Lost In Thin Air

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I’ve never seen a Tour de France with this many kilometres above two thousand metres, nobody has & nobody really knows what to expect in the final week. Which is why I predict we’re going to see another thing nobody has ever seen before, a Colombian winner in Paris. Let me explain myself, with some actual evidence (not common these days).

Last 5 years of Colombian top 20 GC riders

2018:

10th: Nairo Quintana @14’18” (won Stage 17 finishing at 2215m, was up to 5th @3’30”, but crashed on Stage 18)

15th: Egan Bernal @27’52” (working for Sky leader all Tour)

2017:

2nd: Rigoberto Urán @54″ (Urán won Stage 9, where he lying at 55 seconds to Froome, he gained more time & was 29 seconds behind Froome by Stage 12, he moved within 27 seconds by Stage 17, dropped 2 seconds on stage 18, then lost only 25 seconds to Froome on the Stage 20, 22.5km TT.)

12th: Nairo Quintana @15’28” (A very poor Tour for Quintana)

18th: Carlos Betancur @37’47”

2016:

3rd: Nairo Quintana @4’21”

12th: Sergio Henao @18’51”

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @38’59” (Winner Stage 15)

2015:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @1’12 (Note Quintana was 1’59” down after the Stage 9 TTT)

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @1hr 09’08”

2014:

What happened to the Colombians?

2013:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @4’20” (winner of Stage 20)

 

Quintana – Short Mountain Stage Specialist?

Lets go back a few years & look at every ‘short’ mountain stage since 2013. Contrary to popular belief, Quintana isn’t so much the diesel, he excels at the short stages, maybe his attention span is sufficient for these stages?

2013: Stage 20 – 125km Mountain Stage: Took 29s on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 19 – 138km Mountain Stage: Took 30seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 20 – 110km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 20seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2017: Stage 13 – 101km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 48seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 11 – 108km Mountain Stage: Lost 59seconds to Thomas, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 17 – 65km Mountain Stage: Took 47seconds on Thomas, overall winner on GC.

So on all but one short mountain stage, Quintana has gained time on the final winner in Paris. If we take an average, including the loss, he gains approximately 39seconds on a short mountain stage.

The 2019 Strategic Moments

Time gaps may not appear on stages 18 & 19, but serious damage will be inflicted on those not as naturally predisposition to riding at altitude. If the Iseran is ridden full gas by Movistar or EF Education, even though it’s mid-stage, we’ll know if the Colombian onslaught is going to happen, they’ll need to cause as much damage as possible to limit the normally aspirated riders recovery.

Stage 18 (208km): 9km above 2000m to summit of Col du Galibier (2642m), followed by a 19km descent to the finish.

Stage 19 (126km): 10km above 2000m to summit of Col du l’Iseran (2770m).

Stage 20 (130km): Finish at Val Thorens 2365m.

The Gist Of It

I think a Colombian is going to win this Tour, the last few days appear too hard & too high for anybody else to recover sufficiently to not lose time at altitude, or suffer from extended time racing at altitude & crack on the final mountain day.

Of all the Colombians, the sensible money is on Bernal, he has the best team, they know how to win the Tour, but does he have the experience?

Urán looks undercooked, and is also innatentive, losing time in the crosswinds on Stage 10, which may have put him out of contention.

We often forget, since Quintana has been around for so long, he’s still only 29, coming into his prime as a Grand Tour contender.

Whoever wins this Tour will deserve it. My money is on Quintana, everything is set up for him to win, the final three back-to-back high altitude mountain stages, with the last two being short mountain stages, which we can see are a speciality for Nairo, when all the normally aspirated contenders are desperately trying to recover from getting blown to pieces in thin air.

A Geraint Thomas in last years Tour winning form would need at least 3 minutes lead after the TT on Stage to survive the last few brutal days in yellow, he can’t just kick at the end & win these, there’s not enough oxygen. The main issue with Quintana is his attention span, he often loses time form innatention, but this year looks a little better & was scrapping in the Dauphine to ensure he didn’t lose time, maybe he’s got some focus, or maybe it’ll all go up in flames as usual.

This is Quintana’s chance, he should take it.

 

 

 

(p.s. I expect pelters for this, so bring it on)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 😉 ) are Doumoulin, Yates, Nieve & Pinot.

I keenly await your vitriol and hatred for my choices.

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

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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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 examplehe 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

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Cross Pathway

Embed from Getty Images

Looking back to the rise of British Cycling’s international success, they cleverly targeted a relatively underfunded area of cycle sport, threw all their eggs in the ‘track’ basket & gained multiple medals on the world stage as a result. This focus on track racing eventually made this area of cycle sport harder for ‘Team GB’ to win medals once everybody else started to catch up, but they reaped the rewards before others also invested heavily after seeing how big an impact the UK made. Many other nations now also see it as a pathway, it gets more resources (although nowhere near mens road cycling) & track racing is now a different sport after the nineties & noughties. There are still some potential opportunities in different area of cycle sport for some smaller forward-thinking national governing bodies, with smaller budgets to make a similar impact on a smaller scale, but get great results & help their riders progress through an alternative pathway.

