Twisted Spoke

My twisted take on the world of pro bike racing.

Posts Tagged ‘doping

The UCI “Italian” clause. Out with Di Luca, back in with Ricco.

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Riccardo Danilo di Ricco Luca.

Oh, it’s there alright.

Buried in the UCI regulations is a clause only a few cycling historians know exists. It’s doubtful that even president Patrick McQuaid has heard of it. It’s not necessarily a secret, simply an obscure three line item that’s never brought to light.  It goes by the innocuous Article: 378.7B-11 and states there must always be “one flashy egotistical Italian in the peloton at all times.”

Monday allowed us to see the inner wisdom of the UCI and the adherence to the spirit of 378.7B-11. Italian Danilo di Luca suspended just as Italian Riccardo Ricco returns from suspension. Life in balance, wheels turning without effort. The flashy self-absorbed climber finishes his 20 months of banishment just as the flashy egotistical blowhard Di Luca goes into forced hibernation. In and out, whimper and bang.

There’s an inherent poetry and the chronological symmetry almost makes Ricco and Di Luca brothers. The Cobra and the Killer. The obscure UCI article is a fundamentalist throwback to the wink-wink days of doping and was written as a gift to the loyal Italian tifosi. Somewhere in Heaven the Pirate smiles.

There must always be a hero to cheer, a reckless, dashing and hot-blooded Italian that attacks at a moments notice. A rider who speaks of honor and character and writes his own legends. In the modern era, that means riders like Pantani, Cipollini, Bartoli and our two current CERA injectors, Ricco and Danilo di Doping.

There is much smart thinking behind this UCI article. Despite our distaste for Di Luca’s colossal hypocrisy and the mundane quality of his lies, we’ll miss the feisty rider. There’s no denying his talent and his passion for racing and he impressed us with his never-say-die efforts to beat Denis Menchov in the 2009 Giro. The man rode himself inside out and left; he left his blood on the road to Rome. And by golly, he looked stylish doing it, like he had a blow dryer and gel in his jersey pocket.

The same can be said for Ricco the rocket. Cycling fans appreciate men who don’t ride like accountants, endless re-calculating the odds but never acting. No Hamlets in the peloton! Ricco’s insane attacks in the mountains of the 208 Tour de France thrilled everyone. Even if you questioned the legality of his power output, you had to give the Cobra his due on pure, exhilarating spirit.

Every Italian knows that spectacle is part of biking racing — it’s Roman gladiators, tigers, blood and a Fellini-esque orgy of podium girls and circus show freaks in lycra. Kinda sorta. Cycling requires an out-sized personality with Latin panache.

Having a  flashy egotistical bike racer to cheer on is an Italian  birthright along, along with superior Tuscan red wine, good leather shoes, hand rolled pasta and women is tight dresses. Take away all those things and what do you have? Belgium, that’s what. Another cycle-mad country but with nowhere near the same sex appeal.

We here at Twisted Spoke support the vision behind UCI Article 378.7B-11. See you in a few years Danilo, three cheers for Ricco. Italy welcomes you back to the races.


Written by walshworld

February 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

Riccardo Ricco hits back at Cavendish. The parasite speaks.

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Parasite, bike.

Biological impossibility? Parasite talks!

Doper Riccardo Ricco responded to recent comments by HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish that he was a parasite. “Why am I parasite? What does he mean when he says I’ve shown no remorse?” Ricco asked.

The alleged ringworm or intestinal fluke insisted that he’s filled with remorse after his suspension for CERA during the 2008 Tour de France.

“I even helped the anti-doping investigators and that’s why they gave me a 20-month ban instead of 24 months. Of course, he (Cavendish) is at the peak of his career and so he can say what he wants.”

In a recent interview, Cavendish heaped abuse on the Italian climber. “It’s insulting to the passion that I have and the others have for cycling … and for someone else to not give a shit about that, it’s incredibly demoralizing to have to compete against that,” he said.

However, in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Ricco hit back at the Manxman. “I’m not going to respond because I’m the last person who can speak after what I did. He’s the number-one sprinter in the world and so he’s always right.” said Ricco. “I’m not that bothered about what he’s said or what he thinks. Anyway, you shut people up with your legs, not with your mouth.”

Ricco’s legs are in for quite a challenge. Mark Cavendish isn’t’ the only HTC COlumbia rider disgusted by Ricco’s imminent return to racing. In a Twitter message, Marco Pinotti said the idea that Riccò and fellow CERA doper Emanuele Sella could be at this year’s Giro ‘made him puke’.

