Posts Tagged ‘Lance Armstrong

09
Feb
10

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.

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22
Jan
10

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.

13
Jan
10

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.

30
Dec
09

ciclirati’s biggest and best of 2009

Ciclirati’s Biggest and Best 2009 Awards of all things two-wheeled have a couple typical categories, but tend toward memorable moments.  With very little pomp and circumstance, the awards go to:

Best Way to Fly – Jens Voigt’s Specialized Shiv TT setup.  Big fan of Jens, his panache, and the ‘little known facts’ lists.  I know that wind tunnel tests show that the height of the rider is less important than the width, but damn.

Biggest Surprise – Cuddles win at the Worlds.  I know I take too much pleasure in kicking this man when he’s down, but he seemed destined to never win a Big One.  Happy to see his “Don’t Step on My Dog” shirts to know he’s got some humor in there…somewhere.

Best Team – Cervelo Test Team. They brought a manufacturer’s team back to the pro peleton.  They chose their riders and personalities very smartly.  Along the way, a Green Jersey, stage wins in all the Grand Tours (including Haussler’s purest victory celebration of the year) and a unique connection to the fans.  Also responsible for the biggest bonehead move in stopping Serge Pauwels stage win, but you can’t win them all.

Best Examples of Cycling Superhuman Toughness – Pedro Horillo and Jens Voight.  Horrific crashes that can only be qualified as ‘near death experiences.’  I live in a less-than-cyclecentric area and get tired of defending how challenging the sport is.  “This NFL player broke his arm and came back with a cast next week.” Really? Jens hit the pavement in less than Under Armour at over 50 mph and bounced face first. He was all but ready to race in a week. Pedro fell off a cliff and broke and punctured everything.  He’s deciding whether or not to come back, but he’s a philosopher.  Educated, even.

Best Person in the Sport You Should Know More About  – Rebecca Rusch.  2009 (and 3x) MTB 24-hour solo world champion, 2009 Leadville champion, USAC Ultra Endurance Series Champion and a Super D victory at Crankworks just for fun.  The “Queen of Pain” has a palmares in cycling endurance and adventure racing that makes mere mortals cringe.  Incredibly nice person to boot.

Biggest Petty Grudge for the next decade – My already seething dislike of Team Sky and Brad Wiggins.  Their methods of getting riders, their handling of the dealings with Garmin, their declaration of being a super team based solely on budget.   Unfortunately, I liked a lot of the rest of their roster.  Boasson Hagen is ready to break through big and now gets to get throttled back.  Hopefully, Wiggo’s fashion sense doesn’t rub off on anybody.

Biggest Disappointment – Big George not getting his day in Yellow.  The classiest man in the sport denied because Garmin was jealous of Columbia’s success. Yes, there were tactical anomalies, green jersey battle, etc.. But Garmin’s own riders knew they were following orders they didn’t want to.  George still handled it as gracefully as anybody could.  Paris-Roubaix 2010 or Bust.

Biggest “What just happened?” – Denis Menchov’s inability to consistently keep the rubber side down.  For an automaton, you would think they’d improve his internal gyroscope.
Biggest “What just happened?” part deux – Bob Stapleton’s declaration that Armstrong is “passing the mantle” to Cavendish.  Sure, they’re buds and did a couple Lance-Channel videos.  Maybe Bob got nervous since this originated from a CNN interview – mainstream media can be scary. Maybe he ran out of different ways to work Cav’s name into a sentence without trying to redefine it as a new word.  Cav’s a star, he gives credit to his team, but there are a few other names sitting on equal footing.  Not to mention the Columbia Express is missing a key engineer and the last engine will be getting a late start.

Best French Hope – Julien Absalon.  Nope, much to the Badger’s chagrin, there is go Great French Hope that will capture the maillot jaune in Paris anytime soon.   However, Absalon reigns supreme on XC dirt, winning five of the last ten World Cup XC titles, including a dominant 2009 where he put together a 4-win streak.  He has also won four World Championship titles along the way, although two years removed from his last.

Biggest Unheralded Victory – Armstrong’s Leadville victory.  He had some ‘teammates.’  But, it was a mountain bike race, he had to keep pace and he rode the last half solo.  He crushed it.  Mix in a spring and fall Mellow Johnny’s Classic and he might just revive mountain biking.  The sport deserves it.