Cross Niche

So lets look at the options for Scottish Cycling, currently the primary performance path being pursued is to feed the British Cycling Olympic development team, which generally focusses on Olympic disciplines of track & mountain biking, with those riders feeding into the road programme. This is looking very good so far, with some Scottish stars emerging & plenty of young talented Scottish riders performing at a very high level to secure places in the development teams.

Perhaps there’s another route we could be considering in addition to the above, it may involve directing some resources away from ring-fenced ‘Olympic’ disciplines, onto the spectator-friendly format of cyclo-cross, it may even attract some sponsors if handled correctly. Scotland is ideal for pursuing this niche, we have crappy weather, plenty of poorly surfaced tracks, mud, a park in almost every village & town & our public like drinking beer while watching sport. But more importantly for sports development, the fundamentals are already in place, a highly motivated, idea-rich & well organised group of clubs & individuals who are growing the sport & promoting cyclo-cross events all winter (and now a summer league is planned).

Scottish Cycling haven’t exactly jumped on the bandwagon here, Scottish CycloCross have sorted themselves out quite impressively. They now provide regular race opportunities for the broadest demographic to be found in Scottish cycle sport, all compressed into one-day events suitable for the whole family. As spectator cycle events go, it also can’t be beaten, warm velodrome spectator opportunities with any atmosphere are few & far between at Glasgow, the thrill of seeing folks suffering & covered in mud while you can quite legally shout abuse at them is likely going to be a winner, once the wider public realise what’s going on.

The Gist Of It

I’m absolutely no expert in cyclo-cross (my lack of knowledge on ‘cross tub fitting strategy displaying my off-road knowledge deficit to full effect on twitter), so the issue is really between the stakeholders in their self-engineered highly successful discipline, and the governing body. Whether these two can, or want, to come to any agreement is up to them. The benefits to cyclo-cross could be better funding & a higher profile, while for Scottish Cycling they could find talent to push towards their Olympic disciplines, so both win. Cyclo-Cross being a bigger sport may start a slow progression towards Scottish riders being more successful on the international stage, there’s no reason a popular & flourishing sport can’t create a number of world-class riders, we just need it to get the recognition it deserves, to attract the talent & allow them to progress.

Cross can offer huge opportunities within the sport itself, or from the riders that will emerge & transfer into other disciplines. If we want to find the riders of the future, we need something that’s fun, easy to access & doesn’t require a huge investment in facilities, but with a little more support from the governing body, who I think are missing a trick here. As far as I can see, there’s nothing better than cyclo-cross for Scotland to look at developing.

Note: @owenp on twitter is now hosting some Scottish cycling podcasts, well worth a listen, the first couple deal specifically with cyclo-cross. It’s available on his website & i-tunes, search on your pod catcher for ‘The Drum Up Scottish cycling podcast’.

 

 

Crank Length & Foot Speed

Embed from Getty ImagesAs people are finally starting to realise that long cranks are not any faster, and in some situations can make you slower, here’s a few points on the benefits of using shorter cranks for any rider. Delving into the world of crank length is almost up there with Shimano or Campagnolo, so I certainly expect some hostility, but I’m backing this up with plenty of research, and also having ridden & raced everything from 165mm to 180mm cranks in the past.

Foot speed or cadence?

When you’re considering how the muscles in your legs fire, the amount of revolutions your cranks turn every minute is much less important than the speed your foot actually is moving at. If you ride shorter cranks, then your foot travels a smaller distance at the same RPM, therefore it has less speed. So to maintain the pedal speed on shorter cranks & allow your muscles to fire at the same rate, a higher cadence will be needed to achieve the same pedal speed.

Let me give you some examples & a more detailed explanation of what I mean by pedal speed, lets compare 165mm cranks & 175mm cranks:

  • Distance travelled by pedal in one rev (∏xdia) – 165mm⇔1036.2mm – 175mm⇔1099mm
  • Pedal speed at 90rpm – 165mm⇔1554.3mm/s – 175mm⇔1648.5mm/s

So when you ride smaller cranks & you retain the same cadence, your pedal speed is lower as your foot travels less distance in the same time as your foot moves through a smaller diameter.

We can illustrate that if you use a 53 chainring setup on 175mm cranks, then a 50 (compact) chainring setup on 165mm cranks is the equivalent to allow for the same foot speed. (Using Sheldon Brown website for 700x25c gear development)

  • Gear Development – 50×12 ⇔ 8.8m – 53×12 ⇔ 9.3m
  • 90rpm on 53×12 covers 837m in 1 minute
  • 90rpm on 50×12 covers 792m in 1 minute

So in order to demonstrate that matching foot speed (and increasing rpm accordingly) for the shorter cranks will be equivalent to the longer cranks, we have to cover an additional 45m in that minute. So we divide the shortfall by the 50×12 gear development (45/8.8) & we get 5.1RPM. The 165mm cranks should have a very similar pedal speed at around 95rpm as the 175mm cranks at 90rpm.

  • 165mm – (95.1RPM x distance pedal travels)/time = (95.1 x 1036.2mm)/60s = 1642.4mm/s
  • 175mm – (90RPM x distance pedal travels)/time = (90 x 1099mm)/60s = 1648.5mm/s
  • (Reference: 165mm cranks turning at 90rpm result in a pedal speed of 1554.3mm/s)

So what does this tell us?

  • Shorter cranks require a higher cadence for the same speed of muscle contraction.
  • Pro riders you see with notably higher cadence may simply be on shorter cranks than their rivals.
  • You can ride the same cassette, but reduce weight in smaller chainrings & shorter cranks for same road speed.

Aerodynamics

This one is pretty simple & likely the least contested of the benefits of shorter cranks. Power output reduces as the thigh to torso angle gets ever more diminished, so as a rider tries to get into a more extreme position the amount of power they are able to produce gets reduced. This means there’s a sweet spot, where you’re fastest, losing as little of your power as possible, while being very aerodynamic. Shorter cranks help this in two ways.

  1. Your thigh to torso angle is increased as your thighs are not raised as high by the longer cranks, so allows you to get lower without compromising power output (or bashing your thighs off your ribcage).
  2. The UCI 5cm fore/aft rule is thwarted a little. Having shorter cranks means that the horizontal distance from your hip to your pedal axle is reduced with the cranks horizontal, so it would result in a similar position to sitting slightly further forward on your TT or pursuit bike.

Leverage!

This falsehood is incredibly widespread & almost accepted as a fact by many folks who would normally appear to have a clue what they’re talking about. In several studies there has been no measurable difference in power output between different length cranks. As a blatant example, track sprinters ride short cranks (rumours that some GB sprinters have experimented right down to 155mm) but they seem perfectly able to produce incredibly high wattages. If there were issues with leverage & being able to generate power, Chris Hoy would surely have been riding 180mm cranks, but he didn’t.

If this was really an issue, another part of the drivetrain would also experience the same issue with leverage, notably the chainrings & sprockets. So we’d all be climbing on large chainrings & very large cogs to get that extra ‘leverage’, but we don’t, because it doesn’t work.

If you imagine yourself doing squats in the gym, think about where you’re able to generate more strength, is it at the point where your knee is more bent, or less bent. This in itself should be able to dispel any perceived benefits a rider may get from longer cranks, with the knee bent at less of an angle you are able to generate more force when required & also avoid putting too much force through the knee at too great an angle. I’d suggest that some riders who suffer knee problems have been riding long cranks & that may be a component of their injury, especially as they get older.

Power To Maximum

This aspect of crank length is really interesting & potentially very important depending on your discipline. The Macdermid Study in 2010 showed that the time it took to reach maximum power on 170mm cranks compared to 175mm cranks took about 28% less time. The numbers seem small until you consider how it may affect you during an attack, following somebody elses attack or jumping in a finishing sprint. The study didn’t cover crank length shorter than 170mm, so it’s fair to deduce that there would be a similar improvement. It’s well worth a read, but here’s the numbers, which could create a gap between you & somebody of the exact same ability, simply due to riding different length cranks.

Time to maximum power:

  • 170mm cranks – 2.57s
  • 175mm cranks – 3.29s

At 50kmh, your bike travels about 10m in the time delay between the two, consider that for whether or not it’s significant.

The Gist Of It

There are numerous studies which show that there is no difference between power output on every length of crank, apart from maximum power (where for some reason 145mm seems to come out on top, with longer & shorter cranks recording lower values). As I’ve tried to explain, there are numerous other advantages & some world tour teams are now investigating & testing short cranks. I simply cannot find a single reason for riding longer cranks other than availability & that your bike is probably already fitted with longer cranks, so it would cost you to change them all. Maybe next time you buy a new chainset, give shorter cranks a go, you might be quite surprised.

 

The New Religion

Embed from Getty ImagesIt used to be the case that if you couldn’t explain something, you blamed God, then if anybody came up with an alternative based on evidence, they came to a horrible end. As time passed, the evidence based explanation became more popular & the lazy old ideas slowly drifted into obscurity, with only the individuals who had proclaimed their super-natural explanation as ‘fact’ continuing to shout very loudly about it in an attempt to save face. Much the same is happening in cycling right now, I suspect we’ve got a long way to go before it stabilises & we actually know what’s happening.

“Doper!”

You don’t ‘know’ that Chris Froome or anybody else is doping, it’s just your opinion. Without evidence, your opinion is just as valid as anybody elses, it doesn’t make your point of view seem any more valid by calling somebody else naive, nationalistic or stupid. But that’s what’s been going on for quite a few days now. The timing of ‘The Video’ release was used to incite this, maybe even to help Froome get a hard time from the fans on the mountains, ‘public relations doping’ if you like. It worked, everybody & their granny’s been calling Froome & his team dopers, it’s not letting up.

