Twisted Spoke

My twisted take on the world of pro bike racing.

Posts Tagged ‘suspension

The Twisted Spoke plan for Zirbel. The t-shirt that saves Tom.

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The beginning of a Movement!

A quick back-pedal.

We wrote two or three posts about American rider Tom Zirbel testing positive for the steroid DHEA.

He may be an innocent victim of supplement contamination — those secret ingredients will kill you! It’s also possible the geeks in the white labs coats made mistakes. Guilty, not guilty, whatever. I’m now pulling for Zirbel for the simple reason that he’s not a witless, egotistical bozo like CERA fiends Di Luca and Ricco.

But that’s not the story. This is about a rabid Zirbel supporter who immediately began haranguing me for what she considered my flip, cynical assumption of Zirbel’s guilt. She was fighting mad and had to get the last word, in comment after comment on my blog. Wow, Twisted Spoke had its first stalker.

After exchanging a number of emails back and forth I thought we’d reached a agreement: I softened my stance on the unlikelyhood of Zirbel’s innocence and she downgraded me from despise to intensely dislike. A fair deal, I thought.

However, when Zibel’s B sample came back with the same bad news and I did a follow-up post, she lashed me again. This is when I reminded her of the gift I’d given her. If she was so totally, 100%, beyond a shadow of a dope test, possibly-even-in-Zirbel’s-family-tree sure that he was innocent, I had a plan for her.

I suggested, using my 20 plus years as a slick advertising professional, that she form a fund raising group for Zirbel inspired by her own relentless support: Zealots For Zirbel. Ah, the power of simple alliteration.

Now anyone in marketing knows that a good name is half the battle. I’d just handed her the kind of galvanizing war cry I used to charge corporate clients $10,000 for. She failed to see the brilliance and instead she kept on sniping. Where was her grass-roots activism, I asked myself?

So I’m throwing this snazzy slogan out into the blogosphere. Assemble the Zirbel army and get their sizes. I roughed out a bare bones t-shirt design with a web template just to get their creative juices flowing. Tom’s a groovy guy and at 6′ 4, he’s the same height as me. We tall men stick together so, hey, a freebie Z-Man — and send me an XL when you’re done printing.

Organize the troops, set up a bank account and don’t make the same mistakes Fairness For Floyd made. In other words, do not threaten to bring up the Greg Lemond child molestation story. Landis still hasn’t recovered from that astronomical lapse in judgement.

Okay, professional consulting done. Time for you to get to work Delilah.


Written by walshworld

February 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

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

Dekker apologizes for using EPO blood booster. Yes, actually apologizes.

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"I take responsability."

"I take responsibility."

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.”

Here’s what Dekker had to say in his own words: “I don’t look for excuses. I was wrong. I will accept the punishment and then start again,” said the Dutch rider. What a non-Vino thing to say.

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.

Written by walshworld

September 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm

The doping hat-trick. Liberty Seguros’ triple doping suspensions.

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A team with one rider nailed for a doping violation is not news. That’s expectation, a given, a team without a suspended rider on the roster is like a team without a mechanic. Now if two riders are caught, then you have a story. That gets us into the area of a possible team sanctioned doping program. Exciting stuff with hotel raids, bus searches and midnight interrogations. But three riders hit with positive dope tests — on the same team — now you’re going BIG. Liberty Seguros, our hats off for raising the bar.

The winner of the Tour of Portugal, Nuno Ribeiro — we’re going to call him Nono Ribeiro — was caught along with two team-mates. Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal and Hector Guerra all tested positive for EPO-CERA. Which is that blood booster that allows you to go up steep mountains like a race car — thus gaining an unfair advantage on honest, hard-pedaling racers who take nothing but water and stale granola bars.

Another Sponsor bites the dust.

Another Sponsor bites the dust.

Team sponsor Liberty Seguros, an insurance company, did a quick risk analysis and pulled the plug. “It is with great sadness that we learned of this situation,” said Jose Antonion de Sousa, CEO of Liberty Seguros. “However, Liberty Seguros is guided by honesty, accuracy and ethical behavior – we can never allow such a situation.” We applaud this decision and have cancelled our State Farm policy in favor of signing up with de Sousa.

