don’t have a point or star-rating system, I will say that both current videos from The Sufferfest are must buy products and possibly the best training videos available for anybody looking to stay motivated and increase their fitness on the trainer.  The only downsides would be for those watching on larger computer monitors or have their computers plugged into larger TV’s, the video isn’t HD.  I have to limit to size to about 2/3 of my 22” screen for the video to be good quality.  Additionally, if you’re downloading, you need either patience or a decent internet connection – the downloads are over 700MB each and the exchange rate of the dollar makes you think the Euros are getting a better deal.  Seriously, the $9.49 USD per video price is a bargain, although a $16.99 combo pack might not be a bad idea. Other options include backup CD’s, backup download and group/class options with additional features.


Ciclirati donating to Doctors Without Borders – Haiti efforts

While I don’t have a large budget (ok, no budget), I do believe in giving what you can.  I encourage everybody to do as I have personally today to text, pledge, and give to supporting the relief efforts from organizations such as UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and other worthy charities.

For the months of January, February and March – Ciclirati will donate $7 of each of the Really Limited Edition T-shirt sales to Doctors Without Borders.  

No spin, no story – just trying to find a way to give more.  If you were going to buy the shirt before, know that a majority of the profits will be going to this worthy cause.  If you only have $20, please give to one of these charities first and pick up a shirt later.

To order, just click on the icon on the right hand side of the page or click here


Lance’s LIVESTRONG donation to Haiti – right idea, wrong checkbook

On more than a few occasions, I’ve stood on the side of Lance Armstrong in discussions completely irrelevant to anybody outside my immediate circle.  I wear a LIVESTRONG bracelet every day as a reminder of my mother’s death from cancer and my belief in the mission of the charity.  I am not a big deal.  However, if I ever become a big deal, the following post will likely preclude me from attending any future Team Radio Shack camp or from getting any face time with Lance or his compatriots.  The issue at hand is far more significant.

The news from Haiti is horrific.  When blanket statements like “Port-au-Prince is gone” come across the screen and news stories flash that up to 100,000 could be dead, your first thoughts are to the nation, the families and the people who have been devastated.   Your second thought is “how can I help?”   If you can’t physically be there to help, give to charities that are focused on rescue and rebuilding efforts – Red Cross, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and others.

Lance landed in his Mellow Johnny’s Airways Gulfstream (vanity tail number NL7A) in Adelaide today, tweeted his Twitter ride (still think that is very cool) then proceeded to announce that LIVESTRONG would donate $250,000 to Haiti relief and that the donation would be carried by, among others, former President Clinton.

My first reaction was that it was great to take such swift action for a humanitarian cause.  It took me about 2.3 seconds to come to a completely different conclusion : Lance was completely and utterly wrong.

You would think for somebody as gifted in the art of spin as Lance, it would be difficult to logically explain why he’s wrong, but it’s painfully simple.   People donate because they believe in the mission, message and inspiration of LIVESTRONG and specifically as it relates to cancer.  A personal example is that I gave 10% of everything I sold last month on eBay to LIVESTRONG – total donation of about $200.  I signed up to be a Grassroots supporter with plans of organizing a ride for next year.    I donated and took part for a purpose – to support the message of cancer awareness and to fight this awful disease that took my mother at 45.  That is why I put money in the LIVESTRONG checkbook.

By using the funds raised for an intended purpose and diverting them to another purpose is tantamount to scandal, diversion or other unethical activity.  It’s not the same (obviously), but it’s on the same moral slippery slope as Iran-Contra, Enron’s shell game, and CEO’s getting bonuses while people lose their jobs.

Additionally, other people have questioned the grey line between for profit and charity when it comes to LIVESTRONG in the past; dot org versus dot com semantics. I’ve simply said the message is getting to the right place, people are smart enough to know charity vs. profit, and if he wants to make personal money off making people healthy, go for it.

Lance defines Nouveau Riche.   The private plane, Juan Pelota Ranch, the 2nd home in Aspen.  He’s got more money than anybody could imagine a cyclist could ever have.  Part of the downfall of his newfound wealth, his alpha male behaviors and the power he wields is that Lance can go unquestioned most times.  If he would have gone to the press conference and announced he was giving $250,000 personally and that through LIVESTRONG, he was setting up a separate fund for people to donate to, thereby utilizing his influence and followers to generate funds, that would have been beautiful.  Tell us you got Oakley, Trek or Nissan to give money on your behalf. Use the money from that damn Michelob ad to give to this humanitarian crisis.  That would have been right.

I’m a fan of Lance Armstrong; he defines sporting icon.  He inspired me to get back on the bike in earnest as a man facing the same age and family commitments.  However, I know these icons always have plenty of human faults.  Hasty decisions can be one of them.

Lance, take a step back and do it right.   Your donors didn’t give you this money to you with an understanding of using it for different causes as you see fit. Humanitarian crisis exist in many forms around the world – we gave specifically to help address your cause.  Write a personal check and ask your supporters to do the same.  You know you would raise $500,000 overnight.  Give Fatty 3 bikes and he’ll have $1,000,000 by the weekend.  Leave LIVESTRONG’s message intact, undiluted and fighting the battle we signed up for.

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