I find these repetitive accusations based solely on performance quite lazy, I suppose that’s human nature, the ‘Religion’ methodology, used to explain something that’s tricky. With the current furore (as 8pm 16/7/15, you never know what’ll happen tomorrow) there’s no actual evidence of drug taking, no links to one of the infamous devil-doctors or coaches, no disgruntled ex team-mates spilling the beans about the sordid goings-on. It’s simply based on beating other riders, riding over 6W/kg, or climbing hills faster than somebody who it’s perceived can’t be beaten because they were ‘on the gear’. There’s quite a few flaws in this.

The magic number of 6W/kg is often banded about as the absolute limit of human capability, mostly not by experts, but its been widely adopted by the doper religion as ‘fact’. But as revealed on a podcast by Ross Tucker (a scientist who’s been quite outspoken about Froome’s performances), the top riders don’t reveal their data. This causes a few jitters with me, scientists base their statistics on evidence, but if the top flight of riders data is missing, they’re either estimating it or it’s excluded, which could make the 6W/kg figure low if those figures are excluded. This could mean that the magical 6W/kg figure is based on 2nd tier riders & really means nothing at all to the lead group in the mountains. Ross Tucker himself said THIS in 2010 about the figure, he doesn’t think it proves doping either, “It does not mean this number separates the world into light & dark”. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tucker, he knows his stuff, but I get the feeling that he’s starting to let his emotions get in the way on this one, possibly for a very good reason. I think this may be partially down to the incredible distrust that Sky appear to be able to generate in an instant, as he states in his latest blog. They’re turning scientists against them now.

PR Geniuses

You’d think a media company would know what they’re doing, incredibly they’re probably the most useless team at PR in the pro peloton. I don’t think this is down to any of their PR staff, but a series of gaffes from the top of the organisation, that lead to nobody in their right mind trusting their judgement on many things. This, in turn, allows people to come to the easy conclusion that they can’t be trusted in general.

In today’s stage, Geraint Thomas has been slated as a doper, for being able to ride with the lead group on Plateau de Beille. With comments questioning how a Classics rider can stay with the best GC riders on the climbs. What really surprises me about this is that the rider attacking the GC group was Valverde, a Classics winner & former doper (I also have zero evidence to suspect Valverde right now, so as far as I’m concerned he’s not doping either), yet I’ve not seen a single accusation today about him! Last year two French riders on the podium, didn’t see anything calling them out either. So where does this massive distrust of Sky come from, it’s not simply performance, because others are performing & being left relatively alone? I’d suggest, being closed, cagey, ultra defensive & banging on about how you do things better than everybody else is the answer to this.

Sky have managed to manoeuvre themselves into a position where they tell you they have something to hide, implying its training, while refusing to tell anybody exactly what it is. We come back to the evidence thing again, without evidence people make their own conclusions, in this case Sky created the situation where people are looking for a piece of information, because they created a gap all by themselves. If they’d not implied they had their secret training methods & marginal gains, then nobody would be looking to fill that empty gap of information with stuff they made up themselves. This is entirely their fault.

The Gist Of It

I didn’t previously think this was the case, but I think it’s maybe time for Sky to finally start releasing some power data. The last few days have seen all sorts of nonsense, like 160 bpm at functional threshold power being caused by drugs, not seeing huge heart rate spikes on ‘The Video’, etc (See this for an indication of how sprints up to 1500W effect heart rate in a track points race). Folks will find all sorts of reasons if there’s already an inbuilt distrust.

As far as the future goes, it’s likely we’ve never seen the most naturally talented general classification cyclist on a bike yet. The big danger with the ‘The New Religion’ is that when this individual does comes along, we won’t be able to enjoy it, it’ll be seen as some kind of super doping that can’t be explained by what we’ve seen before. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to attempt to enjoy this sport, I’m not going to let the new doping religion ruin it for me. I also still think Quintana has a chance of winning this thing, it’s not over yet, Froome may pay for his early efforts later, if that happens what will we blame that on?

 

 

Tour Predictions

I was going to do a top 15 prediction, to incite a bit of ridicule & debate, but more importantly to point out the riders slightly further the classification who often get ignored. These riders are often a strange mix, riders of the future, ‘surprise’ performers, past top 5’s, quality riders who had a lucky break, smaller teams top 10 GC hopes & super domestiques for ‘the big four’. But even I’m sick & tired of predictions now, so it’s not going to be funny anymore, instead I’m going to point out some young riders who may creep into a top 20 GC slot, you may see them hanging on the back of the lead group, making audacious attacks, or they may be almost invisible & only seen in the second page of the GC results after the stages. I find this set of lesser known riders quite interesting, it’s where the future champions lurk, learning their trade, suffering for three weeks & watching the current masters at very close quarters, but learning all the time.

The very brief prediction bit

I think Quintana will win, followed by Froome & Pinot. Van Garderen will be seen clinging on for all he’s got & finish 4th, with last years champ Nibali taking the final top 5 slot after some bad luck, which escaped him last year. I’m suggesting that Contador will have one very bad day due to a fierce Giro, resulting in him going for the mountains jersey as a consolation, but he is Bert, so he could just as easily win the thing!

Green jersey, a close run thing with an on form Cav winning against an unsupported Sagan in the first week, due to Contador’s GC hopes. Mountains, Contador, reasons as above, obviously white jersey to the yellow jersey.

(p.s. I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and placed some bets on the above predictions, so I’ll let you know how I get on.)

Look Out For……

Warren Barguil (Team Giant-Alpecin)

Embed from Getty ImagesWith Kittell absent, this team are probably going to be built around stage wins & opportunities. The 23-year-old Frenchman has been tipped as a future star & may be given some space to aim for a high position on GC. He’s already finished in the top ten of grand tour, with 8th place overall in last years Vuelta, so don’t be surprised to see him up his game at the Tour.

The Yates Bros (Orica GreenEDGE)

Embed from Getty ImagesSimon Yates looks to be the one in best form, but Adam is also just as capable of pulling off a big result at the Tour. I’m seriously suggesting that a top 10 is possible for one of these 22-year-old twins, if it’s not GC they’re going for, expect fantastic attacks, they’re really not scared of anyone. How glad is everybody they didn’t go to Sky & become mountain domestiques, these boys are proper racers.

Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN Qhubeka)

Embed from Getty ImagesI get the feeling this team are going to make an impact in the Tour. Eritrean Teklehaimanot is fresh from winning the climbers jersey in the Dauphine, after getting into what seemed like every break! So he’s a man who’s not going to be content sitting in the bunch, and likely unable to contend with the best climbers just yet, we can see him trying to get the polka dot jersey at some point in the race, possibly even a stage win. But breaks, lots of breaks.

Merhawi Kudus (MTN Qhubeka)

Embed from Getty ImagesProbably less well-known than his team-mate & countryman Teklehaimanot, 21-year-old Kudus has some impressive results & potentially a huge grand tour future. His 2014 performances include 2nd in GC in the Tour of Langkawi (2nd on that Genting Highlands stage) & 5th on GC in the Route du Sud (in the select Valverde group on the Val Louron stage). He’s still to perform at that level in 2015, but if you’re going to perform, the Tour is the place to do it. I think he’s going to be the revelation of the Tour this year.

Julian David Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing)

Embed from Getty ImagesKing of the mountains in the 2014 Giro, the Colombian is a punchy climber, often seen riding in the support of others. The absence of the Schleck’s this year may propel him into a great position within the Trek team, he may be allowed some real freedom. Mollema is his team leader, but since Tirreno, his GC performances have been poor (e.g. 60th in Dauphine), so this team will either get behind somebody else for GC, or it’ll be all for the polka dots & stages, I anticipate the latter.

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18)

Embed from Getty ImagesYou’re not going to see the 24-year-old Irishman near the front on any climbs, but expect him to be taking any opportunity presented to him. He’ll likely be feeding off the bigger sprint trains in the finalé’s of the flatter stages, but he’s better on some of the harder sprint finishes, so don’t be surprised if he takes a stage, he took the scalps of Bouhanni & Sagan earlier in the year.

 

 

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

Embed from Getty ImagesAs you watch this Sundays Hour Record attempt by Bradley Wiggins, bear in mind that no part of him, or any static part of his bike has actually travelled the Hour Record distance he sets. It’s a quirk of riding on a velodrome compared to riding on the road, science gets involved & messes things up, during a quiet period of any hour attempt you can bore your family with this info, perfect cycling nerd territory. A long-legged rider has an inbuilt benefit from this, here’s why….

The Banking Effect

Let’s take a hypothetical vertical wall of death you may have seen motorbikes using as an example. This wall of death has Brad Wiggins cycling round it, but it’s quite a small diameter wall of death, so his head is sitting exactly at the centre of rotation. Even though he’s having to ride at 55kmh to keep going on this vertical wall, his head isn’t really going anywhere, he barely feels any wind there at all, it’s just rotating on the spot, causing little or no aerodynamic drag. The only point travelling at 55kmh is the point his tyre touches the wall of death. So Brad’s body or bike frame isn’t actually travelling at 55kmh, the fastest static point of his bike is his bottom bracket, which is travelling less distance than his bike computer would tell him.

A track rider, banked over on a velodrome experiences a similar, but not quite so dramatic effect. The riders body travels at a slower speed on the bankings than a computer measuring wheel rotations would indicate. Consequently, if an accurate GPS unit was affixed to the handlebars it would also read less distance & a slower speed in the bankings than the timekeepers would tell you, there’s nowhere on a bike you could fit a GPS unit that would record the exact track distance covered.

There’s aerodynamic consequences from the banking effect, Brad’s body will be causing more aerodynamic drag on the straight than it does on the bankings. His body’s air speed is slower in the bankings than on the straights, even though his track speed is the same. So as a rider gets taller, their effective body speed reduces on the bankings. It also makes wheel choice & even bottom bracket shape are more important than it originally seemed, as that as close to the point of consistently maximum speed as you can get, that point travels fastest for longest in the Hour Record.

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

The excellent ‘Analytic Cycling‘ website, contains a wealth of information for cycling geeks, they’ve done a study using the geometry of the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Australia. The test is based on a flying 200m time trial effort, so our distance are not based on a full lap, but include a full banking & one partial banking, so our reduction in distance the centre of gravity travels per lap is more than shown here.

