Ban Asthma Meds, What?

Maybe you hate Chris Froome, maybe you’ve never suffered from asthma yourself, or seen your child suffer from asthma, and want to knowingly or unknowingly also choose to punish children in order to make Froome suffer. So if you’re spouting endlessly on Twitter about banning asthma medication in sport, you’re either unaware of the bigger picture and haven’t done any research, or you simply don’t care, both are choices you made.

Sorry, some actual evidence

I know this isn’t what we’re supposed to when discussing Chris Froome, but there is plenty scientific evidence to support the increased prevalence of exercise induced asthma, in those actually doing exercise. This isn’t just for pro athletes, but schoolchildren!

So if you wonder why exercise induced asthma is more prevalent in people who do exercise, well, it’s not overly complex. The sedentary population have much lower levels of exercise induced asthma because they don’t do exercise. It’s like the levels of dairy intolerance recorded in people who don’t eat dairy, how would they ever know?

Here’s a Malaysian study from 2008

A sports medicine paper from 2013

Another sports medicine paper from 2011

So if you’re one of those people who still doesn’t understand this, you’ve chosen to ignore science to allow your hatred of one athlete to cloud your view on a disease a large percentage of the population suffer from.

Children & Sport

It’s not about Froome, he’s just an athlete in a sport you quite like. The issues regarding the future participation of children in exercise, at all levels, completely & utterly dwarves the career of any cyclist, or any sport for that matter.

Can you imagine the impact on participation in school sport, or in youth cycling for that matter, if you stigmatised asthma medication in competitive sport by banning all asthma medication in all quantities? You’d encourage children not to use them, not just in accredited participation sports, but also in school physical education classes. We’re into the realms of talking about a stigma affecting child obesity levels & mortality if we take it to extremes. A child could avoid using an inhaler & suffer an asthma attack as a result, the consequences of which could be severe.

What do I or you know?

Do I think Chris Froome is clean? Who really cares what I think, because I know as much as you do, which is nothing, only speculation. I certainly care about it, but claiming that superhuman performances are based on Salbutamol, really, this is all you have? Perhaps in years to come we’ll find he was on a cocktail of EPO, HGH, corticosteroids, inhaling unicorn breath in a hyperbaric chamber by night, along with everything allowable up to the ‘legal’ limit, who knows. But taking extra puffs of an inhaler, that’s not the smoking gun anybody sensible thinks is behind his performances.

If he’s genuinely taking anything illegal, it’s his dream that people are focusing on inhalers rather than asking questions about anything else, if Sky are in-on-this, you’ve fallen for their ruse, but you think you’re being super smart.

The Gist Of It

I’m very sceptical, but this kind of nonsense is just turning people like me away from the valid arguments & choosing to mute or ignore the people on social media who are twisting every bit of non evidence to bolster their views.

If you ban all asthma meds, in all quantities in competitive sport, you open up a huge level of negative issues occurring in children’s wellbeing. This isn’t going to help anybody. All that athlete does, if he’s using it illegitimately, is change to something else. Meanwhile children, youth sports & others have to deal with the consequences of demonising a condition, that if treated correctly with the best medication, can only allow an athlete to almost reach a level playing field in lung function.

How dare you try to limit what sports our children can take part in because you don’t like Chris Froome. He’s just part of a sport for a chosen few thousand individuals, real life & access to asthma medication unhindered & without stigma is the given right of billions on this planet. Don’t take that away to stop one aesthetically challenged & slightly dubious cyclist appear on your telly box.

Girospective

This years Giro will be unlike the other 3 week stage races of 2018, it’s completely unpredictable, utterly exciting & absolutely full of drama.

In contrast, the Tour will be closely overlorded by 3 or 4 GC teams, with the rest controlled by sprinters squads & anybody else who has an interest, rarely will a break succeed. The value of a stage win or top 10 place can make a rider a millionaire or guarantee future team sponsorship, the stakes are so high in the Tour that risk taking is kept to a minimum.

The Vuelta has become the last chance saloon for the riders who suffered ‘unluck’ in 2018. Rarely will a WorldTour team sponsor allow a top rider the luxury of waiting until the end of the season for their chance to win big, so this race is now littered with the seasons ‘nearly men’. With the best riders perhaps slightly overcooked and on a more equal level with the next level of grand tour riders, making for great racing. We’ll also see a higher level of team control than the Giro, with 2019 sponsorship negotiations in progress, some teams will be desperate for a result or TV time.

This leaves the Giro with the natural position in the calendar to provide us with the maximum entertainment you can get from a 3 week race. Which it certainly did.

Clone Wars

Simon Yates rode a devastating first 2 weeks, showing just how much promise he has for the future. Still a year younger than Froome was when he first started performing in grand tours, Yates had top 10’s in the Vuelta (’16) & Tour (’17), so is very far ahead of that particular career path. The data he’ll have gathered from this Giro will prove fruitful for not just himself, but also for his twin brother, who sharing the same genes, has also recorded a top 10 in the Tour (’16) & Giro (’17). Despite reaching this point in their careers from very different pathways, they have very similar abilities, imagine them both riding together in a 2019 grand tour! Possibly the most feared duo in cycling from next year.

Villains & Heroes

Our prime pantomime villain is Chris Froome, boo hiss I hear you say, and as Doumoulin came to be aware, “he’s behind you” (until at least the last 150m of the final mountain stage where he tried to jump him). He even had the pantomime horse rolled out for the final stage, which even he didn’t look too enthralled with.

He’s riding this Giro, not under a positive test, but an adverse analytical finding of salbutamol in his system. This gives him the chance to provide evidence to prove his innocence. Personally, I don’t think he should be riding, as a rider is responsible for what is found in his body under WADA rules, but he’s also allowed to prove himself innocent of an AAF under WADA rules. So Froome is allowed to race for now, that’s the rules, like it or lump it, if we don’t have rules it’s chaos, but the rules may need to be revisited to allow this kind of thing to stop happening, as it did with Contador. A very complex issue to allow fairness to those wrongly accused & to prosecute the guilty.

We also have Fabio Aru, who recorded a stunning time trial, only to later be fined for drafting a moto. The sheer volume of doping chat that appeared on Twitter was phenomenal as the times appeared, we very quickly just assume things these days, but often it’s just opportunist cheating we’re seeing, as in Aru’s case. We can’t put that on the same level as doping, if you do 32mph in a 30mph zone, that’s breaking the law, but it’s also breaking the law driving a stolen car at 160mph, both are at opposite ends of the traffic laws. So those who equate opportunist drafting to finding a disreputable doctor & repeatedly sticking a syringe in your arm, are looking at opposite ends of the cheating scale, many (on Twitter predominantly) see these as equal offences.

On the heroes side, we have the riders most liked by fans, which leads some people to think they’re doing things more cleanly than the others. This is another strange phenomena, it appears that if we like a rider, they’re clean, but if we don’t like them, they have a new undetectable wonder drug, which allows them to beat our clean heroes. I sometimes think that maybe we need universal baddies, who everybody hates, just to stop the bickering, then at least everybody agrees. So our super clean heroes of the sport (i.e. the ones I like, so they MUST be clean ūüėČ ) are Doumoulin, Yates, Nieve & Pinot.

I keenly await your vitriol and hatred for my choices.

Colombians & Manzana Postobon team at la Vuelta

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As always, I follow the Colombians in Grand Tours with sheer fascination, the 2017 Vuelta has the added interest away from the established Colombian stars taking part such listed below, along with a Colombian team with a historical sponsor from the 80’s era when Colombians previously appeared in the euro peloton, Postobon, which is basically Colombia’s answer to Irn-Bru.

Non Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part:

  • Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo)
  • Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott)
  • Carlos Betancur (Movistar Team)
  • Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates)
  • Miguel √Āngel L√≥pez (Astana)

Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part (7 of 9 from the team):

  • Aldemar Reyes
    • Team leader, most impressive performance this year is 6th place in the 7th Stage of the Volta Cyclist a Catalunya, a select group of 16 world climbing stars in same time as winner Valverde, sandwiched between Dan Martin in 5th & Romain Bardet in 7th. Should try & pull a surprise result.
  • Hernan Aguirre
    • 17th on GC in 2017 Vuelta a Burgos, won by Landa.
  • Hernando Boh√≥rquez
    • Finished 7th in World U23 Road Race on two occasions, in 2012 & 2014.
  • Fernando Orjuela
    • 10th place on GC in Tour de Langkawi 2017
  • Juan Felipe Osorio
    • King of Mountains in 2017 Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta, Dan Martin was 2nd in this classification.
  • Juan Sebastian Molano
    • In 2015 Tour of Turkey, he finished 4th in a bunch sprint, Cav won.
  • Bernardo Suaza

As you can see, this is a solid team & when given the chance to perform against the World Tour teams, they get results. Add the fact that this is their biggest chance to show their skills to the DS’s of the big teams. They’ll be in breaks in the mountain stages, don’t be surprised to see their considerable climbing talent & bright pink kit in obvious view when the road tilts upwards for the next three weeks. When is the last time there were this many Colombians in a Grand Tour?