We suspect the UCI will be talking with team manager Vito Paulo Branco about his possible involvement in the doping cases. But do not expect the Spanish Federation to hand out too much punishment. They’re too busy protecting favorite son Alejandro Valverde and fighting his two-year doping ban from the Italian Olympic Committee.

Three doping positives in one team. Wow, the doping hat-trick.

Written by walshworld

September 18, 2009 at 5:09 pm

The Astarloza story. Bye-bye Tour de France 2010 invite.

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I injected this arm but I'm innocent.

I injected this arm but I'm innocent.

Hum along with us, will ya? “Euskaltel-Euskadi, out of the tour, so carelessly.”

News that Mikel Astarloza’s B sample  tested positive for EPO was expected. What  wasn’t expected was the reaction from the beleaguered Basque squad.  Instead of a statement condemning  the rider’s illegal doping, the team reiterated its full support and belief in Astarloza’s innocence. Not a wise idea.

They announced on their web site that they have “trust in the riders innocence. We have placed this affair in the hands of our lawyers to prove he is innocent.” That was the sound of next year’s Tour de France invite being torn up.

The Tour de France is famously protective of its image and prestige. Even Alberto Contador was not allowed to defend his first title, a victim of Alexander Vinokourov’s blood doping the previous tour. If the French think you’re dirty, they don’t require a note from the UCI or WADA. And they certainly don’t need to wait six months for the Court of Arbitration in Sport to render a decision. As far as tour officials are concerned, Astarloza, the supposed winner of stage 16 in Bourg Saint-Maurice, has insulted the honor of the tour.

Euskatel’s only hope of keeping their invite was to condemn Astar-Losers’ doping offense. Their statement should have read “we have ripped his heart out and chopped off his head, which we’re delivering to you in a diamond crusted box. We hope that’s enough, we’re really really sorry.” Harsh but a start in the right direction.

Instead, we have Director Sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia standing firmly behind his rider’s syringe. (Now why did I write syringe when I meant story?) You have to appreciate the loyalty but question the intelligence. Hard medical science, a positive A & B sample versus “gosh, he said he’s innocent so we believe him.” An extra tough sell considering that in July one of their other riders, Inago Landaluze, admitted to using CERA EPO.

So how exactly does Euskatel plan on proving Asatrloza’s innocence since they won’t be using any facts? The rider himself admitted it won’t be easy: “Unfortunately, I can’t prove it, and I can’t explain what happened,” said the Basque rider. In other words, don’t look for those bright orange jerseys in the Tour de France next year. Euskaltel-Euskadi blew that opportunity big time.

Written by walshworld

September 10, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Alejandro Valverde. The Vuelta’s future black eye.

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Why do I need sunglasses? So the drug control people won't find me.

I'm incognito. It's just safer that way.

The leader of this year’s Vuelta a Espana, Alejandro Valverde, has seven seconds on Cadel Evans of Silence- Lotto and 36 seconds on Robert Gesink of Rabobank. He should probably care less about that time. The real question is how much time does Valverde have on CAS, the Court for Arbitration in Sport?

Since CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, handed the Spanish rider a two year ban for alleged blood doping in the Operacion Puerto affair, the talented Valverde has been riding on borrowed time. If and when the CAS renders its own decision on whether to uphold that ban, Valverde could easily find his career on hold for two years and his recent results wiped off the books–including a potential Vuelta victory.

Then again, maybe not. When it comes to drug enforcement in professional cycling, time is elastic and the wheels of justice turn at glacial speed. Operacion Puerto was over three years ago and since that time Valverde has won more than twenty major races including classics Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche Wallonne, Dauphine Libere, San Sebastian and stages in the Vuelta and Tour de France. All while under a thick cloud of suspicion and embarrassment that won’t go away. Meanwhile the legal delays, squabbles and infighting would astonish anyone outside the world of cycling. And sicken those with a much closer view.

