Archive for September 2009
An apology from a cyclist suspended for doping? How unexpected. Like a sausage manufacturer actually, finally admitting there are pig eyes ground into the hot-dogs. You know, unexpected, bizarre, not the cycling norm. What a breathe of fresh air.
Dutch cyclist Thomas Dekker admitted to using the blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO). And then, wait for it … he apologized. Yup, he fessed up, dumped the needles in the trashcan and sold his centrifuge on ebay.
He “acknowledges that he has made a mistake, he takes full responsibility,” his lawyer Hans Van Oijen said in a press statement. “Thomas Dekker regrets his mistake; he will apologize and be held accountable, where possible.”
Good things Dekker instantly accomplished by coming clean and not denying the test results: He saved himself a hundred grand in legal fees that wouldn’t have over-turned the suspension. Just ask Floyd Landis how much of his life savings he dumped down the hole.
He doesn’t have to spend each week working with a sleazy lawyer who makes a living defending riders with positive drug tests. He also won’t be shuttling back and forth to various court dates. This is handy because sometimes there are no bike racks out front.
He avoids the stress, personal embarrassment, and crushing hypocrisy of lying for the next few years. Nor does he have to invent wild conspiracy theories to explain the positive A and B sample results. Pro riders are amazing athletes but conspiracy stories are best left to Hollywood.
He doesn’t find himself lumped in with the other violators like Di Luca, Astarloza, Schumacher, Rebellin and Vinokourov who continue to deny everything. Nobody, especially the UCI and WADA, likes those guys and they hate wasting their operating budgets convicting them. Dekker earned himself some leniency points.
As a corollary, Dekker keeps himself out of the doping news. Journalists love an on-going investigation, the drama, the twists and turns, the claims and counter claims. Nothing irritates a writer more than a liar — doesn’t matter whether it’s a politician or an athlete. Dekker gave himself a vacation from the press hounds. He’ll serve his suspension in relative quiet and come back with some money still in the bank account and his ethics on the mend.
Thomas Dekker, you’re a slease-ball, and yes, we salute you.
Maybe you missed this classic race. The Vuelta Ciclista Chihuahua Internacional. Yes, chihuahua, like the yappy little dog that, surprise, comes from the town in Mexico where they run the esteemed bike race.
Yes, this is hilariously true. A race named after a toy dog. Sort of like if there was a Tour de Poodle or a Giro del Gerbil. This Mexican Vuelta is the real deal, a 2.1 UCI cat race. Oscar Sevilla has done this race, Francisco Mancebo of Rock Racing has won the Chihauhua twice already. Dos chihuahuas, amigo! (Don’t make fun of chihuahuas in this part of Mexico or they take a switchblade to your brake cables and neck.)
But wait, the story (and the race) just gets weirder. Former Rabobank star Michael Rasmussen, the man booted from the Tour de France with the yellow jersey on his emaciated, Buchenwald back, plans to ride the Chihauhua. The Danish climber is nicknamed the Chicken — a Chicken in the Chihauhua. Apparently his wife is Mexican (true) and she loves small, rodent-like dogs nominally involved in bike racing (speculation). The town moto is “bravery, loyalty and hospitality,” which might be what you need to invite the blood-doping, centrifuge-buying Danish rider.
If you love the unique humor inherent in mangled translation, check out this nugget from a bizarre write-up on the Pan American Cycling Federation website. It reads like they went from Spanish to Chinese to English: “Rasmussen is registered again with the Tecos Trek, since then we have loved, we must not forget that in 2007 when he was leading the Tour of France, was removed from the fair, accused of doping, in a movement in the which was a plot.” Is that comic and yet touching and beautiful in a strange way?
By now, you’re thinking “I have to see this race.” Yeah, Paris-Tours or the Giro de Lombardia is exciting but wow, this race where pro cyclists chase a chihauhua across Mexico, now that’s the pinnacle of cycling action. Well no, they don’t chase a chihauhua — it’s not greyhound racing. There may be a cock fighting match in one of the team buses — can’t really say.
I would not expect the roads to be crowded with chihuahuas on leashes held by sassy senoritas in tight red leather mini-skirts all yipping and yappy as Seville or Mancebo go tearing by. The dogs, not the senoritas. That sounds like an old Taco Bell commercial for those step-above-dog food chalupas. Having spent my entire Useful Working Life writing TV spots, that campaign is a classic. Which reminds us, what about a new Powerbar or Clif Bar flavor that’s called fish taco? That sounds … horrific.