The model they generate shows that even though the track distance is 200m (199.99m), the distance the centre of gravity travels is about 3m less (196.7m) at a pace equivalent to a 14.166 second over 200m. This also shows that there’s a 0.3 second advantage gained on their baseline model, caused by the leaning affect & the riders centre of gravity not travelling as far as the track distance. In the next test the speed is increased & we find that the distance the centre of gravity travels reduces again, as the rider leans in more, essentially cutting the corner yet again. The final test shows that a rider sitting 200mm higher on the bike, with longer legs, also reduces the time for the 200m based on the same power & reduces the distance travelled even further.

So in summary, a taller rider (or one with longer legs to be precise) travels less distance each lap than a shorter rider, they benefit from the leaning effect of the banking, it reduces their time for the same power output. If the additional wind resistance from the longer legs can be minimised, a taller rider (such as Wiggins) has a distinct advantage. It also means that the faster you go, the more benefit you get from this reduced travel effect, which may slightly counter the huge increases in wind resistance you get from increased velocity, anything is a bonus.

The Gist Of It

This is a bit of fun for cycling nerds, but it does show a measurable improvement in speed. Those with the analytic tools to make these estimations correctly have perhaps identified an ideal body type for a pursuit/hour-record rider. But not just on the aero characteristics they display on the road, but from how their body type translates to track cycling. It may be the case that similar to rowing, a certain size of athlete is particularly gifted at these very specific disciplines in cycling. I’m pretty sure British Cycling have got this sorted already, those team pursuit riders look very similar indeed. It looks like Brad’s centre of gravity travels approx 5m less per lap than his track speed, which would mean in a 55 km Brad only travels 53.9km, while if he rode 55km in a straight line on the road, his body would also travel 55km. I was always told “you’ll go quicker on the track than anywhere else”, this may have been true, due to the reduced distance & work required caused by the banking. All this does is explain a strange quirk of track cycling, which the cycling geek may like, others, well, they stopped reading a long time ago.

 

Hour Record – Pre-Wiggins attempt

Embed from Getty ImagesAlex Dowsett was the fourth rider to break the mens record after the recent rule change, he followed Jens Voigt (51.115km), Matthias Brändle (51.852km) & Rohan Dennis (52.491km). Dowsett seemed to be the least physically stressed by his record-breaking ride, nearly punching through the 53km barrier with 52.937km covered in the hour on the Manchester Velodrome. On Sunday we are being treated to the most anticipated attempt, that of Bradley Wiggins, who most expect to blow the record apart with talk of going above 55km, I’m not so sure.

Things are trickier for Brad, he wants to put the record out of sight for a while, having stated that he’s only going to attempt it once, this is in stark contrast to the manner in which Dowsett attacked the record, pegging the previous one & accelerating at the end. It’s a very different thing to ride within yourself for an hour, only needing to beat the current record by a few metres in order to succeed, than to ride the entire hour on the limits of your physical ability. The Wiggins attempt is more along the lines of the Jack Bobridge one, where he went out incredibly hard when he should have just been pegging the current record & seeing what he had left at the end. We can safely assume that Brad, the seasoned & vastly experienced campaigner that he is, can pace himself better than anybody, plus his support team should be at least on par with Dowsett’s, who looked superb & controlled things perfectly. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see any similar  ‘blowing up’ on Sunday, but here lies Brad’s problem.

Wiggins Problems

If Wiggins rides on his absolute limit, he runs the risk of imploding, if he runs slightly below his absolute limit, he may leave the door open for somebody else to have a go in the near future. I suspect he want’s to knock this record out of the park, which is where the danger lies as Dowsett looked like he had plenty left in the tank. I suspect he’ll play it slightly safe & ride his tried & tested negative split style, gradually increasing pace as the hour progresses. Different to Dowsett’s highly succesful tactic, ride at record pace for the majority then accelerate. Brad can’t do this if he wants to smash the record by a significant margin. Wiggins is riding to beat future attempts, not past ones.

There’s another potential spanner in the works, as one of the most knowledgable authorities on hour records, Michael Hutchinson (@doctor_hutch) said on twitter today. He reckons atmospheric conditions are not favourable for Wiggins, plus the track is slower than Manchester, which in combination he reckons will cost Wiggins a whole kilometre! That’s incredible, but I have to take Doctor Hutch’s word on this, he knows his stuff & I’m pretty sure he’s basing this on genuine data he’s collected. High pressure is forecast, Dowsett set his record in low pressure. This means that the primary inhibitor to forward motion for a cyclist, aerodynamic drag, is higher, it makes a significant difference. It could also cause issues for pacing, if he’s not had the opportunity to test at Sundays pressure, it could force him to ride well within his limits, even gearing down for the harder conditions & slightly slower speed, he may encounter some unknowns.

The Gist Of It

So if we take the above into account, and if we assume that Wiggins was now aiming for something around 55km, then we’ve dropped to 54km for the same power output & the record isn’t looking too far out of reach if Dowsett attacked it again in the next year. It could even open the door for what might be considered an unsporting attempt at altitude by another rider.

I had initially assumed that the Wiggins attempt would kill off the Hour for a few years. But I now think that if Wiggins doesn’t break the 54km barrier, as I suspect, that we may see a new flurry from some more young talented riders in the next couple of years. Things could get interesting.

The record can be seen on the various ways on THIS linked Sky webpage (including youtube), The Cycling Podcast will be covering it live from the Velodrome too, so you’ll not be short of information hopefully. It’s Sunday (7th June) evening between 6:30 & 7:30pm.

 

 

King of the Morons

Embed from Getty Images

Those who follow Scottish politics will probably be familiar with the Stan Laurel type character of Willie Rennie, leader of what’s left of the LibDems in the Scottish Parliament. He’s not only a pretty ineffective politician, he also can’t work Strava, incriminating himself by driving at over 80mph after forgetting to stop the app recording data before he got into his car. He also looks to have bagged himself a couple of King of the Mountains’, while crowning himself ‘King of the Morons’. I think I’ll award a prize for the biggest numpty on Strava, it may take some pretty spectacular action to beat this guy though, but I’m sure somebody will. But for now, Willie Rennie, you are ‘King of the Morons’.

Here’s the story on STV news, and in case you really don’t know what Strava is, read this previous blog for details.

Strava For Dummies

Follow a few simple Strava rules to keep yourself & your bikes safe.

Do’s:

  • Set up privacy on your home location, without this you’re making it obvious to everybody exactly where you keep your bikes. The thieves can see the trail running right to your shed, sometimes the accuracy of GPS works against you.
  • Set up privacy on your work location if you ride to work, otherwise those pesky thieves know where you chain your bike up.
  • Use your Strava data as a training tool, base your performances against yourself, not the local pro, that’ll just destroy your motivation.
  • Switch on the enhanced privacy, so that you can approve your followers, you don’t want everybody seeing where you are. It also abbreviates your name on KOM’s to logged out users. Basic, but not excessive, data protection & privacy for you.

Dont’s:

  • Don’t list your bikes details, if you do, you’re publishing a shopping list for thieves to come & help themselves. If you’ve not set up privacy around your home, and you’ve listed the bikes, I will forward you on an email I got about an African Prince who died in a plane crash. They want to find find someone in UK with a bank account who will be willing to place $10million dollars in it, I’ve got too much money through these schemes, so I thought I’d pass it on to you. Email me your bank details & I’ll put you in touch.
  • Don’t leave it gathering data when you’re in the car. The big red button on the app starts & stops it, learn to use that or you’ll start upsetting everybody with King of the Mountains taken in your car, or worse still publish your law breaking & speeding online for everybody to see. An incredibly stupid thing to do, especially if you’re a public figure.
  • Don’t turn group rides into Strava King of the Mountain sector hunts, unless you’ve agreed this is what you’ll do. If you start blasting away from your former buddies on every sector, well, you’re as arsehole.
  • Don’t link it to your Twitter & Facebook accounts, it makes you look like a maniac & also lets people know that the lie you told to get out of that social engagement was actually just to go training.

A New Level of Stupidity

Embed from Getty Images

I watched this in disbelief on Sunday’s Paris Roubaix, the sight of professional cyclists running across a closed level crossing, just in front of a train travelling at huge speed (in the photo above, the train is travelling well over 100mph). These people are idiots, it was incredibly close to them, they should not only get sporting sanctions but also criminal prosecution to avoid any impressionable viewers thinking it’s ok & copying them (it IS a criminal offence). It’s serious stupidity, it’s reckless & shows a total disregard for the position of responsibility they hold as role models & sporting icons.

However you look at things, this aspect of cheating is much worse than doping (it is cheating, it’s specifically written into the UCI rules that it’s forbidden). Doping ruins the image of our sport, it creates false winners & can cause physical & mental damage to one person, but attempting to cheat in the manner seen at the level crossing is much more damaging. It also ruins the image of our sport, it can also create a false result, but it risks lives of others, not just the life of the idiot running across the level crossing. The lives of those using the transport system are also at risk, but this behaviour sets an example to those watching at home, perhaps young impressionable riders wanting to emulate their mentally deficient heroes. This is where the real damage could be done, somebody will be watching & have seen easily recognisable riders who are looked up to, like Wiggins, French champion Démare (and many more) behaving like fools & do the same. Now lets consider how many companies want these types riders to say their using their products, this is because people are influenced by them, they want to do & things & use things that their heroes do, copying idiotic behaviour works in exactly the same way.

Now some say, “it’s in the heat of battle”, that’s garbage. Nobody who’s a cycling fan can say this type of thing is ok, then condemn footballers for attacking each other on the pitch, it’s all irresponsible behaviour & should all be dealt with in the same manner, sporting & criminal sanctions. Cycling is ‘our’ sport, so we often find ourselves defending it to others, but this kind of behaviour has to be clamped down on & I can’t defend it. It would take just one incident where the top riders are removed for this kind of thing & it would never happen again. The AOS races are big commercial events, so there must be pressure felt by the officials to not take action, whether voiced or not. But that’s no excuse, the UCI need to hold an enquiry into why the commissaires failed to act in any effective manner during this incident. I’m a little miffed by this, some will laugh it off, but we were very close to seeing a fatality live on TV. This is bike racing, it’s not life or death, no matter how much a rider wants to win. This was reported in all the UK press, it damages our sport & makes football pitch incidents look inconsequential, somebody could easily have died, we need to make sure it never happens again.

If the complaint from the rail authorities is upheld, do you think that puts the entire future of this race in the balance. Would you laugh off this behaviour then?

The Road Calendar – An early look

Embed from Getty ImagesI’m just rolling my eyes over what’s currently been added so far up to the end of April, I’m well aware that if a club or organiser hasn’t paid their affiliation fees, then any events will not appear. But I’m assuming that taking a weekend snapshot (25/1/15), we’ll get a decent snapshot of how the first couple of months are looking for racing in Scotland.

I’m pretty sure you know I don’t really like flat TT’s, unless somebody’s tried to do something with them to make an event of it, so I’ll largely ignore them, but embrace hilly & team time trials. Links to BC calendar are on the event name.

Weekend 21/22 Feb: The Early TTT’s start

  • Sunday: In about a months time the season kicks off with a the Ice Breaker 2 Up TTT, by Fullarton Wheelers, a 2-up team time trial for the tough guys who are still carrying a layer of turkey fat.

Weekend 28 Feb/1st Mar:

  • No events so far

Weekend 7/8 Mar:

Weekend 14/15 Mar: Individual TT’s begin

  • Saturday: Loudoun Road Club Galston Hilly Time Trial, yet another event from the small club who take a big personal responsibility in providing events all through the year.
  • Sunday: Corrieri Classic 10, this Stirling Bike Club event feels a bit like an event compared to other flat TT’s, it’s the first chance for the testers to battle mano a mano after a winter spent on the turbo trainer, unless it’s a nice day they’ll be in skinsuit shock after only ever venturing out in full thermal gear, brrrrrr.

Weekend 21/22 Mar: Road racing opens with APR’s & a criterium, but where the Lake APR?

  • Sunday: Fenwick APR by Walkers Cycling Club. Lies & skullduggery, “I’ve not been out much” & lots of other treachery to deal with for any early APR organiser, as riders seek to slip into an easier group.
  • Sunday: Ythan APR. A great wee opening race for the North East season, held by another hard-working Club, the Ythan (as in Python).
  • Sunday: Crit On The Campus. A fabulous Stirling Bike Club criterium on closed roads at Stirling University, last year had world champion Katie Archibald racing, worth a visit as a spectator if you’re not riding. It caters for most categories, so plenty of races to watch.

Weekend 28/29 Mar: Road Races at last & a couple of interesting TT’s.

  • Saturday: Straiton Struggle, Ayr Roads CC 76km road race for 3/4 cats.
  • Sunday: Dick Longdragon Road Race, always attracts some of the top road riders for their first proper battle of the season. Open to E/1/2/3 riders. Hosted by Granite City RT
  • Sunday: Lang Whang Hilly TT, a testing course over an exposed moor & back, but still infinitely nicer than a flat one. Yet another West Lothian Clarion event.
  • Sunday: Gordon Arms Mountain Time Trial, Gala CC’s enduring early season hilly TT in Selkirk.

Weekend 4/5 April: Just one 10, we’re all missing The Girvan/TourDoonHame!

Weekend 11/12 April: A stage race!

Saturday: The BalfRonde, a new one, a short one-day stage race from Vortex RT, obviously in Balfron. Consisting of prologue, circuit race & a mountain top finish, open to E/1/2/3.

Sunday: GCRT Road Race No.1, an ingeniously named event from Granite City RT, open to E/1/2/3 riders.

Weekend 18/19 April: The Drummond Weekend!

Weekend 25/26 April: TT Champs

Cawdor APR, Moray Firth CC are also holding a 10 on the same day, so could be worth a trip for those from elsewhere.

The Tour of the Meldons incorporates the Scottish TT champs this year. Forget the 10 & 25, this one is much closer to what everybody other national champs looks like.

The Gist of It

I’d like to see a few more APR’s, we seem to be losing some for some reason, early season events are usually vastly oversubscribed, so are we just struggling to find organisers? There’s a good mix of events in there, demand at the beginning of the year is always high, so in an ideal world we’d all like to see more events, some riders will be struggling to get a start, especially if they’ve got no results. There also appear to be less 4th cat events than in previous years, I seem to remember everybody was complaining about this in the past, but now looks like 3rd cats have the best choice of all the riders now, maybe we’ve produced loads of them over the last few years.

 

Danny Macaskill – Way Back Home

If you liked the latest Danny Macaskill video, you may not have been a fan when his first massively viewed video cam out in 2010. Catch up with it here, or just view it again, it’s pretty special too. This one link has had over 30 million views.

Danny Macaskill – The Ridge

Danny rides down the spiky back of a giant dinosaur on the Isle of Skye. It’s yet another stunning video, this is the kind of thing he really does best, Skye should adopt this as their tourist video.