 

The Kingmaker

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As Alberto Contador bows out of cycling in the Vuelta which starts tomorrow, few expect him to win, but I suspect his presence will have a significant effect on who does.

‘Bert’ is a racer, he’ll keep plugging away until he cracks, he won’t stop with a fractured leg, he’ll never give up until he really can’t do any more. Unlike Quintana, who appears to spend every Grand Tour waiting for that perfect moment to attack, Contador has always influenced proceedings, then capitalised from them. It’s a style of racing that has endeared fans to him, even though we have to mention the beef sandwich, I can’t help liking the guy & I’m genuinely sad to see his performances wain over the last year.

This unpredictable style of racing doesn’t really suit Sky’s calculating approach, which should make things much more interesting. As we saw in the Tour, even if Contador is five minutes down, he rarely gets any leeway, simply because he’s Alberto Contador & we know what he’s capable of. I firmly believe Froome’s season so far means that he’s likely in better form at the Vuelta than he was in the Tour, with larger time gaps possible, but that discounts the Bert effect, this is his last race & he’s going to¬†empty himself, which is bad news for everybody else & adds a substantial element of unpredictability to the three-week event.

So as far as predictions go, our Kingmaker will take a stage, likely a prestigious one, and hopefully late on so he can cause as much trouble as possible trying to win every other one.

1st: Froome

2nd: Nibali

3rd: Zakarin

4th: Chaves

5th: Betancur

In every break: Manzano Posobon team

Format, rider, or both?

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This years Tour is incredibly close after 2 weeks, the top four are within 29 seconds of each other, with the next 4 within another 2 minutes from 4th place. This is unheard of at this stage in a Tour, after 60 hours in the saddle the time gaps are minuscule, without Porte’s crash involving Dan Martin & the time he lost there, he would be up in 2nd place @ 11s. This is a tight race, but why?

There’s several reasons, which have conspired together to reach this point, it’s not solely course design, other factors had to come into play in order to make the standings this close. A huge factor is who is not there, team leaders such as potentially the strongest rider in the race, Porte, but also protagonists Izagirre & Gesink. The non-mountain stages were also shaped by a missing Sagan, who’s presence would have changed tactics, even yesterday, would Sunweb & BMC have worked so hard if Sagan was there, meaning Aru may not have lost time?

Of great interest is the impact of missing ‘super-domestiques’, Thomas would have strengthened Sky, allowing them to more easily revert to their tried & tested (but fan-boring) mountain-train strategy, Fuglsang, fresh from Dauphine victory would have provided back up for Arg in the mountains. More interesting & potentially a huge impact is Valverde, he crashed due to his commitment, meaning that he thought he wasn’t just here for back-up, he meant business, and probably quite righly so after Quintana diluted his performance by racing the Giro to win. His team leader Quintana is hovering around the bottom of the top ten, Valverde was as good as ever, likely would have become team leader by performance.

Finally, we have the course. Fewer mountain top finishes to focus all GC contenders attacking on one type of effort, favouring riders like Froome. Less time trialling early on, again favouring strong time triallists like Froome who then command a seemingly unassailable lead early in the race. The short mountain stages also provide the springboard for opportunist attacks, which probably wouldn’t happen with an extra 90 to 100km in the legs.

All these features have conspired to produce a close race, which in turn produces attacks. If the gaps are small riders think they have a chance to take the jersey. If the gaps on GC are 2 or 3 minutes, the riders go into damage limitation mode, being realistic that they are unlikely to gain more than a few seconds. If the gaps are a few seconds, anybody who’s still within those margins can realistically take the jersey.

What we can see from this, is that by designing a similar course next year, we probably won’t see a similar Tour. As usual, it’s the riders that make the race, injuries, dropouts, crashes & in some cases performance reducing naturally with age (Bert). I’m looking forward to the next week, I don’t believe we’ll see as close a finish as 8 seconds in 1989, but I do suspect we’ll see do-or-die attacks from the likes of Bardet & Uran. If the Colombian can pull something off, he can time trial very well, having won a TT over 40km in the 2014 Giro, with Froome not looking quite as strong as usual, he may not have to pull back as large a buffer as most imagine in the final TT. An interesting week ahead.

 

Blood & Skills

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I continue to hear pundits & those involved in ‘skill based’ sports defend themselves against EPO use & blood manipulation as if it wouldn’t benefit them. I beg to differ. The following should at least show that there’s little chance of getting caught in other sports & there’s huge benefits to most sports people in the use of banned substances like EPO (Erythropoietin). Next time you hear that they don’t test because “they don’t have a problem”, maybe consider that they don’t test for another very obvious reason, opening the doors to what’s actually going on.

Fitness V Skills

In ideal circumstances, where there is a level playing field, any elite athlete or sportsperson would have to dedicate a large amount of time to developing their aerobic fitness. This could give them a competitive advantage in their sport, allowing them to outperform their rivals, keep playing at the same level throughout a game & potentially recover better from injuries. More time devoted to fitness training, then less time devoted to skills training obviously results in a less skilled player than one who has devoted all that time to skills.

Imagine if there was a shortcut which sports competitors could use that would reduce the huge amount of time required to gain the very high levels of aerobic fitness required in most sports these days, allowing them to spend most of that time on improving their skills. Do you think they would take that shortcut, especially if there was virtually no testing for it, as the sport’s hierarchy had decided that nobody needed it as EPO & blood boosting are not a problem in their sport?

With almost zero chance of getting caught for its use, a pharmaceutical product sourced in a jiffy-bag relatively cheaply from China (I googled it, it’s quite shocking how easy it is to acquire), it’s almost a no-brainer for any manager under pressure from sponsors & sponsor company directors to make a dodgy decision. You have to ask, why wouldn’t they? The vast sums of money available if players move up to the next level are a huge motivator, they appear to be willing to do it in cycling to secure a deal on the UCI minimum wage, if millions were on offer, morality doesn’t get a look-in.

Minimal Testing

There’s been a myth generated within these ‘skill based’ sports that EPO & other drug use is not widespread, they devote much less funding towards testing for it, as “they don’t have a problem”. We know that doping has existed for some time in football, in 2013 the German government released a report which revealed that the team who won the 1954 World Cup had been injected with the amphetamine Pervatin, which had been developed by the Nazi’s to make their troops fight longer & harder.

Take football & tennis as examples, there’s an estimated over 65,000 professional footballers in the world & all are eligible for testing.¬†In tennis the ATP Tour have 1,814 players & the ATP Tour 1,106, so 2,920 in total. In road cycling, there’s around 1200 WorldTour & ProContinental riders + around 2300 competing in Continental Tour events, circa 3500 professional riders.

Summary: Football 65,000 professionals, Tennis 2,920 professionals, Road Cycling 3500 professionals.

If we take 2015 as an example, the WADA report reveals the following:

Football

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 24,654 (37.9% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 5,618 (8.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 697 (1.1% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 617 (0.9% chance of being tested)

Tennis

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 2,523 (86.4% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 929 (31.8% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 166 (5.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 829 (28.4% chance of being tested)

Road Cycling

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 6,460 (184.6% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 4,123 (117.8% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 407 (11.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 569 (16.2% chance of being tested)

I’ve made some assumptions in the testing probability, that the vast majority of testing is on the professional athletes in each sport & that tests are carried out across the entire available players/riders (we know there will be target testing, so I’m just keeping it simple). In cycling there are also figures for track, bmx, mountain biking, cross etc, but these are not included in these figures, we’re looking solely at the most tested area of cycling, which is road cycling.

The Gist Of It

When I googled EPO from China, sources appeared on the first page of results, selling it for the use of athletes, with full instructions. If you’re keen on using it, you’ll have already done this, so I’m not exactly revealing anything here for those who can use google & are idiots willing to inject stuff with no traceability that’s sent in a jiffy bag. It seems reasonable to assume that any sports team could ‘prepare’ their team members for about ¬£500 each, use their existing doctors to safely administer it & result in a team with new-found superskills looking like it had “run rings around” their¬†rivals (remind anybody of anything?). Whenever I hear that phrase in sports reports, I do always wonder, because as we know, in sports like football there are virtually no tests for EPO, especially at domestic level.