There, case concluded. Deluge Versus with e-mails — “I demand full stage-by-stage coverage of the Vuelta Ciclista Chihuahua!” Insist that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen be dispatched immediately to lend their vocal gravity to this singular event. Force cyclingtv and Universal Sports to take affirmative action. The Tour de Runty Mexican Dog begins in less than a week. We must have stories, photos, insightful coverage and a few pics of chihuahuas biting Rasmussen’s tiny buttocks.
Bad Luck banished.
The untimely crashes, misfortunate mechanicals, eternal second places, this year’s Tour de France debacle, the disappointments and frustrations with his Silence-Lotto squad, the incessant whispers that he’d never win anything of consequence. All gone Sunday in the Men’s World Championship Road Race in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Gone forever and always.
On the final climb up the Novazzano, Evan dropped Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain) and took a solo victory by a sweet 27 seconds. He must have had the whole R section of the dictionary in his head: revenge, redemption, relief, reward and — being flat out exhausted — rest and relaxation.
As the media scrum engulfed him, Evan kissed again and again the wedding ring that hung from his neck. It was an absolution, an almost fervent release of all he had endured and suffered. Was that a little heavy on the religious imagery? The man was damn happy the hoard of monkeys were off his back. Fortune finally smiled on the self-described unluckiest man in the peloton.
The five men watching. Rolling in roughly 30 seconds behind the top three finishers were most of the stars, favorites and popular picks. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) , Samuel Sanchez (Spain), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Damiano Cunego (Italy) and Alejandro Valverde (Spain) all had that “oh well” feeling. Too marked, too tactically boxed in and, unlike Evans, getting no help from the cycling gods.
Unable to close the gap, they spent the last kilometers shrugging shoulders and playing a sad game of what-if. Only Cancellara, at home in front of cheering Swiss fans, made a concerted attempt to win with an attack in the penultimate lap. It was a decisive move but not the winning move. Alejandro Valverde, perhaps exhausted from his long flight from his Costa Rican hotel, never had the legs to challenge Evans.
That checkmate move belonged to Evans and it was perhaps the biggest of his career. “I’ve been thinking about this race for two years,” said the Australian. Evans has the rainbow jersey now, yup, that’s him, The Luckiest Man in Mendrisio.
Twisted Spoke does not do bike tricks. We live with chronic neck and shoulder pain and visit Brian Hauswirth, physical therapist to the stars, once a week. The mere thought of even surviving one of these stunts makes us think of full traction, life in a wheel chair, sucking blended hamburger and fries through a straw. And looking at my two children, tears streaming down my face, trying to explain why daddy will never walk again and needs a strange and expensive device to breathe that is not covered by any medical plan. All TS can think is that we need to get back in the hot tub and turn up the jets. That said, holy crapola, this guy is amazing.
Alejandro, where are you?
Recent Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde is not checking into a Swiss hotel after bolting from his Italian accommodations.
After a frosty welcome from the Italian ProTour president, who called Valverde’s participation in the World Championships, “shameful and disturbing,” the Spanish rider decided it was safer in Switzerland, a country famous for its neutrality. However, those initial reports proved erroneous.
Valverde has apparently taken extra precautions and left Europe all together and is staying at a modest eco-hotel in Costa Rica. The Finca Valverde is located in Monteverde next to the Cloud Forest Reserve, a popular nature preserve.
“I am well here,” said Valverde. “There are no Italians and I am free to wander the jungle and breathe the fresh air. I saw a tapir yesterday and a three-wattled bellbird. Plus, I like the hotel name. It gives me confidence.”
Valverde has been dogged for years by allegations of his involvement in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. In May, the Italian Olympic Committee banned him for two years from racing in Italy. He is currently waiting for the Court for Arbitration in Sport to rule on his counter-suit against the UCI and WADA.
For Valverde, the break from Europe appears to beneficial. “My mind is at ease. I walked the butterfly garden this morning. Later I will see the bat jungle, then perhaps tour the coffee farm. The zip-lines look fun, too,” said Valverde.
It remains to be seen how the Spanish team will transport Valverde from Costa Rica back to Mendrisio, Switzerland before the Elite Men’s Road Race on Sunday.