For those that won, congratulations.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t come a lot (or any) of notoriety, but I can send a t-shirt and coffee cup if you want…I mean, people need rags to clean bikes with and everybody could use another coffee cup.  For those wanting to win next year, start campaigning now!

21
Dec
09

British Cycling Press Abandons Journalistic Integrity

With that headline, it sounds like I’m accusing the British cycling press of something, doesn’t it?  It’s crazy how a few select word choices can slant the story from impartial reporting to unnecessary opinion.

I’ll start with my open confession: I’m inspired by Lance Armstrong.   To reference the CTS ad, I’m a 38 year-old father attempting my own comeback.  I lost my mother to cancer and found his foundation a source of inspiration for those living with cancer and those who support them.  What I am not is an exuberant fan wrapped in adulation.  Lance, like any sporting icon, has faults far worse than that dating-an-Olsen-twin thing.  Until this last year, I found him a cocky Texas arrogant ass that you had to respect despite that glaring alpha behavior flaw.

But, as Peter Griffin would put it, what grinds my gears is the continued thinly veiled accusations and slander that the cycling press continues to level against him.  Give credit where credit is due, cyclewriters; if he didn’t come back last year, your readership would be 25-30% less and the status and growth of the sport would not be described as having ‘an upward trend.’  If you’re hanging on to anger believing that he previously doped during his 7-year reign or hold a grudge due to your inability to expose him, take a step back and look at it philosophically.

My least popular argument would be the anti-LeMond theory.  Paraphrasing LeMond’s ranting – if Armstrong is clean, it’s the greatest comeback in sports history; if not it’s the greatest fraud.  Conversely, coming back from the abyss as he did, if you superimposed Lance’s head on Lee Majors and make him bionic, fine with me.  Cut away his skin and expose Terminator-esque hydraulic pistons in his thighs; given the depths of cancer hell he came from, it’s still the greatest comeback.  If he was doping, history has shown (and most believe) that the rest of the peleton was equally guilty.  If so, he did that better, too.  He was tested more than others and came out clean.  All those caught have attempted to challenge methods or dispute evidence and lost.  Believe that he did and acknowledge they were all cheating and he beat them in a cheater’s race.   Or, the possibility exists that through his single-minded focus and methodical ruthlessness, he won clean.  Just for fun, mix in the theory that the cancer actually changed his physiology and muscular makeup and made him better.  If you don’t like the guy, just come out and say it.  But, put all this aside for now…now being the operative term.

My gears started grinding December 18th, when the cyclingnews.com headline read “Armstrong abandons independent testing, publication of blood values.”   The headline alone reeked of bitterness.  The wording and presentation of the article made it seem as if Armstrong was backpedaling and needed to justify his individual actions rather than being in sync with his team.  In the end, once you waded through the slant, Radio Shack wasn’t going to use Damsgaard because of the strength of the UCI biological passport and the conflict of interest with Damsgaard working with the UCI in the upcoming year.  Publishing the blood values in the interest of transparency resulted in any quack being able to say “highly suspect” and get news coverage.

I immediately twittered, challenging cyclingnews.com that if Saxo Bank announces the same separation based on the same principles, will they be equal opportunity offenders?  Of course, I’m nobody, so cyclingnews.com refused comment.

When Saxo announced their parting with Damsgaard a day later on the same principles.  The headline read “Saxo Bank ends independent testing.”  They didn’t “abandon” but in the headline and story language, reached a logical conclusion after a “three-year cooperation.”  The story continues as a love-fest of how happy each other was with the partnership and how “without Bjarne (Riis) vision…the fight against doping would not be as successful as it is today.”  For the record, this program was started in 2006.  “Mr 60%” didn’t admit his past indiscretions as in May of 2007, after almost everybody else on his Tour-winning* team and the doctors had already admitted to the systematic doping.

It’s likely I just don’t understand the British press.  Their tabloid ways and patriotic sensationalism take journalism to a different level.  Maybe they all still have that 1950 World Cup loss in their collective consciousness and are worried about losing next year.  Maybe that lack of a Tour winner is a real sore spot.  I guess if my hopes were pinned on a rider who looked like the missing member of Oasis, maybe I would lash out at the more successful, too.




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