As this 2008 paper reveals, EPO also provides some considerable injury recovery properties. So I ask again, why wouldn’t highly paid footballers be taking this, it’s cheap, easily accessable & there’s only a 1% chance of being tested, which would have to be in the short ‘glow time’, while a cyclist has over 16% chance of being tested. I’m sure proper testing would reveal some very disturbing truths.

2017 & Mens Pro Cycling

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Men’s pro cycling, the main focus of the cycling media, has been causing me some motivational problems as a cycling fan the last few months. ¬†Living in the UK, the story of the jiffy bag & the tiresome Bradley Wiggins attitude has been dominating proceedings, with it getting murkier & murkier as time progresses, it really looks like the beginning of the end for ¬†Brailsford, although he’s likely to slip into a highly paid role in another sport, these people usually emerge somewhere else. There’s obviously been a cover up, but covering up what nobody really knows, it looks unlikely the full facts will ever become available in the public domain due to the amount of mistruths that have already been told.

In general, it looks like there’s been a large turnover in riders in the peloton this year, with plenty of retirements, so there is potential for a bit of a renewal, hopefully without the same level of scandals, but I’ll not hold my breath.

Predictions

  • Team Sky to have an obvious split into two factions, those loyal to Brailsford & those loyal to Froome, who’s obviously unhappy. It could go the other way than expected as far as results outside the Tour go, it may mean that the highly talented riders that get burnt up as bunch engines benefit from the lack of unity & get their own chances, especially as they may be thinking about contracts in other teams for 2018
  • Spring Classics – Nothing particularly surprising here, showdowns between Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet & a revived & healthy¬†John Degenkolb, with Boonen to win Roubaix & retire.
  • Giro – Esteban Chaves.
  • Tour – Bauke Mollema.
  • Vuelta – Tom Dumoulin.
  • UCI President to be a Frenchman by the end of the year, Cookson to be ousted in a big bun fight after British Cycling becomes more embroiled in the jiffy bag situation, with no realistic answers, tarnishing the organisation & Cookson himself.
  • Worlds – Peter Sagan (again).

 

A Hypothetical Nation At The ‘Worlds’

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In the midst of a political no-mans-land, with huge uncertainties over Brexit, membership of the EU & another potential Scottish independence referendum. What would that mean for a sport’s governing body, flung into a new phase of sudden responsibility, having to deal with licences, governance, memberships, insurance, online entry & websites, among many other things? If things really kick off politically, Scotland could be placing a team in the World Championships even as early as 2018, so for a bit of controversial fun, the following is a rundown of how many riders a new nation joining the UCI would be allocated, and the allocation a potentially lowly ranked country such as Scotland would be able to field in the UCI World Road Race Championships.

UCI rider allocation at the Worlds

Road Race – Women Elite (Likely rider allocation – 3)

  • Top 5 UCI ranked nations – 7 Riders
  • 6th to 15th UCI ranked nations – 6 Riders
  • 16th to 20th UCI ranked nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

Road Race – Women Junior (Likely rider allocation – 4 Riders)

  • Top 5 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 4 Riders

Road Race – Men Elite (Likely rider allocation – 1 Rider)

*Max team allocation is 9, through any means. See LINK for more details.

  • Top 10 UCI World Ranked Nations – 9 Riders (see other caveats on link, which may reduce this number through individual riders not ranked in top 300, or allow them to get it back up to 9 though the continental rankings)
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Africa Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd & 3rd ranked nations in UCI Africa Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 6 Riders
  • 3rd, 4th & 5th ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd, 3rd & 4th ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top 6 ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 6 Riders
  • 7th to 14th ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top nation in UCI Oceania Tour – 3 riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI individual rankings:

A nation whose top ranked rider in the top 100 – 3 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 101st & 300th – 2 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 301st & 600th – 1 Rider (Andy Fenn, currently scraping in there at 593rd!)

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual rankings:

  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 25 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 250 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 5 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider

Road Race – Men Under 23 (Likely allocation – 1 Rider)

  • Top nation UCI U23 classification in¬†Africa Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in¬†Africa Tour – 4 Riders
  • 3rd to 5th nations UCI U23 classification in¬†Africa Tour – 3 riders
  • 1st to 3rd nations UCI U23 classification in¬†America Tour – 5 Riders
  • 4th to 6th nations UCI U23 classification in¬†America Tour – 4 Riders
  • 7th to 10th nations UCI U23 classification in¬†America Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 5 Riders
  • 3rd & 4th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 4 Riders
  • 5th to 7th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st to 15th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 5 Riders
  • 16th to 20th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 4 Riders
  • 21st to 27th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 3 Riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual Elite (not U23) rankings:

  • A rider in top 60 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 200 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 150 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 400 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 20 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider
  • If a nation is included in final classification of the UCI Nations‚Äô Cup U23, but that nation is not yet qualified – 3 Riders

Road Race – Men Junior (Likely rider allocation – 3 Riders)

  • Top 10 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 6 Riders
  • 11th to 15th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 riders
  • 16th to 20th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 4 riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

The Gist Of It

A new UCI recognised cycling nation, such as Scotland, suddenly appearing at the UCI World Championships, in a hypothetical 2016 (as that’s all we’ve got requirements for), could field the following….

  • Elite Womens Road Race – 3 Riders
  • Elite Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Under 23 Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Under 23 Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Junior Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Junior Mens Road Race – 3 Riders

What you can see from that, is that other than men’s elite racing, Scotland could get some very good representation & some incredible opportunities for riders such as Eileen Roe & Katy Archibald to take part in the Worlds Road Race, supported by high quality riders such as Charline Joiner. We have a number of talented juniors competing under the Spokes RT banner, could that be morphed into a national junior development squad? On the men’s side, there could be riders with Scottish ‘heritage’, attempting to gain worlds representation, such as Max Sciandri did with the UK team. If one of them was in the top 300, it would increase that allocation too.

Of course, it’s all hypothetical, but gives a very interesting look into the workings of the UCI rider allocation system, and the status & value that they, wrongly or rightly apply to the different continents. The carrot of competition at the worlds could boost many riders aspirations, perhaps grow some dreams, you really never know.

Rest Day Predictions

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When somebody who looks perfectly capable of attacking & doesn’t attack, it either means they’re not interested, or they have a serious plan. I’m putting my thoughts for a thrilling final week of the Tour out there. As far as predictions go, I’ve got past history of being very wrong, so don’t place any bets based on this.

WeeQ

I’m more convinced than ever that Nairo Quintana is going to win this Tour now. He’s had ample opportunity to have a go, but has refrained. We’ll not see anything happen on GC until Thursday, when the big gaps start to appear among the top 20. Even on Ventoux, I’m still convinced Quintana won’t have an all out attack, he’ll maybe try a probing attack to see how Froome is feeling. After last year, he knows that rather than wasting energy when Froome is still fresh in the first 2 weeks, he can instead take possibly minutes in the final√© of a 3 week Tour.

The day after Ventoux, we have an undulating 37.5km time trial, if things are going to Movistar’s plans, Nairo will lose no more than 30 seconds here, likely less, his time trialling has improved alongside his other abilities.

The Final Week

We get more mountains on Sunday preceding the final week, which could be animated, not by Movistar, but by Sky, if the time gap in the TT is less than expected (which I think is likely), we’ll see panic mode. This plays into the Colombians hands, wearing out his rival team & isolating his main challenger for the final climb of Lacets du Grand Colombier.

WedsStageProfile

Looking at the profiles, Wednesday looks to be the springboard for a Quintana time grab. The final 30km include the Col da la Forclaz (no, not that one, we’re in Switzerland) & a summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson (note final kilo at 12.3%, at over 1900m). The Movistar pace on the penultimate climb could reduce Froome’s domestiques to 1 or 2, then we encounter an ever steepening 10km climb to the Emosson Dam. If there ever was an uncontrollable summit finish, this is it, with two climbs in succession to split teams & leave is with a battle of the leaders. Looking at Quintana’s confidence, it looks like he’d relish the chance of a man to man battle with Froome, to me it would seem they might not be alone, Dan Martin might quite like this stage finish too. I suspect after this stage the overall time gap between 1st & 2nd overall will be very close.

Thursdays mountain TT is made for Quintana, expect the jersey to change hands here.

Friday & Saturday are more of the same, big mountain stages, with Quintana taking control of the GC. He left it until the final mountain stage last year, this year I predict he’ll choose the 3 final mountain stages & the time trial. Not the gamble everybody seems to be suggesting he’s taking by leaving it until the end, there are plenty of opportunities.

The Rest Of Them

Unless one of them have a really bad day, I expect Froome & Quintana to have a 4 or 5 minute gap to the fight for the last place on the podium. It looks likely that the most risk averse of the other likely podium contenders will be Porte. He’s more likely to hang on, not attempt to win a stage & result in a high overall place from being dropped last by Froome & Quintana. On the other hand, Dan Martin may lose loads of time trying to win, but I suspect he can make the top 5 this year. The other top 5 in Bardet, who could make the podium if he did a ‘Porte’, but is also likely to try & win a stage himself. Adam Yates is riding superbly, but probably still a bit early in his career for him not to suffer from a bad day, he’ll have other chances for a podium in this race. I’m putting Kreuzeger in 6th, which will be some achievement, after all his team have gone home & Oleg hires a Megabus for the final stages. Funnily enough, Oleg is exactly the kind of person you expect to meet on a Megabus. Place your bets, or don’t, it’s up to you.

My top 10:

  1. Quintana
  2. Froome
  3. Porte
  4. Bardet
  5. D.Martin
  6. Kreuziger
  7. Yates
  8. Van Garderen
  9. Mollema
  10. Meintjes

A Complete Cav?

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Earlier in the year, I wrote about Cav being the wrong person to take the GB place in the Mens Omnium at the Rio Olympics, how wrong was I?

In the meantime, we’ve had an injury in the other likely contender, and more importantly, a resurgent Mark Cavendish, who is looking to have worked harder than ever to meet his goals for the season.

Job Done

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So far (during stage 4), Cav has won two stages & held the yellow jersey in the Tour for the first time, he’s taken his tally of stage wins up to the level of Hinault. Cillian Kelly (@irishpeloton on twitter & regular on the Velocast podcast) has run the numbers, only Merckx has more stage wins (34), with Cav & Hinault level pegging on 28. But as Cillian points out, if you remove time trial stage wins, Cavendish is far ahead in the number of ‘hands in the air’ victories, 28, compared to Merckx’s 17 & Hinault’s 7. It’s an incredibly impressive achievement for the Manxman.

This set of statistics can likely relieve some pressure from Cav in the run-up to the Olympics, suffering on to Paris may not be the ideal preparation for a series of short track events in Rio, so he probably won’t finish this Tour. He can realistically pick & choose what he wants to do now, 2 stage wins & a yellow jersey is enough for most teams to be happy with at any Tour, he can decide his ideal route to Rio now, having surpassed what his employer (his pro team) realistically expected from the sprinter.

I think what we’ll see is Cavendish making it through the Pyrenees, possibly with another stage win at Montpellier on Stage 12 where he’ll retire from the event, notably, the day before Ventoux. Nobody can really fault him for that.

Track Training

From what we’ve seen so far, his stage 1 victory was in a howling tailwind, ideal circumstances for a high RPM track rider to take advantage of the situation. He’s probably been doing plenty of jumps past dernys (or more likely a motorbike) on the track, so his late surge should be no surprise, this has probably been his bread & butter the last few weeks.

Stage 3 played into his hands too, assuming he’s been doing much more high intensity training & much less endurance, if the stage of over 200km had been ridden hard, it could have blunted his sprint. The peloton decided to cruise along at a very leisurely pace, which must have had him smiling like a Manx cat. We also saw a perfectly timed lunge, with Greipel lunging a little too early, again, we can assume this is part of his track training. Lunges for the ‘Devil’ (elimination race if you’re a UCI commissaire) would surely be practiced again-and-again, probably again coming off a derny or moto on the track. You can lose a lot of points in the Omnium by getting pulled out of the ‘Devil’ early by a well-timed lunge from one of your opponents, his timing was absolutely perfect on Stage 3.

Another factor may be focus. Up to now we’ve been used to Cav taking a few stages to get himself into the zone & actually win one, this year he did it on Stage 1. Don’t discount the mindgames that may be going on here, in the Omnium a moments hesitation can lead to a large loss of points, and the loss of a medal. You need to be focussed for every event, from the very beginning, there’s no allowance for any dithering. I’m assuming that he’s brought this mindset to his road riding now, which could be just as big a factor as his current physical condition.

The Gist Of It

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It’s highly likely that Cav will have achieved well beyond his greatest expectation at the beginning of his career by the end of the 2016. With 28 (+) Tour Stage wins, winning the green jersey, becoming world champion, wearing the yellow jersey, all that’s left is that Olympic medal. Seeing the focus & ability of Cav in the first few days of this Tour, I’d now be surprised if he doesn’t win a medal in Rio, my expected podium of Gaviria & Viviani, now includes Mark Cavendish, I think gold is just as likely for him now as any other rider. Maybe Shane was right, maybe Cav was the correct choice after all, the doubters like me were perhaps all very very wrong, the boys got his sparkle back.

 

Sagan, le Patron

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We’ve seen Peter Sagan mature, from what initially appeared like a Dukes of Hazard type character into a respected World Champion & sometimes outspoken critic of riding in the peloton, is he the man to restore order to the galaxy?

The mens professional peloton has had a void of control for some time, it could be argued that the Armstrong years damaged the entire idea of having a ‘Patron’, during a period of intimidation that we’d all rather forget. Cancellara tried it to some extent, but came across more of as a grumpy schoolteacher who’s pupils wouldn’t do as he asked, making noises at the back of the class. We now have a rider who seemingly has no (off the bike) enemies in the peloton, is well respected amongst DS’s, riders, and more importantly almost universaly by the fans. I propose we adopt Peter Sagan as ‘le Patron’, to speak out & help protect riders from the current dangers of badly driven convoy vehicles (motos & cars), dangerous riding & to give the press the riders perspective of any arising issues. He seems to speak his mind, he could be the catalyst for change.

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Aero-Aware

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Bike racers have been aware of the advantages aerodynamics gave them for decades, perhaps from the very beginning of competitive cycling itself. Up until the 1989 Tour de France, nothing had made the differences more stark, than a colourful mix of imagery, marketing & race winning choices, to propel Greg LeMond to an 8 second advantage, turning around a 50 second deficit & winning the Tour de France on the final Paris time trial stage. Things have never been the same since, it set the scene for the public’s awareness of the importance of aerodynamics in cycling, which is still influencing professional racers, club riders, sportive riders & marketing departments to this day.

80’s to 90’s

Up until the 80’s, it was perhaps the UK time trialing scene that you could have looked to for some extreme examples of bicycle aerodynamics, Rouleur recently ran a story on Alf Engers & his realisation that drilling holes in everything actually made him slower (Rouleur issue 62: Drillium). Aerodynamics had been progressing right through the 1980’s, silk jerseys for time trials were replaced with full lycra skinsuits, we had carbon disc wheels, and we had Francesco Moser, pushing the limits with radical bike designs & wind tunnel testing (amongst some other stuff). Moser2These changes could all be considered ‘marginal’, the position was still relatively the same, just finer tuned with the help of technology. Once we got to the end of the 80’s, LeMond started working with Boone Lennon from Scott USA in developing a position using an innovation from triathlon (there’s also an argument it was first used in 1984 in the RAAM). The advantage this new arm, shoulder & body position, allowed by the use of tri-bars provided a ‘step-change’ in aerodynamics, almost overnight in cycling terms, this wasn’t a ‘marginal gain’, it was a Tour winning gain. The advantage of containing the arms within the frontal area of the body was so large that within a few months almost everybody was using the new position in the pro peloton, even Sean Kelly, still riding toe straps until the bitter end, took it up relatively quickly.

Wind Tunnels

The factor which multiplied the gains from the 80’s onwards was wind tunnel testing. Although the emerging aeronautical industry had been using these since the late 1800’s, their commercial availability & cost were out of reach for sports people, especially cycling, which had traditionally been poorly funded & relied on internal sponsors (i.e. bike manufacturers) to fund most of the top teams until a few decades ago.

As we now know, small changes can make all the difference, with the advent of wind tunnels cars completely changed shape & pro riders could now quantify every single change in equipment, components, position & clothing material, if they had sufficient funding. This introduced a new aspect to pro cycling, but wind tunnel time was expensive, so teams with bigger budgets could now use their cash to outperform their rivals, with very significant gains being made in this early period, compared to the current marginal gains we hear about in todays peloton. This was a game changer, 1989 shook the teams who hadn’t embraced the change, or hadn’t realised what could be achieved. We still saw riders with their jerseys flapping in the wind, you won’t see that now in your local race such is the level of knowledge available now.

Greg LeMond V Past & Present

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A rider at the top of his game (for the 2nd time) during this transition period of aerodynamics was Greg LeMond, he was also the most prominent rider embracing it in the pro peloton, but he wasn’t the only one. If we look at how his position & the technology he used developed we can see the innovations that appeared in greater detail. The photo above is from 1986, differing from todays TT setup, note the shallow front rim profile, drop handlebars on standard road frame, no shoe covers, non protective aero shell helmet & more importantly, the lack of tri-bars. On the other hand, the skin suit looks as fitted as todays, but lacking the longer legs & sleeves we see in todays peloton.

Fignon-FrontLemond-Front

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The contrast displayed in the 1989 photos above, of LeMond’s tucked position, his arms in line with his legs & an aero helmet (which we now know is much faster than a bare head), to Laurent Fignon’s more classic time trial style marks a turning point in position, a stark contrast between the old & the new. It also marks the beginning of pro riders not just looking for small advantages in equipment & clothing, it marks the realisation that technology could provide huge gains over your rivals, not just refinements. Also note that LeMond’s skin suit has grown longer sleeves ahead of its time, which is standard now, as we know lycra is more resistant to drag than skin. Fignon’s position looks very similar to Lemond in 1986, but he’s perhaps gone for a front disc in desperation rather than common sense, while it may work in a windless velodrome, it may have cost him energy outdoors fighting any crosswinds, as we saw him “bouncing of the barriers” in the final 200m.

For comparison, just look at the image below of Tom Dumoulin in his aero position on a modern time trial bike. His position is further refined, rotating his body around the bottom bracket while maintianing hip-torso angle & therefore power development. Dumoulin’s helmet seems profiled to be in line with his back, LeMond’s was a last-minute UCI approved shortened (hacksaw presumably) version of a Giro triathlon helmet. Unlike LeMond in ’89, Dumoulin has a deep section front wheel with carbon spokes & an aerodynamic frame (and forks) with every tube profiled to the limit of the UCI rules (LeMond’s was more or less round tubing, apart from some added fillets). We also have minimal brake levers & various other details that all shave off watts, the big similarity remains the use of tri-bars.

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The Gist Of It

Stage 21 of the 1989 Tour was by no means the first time aerodynamics was considered of prime importance, but it was the event that caught the imagination & made ‘aero’ position & equipment just as important as training.

Just consider if the 1989 final stage had been a sprint into Paris rather than a time trial, if this event had not taken place in the spotlight of the world, how different would pro cycling look today? Would the UCI have rapidly banned ‘tri-bars’ without the drama & revenue generated from a thrilling end to the Tour to preserve the look of the machine to the Merckx era, as with their Hour Record rule changes. In UK cycling, would ‘that Lotus bike’ have existed, would Obree & Boardman have been able to use their innovations & skills on the world stage? Would the various people & technology that combined to create the advances that allowed British Cycling to rapidly ride to international track winners, and the subsequent influx of riders being provided a living while rising to the higher echelons or world road cycling, like Wiggins & Armitstead?

This defining event in 1989 opened all sorts of opportunities in cycling, ‘aero’ had been done many times before, but not displayed previously in such an establishment shocking manner. Development in cycling aerodynamics had been a slow boil most likely due to tradition, significant gains had been made, this blatant new position could not be ignored, it was the catalyst for others to look further & see what could be achieved. The results are now evident in your local bike shop.

(Note: All non-Getty images were identified as having a ‘Creative Commons’ licence on Google image search & Flickr.)

Roadworks & Organising Races

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Domestic cycling events are generally very low-key, they’re the last things anybody cares about when they’re making plans to dig up the road for water, cable TV, or a multitude of different reasons. It came to my attention today, that new organisers are still unaware of exactly where to look for information, a knowledge gap in some clubs perhaps, or just the complexity of running events on the public highway carries so many checks & re-checks that it’s hard to get them all right if you’ve not done it before, so hopefully the following should help. It’s the one big thing that’ll stop your event without warning if overlooked, so it needs to be done as thoroughly as possible.

  • The best website to check for road works is¬†RoadWorksScotland.org, run by the Scottish Road Works Commissioner. It seems to be able to gather together much more information from various organisations who may have a right to place cones or dig up the road on your race course, which is a lot of separate bodies.
  • But don’t leave it at that, TrafficScotland.org is still useful, you’ll generally find many more road works are listed on RoadWorksScotland, but this has additional info on public events & occasionally some distant planned road works that may not yet show up anywhere else.
  • When you’re planning the event, it’s worth a look at both of these sites, to make sure that there’s no long-term works that might impact your event.
  • If the start or finish dates are close to your event, but look like they won’t impact, it’s best to get in touch with them using the details on the RoadWorksScotland site, which carry the contact info if you click on the road works arrow. I’ve always had a decent response from this, within a day or so, never had a non response by using those contacts.
  • I always also contact the local community council, or if a bigger event the regional council too, to let them know there’s an event on & they can often know of low impact things that never show up anywhere, which might cause you some bother, but wouldn’t end up cancelling the event.
  • As I’ve had road works pop-up the day before an event, I have a ‘save all’ approach to checking the websites before an event as I’ve been stung before. I’ll check every few days in the month running up to an event, then every day in the last 2 weeks (check in the evening when everything is logged). Then the last week, it’s more than once a day, you never know who’s springing something on you. I’ve been informed by a community council of some late planned works in the last few days which I managed to postpone, so contacting the local community can save your bacon & is very worth doing.

If you’re considering starting organising, give it a bookmark for future reference.

The 20 Year Scandal Cycle

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“The tranquil world of cycling has been turned upside down by allegations of misconduct and lax financial controls at its ruling body, the British Cycling Federation.”

(Independent, 1996)

For those who were not involved in cycling 20 years ago, the current turmoil going on in British Cycling may seem like something new, it may come as some surprise that there were scandals in the same organisation 20 years ago. For some of us, it just looks like an ongoing theme in sports governing bodies which will always happen, a cycle of scandal.

1996

Some of you may recall that the privileged & disconnected world of the BCF board was brought to an abrupt halt by Tony Doyle in 1996, the former Six Day star being voted in as President, running a campaign “after grassroots complaints that the leadership was not doing enough to promote the sport. Mr Doyle ran on a ticket calling for greater transparency from the board and increased accountability to the membership.”¬†What Tony Doyle uncovered shocked him, as the Independent article highlights, there was also a negative PR campaign run against him in order to discredit him. A particularly nasty period in the UK’s main cycling governing body’s history, which had seemingly been rectified by a complete restructuring & winning multiple Olympic & World Championship medals. The issue was even raised in Parliament by an MP, you can read the full Hansard transcript here¬†or in the easier to read ‘They Work For You‘ version.

The main points:

  • Poor financial controls & accounts incorrect. (Accountant, and later Boardman’s mentor Peter Keen, helped uncover bad management & incompetence in the accounts)
  • Conflicts of interest in board member’s companies & interests. For example, Impsport being repeatedly awarded the BCF clothing contracts, reportedly without much in the way of alternative bids. BCF artwork designed & printed by board member’s company, a shareholder in promotions company that got contracts for BCF major events.
  • Board members working outside their remit & running operational matters.
  • Government funding being pulled until the serious situation was remedied.

In ‘Kings Of The Road’ by Robert Dineen, there’s lots more detail of what happened when Tony Doyle was elected President by the membership. The old guard, trying to protect their interests in their newly appointed Directorships after an overhaul led by Ian Emmerson in 1995, tried to oust him. It went to court & Tony Doyle won, after it was claimed that HE had a conflict of interests having worked for ‘Sport For Television’. Things got worse after that, for the democratically elected president against the board clinging to undemocratic power & privileges, as Dineen describes:

“The board called an emergency general meeting & called another presidential vote but Tony won that, too. The board had promised to resign if this happened. Instead it took out a civil case against him, prompting a complex chain of claim & counter-claim, until Tony resigned in frustration at the situation. He had been in office for only 5 months, ‘I was a young man, I was still president but they were taking me to court. I thought, “How can I conduct any meaningful business?”. The federations legal expenses were covered but not mine. I had no option to resign & fight them on a civil basis.”

There’s plenty more reading to be had in this if you’re interested, but as it’s in the black zone before absolutely everything was on the internet, it’s better found in books like ‘Kings of The Road’ linked above & ‘Great British Cycling‘ by Ellis Bacon

The Gist Of It

Without Tony Doyles intervention, a figure widely known & respected by the membership, having been a SixDay star & world champion, things may have dragged on a lot longer. Team GB’s Olympic successes may never have transpired, which would have led to low funding, potentially no Olympic medals, Chris Hoy having to get a proper job & Bradley Wiggins staying in the pub. We probably owe quite a lot to Tony Doyle, who kicked the whole thing off. Will we be looking back at¬†Jess Varnish in 20 years time as being the one that kick started another cycling revolution in the UK?

 

Day Of The Lost Hour

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This evening signals absolute horror for a tired & struggling parent like Chris Froome, looking after a new baby & trying to hold down a job (equally relevant if you work in an office or your job involves trying to hang onto Quintana on a summit finish). The treacherous loss of yet another hour of sleep is going to happen overnight, and you are powerless to do anything about it. For others however, it will quite often herald the arrival of your summer cycling season, the rides after work will start, chaingangs continue in earnest, and you can consider the removal of those yellow lenses to counteract the SAD symptoms you’ve been gathering all winter.

Clocks go FORWARD 1 hour at 1am tonight (Sunday 27th March 2016), don’t forget to check your phone or alarm is set up for this, or you’ll be turning up for your club ride tomorrow when nobody else is there.

Long Evenings

Asides from the #StravaMentals who try to out-do each other all through the depths of winter, for those of us who just enjoy riding our bikes these days, the clocks going forward is a key point in the cycling season. For me, it’s when I realise I need to put my non-mudguarded bikes on the road, realising I’ve not cleaned them since the summer. So a little bit of work required, but this is nice work in the grand scheme of things.

Evening bike rides & mid-week cycling club activities starting to pick up are the big ‘tells’ that summer is nearly here, well, what we call ‘summer’ anyway. Non-freezing temperatures, a bit of sunshine that feels slightly warm on your skin, the 3 or 4 evenings when you’re genuinely comfortable wearing shorts on the bike & the arrival of midgies to ruin your BBQ or beer garden pint.

This is also the time that the bulk of newbie solo cyclists appear on the roads, it’s been happening very recently when there’s been a few days with some sunshine, with riders appearing in shorts when it’s barely scraping 5 degrees. From next week, we’ll be seeing more of this, the cycling bonanza is more evident that ever after the clocks change, it has the same effect we used to only see in July when the Tour appeared on the telly. So be nice to the new riders you see out, be friendly rather than gloating or blasting past them in a sea of testosterone, only to slow back up 100m up the road. With any luck you might get to chat to them & save their knees by giving a little friendly advice on avoiding injury.

Wave At Everybody

Now that you’ll be able to actually see riders in the evening, wave to everybody, especially new riders, no matter how inappropriate¬†their dress for the conditions, we’re all cyclists & you were that rider one day. Part of the problem may be that ‘seasoned’ cyclists no longer wave to riders who don’t fit their idea of ‘cyclists’. You have no idea where they’re going to end up, so treat them with respect, instill a habit in everybody from their first outing. We all see solo riders who don’t wave back time & again, if enough people wave at them even the most socially inept time triallist newcomer with be compelled to start waving back, then they’ll start waving at others before they wave at them. You can start social cycling to spread like a disease.

Hour Record Attempt, when the clocks go back?

The clocks changing the other way would be an ideal opportunity for a publicity stunt when they change back again, you’ve plenty time to prepare too. You could¬†schedule¬†your Hour Record attempt from 1am to 2am, I’m pretty sure even I could break Brad’s 54.526km over a 2 hour period from 1am, back to 12am, then onto 2am. That’s just 27.263km (or just under 17mph to any old duffers still reading), technically you started at 1am & finished at 2am, but the stopwatch would read 2 hours, surely somebody must fancy having some fun with this?

Or do it tonight, you can just climb straight off the bike without having pedaled anywhere & an hour will have passed, kind of. That’s possibly the least painful & appealing way to make an Hour Record attempt.

WADA’s Grey Areas

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I wrote a blog recently entitled ‘Bumping Up To The Rules’, in it I really only covered blood spinning. The WADA code has several ‘grey areas’ which we can look at in a little more detail.

People don’t really like reading WADA documents unless they really have to (not even the Worlds top female sports person), they’re not exactly exciting. There’s probably only a small percentage of club cyclists who take any interest whatsoever in it, for obvious reasons. While these documents look like just an ordinary list at first glance, looking more closely, they provide some useful insights into the world of anti-doping, what’s currently detectable, what WADA know about & can’t detect, and what they know may be going on but can do little or nothing about. This blog will perhaps explain where there are some major issues & knowledge gaps, which could be (and are) exploited. It’s very rare for the testers to be one step ahead of the dopers, it’s mostly a game of catch-up for the enforcers, unfortunately that’s how it works without reliable, extensive & prohibitively expensive worldwide sporting intelligence.

You can view the WADA prohibited list via this link.

“More Human Than Human”

The whole chemical side of doping may be old news at the top end of some sports in the near future. One of the most frightening issues that WADA will encounter is the advancement of gene doping (listed in section M3 of the list). Renee Ann Shirley (a former chief of Jamaican anti-doping organisations & now an anti doping crusader) brought my attention to an interview with Patrick Arnold (the inventor of designer drug THG, it’s a long interview at 2.5hrs, gets really interesting in last half hour after he’s talked about his past which sounds very ‘Breaking Bad’). He states that there’s a strong possibility the Chinese might have experimented with gene therapy in the 1990s to engineer human embryos (from approx 2h 15m onwards). He says that those superhumans would now be starting to come through into competition. If this is true, the WADA list is going to be obsolete very soon in some areas of the sport & the real issues are going to be way beyond what we currently consider cheating.

It perhaps sounds more like fantasy from sci-fi films like Blade Runner (incidentally set in 2019), where the slogan of the company creating replicants was “More human than human”, the idea being that they were removing the imperfections & creating a better, stronger & smarter species.¬†The developments that have been made in this field are well documented & this Nature article from 2012 lists some genetic anomalies that have been identified & could be utilised, such as a mutation that makes EPO receptors more efficient & the ability to determine the amount of fast & slow twitch muscles fibre. There’s some really important & legitimate uses for gene therapy in medical science, such as eradicating some genetic diseases. As we know from sports history, some legitimate methods find their way into sports to aid performance.

Further reading:

The Grey Areas

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By ‘grey areas’, I’m highlighting areas of the code where cheating could be possible, but it’s either undetectable or there’s not sufficient research to show if a drug or method is performance enhancing. These drugs & methods may be banned in the future, in the mean-time they may be looked at as ways to legally exploit the rules, or use substances in an almost undetectable manner.

The very first section (S0) of the list covers all drugs that could provide performance enhancement, but are unknown to the testers. This covers substances for which there had been no tests developed, such as THG from the Balco affair. A designer drug that athletes like Dwayne Chambers was using, not on the list at the time, but unless a sample had been leaked to the authorities the drug would not have been detected.

“NON-APPROVED SUBSTANCES

Any pharmacological substance which is not¬†addressed by any of the subsequent sections of the List and with no current approval by any governmental regulatory health authority for human therapeutic use (e.g. drugs under pre-clinical or clinical development or discontinued, designer drugs, substances approved only for veterinary use) is prohibited at all times.”

In Section S2, under ‘PEPTIDE HORMONES, GROWTH FACTORS, S2 RELATED SUBSTANCES AND MIMETICS’, we find some familiar substances from the previous blog, which may¬†have raised levels caused by procedures such as blood spinning. Namely growth factors bFGF, IGF-1 & VEGF which can enhance athletic performance. These effects have been found to have elevated levels due to the effect of blood spinning, so if further research proves that be conclusive, we may see further action on blood spinning. I again state, anybody using this procedure is working within the current rules, ethical issues could be raised if they are aware that the procedure raises the levels of banned substances, but it won’t lead to any bans.

“Additional prohibited growth factors:

Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGFs);
Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF);
Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) and its analogues; Mechano Growth Factors (MGFs);
Platelet-Derived Growth Factor (PDGF); Vascular-Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF)”

¬†In section M1, we start to get into the possibility of blood manipulation & blood substitutes being used. If athletes are on the biologicial passport program, these may be identified, however if athletes are operating below the level where that kicks in, it’s unlikely that we would see any sanctions. Take Jonathan Tiernan-Locke as an example,¬†he performed at World Tour level before he was in the World Tour and subject to the full blood passport. There was a sample taken in September of 2012, presumably as he was selected for the Worlds to ride for GB, which didn’t match up to his samples once on Team Sky & under the full biological passport system. This could suggest that riders or athletes looking to step up a level can boost their performance while under the radar & just outside the biological passport system, in the hope of securing a contract in the next rung of their sport. It’s an incredibly expensive, but effective method for catching people, perhaps some more target testing of riders outperforming their previous results could be employed, again, it requires additional funding in a time of worldwide austerity, so it may not happen in the near future.

Legal Highs

Alongside the sections WADA uses to cover their backs, and rule out unknown drugs & methods, or drugs & methods that have no valid test, we can also see that an athlete could theoretically have a performance advantage but work within the WADA code. It’s up to you how you see that. There are limits on certain substances for very good reasons, some may be naturally occurring to a certain level, where the limit is set at a point that excludes natural occurrence. Others are for legitimate treatment of medical conditions that would otherwise reduce an athlete’s ability to compete on a level playing field.

In Section S3 of the WADA list relating to Beta-2 Agonists, we start to see allowable levels appear. To give an idea of what it would take to break the rule for Salbutamol, WADA allow 1600 micrograms over 24 hours (which then relates to a salbutamol concentration of 1000ng/mL in a urine test) . A normal dose from an inhaler is listed as 100 micrograms, so you’d need 16 puffs over 24 hours to break this rule. For those with asthma, you’ve probably been in the position to take that quantity at some point during a bad asthma attack, although I’m very sure that you’d not be in a position to even consider riding your bike, let along race, it would probably be a struggle getting to the shops. Studies show that 400 micrograms of inhaled salbutamol don’t have any performance enhancing effects on non-asthmatics, although levels above 800 micrograms may have an effect on those without asthma. So the allowable level looks about right, although it may give a performance benefit to those looking to increase the concentration of certain substances in their blood, without reaching the level required to break a rule. Even though I’m asthmatic, this does make me think that making a TUE required for Salbutamol may be the position WADA should use in the future to avoid some abuse. Diego Ulissi was banned for 9 months for testing approximately double the blood concentration allowed in the 2014 Giro d’Italia, claiming that he had taken only 2 puffs, which seems unlikely.

In that section we also see another asthma treatment, Formoterol having a limit of 54 micrograms over 24 hours, where one puff of an inhaler contains 12 micrograms. Theoretically, an athlete could take 15 puffs of a salbutamol inhaler, 4 puffs of a fomoterol inhaler & not break any rules, irrespective of whether they have been diagnosed with asthma as there’s to TUE required. This should give a performance improvement in the case of salbutamol, so far reports on formoterol are inconclusive, so you could assume illegitimate performance gains are small, if any.

Section S6 covers stimulants, there are limits on several of these, which also opens up the possibility of abuse. We have a number that are part of the 2016 monitoring program, as meldonium was in 2015 & subsequently banned. These are bupropion, caffeine, nicotine, phenylephrine, phenylpropanolamine, pipradrol, and synephrine, you may be cutting down on your espresso in 2017. The stimulants that have limits are cathine (5 micrograms per ml of urine), ephedrine and methylephedrine (10 micrograms/ml) & pseudoephedrine (150 micrograms/ml).

You could assume that if you had a good doctor & lots of analysis of what levels you excrete in your urine, you could take up the limit of each stimulant listed above & 15 puffs of a salbutamol inhaler & you’d not be cheating. These are the rules, they have to be placed somewhere, so moving the limits is simply going to change the level people may choose to bump up to the rules. We’re always going to have this problem.

The Gist Of It

We have two differing perceptions of cheating existing alongside each other. In one, the rules of the sport are blatantly broken, banned substances & methods are used to improve performance, with the reward far outweighing the risk of getting caught. As we have seen in recent information from Scottish football, only 8 tests were carried out in 9 months & not one of them was out of competition. The SFA’s policy is not to test out of competition, which is where we know that huge gains can be made. In this scenario there’s virtually no chance of getting caught doping, the only surprise here is that the players are not performing at a higher level, it seems like a free-for-all, why wouldn’t some cheat?

The other perception of cheating exists within the fans & observers of sport, where no rules have been broken but ethical questions may quite legitimately be asked.¬†We can also add therapeutic use exemptions to this area of perception, I’m sure the vast majority are absolutely genuine, I’m also sure there’s an element of bending the rules to allow use of substances that provide a performance advantage without having the condition that leads to the treatment.¬†By the measure we’re basing cheating on (the WADA rules), which are agreed by all nations & the athletes sign up to, there’s no cheating going on in these circumstances. You yourself, if you have a racing licence have signed up to the WADA rules (although you may not have read them up to now, you ticked the box), you’ve also agreed to out of competition testing, which I know does happen in cycling, as I’ve had one myself, in Scotland. Nobody has signed up to ethical standards, this would be irrelevant anyway, so the rules placed by WADA are the guidelines we have to work to, morals are up to individuals.

Rules & ethics are very different things, the WADA list attempts to define ethics based on a set of rules, as do almost all sets of rules in society. Currently that’s the best way we have of attempting to deal with doping in sport, as more research becomes available this list will continue to grow, and the people determined to cheat will use that list as a means of outperforming others. The vast majority are going to avoid the substances & methods listed by WADA, so in those cases its doing it’s job, the problem isn’t caused by a poor set of rules, it’s caused by human nature.

I’m on twitter @spokedoke

Bumping Up To The Rules

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The rules of sport exist for very legitimate reasons, in some cases those rules inadvertently aid those willing to push the boundaries, by providing a line in the sand. Step over this line & you can be accused of being a cheat, but stay right on the limit & you can proclaim yourself working within the rules, never failed a test, an ethical athlete & so on.

Equipment

I think it was Chris Boardman who I first heard mention ‘bumping up to the rules’ in relation to bike position. The UCI has essentially provided a template for a fast time trial or pursuit position by creating a set of rules that were designed to stop riders getting into an Obree Superman position. So by setting up the most extreme position allowed by the rules, then bringing it back to a position you can actually ride & develop power in, it’s possible you’ll have a reasonably good aerodynamic position as close to rule breaking as possible, i.e. fast. This method is open to everybody, regardless of resources (besides adjustable stems & headset spacers), it holds little shock value in the ethics department. What it demonstrates is that the other areas of our sport which are governed by rules can also be manipulated. The WADA rules can also be ‘bumped up to’ if you have the resources, lack of respect for your sport & competitors, an ability to cause yourself harm for financial gain & a character type that permits prolonged unethical behaviour.

Openly Used Treatments

Lets look at one of a couple of different treatments highlighted by a news article I read featuring Rafael Nadal¬†this morning.¬†He felt the need to proclaim he’s “a completely clean guy”, he probably is working (just) within the current rules, we don’t know any different, which is legal in sport. The methods he’s outlined do have an element of ‘bumping up to the rules’, using procedures that you wouldn’t be surprised if they were banned at some point in the future.

Lets take Platelet Rich Plasma treatment (PRP for short), or ‘blood spinning‘ as they like to call it in football. This involves taking blood from the athlete, adding an anticoagulant & ‘spinning’ it through two stages of centrifugation. This separates the PRP aliquot from the plasma & red blood cells, then the platelets are activated by adding thrombin & calcium chloride, and it’s injected locally to treat the injury. Hardly a protein shake.

I’ve referenced a study ‘The systemic effects of platelet-rich plasma injection’ by the¬†Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stanford University. I’d recommend reading it, if you’re interested in the ongoing research into whether or not this treatment is performance enhancing.

“This is the first and only adequately powered study of the systemic effects of PRP. We present evidence that PRP contains and may trigger systemic increases in substances currently banned in competitive athletes”

The IGF-1 serum levels are shown to be elevated, which is defined as an insulin-like growth factor, which in turn can increase muscle mass & strength with its anabolic effects. While there’s been little clinical research on these effects, (which means that WADA downgraded it) it’s very likely that it will be banned in the future based on the information in the linked study. We have no idea if athletes are using this for injury treatment or for the additional effects that are starting to emerge, it’s certainly a case of ‘bumping up to the rules’, while they’re still in place.

The other treatment he mentions is stem cell therapy, this requires a much more complex blog, I really need to get my head around that & I’ll save it for another day.

The Gist Of It

Is Nadal cheating? Potentially not, if you take the current rules as your benchmark. Is he bumping up to the rules, almost certainly, but this is within the rules & like him or not, it does legitimately allow him to proclaim to be clean. Whether we consider athletes treatments to be ethical, or whether we believe they’re taking them for the ‘stated’ reasons or for potential performance enhancing side-effects of treatments, that’s not how they see it.

Professional sport now medically ‘bumps up to the rules’, using legal methods of replicating the effects of performance enhancing drugs. The less well-funded athletes may have to take the risk of using substances that can fail a test, while the better funded ones have other options for performance enhancement that give a similar effect, but are legal. It’s up to us how we judge that, is altitude training that increases red blood cell count legitimate, or are treatments on the edge of the WADA rulebook also legitimate. Food for thought.

I’m on twitter @spokedoke

State Of The Art Technology?

BAE are claiming that “Experts at BAE Systems have revealed details of the highly advanced technology it has developed for Britain‚Äôs top cycling athletes to help propel them to success in 2016”. Now I know technology doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective, but has this been dragged out of a basement the 1980’s East German track program, dusted down, given a coat of hammerite & put forward as state-of-the-art technology. I thought they used WattBikes for testing, maybe I’m out of touch here?

I’d be genuinely interested if anybody has actually seen, or used one of these, or somebody’s milking a lottery sports development budget in some lab somewhere. I may be completely wrong on this, but it looks like a student project, the video is from the official BAE Systems YouTube account.

Update 1: I was initially a little rude about this, but it has been confirmed it is being used by GB sprinters, so hopefully that’s not scuppered the chances of finding out more, because I am genuinely interested. It seems that it’s possibly mostly useful for very high power outputs, which excludes it from a commercial market, which I assume, is why it’s not the prettiest trainer out there, it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully more to come….

Ethics & Rio Ramifications

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See updates at end of blog…

Yesterday we learned that tennis star Maria Sharapova has failed a test for a substance called Meldonium. I had not been particularly aware of this performance enhancer before, it was only banned at the new year by WADA, but appears to have been in extensive use by Russian athletes for some time. If the rumours are true, we’re going to be hearing lots more about positive Meldonium cases over the next few months.

A bit of background

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Katusha cyclist Eduard Vorganov was caught for the same drug in January, which threatened to put his teams future at risk until the UCI decided that it wasn’t a good rule after all & let them race without additional sanction.

Meldonium is produced in Latvia, it’s apparently only distributed in the Baltic countries & Russia, used to treat lack of blood flow for several diseases, that gives it obvious performance enhancement characteristics. In countries such as the US, it’s not approved for use. Sharapova who claimed to have used it for 10 years, has lived in the US for most of that time, but claims it was prescribed by her doctor, so it’s supply to Sharapova has a ‘dubious’ flag raised, it’s taken some effort to get hold of it or it’s been acquired through illegitimate sources to her home in the US.

When athletes are giving a sample for a dope test, they are required to disclose any other medicines, banned or not that they have taken. Initial rumours (sorry, that’s all we’ve got for now) are that this hasn’t happened, if true, that’s another flag raised. If Sharapova wasn’t aware of the updated rules, she should have disclosed her use of the seemingly prescribed drug to the testers, regardless of its WADA status.

Health

I’m not sure about anybody else, but if my doctor prescribed a medicine to me for a period of 10 years, when it’s only supposed to be prescribed for a few weeks, I’d start to get worried.¬†I’ve just read that 4 to 6 weeks is the recommended duration for using the drug for legitimate use, so if that’s true, 10 years may be a little excessive if it’s for medical reasons.¬†Either Sharapova has some incredibly serious condition that requires this treatment for an unheard-of extended period, or there’s something else going on. ¬†If Sharapova had a theraputic use exemption for this, then that would have been evident & recorded. But it seems she didn’t, even though the requirement for administration of this drug to her seems to be approx 85 times the normal time scale, surely she would have some sort of legitimate medical certificate for this extreme use of Meldonium.¬†It’s amazing the amount of world-class athletes that have potentially debilitating conditions that require potent drugs to treat, drugs which also have beneficial side effects for performance at their chosen sports.

There are some minor side effects listed, along with other dosage information for the drug HERE. Bear in mind, the longest course of therapy listed is 4 to 6 weeks, clinical trials deal with testing for safety for the duration of treatment, there will be no data relating to 520 week use. This is an incredibly risky thing to do, it could cause absolutely anything.

Rio Ramifications

We have a number of drug related issues running up to the Rio Olympics. The ongoing athletics situation, which has shown that some track & field events at the last Olympics possibly had very few legitimate athletes in the finals. On the investigation side, Russia & Kenya are currently being targetted, but it’s unlikely that problems are confined to those countries, it looks endemic & may widen before Rio. Alongside this, we have these kinds of situations, where a large number of competitors across different sports look to have been taking drugs like Meldonium, affected so far are tennis, cycling, athletics, biathlon & ice dancing, with athletes from Russia, Ukraine & Sweden. This would indicate that it’s use is widespread & not confined to particular coaches or sporting federations, it’s reported there’s more to come.

I fully expect the situation to affect the Olympics, we’ll have more revelations before the opening ceremony, look how stories break just before the Tour prologue for maximum publicity, I suspect this pattern will be replicated but on a much bigger scale. What’s happening is good for sport in the long-term, sports like cycling still have big problems, but have been under the spotlight while other sports have been on a free-for-all, with what seems like almost no effective control over drug use.

The Gist Of It

It’s anybody’s guess why an athlete would employ cheating to extend their career, increase performance & strike lucrative endorsements to rake in a total of 20 million dollars a year. We don’t know yet if Sharapova considers the use of Meldonium as cheating, she’s admitted that she took it & accepted that it’s her fault. As more revelations appear over the coming months, it’s likely the public perception of athletes will start to change. Those who’ve been following cycling for many years will assume that most are ‘bumping up to the rules’. This is technically not cheating, but it is unethical & potentially dangerous. Studying the WADA list & making sure you don’t quite tip over the edge to record a positive test, is within the rules, while acquiring therapeutic use exemptions for other conditions you can demonstrate you may have, that have performance enhancing treatment is also on the fine line between cheating & conforming to the rules. It’s all in the grey area & is almost impossible to police effectively.

Sharapova is the most high-profile sports star to recently get caught out, her situation shows how money & fame cloud any potential health issues that an athlete may have. Sadly, the next few years are probably going to result in us seeing some of our former sports stars suffering as a result of the choices they made, using long-term banned or legal drugs to improve performance without a thought going towards the impact it may have on the rest of their lives. It looks like sport needs education, ethics & some major actions, with the current people administrating world sport, this looks highly unlikely to happen in the near future.

Update#1 (8/3/16) – Since publishing this blog we have learnt a couple more things. Sharapova stated that she knew the product name, but had never seen the word Meldonium associated with it, turns out it’s written on the packet right next to the brand name. She also stated that magnesium deficiency & diabetes in her family had resulted in her taking the medicine. Channel 4 News asked the manufacturer, they said their drug has no effect on these issues. There’s a lot that doesn’t add up.

Omnium Selection

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First things first, I love watching Cav winning stages in the Tour, he’s a great racer, I respect him trying to get himself a place, I just don’t think he’s the right man for the Omnium in Rio.

For me, it’s plain to see, there’s quite simply riders better than Cav at the combination of Omnium events, best of the lot is Jon Dibben. Bear in mind that the selected rider HAS to ride a heat in the Team Pursuit, so if you choose a rider with less experience & less time to devote to training with a team for this, you could compromise two events. This is a crucial selection for Team GB’s Olympic medal dreams, it shouldn’t be one that’s decided by cronyism & media pressure to take a big star of the sport. It’s correct that Cav should have ambitions, but in the weeks running up to the Olympics, if the rest of your team pursuit squad are spending all their time on the boards & you’re riding up & down the Cols of France, you’re not going to be as well-drilled, or perhaps fast enough to contribute to the round that you HAVE to ride. Riding 200km+ stages every day for three weeks, with the pace controlled by others is so far away from the British Cycling ethos that’s rewarded them so well, I find it fantastic that one of the young talented team pursuit ‘bankers’ isn’t being automatically considered as the number one choice for the Omnium.

Review the results specific to the track events in the Omnium & see who you would consider your first choice.

Jon Dibben

Silver – 2012 Junior World Championship Omnium

5th – 2012 World Cup Omnium

8th – 2013 World Championship Omnium

Bronze – 2013 World Cup Team Pursuit

Gold – 2014 European Team Pursuit

Silver – 2014 European Omnium

Silver – 2014 World Cup Team Pursuit

Gold – 2015 European Team Pursuit

Bronze – 2015 European Omnium

Silver – 2016 World Championship Team Pursuit

Gold – 2016 World Championship Points Race

Mark Cavendish

Gold – 2005 World Championship Madison

Gold – 2006 Commonwealth Games Scratch Race

Gold – 2008 World Championship Madison

6th – 2016 World Championship Madison

+ This is written the afternoon before Cav & Wiggins take to the track for the World Madison Champs, I think they’ll get a medal there too.

Who would you take based on recent results, Cav’s World titles are at least 8 years old? The rider with current proven experience in the Team Pursuit, a world champion in the biggest points scoring discipline in the Omnium, or a rider who has one track result since 2008 & will focus on road events during the build up to the Olympics, missing out on valuable track time with the rest of the team. I’d also question if anybody actually thinks that Dibben would have placed lower than 6th if he had ridden the Omnium instead of Cav?

I’ll leave this out there for discussion.