Wow, a Swiss champion on Swiss soil, err, roads. Is there any important time trial that Fabian Cancellara hasn’t won in the last year? Like Mark Cavendish in the sprint, Cancellara is on another physiological level. It just may be time to grab the scalpel, cut him open and find out what’s inside. For the benefit of science and mankind and slow pedaling cyclists everywhere. Or we could just ask his Saxo Bank mastermind Bjarne Riis — Fabian might prefer that approach.
Competitors wake up knowing second place is the best they can hope for. The man they call Spartacus is so much stronger than the others that he could basically ride in a wool toga flapping in the wind and Roman sandals. Race directors might need to impose a weight penalty to give the others a chance — maybe make him carry two six packs of Eichhof beer on his back. Which by the way they call the Swiss Power Beer.
Fabulous Fabian blitzed the 49.8 kilometer course in 57:54. A full 1:27 faster than Gustav Larsson (Sweden). Germany’s Tony Martin took the third podium spot, 2:30 back. The man was so far ahead he had time to drop back into 2nd gear, soak in the vibe and get his post-race quotes together. And crack open one of those aforementioned Eichhof beers. Just kidding.
A crowd of 23,000 cheered Cancellara on — we’re assuming it was about 22,999 Swiss fans. He went out the gate fast, went faster, added more fast and zoomed to a dominating win. Second place Larsson tried to draft when Fabian blew by but to no avail.
Expectations were high for Bradley Wiggins until a chain problem ended his chances. Last years’ Worlds TT champion, Bert Grabsch could only manage 10th place. And uhh, they don’t have a podium spot for that. Maybe a gift assortment of Swiss chocolates. Best placed American Tom Zirbel surprised many with a terrific ride, just 17 seconds from claiming 3rd place.
It was Fabian Cancellara’s day in Mendrisio. He proved once again that he will win any race that has a clock that goes tick-tick-tick.
Alejandro, where’s your trench-coat?
The winner of the recent Veulta a Espana had been staying in Como, Italy in preparation for this weeks’ World Championship races in Mendrisio. But after a less than warm welcome from the Italians, Valverde now plans to bunk at a separate hotel on Swiss soil.
Things got ugly when Vittorio Adorni, the president of the Italian ProTour, called Valverde’s participation the the Worlds both “shameful and disturbing.” Back in May, the Italian Olympic Committee banned Valverde from racing in Italy for two years. The ban didn’t cover staying in Italian hotels or buying Italian leather jackets but Valverde isn’t feeling the love.
In the meantime, while his team searches for a nice Swiss hotel, Valverde has been spotted wearing a fake beard and sunglasses. Keeping a low profile. That’s what champions do.
Our congrats to Heather Irmiger and Ross Schnell for winning the 2009 edition of the Single Speed Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango, Colorado. Yee-haw, as the cowboy tifosi say.
Instead of some sizable check and a stuffed teddy bear, winners are given, invited, coerced into getting a tattoo. Suppose they did that at the Tour de France — Lance Armstrong would be inked all over with Credit Lyonnaise bears. A scary thought. Dude, I just won Alpe d’Huez, where’s my Jagermeister and Angel of the Mountains tat? Uhh, no, that doesn’t happen.
But we’re talking about a different sub-culture. The single track tribe is much more of a hony tonk, cowboy hat, tequila shot, high heels with cleats, tattoo parlor and indie rock scene. You ride your bike to the race, the bar, the jail — it’s that kind of vibe.
That said, yeah, cool, because a steady diet of overly serious lycra jerks gets tiring. The sad truth is road bikers hardly every buy you a round and their conversation rarely gets beyond training programs and titanium widgets.
The Single Speed Mountain Bike Championship is a huge inhale of fresh air and a really awesome tat. I mean, a chunk of Roubaix cobblestone is great — a nice souvenir. But going under the needle is a whole ‘nother deal. Not an EPO deal either. There is no drug test category for performance enhancing ink.
Our congrats to winners Heather and Ross. You rock. You don’t need a special colored jersey. What good is that? A jersey gets dirty, the color fades and eventually it ends up on ebay or the Goodwill bin.
A championship is an indelible measure of who you are. It’s what’s inked under the jersey that counts.
Try to comprehend in your mind, if you can, the following phrases: Lance Armstrong unclear, Lance Armstrong lost, Armstrong confused. Lance Armstrong just having a hard time making up his mind.