The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) has chosen nationalism over integrity and disputes the findings and jurisdiction of the Italian commission. This despite DNA evidence linking Valverde to blood bags seized in Operacion Puerto.

If Floyd Landis and his off-the-charts testosterone was a slap in the face of the Tour de France. Then Valverde winning the Vuelta would be a kick in the groin, another painful and public setback. With the stakes so high, the answers are still maddeningly vague. UCI president Pat McQuaid has no idea when CAS will make a ruling, saying “It’s still outstanding with the CAS. There is nothing we can do until a verdict is reached. He is free to race.” Would the words shocking or baffling cover that statement?

And yet Valverde rides on, defiant, winning races and proclaiming innocence. For three years time has been on his side. The Court of Arbitration in Sport seems to have missed the bigger issue: Embarrassment in Sport. Spanish rider Roberto Heras was stripped of the 2005 Vuelta win for doping. The clock is ticking on Valverde and no matter how fast he and his Caisse d’Epargne team ride, there is little he can do to stop it.

Written by walshworld

September 8, 2009 at 6:30 am

The conspiracy farce. Danilo Di Luca joins the implausibility parade.

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I'll sign this autograph if you come up with a good conspiracy theory.

I'll sign this autograph if you come up with a good conspiracy theory.

Lies, denials and attempts to discredit labs and testing methodologies are one thing. But far too often accused riders who’ve failed drug tests stretch the limits of credibility by blaming their positive tests on a conspiracy.

Names are never named, theories are never explained, facts uncovered or witnesses produced. There is never any legal or logical plausibility to these conspiracies. They just exist in an ether that is almost supernatural or science fiction.

Today, Danilo di Luca, he of the failed A and B sample taken on two Giro stages, turned desperate with the “conspiracy” theory. Said Di Luca, “I just can’t explain the two positive tests at the Giro. I’m not ruling out a conspiracy but before I can confirm it I have to be sure.” Good luck with that.

There is a long line of such laughable behavior. Alexandre Vinokourov blamed a vague conspiracy to “tarnish our image” and derail his tour de France preparations.

Floyd Landis insisted there was a “conspiracy” at the Chatenay-Malabry lab to discredit him and strip him of his fairly earned Tour de France victory. He spent two million dollars on his defense but very few people believe that yarn.

Following his suspension for doping, Iban Mayo, the Basque super climber, ranted that there was a conspiracy at the UCI. The Saunier Duval rider believed they were out to discredit him for reasons he never made clear, supported or proved.

Marco Pantani, a man filled with delusions of grandeur and the habit of referring to himself in the third person, felt he too was persecuted. The rider once referred to as Mr. 60% for his sky high hematocrit level, alleged he was, you guessed it,  “a victim of a conspiracy.”

Lithuania rider Raimondas Rumsas, third in the 2003 Tour de France, reacted to his doping suspension with an extra twist: the conspiracy was perpetrated by his own team. He followed that outlandish claim with this gem: “It could be that (Lampre) wants to get rid of me…” He had no explanation for the large quantity of doping products the French police found in his wife’s car.

Richard Virenque, the rider at the center of the infamous Festina doping scandal, denied his guilt for years even when three of his team-mates admitted to a whole host of illegal drugs. Before eventually confessing, the winner of seven Polka Dot jerseys went on tv in tears to proclaim his innocence and that yes, he was a victim of a conspiracy.

One thing seems clear: the bigger the ego, the more likely the conspiracy excuse. This far-fetched explanation requires the kind of out-of-control ego that’s lost all concept of truth. The kind of person who believes they operate in a separate universe where all rules and regulations are theirs to twist with no regard for meaning.

Conspiracy theories work well for presidential assassinations, Wall Street financial scandals and Hollywood back stabbing. But it strains credibility in the world of professional cycling. Danilo di Luca is like the kid who claims Nazi frogmen stole his homework.

Next up, Alejandro Valverde. After being banned for two years in Italy, the Spanish rider will most likely have that extended to the rest of the cycling world. Expect a conspiracy explanation from Alejandro very soon. But don’t expect any facts to go with it.

Written by walshworld

August 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm