Archive for February, 2012

And so the warm weather (excluding Tour of the Med) precursors to the bike season proper have concluded.  Down Under, Qatar, Oman, Algarve, etc have all had their brief moments in the spotlight, Langkawi has kicked off with a win to Zab in the time trial (no surprises that Zab is nowhere near the Classics!  Not a sketchy conditions type of rider is the great DZ.)  Now we head to the heartland of the sport and the portion of the season where the hardmen have their moments to shine.

Today is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, aka Het Volk, and tomorrow is Kurne-Brussels-Kurne (KBK).  Het Volk starts and ends in Ghent, has kicker steep hills and tough pave (cobbled) sectors; KBK has more of the same, perhaps with a greater emphasis on pave, and less severe climbs.

I remember hearing two of the old timers (Whitey and Jules Dean) in our team talk about showing up together to the start of this weekend year after year (they both lived in the same part of Spain, so their teams would usually fly them to the race on the same flights even when they were on different teams).  It would inevitably be cold, but not cold enough for snow – just a bitter rain.  And inevitably one or both of them would crash at least once over the weekend of racing.  They were laughing about a particular year (their 10th consecutive or some ridiculous number) where neither of them crashed on either day, and how they were both a little freaked out by it.

Suffice to say this is a weekend for hardmen, and depending on the weather (I see it is 10degrees, wet and windy in Ghent today, and 10deg, partly cloudy in Brussels tomorrow – not awful) can be a weekend where less than 10% of the field finish the race.

The crowds in Belgium love it, the madmen of the peloton love it, everyone else dreads it, and I am hugely looking forward to seeing how things get rolling.

Hard Man racing starts today!


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TdF 2010 Mountain Shot: not Chaingate day!

The best grand tour rider of his generation has finally been re-found guilty of being a drug cheat.
For those who have (understandably) forgotten what has happened, Alberto was tested in the sleepy town of Pau on the second Rest Day of the 2010 Tour de France.  This was a couple of days after Contador had found himself back in the race after “Chaingate” where Andy Schleck dropped his chain whilst in the yellow and attacking the front selection; and Alberto appeared to attack, taking 38sec back, which was approximately the time that he ended up winning the race by in Paris.

The blood tested back in Pau turned out to have miniscule traces of Clenbuterol in it, and Contador was (after much hemming and hawing) banned by the Spanish authorities for a year.  He was then un-banned after an appeal, and some public statements by both the Spanish Prime Minister and Opposition leader.  There was then a dramatic pause while the UCI and WADA awaited the full allotted time to make their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and then the CAS took pretty much forever to come to their final decision, which is where we are today.

Clenbuterol is an asthma drug from the 1980s that is a performance enhancing anabolic steroid in humans, but hasn’t been in use for legitimate medical reasons in most Western nations  in many years.  It is also growth enhancing in cattle, but has been banned in Europe since the late 90s.

The argument from WADA and the UCI is that Alberto used a bag of his own blood (extracted earlier in the season) to increase his oxygen carrying capacity and enhance his recovery.  He was using clenbuterol at the time of the blood removal to enhance his training performance and instill greater changes in his body from the work he was doing.  Being highly professional, he would have had his own machines to test the blood he was to reuse to ensure that it had no contaminants in it for which he could be branded a cheat.  Unfortunately for Contador, the laboratory that tested his blood had a machine four hundred times more accurate than that mandated by WADA and the UCI.

All reasonable claims methinks.

Contador’s claim is that on the rest day he had a mate who had a mate who owned a beef farm across the border in Spain.  Said mate brought the beef across and gave it to Alberto and Alberto alone.  Said beef was tainted with clenbuterol and that is how it made it into his blood.

Problem 1:  Did Alberto in any way produce the farmer or the butcher?  I remember the Spanish Beef Farmers Union publicly stating that they do not use clenbuterol on their cattle in Spain, and that there are many random tests carried out annually to ensure that this is so.  I don’t remember seeing anywhere that the meat producer was brought to light.  (I couldn’t find anything, but looked for a grand total of about 12 seconds just now, so MAY have missed it (heh))

Problem 2: I was in Pauthat day with Garmin, and more than one lad in our team was tested.  If no one else in Alberto’s team was tested, I would be highly surprised, but so be it.  However, if they were tested, and not found to have clenbuterol in their blood, then Alberto had “special” steaks brought along just for

Same team truck, NOT from 2010, and NOT in Pau! Heh

himself.  So his boys, who were working their butts off for him throughout the Tour de France, didn’t rate a steak?  His argument appears to be “I am not a drug cheat, although I am a shit bloke.”

Apply Ockham’s Razor to the above two scenarios, and Contador’s claims falter.  Alberto’s Basque Butcher is highly unlikely to be an actual person.  Alberto is an excellent bike rider (probably the best in half a decade at least), but a systematic drug cheat.

It is frustrating that he managed to race for all of last season, has received a two year ban, and yet will only be forced to sit out of bike racing for the next six months.  This makes a man wonder what would have happened if he had managed to draw his appeals out a further six months, thus having him serve a ban before he was found guilty and without missing any races.  Not an ideal scenario, although an intriguing one.

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