“They’ve had a second chance but they’ve never apologized to the other riders in the peloton, to the team staff that lost their jobs and above all to the fans they betrayed,” said Pinotti.

Cavendish versus Ricco. No doubt round three is coming soon.

Written by walshworld

January 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

Micheal Rasmussen, the lost chicken. The “whereabouts” problem continues.

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Where am I? I need food.

It appears to be a recurring problem. The Chicken has trouble with his whereabouts.

First he was booted out of the 2007 Tour De France with the maillot jaune still on his back for lying about his whereabouts to the anti-doping authorities. He’d claimed to be in Mexico but was in fact training in Italy. His Rabobank team immediately sacked him.

After his two year enforced vacation, Rasmussen is still having difficulties with whereabouts. He simply never seems to know where he’s going or where he will be. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the EPO drug — the inability to focus on place, a defined geographical location. A thickening of the blood accompanied by a congealing of the thought processes.

On the verge of signing a contract with the CDC-Cavaliere team, the Dane broke what he called only a “pre-contract.” This was  accompanied by the hilarious phrase, ” The two parties have commenced the liquidation of the cooperation that has never existed.” Rasmussen hinted that he’d soon sign with a bigger, more exciting team within days but then nothing but silence. Chicken, no coop.

Now, with the 2010 ProTour season kicking off with the Tour Down Under in a matter of days, nobody seems to know where Rasmussen will end up — especially Rasmussen himself.

“I fear that Michael Rasmussen will be hard pressed to find a new team at the moment,” Danish TV commentator and and former rider Rolf Sorensen told “Time is beginning to work against him in earnest, and I had really hoped that he would have been ready with a new team now.”

The emaciated climber would seem like a natural fit for a team with adjustable ethics and no internal drug testing program. Yet, surprisingly, the answer seems to be no. It hasn’t helped that news stories continually link him with an Austrian doping operation and name him as the co-owner, along with disgraced rider Bernard Kohl, of a blood centrifuge.

“I don’t hear Michael’s name mentioned in my international network talks about changes in the riders’ market,” Sorensen said. “Maybe it’s because of the case from Austria, still buzzing from the authorities, and therefore scaring away interested teams.” Yeah, that’s a solid rationale.

Rasmussen’s manager, Mads Frederiksen, said, “There is nothing new in terms of Michael Rasmussen’s future. We’re still in dialogue, but until there is something more concrete, we will have nothing to say.” This is classic Hollywood deal-speak for “we have absolutely no offer whatsoever.”

Is there no home for a chicken, even an unrepentant one? Where is Michael Rasmussen at this moment? Perhaps at Danilo di Luca’s house. Always a warm welcome there.

Written by walshworld

January 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Jesus to testify against Valverde. Savior makes visit to CAS.

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Jesus rides to CAS court.


Jesus. Has there ever been a better name for a whistle-blower? His is the savior of cycling but alas he has been ignored, pilloried and laughed at.

Jesus Marzano, the former Kelme rider, has been called as a witness in Alejandro Valverde’s hearing at the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS).

Yes, he is going to the mountain to speak again. After over three years, perhaps someone in the legal profession will do more than just listen.

Our man Jesus was a teammate of Valverde on the Kelme Costa Blanca squad between 2002 to 2003. He has detailed the extensive doping practices within the team on numerous occasions.

Jesus, our savior.


“I remember an evening after one of the Vuelta stages in 2002,” said Jesus. “Valverde came to dinner with a testosterone plaster on. After an hour he ripped it off, otherwise he would have tested positive.”

His testimony lead to the Operacion Puerto investigation but while Valverde was allegedly implicated no punishments were handed out. The Spanish authorities closed the Puerto case several weeks ago to the general shock and disappointment of the entire cycling world.

Back in 2007 Jesus Marzano told the German magazine Stern that Valverde “took the same stuff that they gave me.” For his part, Valverde has denied the allegations but is in for a long legal battle with two upcoming cases before CAS.

The first is Valverde’s attempt to toss out the ban the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) hit him with last May, which prevented him from racing in Italy for two years. This stopped Valverde from riding the 2009 Tour de France, as one stage dipped into Italy.

Then, in a second hearing in mid March, the UCI and WADA go on the offensive, attacking the Spanish cycling federation’s decision not to discipline the rider. Should Valverde lose that case, a global two year ban is expected.

But our thoughts go back to Jesus Marzano. If you’ve followed his story for these last few years, you have seen his picture before. It’s the same one the media always uses. It’s the face of a sad, even forlorn young man with big ears and bushy eye brows. He has suffered in the same way all whistle-blowers have: losing his connection with a sport he loves, ostracized by the code of silence, ridiculed and slandered.