Who could imagine that reality? Think about cancer survivor, 7 time Tour de France winner, billion dollar fund raiser, author and motivational speaker and then attempt — yes, make your absolute best effort — to attach the words lost or indecisive to Lance Armstrong. Impossible. Not in forever.
And yet that is where brilliant rider and clueless planner Alberto Contador finds himself. In limbo, still under contract to Astana, a shell of a team, gutted by departing manager Johan Bruyneel, a team without a director sportif, a team without a plan barely hanging onto its Pro Tour license.
There Alberto sits, day after day, month after month, contemplating, dithering, doing the Hamlet-bicycle thing — “to depart or not to depart, that is the question.” Semantics tell the story, the difference between the iron will and ambition of Armstrong and a nice Spanish lad with incredible skill but no idea where to go. It’s not about the bike, it’s about the brain.
Examine the Language of Contador: ” I need a team,” ” we are awaiting the UCI’s decision” (about Astana’s license) and “we can’t do much until we know if Alberto can leave or not. We have been waiting a long time.” The attitude is helplessness, confusion, letting fate dictate, throwing up your hands and saying, someone please figure out my life. Contador is not a Carpe Diem kinda guy.
In the same time frame, Lance and Johan Bruyneel have put together a new team, lined up sponsors, stripped Astana of quality riders and built an entire Tour-ready machine to crush all rivals. Armstrong is probably in the wind tunnel right now. He’s haranguing Trek about making his time trial bike even faster. He’s insisting that Nike cut another 10 grams of weight off his cycling shoes. He’s examining micro-fiber samples to see which one wicks better. He’s reviewing photos for the cover of his next book. He’s taking care of business, folks.
This is how you win 7 tours versus how you win two because gosh, you were really good but didn’t have a clue off the bike. Every day that Alberto Contador lays in bed lost raises the odds that Lance Armstrong and Andy Schleck will beat him in the Tour. The Spanish rider may become the first tour winner to essentially knock himself off the podium 9 months before the race begins.
Alberto is waiting for someone, anyone to give him an out. He is not the master of his own domain. That he leaves up to Fran — no, not some house-cleaner in Des Moines — Fran, his brother. You can see the problem right there. Never ask a Fran about anything except bathroom cleaners.
And sadly the answer to this cycling conundrum is clear to anyone who has followed pro cycling for 5, maybe six minutes. Break contract with crazy Kazak team that can’t pay bills and brought back drug pariah Vinokourov. Sign with powerful Caisse D’Epargne team loaded with Spanish riders that’s likely to lose their best tour rider, Alejandro Valverde, to doping suspension. Double duh. Fran, put two and two together, fetch brother, tell news.
When will this happen? No prediction on that but one thing is obvious: Armstrong will be ready. Contador, that’s a big question mark.
Andre Griepel (Columbia-HTC) won the final sprint stage of the Vuelta in Madrid on Sunday. It’s his fourth victory in this years’ Tour of Spain for the man they call Andre the Giant.
This is not to be confused with the other Andre the Giant, the famous wrestler who was 7’4″ and 540 pounds. Imagine the bike frame for a guy like that. The carbon fiber would splinter like matchsticks.
Although Greipel has taken on Tom Boonen, Tyler Farrar and Gerald Ciolek, he has never faced Hulk Hogan, Jake “the Snake” Roberts or Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He’s ridden some big races but the Columbia rider has never taken part in WrestleMania. We doubt he knows how to execute a Gorilla press slam or a Belly Piledriver.
We’re also sure that the German Andre is not called “The Greatest Drunk on Earth,” a title Andre the wrestler won by downing 119 12-ounce beers in six hours. You know, a sip or two of champagne to celebrate a stage win is fine but over a hundred beers? Not a wise idea.
And finally, what is the likelihood that Andre Greipel has a street art graffiti campaign like the other giant? Or a documentary film to explain this crazy phenomenon. Nevertheless, four wins in the Veulta is impressive, a Mark Cavendish-size haul. Not giant, but undeniably big.
Regular reader Henkio asked that I stop bashing Alejandro Valverde so I’m taking a break on that. I’ll leave that to the folks at cyclingnews. in their wrap-up of the Vuelta. Thanks to everyone who has been reading my Vuelta posts. I’ll continue to cover all the bigger races. See you at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Someone will soon have a huge win, giant sized. Maybe, just maybe, should the win approach heroic proportion, they’ll even have a posse.