If anyone deserves better treatment in this tangled and ugly mess, it is Marzano. Twisted Spoke would like to see Jesus smile and find some measure of peace.

(Amazing top photo courtesy of Scott Davidson. His portfolio is at right about here.)

Written by walshworld

January 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Zirbel. The other side of the story, the Hell side.

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We wrote about American rider Joe Papp a week or so ago. Busted from EPO, career over. Joe is also a thoughtful, classy and intelligent guy who knows pro cycling and the doping culture inside and out.

We asked him for comment on Tom Zirbel’s positive A test for DHEA. Turns out he’d already written a long and informative article about the story — and every word is worth reading because you get both sides of the story.

We won’t cut and past the whole piece but the one thing we took away from Joe Papp’s perspective is what Zirbel is going through. Guilty or not, Tom Zirbel is suffering big time. Sometimes, it’s worth stepping away from the axe grinder and Sunday school lecturing and realize that.

Joe put it this way: “If his B-sample comes back positive or he otherwise fails to clear his name, his world is going to implode, and it won’t be pretty.” Papp has plenty to say about Zibel’s statements and arguments but he also knows first hand what that implosion feels like.

“I can empathize with what Zirbel might feel then, should the B-sample come back positive, as you all know that my own career ended when I was just 31 and was caught doping – which was devastating,” wrote Papp.

“Worse, almost no one could understand that, even though I’d brought it on myself to a large degree by doping shamelessly for five years, the feeling of being ripped from the womb of cycling left me so disoriented and adrift that life temporarily lost all meaning and hope.”

On the matter of Zirbel’s guilt or innocence, Papp went on to offer a personal and compelling story. “By the same token, and in Tom’s defense, the lab very well may have made an error. Just like I didn’t knowingly ingest anything that could have left the metabolites 6α-OH-androstenedione or 6β-OH-androsterone, I had taken five other doping products that an accredited-lab failed to detect. I hope people consider both scenarios while we wait for the official disclosure.”

Twisted Spoke was quick to pass judgement on Zirbel. Sometimes the doping story is so pervasive and never-ending that we get angry and spew invective. The sport is too beautiful for such constant abuse. It takes a rider like Papp to bring the full picture into focus. You can hate the crime and still feel for the man. Then again, maybe we’re just feeling real Buddhist today.

One final word on the Zirbel affair from an expert authority on the subject, Joe Papp.  Speaking of another athlete, he said, “I know for a fact that a rider was positive for EPO when he won a US National Criterium Championship – he took a full-strength, non-micro dose within the time frame during which he should have been positive,” wrote Papp.

“In fact, his “A” sample WAS positive, but his “B” was declared negative because the EPO levels were interpreted to fall just below the cut-off for a definitive positive. So the labs can make mistakes. Guilty go free (only to be caught later). Some riders cheat. I hope most do not. But to be in Tom’s shoes right now is to be in hell and I wish him and his family the best regardless of what the truth of the matter is.”

Well and truly said.

Written by walshworld

December 28, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Zirbel denies “knowingly” ingesting DHEA. “Unknowingly” a tough sell.

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Zirbel "knowingly" riding his bike.

Dope, meaning clueless?

“I didn’t knowingly ingest any DHEA,” said American rider Tom Zirbel after his A sample came back positive from a WADA-accredited lab at the University of Utah. So, the only remaining option is what — unknowingly?

The “unknowingly” option is always a hard one for Twisted Spoke. Top riders scrutinize every facet of their training including a near religious focus on their diet. They weigh their food, they count every calorie and obsess about the benefits of each bite. They’re maniacally careful about what they put in their bodies. Unknowingly is just hard to swallow.

In Zibel’s case, the unknowing excuse is doubly hard to accept. He claims, “I’m ignorant about these things, I didn’t know what DHEA was until I was first notified about my A sample.” These days any rider with half a brain has a basic understanding of what is and isn’t on the banned substance list. A steroid like DHEA is in screaming capital letters that are hard to miss. It’s the same multi-function steroid that ended Tyler Hamilton’s career.

But the most damning unknowing is when Zirbil goes into further detail about hiring an expert to oversee the handling of his B sample. He said, “I have a chemistry back ground so I thought I could check things out as well.” Having a working knowledge of chemistry makes the unknowingly argument even more difficult to believe. The man is a dedicated professional athlete with an interest in chemistry in a sport with a pervasive and public doping problem and he’s never heard of DHEA? That puts quite a strain on credulity.

If this weren’t what seems like the 100th rider in the last 10 years to plead ignorance about a positive doping test result, we could perhaps say, yeah, maybe, somebody in a white lab coat messed up. It happens, everybody makes mistakes. The newspapers are filled with cautionary tales of botched procedures and medical malpractice horror stories.

It would be a tremendous misfortune and gross injustice if Tom Zirbel is innocent. He finished second to Dave Zabriskie twice at the USA time Trial championships. He had a new contract with Garmin-Transitions for the 2010 season. His results are now questioned, contract terminated, career hanging in the balance. There’s lot of undoing in the unknowing.

“I won’t say that it’s out of the realm of possibility that I would walk away from this,” he said. “But I’m pretty irritated about everything. It’s too early to talk about this but if it’s two years I would be pretty bitter. I’m 31 and I have to start thinking about life after cycling anyway.”

Sadly, it seems to Twisted Spoke that Zirbel has unknowingly repeated the same sad, ignominious mistake as many riders before him. We look forward to writing a full retraction and apology to Zirbel should his B sample come back negative.

In the meantime, we’ll just say, welcome to retirement, Tom.

Written by walshworld

December 28, 2009 at 11:34 am

Joe Papp, doping, culture, EPO sludge.

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Papp comes clean.

Joe Papp fell off his bike, a casualty of the doping culture in cycling.

His interview with Myles McCorrym for Pezcycling is probably the best story I’ve read about how and why a rider crosses the line. You get all the angles, the rationales, naiveté, remorse and the painful aftermath wisdom that comes from first hand suffering.

We first discovered Joe Papp a few years ago when he wrote an engaging racing diary for cyclingnews. He wasn’t a famous rider competing in the big monuments of the sport but he was passionate about bike racing. He wrote well and had a skill for taking us inside the races, the personalities, the life of a pro racing gypsy, turning up in Cuba or Turkey or a smaller stage race in Italy or Spain.

So it was a mild shock to read he’s been doping for five years before he was caught and came clean. By the time of his failed drug test, he was doing his best to support the entire pharmacological industry — EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone, insulin, steroid and amphetamines. No doubt he popped a few aspirin, too.

The drug deal reached over 100 products, a  program carefully managed by his Italian team — which would later deny any role or knowledge of Papp’s athletic enhancement. It feels like a very old story that never changes — from the Festina Affair to Operacion Puerto.

One of the ironies about Papp is that reading his diary entries, he seemed like such a straightforward, honest guy. The opposite of Alejandro Valverde or Alexandre Vinokourov, the Spaniard loaded down with doping allegations, the Kazak defiant and unrepentant after his two year suspension. But when you hear Papp describe the rocket boost in performance, you understand the intensity of the temptation.

“At first it brought me back up to my previous level of competitiveness, but the more I took that’s when I moved up a level- it felt amazing. 12 or 13% — enough of a difference to block out any ethical or health issues. Enough to win.” When a rider as thoughtful and articulate as Papp decides to dope, you realize how easily a younger athlete is lead to the needle.

It also nearly killed him. While awaiting his B sample test results, Papp crashed hard in the Tour of Turkey. At the hospital they removed “a mass of EPO-damaged sludge” from his left buttock. Doctors back in the states told Papp the blender mix of blood thinners and EPO could have easily killed him. That was certainly the terminal effect on his cycling career.

Once caught, Papp hoped lawyers would somehow locate the Hail Mary loophole but the endgame was not different than Floyd Landis or Tyler Hamilton: destroyed reputation, broken marriage, financial hardship and depression. A UCI ban was the least of his problems. It’s like the old Neil Young song — “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done. A little part of it in everyone. But every junkie’s like a setting sun.”

UCI anti-doping queen Annie Gripper says they’re winning the war on doping. Articulate and  visionary team directors like Garmin’s  Jonathan Vaughters think the biological passport is a huge step toward clean cycling. It’s a long hard climb, maybe tougher than Alpe d’Huez. “You can change behavior quickly but the deep culture will take a few more years yet,” said Gripper.

In an article about Lance Armstrong in this week’s New York Times, there was a reminder of that pervasive culture. “Five of the eight riders who shared the Tour podium with Armstrong in his winning years served doping bans at some point in their careers. Another two were allegedly tied to doping rings.” Those are not percentages you build a cleaner sport on.

We wish Joe Papp well. Like the NFL players who sell their ligaments, bones and risk life long damage from multiple concussions to make a living, Papp found himself caught in the grinder. He seems like a good guy that loved cycling too much. He wanted to be at the front of the climb and decided there was only one way to do that.

Written by walshworld

December 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm