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.

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Embed from Getty ImagesWinter cycling in Scotland is often seen by some as one of the most miserable things you can do on a bike, that’s not strictly true, I’m writing a series of posts on not just surviving it, but enjoying it. In this post we discover that mudguards are fundamental & the number-one necessary evil.

Riding without mudguards during a winter of “getting the miles in” really is a terribly miserable experience, it likely leads to plenty of riders becoming big sellers on ebay & gumtree while taking up snooker, darts or some other indoor pastime. This also allows them to indulge in their new-found alcoholism from having the after effects of repeatedly chilled wet feet & bumhole. It doesn’t have to be this way, fit some bloody mudguards & your winter of misery turns into an experience that a little bit of freezing rain can’t dampen.

The Advantages of Mudguards

  • Protects frame & parts from salt corrosion – If you ride your ‘good bike’ during winter without mudguards, it won’t be any good by March, you’ll be needing a new one, or at least some new parts. The roads are soon to be covered in grit & salt to keep the ice at bay, your bike will suffer hugely from this. Under the accumulated dirt, the components will start to corrode, as the winter progresses & you clean off the surface dirt, underneath the bearings, springs & moving parts in your drivetrain & brakes will deteriorate to the point they’ll need replaced.
  • Protects cycle clothing from degeneration & discolouring – Your expensive state of the art winter kit is going to suffer from getting repeatedly sprayed with road dirt & salt, so is your chamois, it’ll take a beating from repeated attack from salty gritty water. Treated fabrics lose their waterproof coating much quicker & you’ll also have to wash your outer layers on a continual basis to avoid looking like you’re a minger. Forget wearing anything white, it won’t be white for long.
  • Keeps you warm – Summer road spray is much more tolerable, winter road spray is a different beast altogether. Winter spray is generally just a few degrees above freezing, which makes all the difference. In summer on the worst of days a rain jacket will protect you, sometimes you’ll even be too hot. In winter the spray causes a constant chill which your body has to fight, it also costs you energy. Your body uses additional fuel to attempt to keep your body at the correct temperature while it’s extremities & your backside are to a continuous tap of water at chilled-beer temperature.
  • Stops feet from getting soaked (with addition of mudflap) – Mudguards without the addition of a mudflap will lose you one of the best & most useful advantages of mudguards. A correctly sized & positioned mudflap bolted onto the rear end of your front mudguard will protect your feet from all but the worst of soakings. Without the mudflap, the spray from your wheel seems to spray under the back of the mudguard & disperse directly onto your toes. Fit the mudflap & make it yourself from a plastic bottle, just cut it out & bolt it on, it’s easy & will make things much more pleasurable.
  • Makes the cafe stop a pleasant experience – With mudguards, you can sit in relative luxury sipping your coffee at the cafe stop, while your ‘road washed’ comrades are soaked through to their base layers & want to leave as quickly as possible before you’ve stuffed a cake down your gob. The water has been thrown up & drained over-the-top of collars & overshoes, having fully waterproof kit doesn’t make a difference in this situation, the water finds its alternative route in.
  • Chaffing – Grit ingressed & soaking wet chamois & pedalling don’t make happy companions, your bits & pieces won’t be happy for too long & your partner may ask you where you got that nasty rash, answering “the club run” is going to throw up more questions than answers. If anybody left a baby in a wet nappy for the period of time that your club run takes, the social services would be called in, it’s just not going to be good for you, fit some mudguards.
  • Allows you to train with mudguard-users without becoming a social leper – People with mudguards hate riding with people without mudguards in winter. It’s disrespectful, all the above issues become problems for the mudguarded riders due to inconsiderate riders who inflict their freezing cold spray on others. The reasons are often lazyness, vanity (they think it ruins the look of their bike, but don’t care that it covers them & others in dirt). For extra brownie points with other riders, the addition of a rear mudflap doesn’t protect you, but it sends out a message, it means you consider others by preventing any water at all spraying up into your club-mates faces, it’ll make you the most popular wheel to follow.

Fitting Options

If you’ve got mudguard eyes & a bit of clearance, you’re laughing, if not, you still have some options if you want to fit the best option of full mudguards with stays. Personally, I’d only fit the ‘race-blade’ type of mudguards if it was my last option, I’ve tried a few & they’re not nearly as secure & don’t offer the best protection for yourself & your ride-buddies. But ‘race-blades’ may be the only option if you’ve got very little clearance to fit mudguard between your fork crown & tyre on the front, or between your brake bridge & tyre at the rear.

  • Additional Fittings – These come in two options, fitted to either end of your quick-release skewer as seen HERE, or as metal clips with a plastic or rubber coating that clip round your frame HERE. Once you’ve got these fitted, you can fit any of the traditional mudguards that are available in your local bike shop (assuming you’ve got that necessary clearance). These fitting parts are hit-and-miss whether they’re in stock at you local bike shop, but they’ll all stock mudguards. They’ll also be able to tell you if it’s possible to fit mudguards, so if they give you their free advice, buy the mudguards from them regardless of whether they’ll supply you the fittings.
  • Clip-On Plastic Mudguards – If you really have to use a close clearance race type bike in the winter, these are your only options. You’ll often see them waving about in crosswinds & while mostly offering protection to the owner, other will sometimes get a face full of winter road dirt. It’s also less easy to fit effective mudflaps to these as they’re less secure. You’ll get these in your local bike shop & the most popular are branded ‘race-blades’, but plenty of options appearing on the market. A bit of advice I’d give is to forget the rubber fittings that allow you to take them on-and-off easily. You’ll get a much more secure fitting if you use cable ties to fix them on your bike for the whole winter, they tend to move a lot less & provide the protection from the elements you need in the middle of winter. It’ll also remove the need to constantly move them & the incessant rubbing can cause a bit of annoyance to you & others.

The Gist Of It

You’ll see photos & articles about the pro riders riding on training camps on their race bikes, that’s unrealistic for the amateur or club rider. They go somewhere warm, you might too, for just a week in the spring maybe, but the rest of the time you’re on the UK roads, the further north & west you get the worse the weather is. Fitting mudguards won’t make you look Italian, but over time it will save you money & help avoid time off the bike feeling unwell or with the bike requiring spares. It also protects others from your spray, it’s generally the inexperienced or inconsiderate riders who choose not to have mudguards, perhaps some just haven’t thought about it, so let them know, show them this & you may get a much cleaner bike ride next week. Fit some mudguards this winter, you’ll never go back.

 

 

Young Guns

It’s a tough challenge to replace somebody of the stature, charm & medal-count of Chris Hoy, but it looks like Scotland’s young track riders have risen to the challenge & are slowly rising onto the international stage, some with a big bang. For those who follow the sport closely, some may be well-known to you, for those with a passing interest in track cycling, it may be a welcome surprise to see what’s on the horizon.

The Well Knowns

Embed from Getty ImagesTop of the list is Katie Archibald, whether or not her ever-changing hair colour has elevated her profile, it’s her results which really do the talking. Having been part of the all-conquering GB Team Pursuit squad, she’s now branching out on her own. In a very short space of time the Scottish star has risen from British Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 2012, to World & European Team Pursuit Champion in 2014 & just last week made a significant step by taking the European Individual Pursuit title. Katie can only get better, she’s just 20 years old & looks able to turn her hand to any endurance events on the track (e.g. Bronze in the Commonwealth Games Points Race at Glasgow 2014). Road events are the obvious next step after mastering the track bunch races, with a 5th place at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games Time Trial, then fading in the final lap of the road race, a little experience is likely to make these position numbers much smaller in the future. Not even the shackles of the British Cycling system has broken Archibald, her individuality shines through & looking at all the world-class female endurance riders they have, most look to be static at a very high level, not getting much quicker & not getting slower. Archibald on the other hand is noticeably improving & learning every time we see her compete. European, World & likely soon Olympic Champion Katie Archibald is one of the brightest sports stars of either sex that Scotland has produced, the British public or Katie herself haven’t quite come to terms with how far this star is likely rise as a sporting icon & positive role model once we get to Rio.

Embed from Getty ImagesCallum Skinner has been smouldering under the radar of most cycling fans for a couple of years now, the 22 year old is now looking like he’s up to cooking temperature & the man most likely to inherit the titles that Chris Hoy made his own in the track sprint events. Skinner, who is still on the Olympic Development Programme beat all the riders on the full Team GB on their stealthy Team GB super-bikes, the Scot on his stock ‘Development’ Pinarello track bike. He won three individual events at the British Championships, the Sprint, Keirin, Kilometre Time Trial & took the Team Sprint with two Team GB Olympic riders, the British Championships require a world-class performance to win them. He followed this up by taking the European Kilo title last week, which strangely was held in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. To make things even more unusual for the Europe’s Elite track riders, the 333m track is outdoors & bumpy, very unlike their usual wind-less & indoors 250m tracks. Skinner however recorded a time 1:02.399, I’d be surprised if this isn’t an outdoor Kilo record at sea level (if he’d recorded this time at the British Championships, he’d still have won gold, which shows how fast he’s going in any conditions, on any track). Again, a rising Olympic star looking to Rio 2016.

Both these riders have been chosen to represent UK at the November 8-9th World Cup event in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Not-So Well Knowns

Embed from Getty ImagesBritish Points champion Mark Stewart is another rapid improver, as I said above, to win a British title now requires a world-class ride, Stewart has likely sent shock waves though the established endurance stars with this gold medal. He took part in the Commonwealth Games for Scotland & was a surprise entry for the Individual Pursuit, he’s already 6 seconds quicker than his time from Glasgow 2014! Stewart is newly enrolled on the 2014/2015 intake to British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme, rapid improvement is not just expected, it’s required to stay on this programme, he proven himself a winner of a technical event, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Scot in the GB Team Pursuit team at the 2015/2016 World Cup track season. You can read his interview with Veloveritas HERE.

Others I’m hoping to see step up are riders like Jonathan Mitchell & Jonathan Biggin in the sprint events, then Phil Trodden & Charline Joiner in endurance events. The last two probably are not exactly considered teenagers anymore, but Trodden appears to be rapidly improving, with 5th place in the British Scratch championship & Joiner has a new lease of life after breaking her back & fighting back to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I also wouldn’t write off Rigmar Racers from producing some surprises in 2015, they seem to be gathering even more experience & developing a talent for producing champions, will be interesting to see what young talent they have coming through.

Special Mentions

I was waiting to hear which Scottish riders had been enrolled on the new British Cycling Olympic Development Apprentice Programme (ODA), which invites the most talented youth riders into the machine. I saw on the GlasgowRiderz site that two riders have been invited, Ellie Park & Lewis Stewart. Both have some impressive palmarés, a youth rider taking silver in the recent Scottish Junior Sprint Championship caught my eye. Lewis Stewart was allowed dispensation to race-up into the junior event, where he was only beaten by British junior silver medal winner Jack Carlin, another rising sprint talent to keep an eye on (Lewis may have been allowed to ‘gear-up’, but regardless, it’s still very impressive). It’s always important to take note of a name for the future, one who performs against high quality opposition of a different age category, duly noted.

Good luck to all our up & coming riders, I know I’ve missed loads, sorry to those, but I’ll keep a close eye on the riders filtering through & performing well.

 

Doing Things Right

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I’ve posted previously on how sports governing bodies can be stuck in a rut, with the need for funding becoming their guiding principle, rather than the actual needs of the sport they are attempting to support. It’s an annoying aspect of the drip-down funding structure, which feeds off the perceptions of some public servant somewhere in the financial hierarchy, with his idea of what a sport needs (it’s always a ‘him’). We can safely assume the closest this fella will have got to sport recently are some free Wimbledon tickets or a nice day out at the cricket. If we ignore that side of things & the resulting fallout to our governing bodies, it’s the clubs that are actually the trailblazers in cycle sport. I’m going to point out a couple of very different ones, but both appear to have chosen their own distinct path & followed through with great gusto & success, the clubs I’ll be mentioning are Stirling Bike Club & the Rigmar Racers (other clubs exist with similar ideals, but to me, these two are currently the most prominent in Scotland right now).

Stirling Bike Club

It would be easy for any club with a high membership to promote run-of-the-mill cycle events on the road, this is exactly what Stirling Bike Club don’t settle for. In the last year they’ve managed to run three closed-road events, a virtually unseen display in Scottish racing circles, a feat which takes an incredible amount of effort to put in place, alongside the well promoted but more ‘traditional’ events like the ‘Corrieri Classic 10’ & the ‘Battle of the Braes’.

Those who’ve been around a while are used to events being hidden away, keeping our sport in the backwater, but Stirling BC have woken up to the fact that cycling is now something that the general public would actually like to watch & local government will engage with. These events include ‘Up the Kirk’ hill-climb, ‘Crit on the Campus‘ & ‘Crit Under the Castle‘. All these events have their own mini web sites (linked), regularly updated twitter feeds & excellent promotion, singling out these events to me as being some of the best Scotland has ever had in promotion terms. The execution is also impressive, if it looks smooth-running from the outside, you can bet it’s highly stressful & very well-managed on the inside, what ‘the punters’ don’t see is what makes these events what they turn out to be.

The backbone of this club is in its membership, they have multiple club training rides for all abilities, chaingangs & club rides. But the jewel in the crown is their kids club, the Wallace Warriors, there’s a big waiting list to get into this club. This club really is a shining example of a multi-tiered cycling club catering for all.

Rigmar Racers

Predominantly a track team, which also has some very successful forays into road racing, Rigmar Racers is quickly making its mark as the go-to club for the aspirational Scottish track racer. The top-tier (or cloud, as they may refer to it as) of riders in this team are impressive, even having helped none other than Katie Archibald on her way, there’s already an obvious pedigree of national champions involved with the club. This domain had been held for decades by one very successful club, but they seem to have gone into a steep decline, possibly due to the reducing relevance of the venue that served track cycling so well since the 70’s, Meadowbank, without either of which we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Rigmar Racers have embraced the indoor velodrome opportunity fully, along with coaching, expert knowledge, equipment & expertise. They’ve grown in what looks like a very manageable fashion & have a host of young talented up-and-coming riders in their roster, plus 2014 Commonwealth games riders Alistair Rutherford & Callum Skinner. The front line coaching team consists of Allister Watson (reputedly the most dangerous rider ever to ride the Meadowbank boards, who’ll have a trick or two up his arm warmers), with Callum Watson & Commonwealth medallist Kate Cullen.

This team looks to be setting the benchmark at the performance end of Scottish cycle sport, which hopefully will spur on other individuals & teams to raise their game. From what we’ve seen so far, Rigmar Racers are adept at identifying & developing young promising riders from other sports & the youth ranks,then furnishing them with the skills & knowledge to allow them to progress the ladder. With some eventually using what they have learned to help them make it to international level competition. We’ll even see them entering a team at the forthcoming season of Revolution track meetings across the country, a very progressive approach. They also have a very good blog.

Rider Development

My opinion is that clubs large successful clubs find it difficult to also run an elite ‘team’ racing at a high level, this can challenge resources & often cause some unwanted disruption & arguments. So if a club like Stirling BC develops riders to a level where they are performing at national events, they should see that as another success, the club should quite rightly be very proud of that. Clubs can easily keep their ties to the top riders, while trying not to get upset if they move on to a team who specialise in supporting them at bigger events. We need that diversification to allow riders to progress, otherwise it’s easy to hold them back. A club can benefit massively from keeping that association, imagine if that rider does ‘make it’, would you rather be mentioned in interviews as a part of that development, or scrubbed from memory as the club that got upset when the rider wanted to race big events as part of a team. It’s not a kick in the teeth when a rider progresses, it shows how good a job you’ve done.

The Gist Of It

Plenty of clubs & teams are doing very good things, like those above, but plenty are unfortunately not. Some still refuse to accept that cycle sport is changing rapidly, refusing to utilise social media & relentlessly telling young talented riders that all they need to do is ‘get the miles in’, these clubs will eventually die. The relatively new clubs are the ones which are able to adopt a modern approach, all too often we see tradition stifle the old clubs, so it’s elsewhere we should be looking for innovation & development in Scottish cycle sport. The clubs I’ve identified do very different things, they both do these things very well. We require more of these, a diverse network of clubs & teams where riders can progress, or just enjoy riding their bikes. Who knows where it could lead, the future looks very bright if Stirling Bike Club & Rigmar Racers are where we’ll see Scottish cycling head in the future. Maybe Scottish Cycling can learn a thing or two from what’s going on in the progressive club scene.

Spokey Dokey League

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If you think you know better than Dave Brailsford, if nobody ever listens to your team selection choices, this is your chance to prove yourself. Sign up (it’s free) at Velogames.com, choose your team & enter the Spokey Dokey Mini League Code 30191854 to join.

How It Works

You have 100 credits to build your team, each rider has a value, going from Chris Froome who’ll cost you 26 credits, right down to Scrabble expert Xabier Zandio on 4 points. You get points for stage placings, each of the jerseys, , team assistance, overall positions after each stage & final GC.

I’ll devise some kind of suitably rubbish prize for the winner, as long as you live in the UK & I don’t have to post it far far away. But you will get regular updates during the Tour on who’s doing well in the league, as my team likely fade & wilter & fight to stay off the bottom rung. Happy picking & get it sorted before the Tour starts on Saturday!

 

 

Little Pinky

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I’ve been enthralled by the Colombians since they started returning to the peloton in greater numbers recently, this Giro has really set the tone for what I hope is an ongoing resurgence of what cycling fans during the nineties & noughties completely missed. Nairo Quintana, ‘The boy with the pink shiny shoes’ is the real deal, he ripped the mountain time trial apart today, with only new Italian GC star, Fabio Aru anywhere near him (but this lad is going to get some serious attention soon too). The only down side were Nairo’s choice of booties, where Twitter decreed that the Spice Girls would be requesting the return of their property & @journalvelo posted a photo of an actual mountain goat, complete with four pink wellies (it’s HERE).

All these ‘new’ riders who’ve emerged during this Giro to the wider audience are young talented climbers, not your 1990’s diesels ‘converted’ in to mountain goats by their doctors. It looks like we’re seeing what’s been missing for a good few years, the return of the pure climber, who can’t win an 8km prologue, but can change pace & attack in the mountains, not just ride out an elevated pace set by their team-mates. Many fans who were attracted during the ‘Texan Chaingang Masacre’ years, will be quite unfamiliar with these kinds of riders. We’ll still have more all-rounder types going for GC, but it looks like the pure climbers are gaining more all round abilities too, Quintana can time trial pretty well, but I don’t expect he’d win the sprint on your local chain gang. They even look like they can handle their bikes well, the previous batch of Colombians were a little dicey & it appeared like the local landscape gardener had fitted them to their bikes, with the same care & attention they apply to attaching their brush to their trailer.

One major factor in the high performance in several of these riders all in the one race is partly down to circumstance. This Giro has suffered quite an attrition rate, plus several other riders are focussing on the Tour this year, namely Contador & Aru’s normal team leader Nibali. Trek’s Colombian Arredondo has been the key rider during the Giro, holding the mountains Jersey & winning a stage, the Colombian team have been particularly active. Uran was designated team leader at Omega Pharma Quick Step after finishing 2nd last year, having worked for Wiggins, but it looks like he may be struggling to repeat that, could be a sign of a different race.

Another major factor could also be the absence of something similar to a Sky train in the mountains, a style which doesn’t suit the Colombian attacking style too well. They prefer changes in pace to destroy their ‘diesel’ rivals, which should make the Tour de France very interesting if there’s any Climbers left who’ve not been pummelled by the Giro. Dan Martin was reputedly in fine form, he may have been a factor with his Garmin team if he hadn’t crashed out at the beginning.

Saturday is going to be very interesting, with the steep slopes of the Zoncolan favouring the smaller riders again. Can Pozzovivo make up that deficit & grab a spot on the podium? It looks like our little pinky has the Maglia Rosa sown up, but the other podium spots are up for grabs, anybody can crack at this stage of a grand tour. Drama awaits on the Monte Zoncolan tomorrow afternoon.

 

Scottish Olympic Cycling Team?

Embed from Getty Images Regardless of your political viewpoint, the current media focus in Scotland is on September’s referendum, the very big question of whether or not we’ll remain part of the UK, which has the potential for dramatic change in Scottish life & sport for that matter. Those who regularly read my blog will be familiar with the topic of change, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m dealing with this tricky subject, which is potentially too big to ignore or delve in to. With that in mind I found it worth looking at what changes may occur in Scottish sport if there is a ‘yes’ vote, with particular focus on cycling & the potential for a Scottish Olympic team.

I’m not particularly interested in this blog piece developing into an all-encompassing debate on independence out-with sport, that’s covered everywhere else. This is more of a short study on what may happen if there is a ‘yes’ vote, not on whether or not there will be a ‘yes’ vote. Looking at how it would affect grass-roots sport, development, coaching & our elite athletes currently riding for the GB Olympic programme. I’ve been unable to find much information anywhere else on this subject, so I’m assuming those reading this have not either, hopefully I can fill in some of the gaps of what may happen to our sport if Scotland becomes independent at this referendum, or at any time in the future.

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to provide links wherever possible so you can check anything I proclaim to be a fact (as this is an especially touchy & polarizing subject for many people). So feel free to click away if you’re interested in reading the actual documents that concern the subjects. What I’ve tried to avoid are any statements of fact from politicians of any persuasion, I have what I consider a healthy distrust of political posturing & often check facts in news reports, especially on the independence subject. So check the facts, read the stories, not the headlines & don’t take anything at face value on what you hear or read about the referendum. Where I’ve expressed an opinion, its pretty obvious that’s what it is, I’m well aware that I’ll get variable feedback on this blog piece, but if you spot an inaccuracy let me know & present some evidence I can link to, not just an opinion.
 

Is Rio 2016 Realistic?

I’ll go into the technicalities first, you can view the Olympic Charter online, it’s a lengthy document which shows all the requirements necessary for a sport within a nation to compete. Each sport federation has to be affiliated to the international governing body recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In cycling’s case, this is the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The charter also demonstrates that an NOC (National Olympic Committee) needs to exist for each nation competing in the Olympics (Ch4 pt29). The IOC define a nation as “In the Olympic Charter, the expression ‘country’ means an independent State recognised by the international community” (Ch4 pt30).

As far as defining a nation goes, there are a few different standards which the IOC recognise. Palestine has United Nations Observer State status & has its own NOC, which allows it to enter the Olympics. There are two Olympic nations which have no UN representation, these are Taiwan & Cook Islands (Taiwan surprised me, but it has no UN membership). Meanwhile nine territories of other nations are recognised Olympic nations, the USA have four, the Netherlands & China have one each (Aruba & Hong Kong), while three of the fourteen British Oversees Territories are represented, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands & Cayman Islands. South Sudan, while being the world’s current newest independent state (formed in 2011 after a civil war in Sudan), currently hasn’t allocated an NOC yet, so in the eyes of the IOC it isn’t a nation.  South Sudan’s marathon runner Guor Marial did compete at London 2012, but under the Olympic flag, a nation less athlete but still allowed to compete.

As you can see, the existence of a National Olympic Committee is the most important thing as far as the IOC is concerned. It’s not as hard as you’d imagine to be an Olympic nation if you follow the protocol set out in the Olympic Charter. So far that means that for cycling in Scotland, we’d need Scotland to be an IOC recognised state (i.e. simply have a Scottish NOC formed & meet one of the criteria above), the existing governing body of Scottish Cycling would be required to affiliate to the UCI, so that Scotland had an internationally recognised governing body for the sport of cycling. Rio in 2016 doesn’t look anything like as tricky as it did when I started my research for this blog & reading newspaper articles stating impending doom, it looks like a relatively straightforward process, even if Scotland isn’t full signed up to UN rules by 2016, it can still have an Olympic team at Rio 2016 if an NOC is in place. You can be sure that no politician looking to establish themselves in a new nation is going to let that administration issue slip by them, they’ll all be clambering to say it was them!

What Happens to Elite Athletes

I asked the Scottish Government & the UK Government for information on this subject & how the sport would be funded post-independence. I’ve not had a UK Government response, but was supplied with some information from the office of Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games & Sport, Shona Robison. I’ll give you a brief summary of what came from this correspondence:

  • It’s intended to have both Olympic & Paralympic teams at the next Olympics.
  • Scotland meets all of the requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees and would apply to become a member as soon as possible.
  • The IOC is a body that has a history of quickly welcoming newly recognised independent countries. We believe it should be a relatively straightforward process which would mean an Olympic Team Scotland in place for Rio 2016. (Which I think I’ve discovered myself too, as you’ve already read)
  • Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level.
  • Since 1998, the sportscotland Institute of Sport has helped prepare many athletes to perform at the highest level. In the event of independence, elite athletes would receive support through sportscotland which would be funded through continued investment from the Scottish Government and our fair share of National Lottery contributions. As part of our resolutions with UK Government we will seek Scotland’s share of UK Sport funding. This, coupled with fantastic facilities including the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome and a new National Performance Centre for Sport being built at Heriot Watt University, will ensure Scotland is extremely well placed to develop our future athletes.

I’d hope that Scots like Katie Archibald, Callum Skinner, Kenta Gallagher & Grant Ferguson (who are all on the GB Olympic programmes) would experience a smooth transition to a Scottish Olympic programme to allow them to progress correctly. Perhaps we could expand that programme & allow a larger selection of talented riders to progress towards Worlds, Commonwealth & Olympic medals. This is likely, based purely on what we see with the Scottish ladies, competing in the European Classics this year, getting huge amounts of experience racing in big fields, on cobbles, with the best riders in the world. Some have also been competing at UCI registered track events over the past year, gaining the valuable qualification standards to compete as part of a Scottish team at the Commonwealth Games.

In men’s racing, a Scottish team could gain entry to events which currently are open to national teams, these come under UCI category 1.1 (one-day race) or 2.1 (stage race). Also if there are any UCI 1.HC (one-day race) or 2.HC (stage race) in Scotland, then national teams from the country of the organiser can ride. This rule currently applies to the Tour of Britain, but as we’d no longer be part of the UK, a Scottish team couldn’t take part. Some examples of 1.1 or 2.1 events that a Scottish mens team could ride are Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Trofeo Mallorca, Herald Sun Tour, Tour of Qatar, Vuelta a Murcia & Tour de l’Avenir. With some significant investment, we could be providing some incredible opportunities for our developing riders, although Scotland would need some riders who attract the attention (or some political interest, as always) of the organisers to attract an invite.

Working Group On Scottish Sport

I wasn’t aware of this until Shona Robison alerted me to it. The future of sport does look to have been considered by the politicians in Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, across parties. In September 2013, an independent group named the ‘Working Group on Scottish Sport‘ was set up & chaired by Henry McLeish, a former Labour MP & the person who took over as Scottish First Minister after Donald Dewar’s sudden death. I searched the White Paper for some detail on what would happen to sport in Scotland, there was very little, with the WGSS filling in the detail. This study intends to give us a better picture of what may happen post-independence. The conclusions will be published in a final report. The topics covered will include the following:

  • The action necessary to ensure Scotland can be successful in future Olympics and Paralympics in its own right;
  • The continuing development required to ensure that Scotland remains a country of sporting excellence, with opportunity at all levels;
  • The potential for sharing facilities and resources across the Home Nations and abroad.

It seems comments from people like Chris Hoy (see quotes later in article) may have been taken on-board & acted upon, hopefully we’ll get a better picture in the next few weeks when the conclusions are released in Spring 2014. This will hopefully include what exactly will happen with grass-roots sport development & employment of elite coaches across different sports.

Similarities

Embed from Getty Images Comparing other European nations who have a cycling culture we’d consider replicating, we find Denmark has a population of about 5.5 million, very close to Scotland’s. They have one indoor 250m velodrome & two outdoor ones, again, the same as Scotland. Denmark has an enviable & very successful track team at world championship & Olympic level (Danish team pursuiters pictured above) & plenty of riders in the pro ranks.

As an economical comparison of Scotland V Denmark, it’s worth noting that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies report (p9), Scotland’s projected GDP would be approx 17% higher per capita than the Danish $37,000 figure (which is almost identical to current UK GDP) & they are not in the Euro zone, but as I discovered are running their own currency (Krone) pegged to the Euro. A pegged currency to Sterling is one of the fiscal commission’s published options, I personally presume that this is probably the much discussed ‘plan B’  which is already in successful operation in a similar nation to us & a member country of the EU, perhaps some politicians can’t use google as well as an amateur blogger, it’s already been published.

So as a comparison based on the above, it’s likely (in my opinion) Scotland would have a sports development budget at least as good as the Danes, if not a little better. They have produced a nice Team Danmark pdf showing their focus across all sports & how athletes selected by their federation are included in various projects, plus an overview of the structure, this seems like a good proven & successful model to look at for Scotland. It’s worth a read.

The Eleven Danish World Tour riders:

Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Sebastian Lander (BMC), Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin Sharp), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Michael Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Christopher Juul Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo)

The Two Scottish World Tour riders:

David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

To put that in perspective, the UK has 12 riders in teams at that level with a population of around 65 million compared to Denmark’s 5.5 million. It would seem feasible that with a very good long-term plan & resources, an independent country like Scotland could have just as many top riders as the UK has now. It requires a culture change, coaching, facilities, talent spotting & organisation, it can’t be done overnight. But with a serious plan…

Cycling in Scotland, what changes?

Those of us involved in the sport are often found discussing the ins & outs of British Cycling race categories, licence points, rankings & the amount of races for 4th category riders. This may soon become a thing of the past if there’s a ‘yes’ vote. If so, it’s prudent that we consider what the sport would look like in a new Scotland. An independent state would mean a truly independent cycling governing body, currently ‘Scottish Cycling’ is considered by ‘British Cycling’ as a region, while ‘Scottish Cycling’ is a separate company who use the ‘British Cycling’ system of licences, insurance, coaching & structure. This whole structure would need to be re-thought.

Parts of the current structure don’t serve our smaller & more spread out population particularly well, so something that suits Scotland would have to be pursued, now is as good a time as any to look at that. While traditionally ‘Scottish Cycling’ (formerly SCU) has been mostly embroiled in road racing, that may not be where a redesigned future of Scottish cycle sport may lie. Rather than working within the constraints of ‘British Cycling’ rules, regulations & future planning, a whole new structure could be designed. The ‘British Cycling’ performance plan is based on Olympic medals, perhaps mimicking this for a nation less than a 10th of the population isn’t realistic. We could look to our natural strengths, with a sparsely populated landscape & plenty of opportunities off-road, a look at that side of the sport could pay benefits. Non Olympic sports such as downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross have never had the full focus of a nation, Scotland is surely well placed to adopt that kind of focus? Providing opportunities in areas of cycling that are popular without governing body control, where people are riding bikes because it’s fun, not for any performance reasons. This is likely where the growth in cycling will come from, with cross-over into other disciplines highly likely, off-road development could feed talent into all areas.

Regarding road racing, if the category system was removed (this has riders grouped into ‘British Cycling’ defined categories 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st & Elite, based on points gained in categorised races), then we may have the opportunity to completely remodel the system. Most races could be handicapped, with only regional, national championships & series events (where you would gain your higher rankings for competition overseas), then everybody could be involved in racing, regardless of ability. The weaker riders would learn by working together ahead of the fast groups & there would be no problems with race categories. It may even give us a chance to finally reduce the number of standard distance time trials, allowing riders of all abilities to compete in bunch racing. You’d get the occasional ringer, participation would be high & handicapping may not always work as well as expected, but dare I say it, we could make the bulk of road racing a ‘fun’ thing to do!

In Scotland we have ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘Cycling Scotland’, which have some crossover areas. Independence would be an ideal opportunity to combine these organisations with back-to-front names to each other. That way we could have a single organisation which deals with participation, racing, cyclists rights, cycling facilities (leisure, commuting, racing), all bundled together. With a departure from ‘British Cycling’ insurance & systems, this can make a big difference to how the sport of cycling is run, along with making funding a much simpler task. Cycling tourism is another area where growth could be extensive in cycling, we have fantastic scenery, trails & roads, all within relatively easy reach of airports & civilisation. Scotland already has the infrastructure to service additional tourists, wouldn’t it be nice if organisations all worked together to promote cycling, rather than try to put in place plans to syphon off as large a chunk of the cycling budget as possible, it could all go to one organisation with the best interests of cycling in general at its heart.

Athletes Opinions

Politicians & media love to get sports stars involved in political debates, they think it gives validity to whatever viewpoint they have chosen, selectively quoting the athletes or in some cases just making it up. Chris Hoy was a particular example of a very high-profile athlete who they tried to draw-in, regardless of his comments & his desire to say nothing particularly newsworthy on the independence debate. He was mis-quoted & apparently abused online as a result. Most media didn’t report the actual words, so here they are, not exactly the Scot-hating sportsman he was portrayed as in the more sensational press, those who’ve chatted to him will know this already.

What Chris Hoy really said. “You look at the results of the Scottish athletes over the years and we have had some fantastic athletes and some fantastic results. But it would not be quite as simple as just saying, ‘there is a Scottish athlete, they have won a gold medal, therefore that’s a medal for Scotland’. Most of the athletes have had to move to facilities which are often out with Scotland. I had to move down to Manchester because there was not an indoor facility in Scotland. I went to Manchester, trained with the British team and benefited from that. The first thing you have to do if you’re really serious about it is you have to provide the facilities and the coaching infrastructure. In Scotland we have the Institute of Sport and SportScotland there to try to give support to the athletes. There is support but it is not quite as simple as saying ‘we had X number of medalists from these Games, therefore that will translate into the same medals next time’. It will take time. It will weaken the British team obviously if Scotland went separately, and it would be harder for the Scottish athletes, initially, to establish themselves in a new training environment, with new coaches, with a different environment altogether. It’s not to say its impossible but it would just be a different challenge.

As with the recent clambering for quotes from the curlers at the Sochi Games, the media crave some controversy, they need to sell online adverts & papers & require controversial headlines, regardless of the content of the story. The fact is that elite sports people probably care much more about their sport than they do politics, their goal is to perform at the highest level they can.

Do we really expect athletes who are essentially employed by the GB team on the Olympic programme to say anything derogatory about their employers, who have the power to select or de-select them from their ultimate goal? The athletes & staff involved in Olympic sport have to work as a team, so don’t expect to hear anybody bad-mouthing their sporting family, a team which they have no influence whether they’ll be playing for in 2016. This is why you’ll hear more-often-than-not that they’re proud to compete for Scotland & for GB, these people are not daft, they know the importance of team unity for their own success, it’ll not be thrown away on a whim.

It’s a tricky subject for athletes to deal with, but saying that you strive to compete at the highest level you can is usually the best option, I don’t want to see our Commonwealth athletes chased for opinions, but we will see it at Glasgow 2014, lots. With that in mind, I’ll be taking any Glasgow 2014 published athlete quotes with a pinch of salt, until I see the actual interview or a transcript. Don’t write off any athletes you previously respected who are interviewed at the Commonwealth Games, who are reported to display extreme views in any political direction. They may not have said what’s implied, remember people are trying to sell papers & direct you to websites with adverts.

I will be keeping a close eye on any mis-quoting & I’ll publish the transcript or videos in full if I can find them, our riders are there to compete, not to get involved in anybody’s political strategy. I’m not selling you anything & I have no adverts, I have no benefit from page view numbers rising, I hope to tell it as-it-is. History tells us to expect things to get very dirty around that time, from activists & media representing both sides of the referendum debate.

The Gist Of It

Research for this blog piece has really opened my eyes to understanding the process of Olympic participation of a Scottish team, plus gathering facts on the whole independence issue has been very interesting, if somewhat time consuming. Most of the information politicians are shouting about is out there in the public domain, I was previously led to believe that wasn’t the case.

It’s hard to see how Scotland couldn’t manage to have a National Olympic Committee in place in a very short period of time & be recognised as one of the many options open to nations seeking representation at an Olympic Games. If the vote is ‘yes’, then I’m very sure Scotland will be represented at Rio 2016, I can’t see a reason why not based on the information regarding Olympic participation.

As far as I can see, the Olympics isn’t the only thing that Scotland could focus on, a complete restructuring of all Scottish sports bodies could be put in place. This would allow us to start from a blank canvas, the GB team sometimes seems to lack focus on World Championships, this is something a smaller nation really can’t afford to do, an independent Scottish team would have to take any opportunity for medals it could get. Downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross could both have a big future for Scottish talent development. These could be a focus for a source of success, away from the highly funded track medal machines of GB & Australia.

We could combine mountain biking competition & participation with tourism & leisure facilities as part of a wider plan for getting people active & fighting obesity. We have many ski resorts & locations which have pre-existing chair lifts which can be adapted to carry bikes. With a downhill mountain bike course built at each of these we could expand these resorts seasons into the summer with some careful marketing, providing the local economies in these mountainous areas of Scotland with some extra income during the summer.

The political debate is raging around Scotland, people are talking politics everywhere you go & getting engaged in debate. Sport is often very closely linked to political strategies, you’ll see this go overboard at Glasgow 2014. The competitors & fans just want to see things improve & their nation doing well, the information revealed by the WGSS should provide the information I’m looking for regarding sports funding & opportunities. I’m sure this will be a constantly changing subject, I’ll try to keep on top of it & I do hope ‘Scottish Cycling’ are considering their options & opportunities in the event of independence, but if they are, I fully understand they can’t really tell ‘British Cycling’, or ‘some blogger’.

Would you like to go large?

There’s been some debate on Twitter regarding the increased affiliation fees for clubs north of the border, compared to those in England. The main difference is that Scottish Cycling (SC) are affiliated to British Cycling (BC). BC arrange the race & rider insurances, so they control the sport if Scotland wishes to use the rider & race category, coaching, insurance, development, Go-Ride (etc) structure.

We can take a look to see how prices compare for the same product across the UK.

The Facts

Scottish Cycling Affiliations:

  • Small Club (less than 21 BC members): £75
  • Large Club (21 or more BC members): £140
  • Commercial Club (named after a business or website): £230
  • School/Youth Only Club: £30
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £65

British Cycling Affiliations:

  • Standard Club/Team: £88
  • Commercial Named Club/Team: £175
  • School Club (including liability insurance): £35
  • School Club (without liability insurance): £10
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £62

Welsh Cycling:

Same costs as British Cycling.

Going Large?

There does look to be a fair slice added to the costs for SC member clubs over BC member clubs, or Welsh clubs who have a similar setup to SC. But what do we get for the additional costs & are there situations where a club would be better off with the SC pricing structure?

Some examples…

Less than 21 BC member clubs:

  • Club with no sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. A saving of £13 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £65 = £140 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. A saving of £10 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £130 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. A saving of £8 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £195 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. A saving of £4 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £260 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £1 in Scotland.

Clubs with 21 or more BC members:

  • Club with no sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. An additional cost of £52 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £65 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. An additional cost of £55 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £130 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. An additional cost of £58 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £195 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. An additional cost of £61 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £260 = £400 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £64 in Scotland.

Event Levies

While we’re on the subject, there is also a premium charged in Scottish events in the form of levies. Most road races carry a £3.95 levie per rider in Scotland, while BC charge £3. This equates to an additional cost of £57 in a 60 rider event, or £76 in an 80 rider field. Quite what this additional cost is for is anybody’s guess, but it may have something to do with the money being distributed to the ‘Centres’. It all adds to the cost of running an event, which isn’t ideal for organisers & clubs wanting to promote races, especially when it’s very hard to see what additional service that cost provides.

The Jist Of It

If you are a small club, you’ll pay slightly less, or very close to what BC area clubs pay. But if you have more than 21 BC memberships in your club, then you’ll lose out considerably. It also costs more to run events in Scotland, not a good situation to be in when ‘participation’ is an often trumpeted word by SC, we pay a significantly higher percentage cost per rider for the same insurance cover.

This provides a disincentive for clubs to promote British Cycling membership to their riders, a very strange situation, surely it should be around the other way? So if you’re in a larger club, or you are interested in promoting BC membership to your club members who do not currently have it, along with the insurance & other benefits it carries, it’s worth dropping Scottish Cycling a line to see why this is. I really don’t understand it & hadn’t really realised until it was mentioned on Twitter. Perhaps somebody at SC can provide some explanation, but at first glance it looks like we’re going large but getting the same size fries & a big empty space at the top of our drink carton. Over to you SC…..

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Quali’s for the Comi’s – Track

* Post British Track Champs update coming in early October.

Commonwealth Games Qualification for the Scottish Cycling team, that subject littered with controversy, accusations, and now more relevant as it’s going to be in Glasgow, the home territory will surely create one hell of a fight. It’s quite early, but the coming season is very important, most of the qualification will be done in 2013, so it’s important that we know how riders qualify.

In this blog post, I’ll just limit it to the track squad, as I assume the road & mtb teams will be more difficult to predict, also it’s likely to be based on some extrapolation of UCI points for determining how many riders we actually get, so that’s for another day & further research.

Ok, first up, what are the Commonwealth Games track events we’re talking about…

Women:

  • Sprint
  • Para-Sport Sprint B Tandem
  • 500m Time Trial
  • Para-Sport 1000m Time Trial B Tandem
  • 3000m Individual Pursuit
  • 25km Points Race
  • 10km Scratch Race

Men:

  • Sprint
  • Para-Sport Sprint B Tandem
  • Team Sprint
  • 1000m Time Trial
  • Par-Sport 1000m Time Trial B Tandem
  • Keirin
  • 4000m Individual Pursuit
  • 4000m Team Pursuit
  • 40km Points Race
  • 20km Scratch Race

As you can see there’s some disparity in the events for each gender, very different to the Olympics these days, but possibly the reason is partly due to there being very few female track riders from outside the UK countries, Australia & Canada, but would be very nice to have more events, nothing we can do for 2014 but hopefully later Commonwealth Games will have a bit more equality.

What’s interesting here is that we have no omnium or madison, but the kilo, 500m TT, Scratch, Points & Pursuits are medal events in their own right, harking back to ‘the good old days’ of Olympic competition, which is rumoured to be returning.

So lets get down to the qualification process, Scottish Cycling have released a document detailing the requirements, you can download that from the link below.

Scottish Cycling Selection Policy

So the technicalities are that riders have to set the times on a UCI approved 250m velodrome, with a temperature correction set to 24 degrees (don’t ask me how you work that out, must be a BC thing). The timed events are based on the 2011 worlds podium averages, then a certain percentage is added on for each event, so we get the following qualification times required for each event.

Men (timed events):

  • Individual Pursuit: 4:30.396
  • Team Pursuit: 4:08.175
  • Sprint (200m): 10.394s
  • Kilo: 1:02.889
  • Team Sprint Man 1 (lap time): 17.901s
  • Team Sprint Man 2 (lap time): 13.529s
  • Team Sprint Man 3 (lap time): 13.95s

Men (Scratch & Points):

  • Flying Start 3000m: 3:28
  • Flying Start 500m: 30s

Women (timed events):

  • Individual Pursuit: 3:41.581
  • Sprint (200m): 11.465s
  • 500m TT: 35.127

Women (Scratch & Points):

  • Flying Start 2000m: 2:29
  • Flying Start 500m: 32.3s

The Para times are all to be confirmed, but we can be pretty sure who’s going to be riding those events already, for the woman we expect Aileen McGlynn piloted by Fiona Duncan, then the men with Neil Fachie piloted by Craig MacLean.

Who’s going to be within a shout for these places then, there’s a lot of emerging talent in sprinting with Callum Skinner & John Paul, these guys are very likely to appear as part of the team sprint squad, alongside Chris Hoy. It’s possible that Craig MacLean could line up for a Commonwealth Games without affecting his appearance as a tandem pilot, but unlikely as there will be some timing issues for the events, so I’ll go with my initial 3 for the team sprint places. I’m also going to go for Sir Chris as the number 1 rider in the Keirin & not riding the Sprint (we may be allowed more than one on Commonwealth Games), then Skinner & Paul taking the other places in Keirin & Sprint. The kilo could be interesting, the only rider who been posting times close to the qualification, is Bruce Croall, but we don’t yet know what the other sprinters can do in an event that BC don’t encourage them to ride. Or will Sir Chris attempt to finish his career with a gold medal in the event that initially made him famous, could be an exciting finale to a glittering career?

In the endurance events, could we have a couple of domestic riders capable of getting close to that pursuit qualification time if they specifically trained for it, Silas Goldsworthy & Ben Peacock? Silas got a tremendous 4th place in his first attempt at the British Pursuit champs this year, here’s his write up on Veloveritas. If Peacock can transform his TT speed into the very different high rpm required for a pursuit, he could be getting close too.

Then previous bronze medallist in the Scratch race, with that Cav boy winning the gold, James McCallum is likely to be challenging for a place in the points & scratch. I’ve just noticed the Ross Edgar has signed for a road team in 2013, the story is here on Velo UK. I think this is a cunning plan to contest the bunch races at the Commonwealth Games, he knows he’s not quite quick enough anymore to make the Team Sprint squad, so this could be a very smart move on his part, I expect to see him there, he can race bunch events, he’s regularly ridden in track leagues in the past. With the new indoor track, we don’t really know who is going to emerge, the 2013 Scottish Track Champs are likely to be a goldmine of talent, should be very exciting ot see who emerges. Unfortunately I doubt we’ll have a team pursuit team representing Scotland, the resources needed for that are huge just in track booking terms to be able to compete with the Aussies, ,Kiwi’s, English (basically the GB squad) and a likely strong team from Wales. So that needs another 4 years to develop.

As for the ladies, we have sprinter Jenny Davis, but nobody else who’s close to posting the qualification times required. Then in the bunch races theres Charline Joiner, Eileen Roe & Kayleigh Brogan, all very talented endurance riders who will surely be getting places in the Games at Glasgow. I think there’s a good chance of getting a medal with this group of riders, perhaps more likely than in the men’s endurance events? Again, there’s scope for some more talent to appear over the coming year with the Chris Hoy velodrome, so another interesting year ahead on the boards.

p.s. I apologise if I’ve missed anybody obvious in this, let me know and I’ll post some updates as time gets closer to selection.

Breaking the Paradox : Womens Racing

Over the last few years we’ve seen a good number of very strong Scottish women racing on the road, performing overseas & with the best British riders in the UK races. But there’s a gulf between these athletes & the new female athletes taking the first steps on the cycling ladder, it’s sometimes a daunting task, with a lot less riders competing in Scotland than in men’s racing.

The Event Paradox : Races for all means races for none

We have some top class female athletes, we have a huge potential number of novice racers, the difference in current ability between these two groups is quite massive, we have very few riders in between. The beginner & intermediate riders know that they can’t compete against the Breast Cancer Care Team riders, in fact they might not even be in the bunch in the first few km’s, which discourages them from even entering. If you consider the same in the men’s racing, with club riders upset with James McCallum & Evan Oliphant turning up, imagine a whole team of them plus other riders who are competing at an elite level, it’s much tougher for female 3rd or 4th category riders than it is for the men, especially when the fields are also smaller.

The problem is that we don’t have the required quantity of female riders in Scotland to hold two events, one for the riders wanting to compete at the top-level & one for the majority of the others, who just want to race & don’t have the time to train to that level. If you look at forums, twitter & Facebook around the time of a Scottish Women’s championship, or any other event where all categories of women are invited, you’ll see some irate organisers trying to just get a decent size field that makes it viable to run the race. I’d surmise that if the racing was split, we’d get a lot more new riders willing to enter, perhaps ones who tried racing once & got a pasting from our elite athletes, they would have a more competitive event for them to ride. But this leaves us with the top-level, potentially a sparse area with a few very talented athletes.

Women & Juniors

There used to be a flourishing junior race series in Scotland, predominantly men, shorter distances than the senior riders were competing over, but numbers dropped & it disappeared. We also have the same problem with elite level women’s racing in Scotland, we don’t have the riders to make a series viable, but if we combine a growing number of junior riders & our top women riders, could we provide a small race series & a combined Scottish championship event to kick-start both at the same time? Start it next year with 3 or 4 events, with two separate categories, then combine the women & junior road race championship too, making it more attractive for an organiser to hold, providing them with a potential 80 rider field rather than scraping about to find enough riders to just break even.

I’d suggest that elite female athletes are of similar ability to our top junior riders (but I’m aware we’ll see some outstanding male juniors who can win senior events). It seems a better solution to me than vets & women together, we can easily field full veteran events, there are loads racing, but we find it hard to field separate junior & women’s events, lets see this as an opportunity & put them together. If we can make this work, hopefully they’ll outgrow each other over the next few seasons & there will be separate events in the near future. Sorry for not coming up with anything radical here, but I think the solution is pretty simple.

Obviously the British calendar has to be looked at here, choosing dates for events away from both the British Junior series & the British Womens series, but these are published relatively early, so it shouldn’t be a problem. We could hopefully also encourage organisers to run more events in these UK series.

Lower Categories

With the top-level women dealt with, leaving them to knock lumps out of our junior men, they’re then not knocking lumps out of out the lower category women & we can start looking at providing racing that meets the needs of the grass-roots & intermediate levels. This is the area where again, we’re hoping that Scottish Cycling can get involved. I think it will make a huge difference to new riders to not have to compete with the best women in Scotland in their first race, which up to now, has maybe been a bit of a turn-off to competing again, it’s not nice to get a pummeling in your first ever event.

There have been a few women’s specific coaching sessions about the country, we need more of these, to teach bunch skills & give the confidence to take part in an event. Then the initial races during the season could be APR’s (Australian Pursuit Races, riders off in handicapped groups, smaller less ‘scary’ groups for the beginner than 60 to 80 strong bunches. One idea could be to put at least one experienced lady in each APR group, to keep things in order & encourage groups to work correctly, part race, part basic racing course, I’m sure we’d get some volunteers for this. After that we can move onto bunch racing later in the season, once everybody is confident that they will be ok in a larger group. So I’d suggest the following…

  • Early season (but not when it’s icy, March & April): Coached group riding sessions in each region, well publicised & hopefully with lots of info going to clubs to encourage riders to attend.
  • Early to Mid-Season (May & June) : APR type events, with riders getting used to a competitive race situation, but one experienced rider in each group.
  • Mid to Late Season (July onwards) : Bunch racing.

With a format like this, running each year we can likely progress a great number of women over the next few years, but it’s not going to be a quick fix, it will take time. Lots of these ideas have been tried before, there’s nothing new in this blog, but it needs to be joined up, to provide a structure to becoming a racer, to make it as easy as possible with the initial coached support & then helpful advice within the APR’s, before moving onto larger bunches. The key part is to have the top-level riders racing away from the newcomers, to encourage everybody else.

The main worry organisers have with women’s racing, is to get the ‘critical mass’ of riders to make an event viable, with a structure, organisers knowing how many riders are going through the coached sessions & onto APR’s, there’s a much better chance of events being promoted. So communication is key to this.

Future Information & Updates

If you want all the latest info, there’s a great blog/website called Filles a Velo, which has a list of all the events such as track schools, rider academy and other ladies events which are already is existence. Click the link & bookmark it, it will list any developments.

I’m on Twitter HERE

Find me on Facebook HERE

You can email me directly on the ‘ABOUT‘ link above.

For road race league & time trial ideas, see the ‘RACE DEVELOPMENT‘ link above. There is some inclusion of women’s racing in these leagues too.

Medals for Pedals?

We know where & when the Scottish Scratch Championships will be held, due to the organiser informing us last week. But where are the rest of them?It’s time to look at which events are confirmed & have a date on the calendar.

Let me know if I’ve missed any, you can’t filter the calendar by Scottish Championships, so my eyes may have crossed over and missed some while I was searching.

Confirmed Events

Here’s what I’ve got so far confirmed from the published calendar….

  • 14th April: Time Trial Championships (tt)
  • 12th May: ’10’ Time Trial Championships (tt)
  • 19th May : Womens Road Race Championships & Scottish Road Race Championships (rr)
  • 2nd June: Junior Road Race Championships (rr)
  • 9th June: ’25’ Time Trial Championships (tt)
  • 30th June: ’50’ Time Trial Championships (tt)
  • 13th/14th July: Downhill Championships (mtb)
  • 1st September: Cross Country Championships (mtb)
  • 7th September: Scratch Championships (track)
  • 22nd September: Youth TT Championships (tt)

What’s Missing?

As far as I can see, we’re missing the following….

Road Racing:

  • Youth Road Race Championship
  • Veterans Road Race Championship
  • Criterium

Time Trialling:

  • ‘100’ TT
  • 12 Hour TT
  • Team Time Trial
  • Hill Climb

Track:

  • Sprint
  • Individual Pursuit
  • Team Sprint
  • Kilometre Time Trial
  • Junior Sprint
  • Junior Pursuit
  • Womens Pursuit
  • Womens 500m Time Trial
  • Keirin
  • Womens Keirin

Youth Track:

Lots, including sprint, madison, points, pursuit etc  for different age groups.

Undoubtably Scottish Cyclo Cross will be well organised & have their champs sorted out.

What’s going on?

It’s hard to tell what the problem with championships in 2013 is, but in the absence of an official championship calendar (that I could find anyway, I had a good look), it looks like the championship events have not been allocated. Now this could be down to a handful of reasons, perhaps nobody came forward to host these events, but if that’s the case there’s barely been a word about it, not much publicity at all to encourage clubs or bodies to get involved (again, not that I’ve seen, but open to being proven wrong). It could be the way the calendar works now, that you have to enter your own event on it after getting it approved through Scottish Cycling & British Cycling (if anybody knows the official method for this let me know please, I couldn’t find that either!).

So we have to draw the conclusion that Scottish Cycling must be running these, at least the track events, similar to last year. I think we can all agree, it would be nice to know, why the secrecy, it just creates distrust, please tell us what’s going on.

That’s 2 blogs in a row on Scottish championships & I’m more confused than ever, I think I’ll choose something more logical next time, this stuff just isn’t helping the sport.

Scratch & Sniff

If you follow any posts on Braveheart, there’s currently one where Martin Harris (one of Scotland’s champions in promotion of cycle racing & facilities) has stated that he will be running the Scottish Scratch Championships at Caird Park track in Dundee. It’s provoked some comments & there have been some tweets recently on same subject, some suggesting that with a world-class facility available, holding a Scottish Track Championship outdoors is about as welcome as a UKIP leader in an Edinburgh pub. So its probably best to provide a balanced view on this and try to deduce the reasons, benefits & disadvantages of holding championship events outside of the new indoor velodrome.

What’s happening..

From the onlookers point of view, last years Scottish track championships were in a bit of chaos, it was unknown whether the velodrome would be fully operational by the end of the season to run any events. As it turned out, most of the track championships were rained off & Glasgow hosted a large number of championship events indoors towards the end of the year once the track was functioning, alongside a Braveheart funding event.

This year we expected better, but the dates for national championships only appear to be getting allocated now, which is a little confusing, especially in the year before a Commonwealth Games, which is where the disorganisation & communication issues most people associate with Scottish Cycling rear their head for yet another year. Surely it’s not too hard to let riders know at the beginning of the year when they need to peak for events, there’s a lot of young riders out there who are training properly, they need to know when these events are on the calendar. Maybe next year eh?

So this leads us to the Scratch race, for those who don’t know, it’s a bunch race on the track, 15km long and the first rider over the line from the group on the leading lap is the winner. It’s a simple as it gets for track events, don’t lose a lap & win the sprint or ride away solo. But the good old internal politics of cycle racing in Scotland stop this being quite as simple as it should be. Caird Park has hosted this event for the past few years, right back to the late 80’s (I think, open to being corrected). Caird Park has recently been upgraded, with Martin Harris & his team raising a huge £320,000 to revive the track to better than its former glory, even removing the hedge & replacing it with a barrier, which removes some historical hedge tactics, it’s a vast improvement overall. Caird Park deserves support.

What about the ‘other’ facilities?

This leads us to the current situation, with an indoor velodrome & two outdoor facilities, the revamped 400m Caird Park & the outdoor wooden 250m track at Meadowbank. Track cycling in Scotland could go one of two ways:

Scenario 1: The Chris Hoy Velodrome gets all the events, all the support & the outdoor tracks become redundant.

Scenario 2: The outdoor tracks become ‘feeder’ facilities, developing talent & skills, promoting events & then filtering that developed talent towards major events at the indoor facility.

The latter scenario is how things should be working, but it’s hard to see that the support exists outside some very hard-working groups & individuals at both the outdoor facilities. They’ve been fighting for years to keep their facilities & talent development alive, essentially taking Scottish track racing to its current level before the glitzy showcase stadium we’ve all been dreaming about arrived. These people’s work shouldn’t be forgotten, or their input overlooked, Scottish Cycling could learn a lot by taking these groups & individuals opinions seriously.

Multiple tracks?

More needs to be done to utilise the outdoor facilities, these facilities need to generate some income & get used by the public, if they don’t we’ll lose them. With the popularity of cycling in the UK at an all time high, with track cycling having provided so many medals over so many recent Olympic Games, now shouldn’t be a hard time to devote some resources to making sure we keep these facilities running, they can benefit the indoor facility massively by providing talented riders to race on a bigger stage. They can also provide a much cheaper alternative for clubs to run track days & beginner sessions, they both have very different benefits. With Caird Park’s shallow banking, it can provide an ideal environment for new track riders who are afraid of steep banking & very young riders who can’t ride quick enough to stay up on the 250m tracks. Meadowbank has virtually the same dimensions as Glasgow, so everything you learn there is relevant to Glasgow (apart from the back straight head wind obviously). Both are ideal places to learn important skills & racecraft, both need to remain in operation & importantly, they can both still support events.

Demand for time at Glasgow is also huge, so without other facilities available there is a big danger of under supplying the enormous demand for track time, the amount of riders accredited is getting very large now, people want track riding. There’s also a danger in relying & focussing one discipline at one facility in Scotland, what if it was unusable for a few months or weeks, we’d have no Scottish track cycling, not supporting existing facilities is suicide. Remember that Manchester was shut for some time after some guy rode a mountain bike over its roof, hence the barbed wire on the concrete structure leading up to the roof now.

Where should championships be held?

We live in Scotland, it rains quite a bit, so holding major or prestigious events outdoors is going to be problematic, you can’t ride these tracks in the wet. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat an outdoor track meeting on a sunny day, there’s something magical about those rare days. So how do we allocate the events fairly?

We have the facility, so the important events need to be indoors, purely for reliability. If we’re to progress more riders onto the Olympic Development Programme, then we need reliable events on the calendar, our reality is that the weather dictates things on outdoor tracks. A situation like last year where multiple outdoor Scottish championship meetings are cancelled will make our sport look like a farce at such a critical time. Imagine sports reporters who have an interest in following cycling seeing championships cancelled due to weather when we have an indoor facility, it makes it look like we don’t care, so why should they be bothered reporting on our sport. Elite championship events need to be held on indoor tracks, but there are other options for the outdoor tracks. We can start developing very young riders on Caird Park, riders of 6 years old are racing on outdoor 400m tracks down south, perhaps we need to encourage championships from a very young age, or at least recognition, we can use Caird Park for this. It’s very hard for young youth riders to perform at all on a 250m track, they spend most of their effort just staying up if they are Youth C category, so a shallower track will allow them to develop race skills before they move onto steeper tracks once they move into Youth A & B age categories.

Meadowbank is still capable of holding great events, the Edinburgh Meadowbank GP is a good example, it even seems to get decent weather most years & attracts plenty of riders from outside Scotland. It can’t really be considered a development event though, it’s a well established stand alone event, it has its own prestige & that’s why it works. It’s very different to a Scottish championship, which requires to be held on a specific date so that riders can time their peak correctly & everybody can plan their season. Last year we had championship events cancelled in the summer and then held indoors very late in the year, what kind of message does that send to aspiring riders & sponsors, if we want rider aspiration & sponsors in our sport we need to put across the message that we can manage championship events in a logical manner. That involves allowing press to turn up without getting disappointed & sponsors to visit events without sitting in their car hoping the rain will go off. The sport has gone mainstream & we as a sport, need to start thinking about it mainstream, we’re no longer a minority sport that nobody is watching, it’s the UK’s most successful Olympic sport, we have a Tour de France winner & we even have multiple BBC Sports Personality victors, it’s in the public eye big time.

Conclusion

There’s plenty of scope to develop the existing outdoor tracks with a bit of support from the governing body, it looks like everything is currently being focussed on Glasgow. This approach is understandable, it’s the flagship facility, something we never thought we’d get, but the outdoor tracks can compliment that facility, they can feed riders from different parts of Scotland into track racing. There’s already great coaching at both Caird Park & Meadowbank, so it’s really important that some resources are also routed to those venues, otherwise there’s a danger of serious lack of vision on track racing overall in Scotland being cultivated. Those with knowledge need to be listened to by those without. Sometimes volunteers know a lot more about some things than those in paid positions, a smart employee would listen to those who are involved in the sport because they love the sport.

So there’s probably nothing untoward going on, but there could be a bit of disorganisation & hesitation in allocating these events, so it smells a little bit, but no worse than expected. We don’t need to run championship events outdoors, but we can all see why the Scratch is important to Caird Park, its suffering from a lack of resources and a championship event gives it prestige, we just need to make sure it gets it’s prestige in other ways after this year, in ways of support, there’s still plenty of time to get that all put in place for 2014.

If you want to book Caird Park or Meadowbank, follow the links below:

Meadowbank Velodrome, follow the link on the right of link page for booking forms.

Discovery Junior Cycling Club, use the contact button to get in touch with Martin.

Pure Colombian?

Cycling’s hierarchy is rapidly changing, the names of the winners are changing, powerful teams are now also-ran’s, what’s changed in pro cycling, and why? I brushed on the topic of the Colombians returning to cycling in blog in January HERE, it seems to be coming true.

Pais Vasco

Nairo Quintana, the diminutive Colombian climbing specialist has just taken overall victory in the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco for his Movistar team, he took victory in a time trial won by Tony Martin, so we’re not talking a pure climbers test here, this guy won this race in a fine fashion. In yesterday’s GC, he was trailing one of Sky’s Colombians, Sergio Henao by 6 seconds, with Sky’s early season sensation Richie Porte at 10 seconds. Everybody expected Porte to overhaul them both and take the overall, but it didn’t pan out that way today.

During this race, we’ve seen some stunning performances from the South American’s, they’ve been making a huge impact on the race, possibly Sky’s better Colombian, Rigoberto Uran wasn’t even here, so this Sky pairing could prove to be incredibly strong as they mature. But don’t forget stage 3 where Hanao just outsprinted Ag2r’s Colombian Carlos Betancur, then Quintana’s stage 4 victory, these guys are really going to liven up racing this year, nobody really knows what they’re capable of yet. If Pais Vasco is anything to go by, we can assume the high altitude dwellers are going to make things trickier for the Europeans in 2013.

Where have they been?

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen this volume of talented Colombians performing in the European peloton. We can’t discount the effect that EPO has had on pro riders over the last 20 years, anybody watching racing pre 1990 will remember there were Colombians romping up the climbs, gangling over their bikes, falling on descents, but their natural talent in haematocrit resulted in some epic climbing memories on the Tour de France col’s. From 1990 onwards, we no longer saw riders like Lucho Herrera & Fabio Parra attacked the climbs Grand Tours in the mountains, winning stages, taking mountains jerseys placing in the top 10 on GC. Something had changed.

With no test for EPO at that time, the UCI implemented a cap on blood haematocrit of 50% (red blood cell percentage) “for health reasons”, this was to avoid riders becoming dangerous to themselves more than anything else. If a riders blood got too thick then it put excessive strain on their heart, there were reports of riders dying in their sleep & having to take a large quantity of aspirin every night in order to thin their blood to avoid dying (extreme stuff, but almost common place in the pro peloton). For the Colombians, and other riders whose family came from a high altitude & already possessed a high haematocrit (often a few points over 50%), they had to get special dispensation from the UCI as otherwise they would trigger the 2 week ‘health’ break from racing. Whether or not the Colombians intended doping with EPO, they were never going to be capable of it due to the 50% rule, but even if they did, we now know that EPO benefits the less well endowed in the red blood cell department. So lowland riders of European descent with around 38% natural hct (like Armstrong), could boost their levels by a huge amount, while those with a natural high level (some of the riders who would previously have been considered the Grand Tour talents) couldn’t use EPO or gained little or no benefit from it. It’s highly likely that we lost some of the best riders during that period, they may not have even made the pro ranks.

So with hindsight, it’s no wonder that the Colombians disappeared (Santiago Botero was a different case). We keep hearing pro’s saying that things are different now, we don’t know how different things are, but we do know that there is a test for EPO & the introduction of the bio-passport has allowed the Colombians to compete on a more level playing field. They’re now back with a vengeance as Pais Vasco has shown, I’m not saying they’re all squeaky clean, but the nature of the massive gains from blood vector doping means that those who didn’t benefit are now back performing, which tells you something about the overall state of pro cycling, it is ‘cleaner’.

Who are the Colombians now?

We have several talented Colombians already on World Tour teams. As a nation they are 6th overall in the current UCI World-Tour rankings, one place behind Great Britain.

  • Sergio Henao : Sky
  • Rigoberto Uran : Sky
  • Carlos Betancur : Ag2r
  • Jose Serpa : Lampre-Merida
  • Winner Anacona : Lampre-Merida
  • Nairo Quintana : Movistar
  • Argiro Ospina : Movistar
  • Cayetano Sarmiento : Cannondale

There is also a Colombia Pro-Continental team operating in Europe, they are one step down from the World-Tour but have been getting wild cards for some of the major races, like Milan-SanRemo & the Giro d’Italia. You can see more info HERE.

Keep an eye on the names above, you’re going to see a lot more of them over the next few years.

Postman Pat’s Bad Mail

I wasn’t going to comment on this unless it became public knowledge, I saw the letter yesterday and was hoping it would blow over and a clarification of a clarification was going to be issued. Unfortunately it’s not, the resulting chaos is one that could affect the development of the sport and avoid riders joining their UCI recognised national cycling federation, for us in Scotland, that’s essentially Scottish Cycling, but as I’ve explained before it’s really British Cycling who issue the licences.

CyclingNews are carrying a story on it here.

The Letter, in full, from Pat McQuaid to US Cycling President.

Dear President,

It has recently come to our attention that some National Federations are experiencing difficulties in the interpretation and application of the rules relating to “forbidden races”, namely Articles 1.2.019,

1.2.020 and 1.2.021 of the UCI Regulations.

With this in mind, we would like to provide the following clarification which we hope you will find useful. Article 1.2.019 of the UCI Regulations states:

“No license holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognized by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI.

A national federation may grant special exceptions for races or particular events run in its own country.”

The objective of this regulation is to protect the hard work and resources you pour into the development of your events at national level. It allows for a federative structure, something which is inherent in organized sport and which is essential to being a part of the Olympic movement.

Of course the regulation also allows the UCI, in line with its mission as an international federation, to guarantee uniform regulation.

Article 1.2.019 applies to all license holders, without exception. It does not solely concern professional riders or just the members of UCI teams, contrary to certain statements in the press and on some blogs.

The second paragraph of Article 1.2.019 affords each national federation the facility to grant a special exception for specific races or events taking place in its territory.

Special races or events are understood to be cycle events which are not registered on the national calendar of the country’s federation or on the UCI international calendar. This generally concerns events that are occasional and which do not recur, most often organized by persons or entities who do not belong to the world of organized sport. For example, an event may be organized by an association that does not have a link to the National Federation, such as a race specifically for members of the armed forces, fire fighters or students or perhaps as part of a national multisport event.

With the exception of these special cases, the National Federation is not permitted to grant an exemption to a cycle event which is held, deliberately or not, outside the federative movement. For example, in no case should an exception be granted to a cycling event that is organized by a person or entity who regularly organizes cycling events.

CH 1860 Aigle I Switzerland
Q)+41 24 468 58 11 fax +41 24 468 58 12
http://www.uci.ch

The objective of Article 1.2.019 is that exemptions should only be granted in exceptional cases.

Licenseholders who participate in a “forbidden race” make themselves liable not only to sanctions by their National Federation, as scheduled by Article 1.2.021 of the UCI regulations, but also run the risk of not having sufficient insurance cover in the event of an accident.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please accept our kindest regards,

Pat McQuaid

President

What it means to us

I was hoping for a clarification, because this has very far-reaching implications in Scotland. Consider all the sportive events which are not on the BC calendar, any TLI events, some grass track events etc, they would all represent cycle events that could carry sanctions for riders who also have a UCI licence (you can see on your licence it has a UCI number, you have a UCI licence). It’s even worse for our friends down south, who have all time trials out with UCI governance!

This kind of draconian attitude is going to put riders off from a normal progression of sportive rider, to club rider, to racer. If sanctions are implemented here, then we’ll have no riders coming through into the sport from unsanctioned sportives, of which there are many, they would lose the ability to go back and ride those events if they took out a racing licence and were fined & sanctioned as a result. It looks like the UCI are trying to reduce their market, by excluding all but the current club riders, either that or Pat McQuaid is a complete idiot. I’ll go with the latter.

UPDATE:

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/uci-postpone-enforcement-of-rule-1-2-019

Forum Roulette

Your local APR or chaingang used to be the domain of the ‘noisy vet’*, but now these individuals are finding they don’t even have to ride a bike anymore to abuse those younger/fitter/faster & more knowledgeable than themselves. We delve into the murky world of online cycling forums & who’s in there, lurking in the cyber-darkness.
*Definition: ‘The Noisy Vet’: A veteran male rider of low ability who will shout constant instructions at others in the group, “chase down an attack”, “ease up”, “come through easy”, all are simply self-preservation tactics for a rider who is low on form, class & experience (although they all reckon they’re highly experienced, but mostly just very experienced of group one in an APR). They refuse to put their nose in the wind but expect all others to work to their advantage, the ‘noisy vet’ should be dealt with simply, by dropping them, you can’t hear them when they are dropped (we assume they shout while they are on their own too, but nobody knows).

What to expect

Online forums have a genuine productive use in many sports, they are a place where people can inform others about events, results, general news, last-minute changes, helpful advice etc. But most forums include a minority degenerative influence who ‘shout’ the loudest, where topics are ruined by inappropriate humour, innuendo & downright lies, dissolving previously productive discussions into mayhem and potentially libellous subject matter. Enter the world of the cycling forum, but be prepared for what you may find & expect any postings you make to be shot down in flames, even if you asked a simple question. You’ll find lots of pseudonyms, so you’ll rarely know the real identity of who you’re conversing with, just like many of those dirty unidentified bloggers (!).

Forum Breeds

Forums come is various guises, from a club forum with very local input, to regional & national ones, then onto international ones where national rivalries come very much into play. The closer you are to home the less conflict you’ll get, but any conflict is likely to be highly personal.

A club forum is going to be your best & safest bet for a quiet life, where it’s highly likely that most users will be known personally, which leads to a less abrasive attitude from the ‘noisy vet’ mentality, they may have to speak to you in person at some point. Bear in mind that the ‘noisy vet’ mentality is not just confined to male veteran riders, the online displays associated with this character type can be found in many ‘non-type’ individuals who lose a sense of perspective when online. It would be prudent to get involved in some serious moderation if your club has a forum, especially if it’s open to non club members, these can be easily controlled and remember that this is what the outside world sees as what your club is all about. Club forums can be an incredibly useful tool for all types of club, it also saves a webmaster constantly updating information, a good club forum can carry out these tasks for you.

The regional & national forums, examples of which are the Braveheart Fund (Scottish), Veloriders (UK) & Time Trialling Forum (Mainly England), are potentially very explosive, but also include plenty of useful information if you’re willing to sift through the nonsense. Often the subject posters will not be using their real names, so many don’t care who they offend & quite often look like they actively offend named users, assuming they can say what they like and nobody will find out. The private message system on these boards generally alerts these so-called anonymous posters victims of their true identity & you’ll often see some users outed to the board in an undignified manner.

The Braveheart forum was started after Scottish Cycling closed down their own forum, possibly due to members asking too many relevant questions, a bit of criticism, or complaining when they didn’t get an answer, SC don’t like criticism, or answers. It’s degenerated somewhat since then & is now largely ignored by most active racers under 40, who use twitter & facebook to arrange, organise things & slag each other off, social media is steadily making forum banter obsolete. As the average age increases, so the viewpoints become outdated & it’s very much out of touch with what’s going on right now. Having seen what’s written on the Braveheart, we can only assume it’s still there as a means to provide some web traffic to the excellent Braveheart Cycling Fund, which provides much-needed assistance to aspiring cyclists & for some other established riders. HERE is a link to the fund, just don’t click on the ‘Communities’ tab if you don’t want to drift into the murky world of the Braveheart forum.

International forums are yet another hotbed of conflict, this is where national stereotypes & grievances with other nations are displayed with varying levels of hostility. You can easily spot this at the Cyclingnews Forum, this was originally an Australian based website, but is now owned by UK-based magazine company. There is plenty of genuine debate, but the board to genuinely fear is the ‘Clinic’, the people who run the forum have directed all doping related threads to this area, and it really is something else. Reading some of the posts, you’ll realise that the Clinic area is one of the worst examples of internet forum bullying & potential slander that you may ever see on an established website. I have no idea how there are no legal issues with it, I assume that anybody who is a target of ‘The Clinic’ is just too afraid to consider legal action against the contributors, some of them must have some mental issues. So one to avoid, unless you can see the funny side, I occasionally have a look, if just for a laugh.

Conclusion

Feel free to get involved with forums, but be aware of what you may find. The disruptive influences are a tiny minority, but you’ll find that they put off other people from posting genuinely interesting information, so look for a forum with good moderators to control the general attitude. As above, you’ll understand that forums generally degenerate depending on the geographical area they cover, so moderated club forums are probably your best bet. Most people lurk for a while, watching what goes on before posting, to get an idea of what’s going on. But my best advice, is to go out and ride your bike instead, most of us have wasted too much time arguing online with OAP’s who don’t ride bikes anymore, if you really have to, just remember, “Don’t feed the trolls” & take into account what Alec Guinness said about internet forums, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

Breaking Wind

I’m often irritated by reading some very uninformed & aggressive forum trolls ideas on what makes riders fast in a time trial, the bit that bothers me most is the complete lack of understanding of aerodynamic theory. This isn’t too hard to grasp, at it’s most basic, something small creates less drag, while something big creates more. But it gets complicated when we start looking at cross-sectional area & body lengths, here’s some busted myths…

I don’t go fast enough to use any aero kit.

Aye you do, even if you’re ground speed is low, you most likely race in winds blowing faster than you can ride, so you’re combined air speed is at a significant level where small aero advantages will make a big difference. It’s all too often you see riders off their aero bars while riding into a headwind, this is the worst thing you can do, this is precisely the point that you need to be the most aerodynamic, regardless of your overall average speed.

Get aero in a headwind, think about air speed rather than road speed for aerodynamics.

Why are pro riders going faster in time trials when they lose weight?

It’s not hard to understand, a smaller object requires less power to travel through air at the same speed as a larger object. A larger object has more wind resistance. So if we take one ‘sample rider’ weighing 80kg, then reduce his weight to 75kg, will he be faster on the flat? The answer is undoubtably yes. But you’re now thinking that it only counts if a rider reduces that weight as fat content, incorrect. The rider can reduce the weight as a mixture of fat & muscle, making their limb & torso cross sections smaller, while not reducing their overall fat percentage, here’s how.

Lets say this ‘sample rider’ is pushing 400 watts during a time trial at 80kg, 400W isn’t too much in muscular terms, but it’s a lot in aerobic terms. Your average skinny youth rider is perfectly capable of producing a wattage much greater than this in a sprint, so that in itself displays the required muscular physique to produce over 400W. So if our ‘sample rider’ reduces their weight to 75kg (for example if they were already at a very low body fat percentage), then they have lost 5kg but still have plenty of muscular power left to produce the required wattage.

Aerobic power output does not require big muscles, smaller muscles have less drag, an endurance rider can lose muscle and still go just as fast aerobically. Similarly, if you’re a chubby cyclist, you could record some much better results from eating less cakes & drinking less lemonade.

If I go as low as possible, I’ll be quicker?

Also not true.  As the hip to torso angle decreases, so does power generated, so a rider who’s front end is crouched as low as possible is losing power in that position. This results in a play off between power & aerodynamics, something that is going to be very hard to replicate unless you have access to the measurement resources of a pro rider, so you’re going to have to estimate it yourself. There’s also going to be physical limitations here, Jonathan Vaughters has said that his pro rider, Dan Martin, has bad hip flexion, so will be unable to attain a very aerodynamic time trial position, potentially ruling him out of winning grand tours with a large amount of time trialling in the future. There’s also the physical limitations involved here, get too low and your thighs will start to hit your ribcage. It’s all about finding a ‘sweet spot’ that is correct for you as an individual, a compromise between aerodynamics & power generation.

Low isn’t always best, everybody is different, so it’ll take a bit of work for each person to find their optimum position, don’t try to copy somebody else exactly, but certainly take some tips from photo’s & videos of pro’s with a similar body type to yourself who have access to wind tunnels.

I can go just as fast as somebody else who weighs the same as me with the same power output.

Maybe you can & maybe you can’t, some things are just down to genetics. If you are the same weight & height as somebody else, but possess a longer back & shorter legs, you may have a lower aerodynamic drag. A simple rule is that longer objects along the direction of movement through air cause less turbulence, so a rider with a long body like Wiggins for example has a genetic aerodynamic advantage, he has short arms relative to his size and can also tuck those away easier as everybody has to conform to the UCI positional rules which advantage & disadvantage certain body types. So if you have access to a power meter, you may be able to find your optimum position by doing some field testing, but it has to be very closely controlled, likely impossible to do the estimates on different days, or even different conditions on the same day, a very subjective & complicated area to step into.

A time-trial bike is quicker than a road bike.

Again, this statement isn’t true in itself. The statement should be, ‘a correct position on a time trial bike is faster than a correct position on drop bars.’ I’ve been really shocked by the awful positions of some riders on tri-bars from early season Scottish race photos, some actually assuming worse positions on tri-bars than holding the tops of the bars, yet they assume they are ‘aero’ as they are using aero kit. What people forget is that aero kit in itself isn’t aerodynamic as such, it is used as a tool to get YOU more aerodynamic. You can spend all the money you like and bolt on all sorts of stuff, but without some thought & correct positioning, you could be better off without it.

Spend some time to get your position correct, don’t just bolt on kit & hope for the best.

A constant heart rate gives the fastest time.

As far as heart rate goes, it’s a historic measurement, it measures the effect on your body of what you did to it a few minutes ago, so in short time trials it is virtually useless for the first few minutes until you reach a plateau. At that point, if you encounter a headwind and you maintain the same speed, your heart rate monitor will tell you all about it, just a bit too late. Another effect is something called cardiac-drift, where your heart rate rises over time with a constant power output, so if you maintain a constant heart rate over a time trial, your will be producing less & less wattage as time goes on.

Heart rate isn’t an ideal guide to riding a time trial, but can be used wisely if you’re aware of its limitations.

A constant power output gives the fastest time.

You’ll not be happy about this if you’ve just bought a power meter & you think that if you find your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and ride at exactly that then you’ll produce the fastest time possible, that’s not what will happen.

Every race will have slightly different gradients, slightly different wind conditions, different weather, traffic etc, there’s plenty of variables. It’s been shown that if there is a small hill with a subsequent small descent, then it’s best to power over that slightly and recover on the downhill (you’ll always find it much harder to maintain high wattage downhill, so it’s almost an enforced rest). It’s also been shown that the differences in power outputs when riding in a tailwind are much smaller relative to the difference in speed you gain, so shoving out a load of watts in a tailwind won’t necessarily gain you that much time. The opposite is true in a headwind, where large time gains can be gained through smaller changes in wattage.

So for those using power meters there are some very specific strategies you could use to achieve the fastest time possible by varying your wattage throughout your ride depending on gradient & wind conditions. An absolutely constant power output is never likely to give you the best result, it’s worth experimenting to see what works best for you.

Aerodynamics is irrelevant when climbing.

Take the Tour of the Campsies time trial as an example, the fastest riders can be seen climbing ‘The Crow’ on the tri-bars, Arthur Doyle is a prime example of this, look over some recent photo’s if you don’t believe me. If you require heavier aero kit for the rest of the ride, you may as well use it on the inclines. We can also see that pro riders like Richie Porte used tri-bars during Paris-Nice to win the Col d’Eze time trial. Porte opted for this setup over the lightest possible bike he could use, he did this because it proved faster, I trust Sky’s boffins to be able to calculate this kind of thing correctly.

Again, there’s more to this than meets the eye, pro riders are climbing significantly quicker than amateur riders, so there will be a larger effect the faster the climbing speed. Any rider will gain an advantage from using tri-bars & aero kit on anything but a straight out hill climb.

Conclusion

Hopefully I’ve given some riders something to think about, I really hope I don’t see those kinds of photos from early season again, with riders who look like they’ve not even spent 20 minutes setting up their TT bikes correctly. Put you bike on a turbo trainer, set up a mirror so you can see your position and aim to get ‘in the tube’, i.e. everything apart from your legs into an imaginary horizontal tube. The smaller the imaginary tube you can fit your body head & arms into, will generally prove to be the most aerodynamic, but remember not to go too extreme or you’ll reduce your power output too much. It will take some time to perfect, but it’s worth much more time to you than buying the next very expensive bit of aerodynamic kit and not using it optimally, or even worse, it slowing you down through poor setup.

Fixing time trials

We’re in for a tumultuous few years in cycle racing in Scotland, misconceptions will be addressed, talents who may have previously slipped through will be recognised & more importantly, we’ll be getting our heads kicked in by first year juniors from now on. The balance of power is going to change, moving away from super strong veterans, it will take 4 to 5 years, buts it’s already happening, even in your local time trial.

Back when I were a lad…

I wrote a piece on an event called the Corrieri Classic (promoted by Stirling Bike Club), not because I’m particularly interested in imperial standard distance flat time trials, I wrote the piece because these types of events are about to become more important in the Scottish cycling scene. Much more important than the ’25’, which was perceived as the blue riband event in time trialling by the older generation & the myth perpetuated by 80’s & 90’s Cycling Weekly (The Comic).

It used to be, you joined a club & somebody asked you “what’s your time for a ten?”, if you looked at all ‘handy’. It was assumed you had ridden a 10 mile time trial, and that you’d have a time, from that they would size you up for a pasting on the road or avoid “putting a wheel on you” during a ride if you were too fast. All this based on a time, from unknown weather conditions on an unknown course, hardly a scientific appraisal of somebody’s ability. If you consider some former top Scottish road riders from the 90’s, such as the Johnstone Wheelers ex members Brian Smith & Drew Wilson, ask them what their time for a ten is, I doubt they would even have ridden one, it had by that point become irrelevant to the higher achievers’ in Scottish racing.

These days, time trials are very rarely visited by the majority of road & track riders, time trialing had traditionally been part of your arsenal for road racing in particular, anybody with any ambition on the road competed in time trials, they were directly relating to long solo breaks and also great training. But due to advances in aerodynamics and different bikes being used in time trials, largely from everybody realising the time gain of tri-bars from the 1989 Tour de France, where Greg LeMond used aero advances to overturn a  50 second deficit on Laurent Fignon in the final time trial, into an 8 second advantage on GC. Plus arguably even earlier from riders like Francesco Moser who took aerodynamics to an extreme, time trialling was steadily becoming a different sport. This is more evident in Scotland & the rest of the UK than anywhere else, since the early 90’s ‘The Comic’ was filled with pictures of riders racing on extreme positions, away from traditional drop bars and often riding small front wheels on the now banned ‘Lo-Pro’ bikes (now its current fashion is reporting on sportives), this reduced the crossover effect, it wasn’t a traditional road position and aero cost money. Time trialling lost its relevance to other forms of racing when the bikes changed in the early 90’s, this is going to change over time, especially for the shorter tests.

The road back

The Scottish track scene has been dominated for a number of years by some incredible sprint talents, developed almost solely through Meadowbank & ‘The City’ who have a special talent for identifying talented riders and giving them a pathway to greatness (The 2012 Scottish Keirin Championships looked like a club championship, all six riders in the final were City of Edinburgh!). There have been a few notable endurance talents developed along the way through the same route, along with some British medals, but generally, they’ve been creating top class sprinters for a very long time.

We now have a method of identifying promising endurance talents too, namely, the Glasgow Track League. As with most track leagues across the UK, it’s currently not particularly well promoted or advertised, but if you scour the results on the Scottish Cycling website, you’ll see some very interesting names pop up. I went to have a look one evening, aside from the eternal youth and competitiveness of veteran riders like Graham McGarrity who were getting stuck in, the most aggressive displays were from the younger riders, they were knocking lumps out of each other and nobody else was capable of testing themselves to these extents. They also have a very classy measurement system, if James McCallum & Evan Oliphant were to both turn up at track league, you can expect fireworks, the young guys are out to prove a point by the looks of it. So Gus Gillies, Mark Stewart, David Whitehall, Greg Brown, etc, etc, you guys are the catalyst to create something very special.

What’s the point?

So this gets me to the actual point, the crossover between disciplines and why it’s more important these days. Classy pursuiters & regular track riders like Silas Goldsworthy & Ben Peacock, are now exchanging punches at a ’10’, with another regular convert to track league & potential pursuiter Alan Thomson also in the mix. It turned out that Goldsworthy recorded a 21:06, with Peacock & Thomson tied in 2nd with 21:21. The local ’10’ can easily become a testing ground for better bike positions & used to help train muscle adaptation to a new, more-aero position. How does this work?

Let’s get on with the assumptions….

Well (sorry, going to get all technical now), consider power outputs. The riders are all different sizes & shapes, so we’ll take a simplistic viewpoint on this and ‘pretend’ that they all weigh about 75kg & that they are all similar body shapes.

Let’s assume it takes 340 watts of power to ride the course in 21:06 (45.5 kmh). If that same rider was to ride the same course, in the same conditions in 21:21 (45.0 kmh), then they would have to produce 328 watts of power. So for the 2nd placed riders to beat the first placed rider, we can deduce that they would either have to train to produce between 3% to 4% more power to get on terms or not require to produce that extra power through better aerodynamics. Now here’s the important bit, it’s probably much easier to reduce the aerodynamic drag requirement by 12 watts to also get on terms. So as you can see, the margins of difference are very small, with those slight changes actually making all the difference. It’s puts into perspective Team Sky’s much mocked ‘marginal gains’ philosophy, which accumulates very small percentage gains and changes them into race winning gains by acquiring hundreds of them. So we can also deduce that even in the reality of an early morning Sunday ’10’, these technicalities & attention to detail could make the difference between winning & losing, even in a club ’10’.

Take this into consideration. Would some work on some random details, like your tri-bar position, taping your number down, riding removable valves in your deep section rim & taping the holes, making sure your aero helmet fin is flat to your back, spending your money on the best front wheel you can afford rather than the disc rear wheel that looks better but turns in turbulent air, would this all add up to a 3% gain, that’s up to you to decide. There are also some truly shocking un-aero aero positions out there too, everybody should stick a mirror next to their turbo trainer just once and see what we all see in those ghastly photos, you’ll be shocked too, you don’t look like Tejay Van Garderen.

What does this mean?

A local ’10’ could become a less expensive testing ground for ambitious amateur pursuit riders looking to tweak their aero advantage against other riders in a similar position. We could see a big revival in the quality of fields in time trial events, with one of the effects of an indoor velodrome (as in other regions where one has been acquired), will be evident across other disciplines, with younger competitive riders also taking part. So consider £10 time trial entry versus several hundred £ to hire an indoor velodrome, you’ll see the smart £10 being spent on developing aero advances and riders getting to a level where they can compete without having to fork out cash on venue hire, while riding the same bike they pursuit on, with a front brake attached. Fixed gear is going to get more popular again in your local ’10’.

Caledopers?

Such are the times, that I’ve noticed people are getting to my blog with a google search about doping in Scottish cycle races, so there’s obviously some interest in it, probably my Dr Leinders article has caused these links to my blog. I’ll put across my opinion on this, based on what I’ve seen & not seen over a good number of years.

Do we have a doping problem in Scotland?

With the growing number of professional riders very publically admitting doping, this does turn everybody’s thoughts to what might be happening at home, an understandable result of widespread professional doping for a long number of years. I’ve been involved in clubs, teams & racing for many years, including close contact with a large number of people who would likely be ‘in the know’, but as far as Scottish domestic racing goes, I’ve never heard anything worse than “he’s flying, must be on drugs”, often in a lighthearted manner. We did have a couple of very low-key positives in the 90’s, but other than that it’s almost unheard of in Scottish racing. But it’s easy to assume that there’s ‘nothing to see here, move along’ & dismiss all possibilities of our sport being tarnished, but can we be sure that there are no ‘bad apples’ in our local event?

I’d guess that there are some riders doing some things they’d prefer others not to know, but I’d also a guess that those riders are possibly not the ones you’d be thinking would be the likely culprits. Our ‘recent’ professional history of riders who would most definitely have been exposed to doped riders would point to people like Brian Smith, his October 2012 interview in the Mail really describes his decisions and the consequence of that, it’s worth a read, the culture was such that he refused drugs & it probably resulted in an end to his continental pro career. I’ve also talked to another former Scottish pro who had raced in Italy & was laughed at by local amateurs for not being ‘kitted up’. Our current prominent riders are not at a point where they don’t have an alternative career choice, if you think about those individuals, if they lose cycling they can still survive, (possibly on more money) do they really need to dope, I doubt it. This all tends to make me think that the doping culture in Scotland does not exist at the successful end of racing over at least the last 30 years at least, it leads me to believe something quite different.

A cultural problem?

Human-beings cheat, it’s part of how people operate, it permeates all society & we’re judged on the level of cheating that we employ. For most people’s cheating is very far outside what would be classed as real cheating in normal society, little white lies to make people feel better, driving slighlty over a speed limit etc, but some cheat in every aspect of their life for personal gain or many other reasons. Cycling is such an inclusive sport that your cycling club most likely includes people from all parts of society, we undoubtably have plenty of character types who would be prepared to cheat in cycling, but are they actually cheating in our sport?

What’s to gain?

There are shortcuts to everything, the value of those shortcuts really depends on your perspective & your morality. If you cheat in sport you’re doing very different things at different sporting levels, cheating in professional sport is removing somebody elses ability to earn money, taking people’s dreams away, while cheating in the lower levels of sport can often be attributed to an ego boost, a lack of perceived success in the rest of your life, but not financial gain.

In the US, there have been a large number of ‘Masters’ racers caught doping, these have been relatively wealthy individuals who don’t see cheating as a bad thing, perhaps the gym culture of drug use is also a key factor, they don’t actually see it as cheating. Most of us would agree that taking substances in order to enhance muscle growth, increase cell regeneration & blood manipulation is taking things a bit too far, but some see this as part of sport. The ‘vanity doping’ culture is likely already a very small part of sport in Scotland, there must surely be individuals who know how to acquire these drugs from a gym or a Chinese website and use them to cheat you out of placings.

Cheating in the cut throat world of professional cycling is something quite different, we can imagine the huge pressure on a rider, who giving up schooling & everything else in their lives at an early age comes to a crossroads, dope & keep their job, feed their family and get on with life, or try to get a job with no other experience of life in the real world, what would you do? For those riders they don’t see a choice, they have no other career choices, cycling is their life and their sole earning power, it’s almost inevitable that they’ve been taken advantage of in the past. We like to glamorize cycling, but to many riders who are not the stars, they are simply surviving, it’s their job, nothing else. We can possibly empathise to some extent with these riders, it’s still wrong, but we can understand their choices however much we despise them. Hopefully cycling has been given a wake up call and the forces that applied the pressure are slowly being removed, although many teams are still run by questionable individuals with no mechanism or seemingly no impetus to remove them from a position where they can exploit riders. But with rising professional earning, is this still really the case, can we assume that there are riders with would be ‘honourable’ reasons to dope, possibly not.

Conclusion

Without a widespread & hugely costly domestic testing regime there really isn’t much you can do about amateur doping, but it’s highly unlikely for this to become a major problem, just a few individuals who don’t respect themselves, you, or their sport. The riders at a higher level will get tested, with what looks like a much-needed & much better funded testing programme on the cards in the future. We can only go out there and do what we enjoy, that’s riding a bike, which on occasion is riding a bike really fast, don’t let any potential dopers worry you, they’re the real losers.

Links:

  • To check your medications, click HERE.
  • If you really suspect somebody, click HERE for the confidential hotline to UK Anti Doping, where you can voice your suspicions.

Geert outa here!

Geert Leinders, the doctor employed by Sky during 2011 & 2012, while previously employed by Rabobank, where riders are testifying that Leinders doped them, what are we to deduce from this about Sky’s ethical policy & what he was doing there in the first place? He’s now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Belgian public prosecutor, the story is in Cyclingnews here.

Did Sky know?

It’s very hard to believe that somebody high up in Sky didn’t know about the good doctor, we can safely assume that the man at the top Brailsford didn’t have a scooby, otherwise listing somebody like Leinders as an official doctor to the team would have been one incredibly stupid thing to do. If Brailsford had known about Leinders past, then officially linking him to Sky would be tantamount to a brazen “hey we’re doping, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This isn’t what happened, obviously, so who did know & why didn’t they tell Dave?

Expulsions/Zero Tolerance

The massive change in staff over the winter is probably very closely linked to Sky being involved with Dr Leinders. Consider that Brailsford’s advisors, the one’s who have prior knowledge of doping in cycling, have all left. What would have happened with this zero tolerance policy if one of these Sky staff members had said that Dr Leinders was a doping doctor, Brailsford’s first question would have been “how do you know that”, which leads to many more questions, essentially an admittance that staff members were involved in dodgy practices at some point and had insider knowledge of doping practices & an immediate end of contract. This would lead to anybody with knowledge to keep their mouth shut, or you’re likely losing your job. A case of don’t tell & hope you’re not found out, until the revelations hit the fan over the last few months and the truth had to be told. It looks like anybody ‘in the know’ got booted out after the Leinders truth became known to Brailsford, who had potentially poor knowledge of road racing after focussing solely on track for the past few years with the GB team. Essentially these individuals he naively employed to keep him straight let him down, so they had to leave, their crime was failing to give a warning about Leinders & allowing him to operate within Sky’s structure. We can only hope that the doctor wasn’t up to his old tricks.

Previous information

To us ordinary punters & fans, if we kept our eyes open we already knew about what was going on. The good Dr Leinders was mentioned in Joe Parkin’s 2008 book “A Dog in a Hat” (a great book about an American’s life as a cyclist in Belgium, well worth a read by the way), as a doctor who doped riders, witnessed by the author. So presumably nobody at Sky had read that book, or nobody who wanted to suggest it was the same Dr Leinders, it’s hard to believe that not one rider had read the book and linked that Dr Lienders to their Dr Leinders, perhaps they’re is an atmosphere of fear, which is surely only magnified by the zero tolerance policy. The peloton must surely also be full of ‘revelations’ regarding the doctor, as any rider who had passed through the Rabobank team must have information, so again, it implies a culture of fear.

Moving On

I don’t believe that Sky operate a systematic doping system, I think that if any riders do dope, they act with their own specialists outside the ever prying eyes of the management. The biggest mistake Sky made was allowing a character such as Dr Leinders into their inner circle, if a rider was considering doping, then providing an introduction to a reputed doping specialist is a hugely irresponsible thing to do. This is why heads had to roll at Sky, Brailsford must be under a load of pressure now to run a clean house, while Sky have quite rightly made themselves a target for doubters, the Leinders issue is constantly brought up by people like Kimmage. You can understand why.

The zero tolerance policy is obviously raising other issues, among them fear & withholding of information for fear of termination of employment, the policy is flawed & hopefully Brailsford will be modifying it to avoid these issues in the future and regain some respect. Perhaps opening the doors to David Walsh, allowing his open access to all members of the team this year will help, but this is also a risky & somewhat panic influenced tactic, all it takes is one rider to refuse access and the headlines will again be very bad for Sky.

At the end of the day it all comes down to publicity, plenty of mistakes and bad choices have been made from the very top of the Sky machine, it’s likely everything will be even more closely controlled over the 2013 season. It’s currently playing out very well, with Froome winning the Tour of Oman in front of the current Tour favourites & the Colombians riding very well in the Algarve, so with a ‘cleaned out’ management structure & enforced policies, Sky are still producing the goods, time will tell if that continues.

Carry on camping

It’s coming up for training camp season, the time of the year that the riders who’ve been on vitamin D supplements since ‘that week in July’ that they last got some sun shining on their skin decide to go abroad, with a bike. We/they decide to visit hot southern coasts & islands in search of a ‘fast looking’ tan or possibly some decent form for the upcoming season. The realities are often different, too many pizza’s at Tolo’s, too many post ride bieres, and too many colds brought back home after a pile of time on the bike and a weakened immune system, can lead to putting on weight & getting ill. But do it right and the training camp is an incredibly useful & enjoyable tool towards a great season, do it wrong and you’ll be in your bed & off work for a couple of weeks on your return, it’s often down to your own choices.

Training camp types

On your pre-season training camp, you’ll either be going there with friends, clubmates (possibly not all your friends), complete strangers on an organised training camp (with possibly a cycling celebrity host), or a mix of all of these. Here are some of the individuals you’ll encounter in the sunshine.

#1: The ‘pro’ wannabe. This rider tends to be slightly overweight (sometimes more than slightly), has full pro team kit in unflattering white for their body type, talks like they’re a top sprinter (which excuses their lacklustre climbing) & thinks they’re a big hit with the ladies/waitresses/barmaids. They tend to go on training camps for different reasons from the other types, and rarely go with a big group of people they know. This is part of the plan, so that their heroic riding, demon descending & general all round pro-like training camp performance can be talked about in the same terms as an angler talks about how big their fish was. Often the tales will be vastly exaggerated on return to the cold north lands & without any viable witnesses, the tales of bravado will be boosted again at next years training camp, and so it continues, only with a new full set of next years white pro team kit. These individuals rarely perform very well, so if you’re looking for an easy day choose a bunch of these guys to go out with, easily spotted by immaculate kit & pro level bikes under the UCI weight limit, even though they’re all carrying at least 15kg excess body weight.

#2: Ageing lager meister. This guy enjoys himself, he’s generally an older gent, but there are some younger early ageing guys who drift into this category their 30’s, so ‘ageing’ isn’t a true definition. You’ll spot these guys easily, first you’ll see either an immaculate classic Colnago sitting outside a pub, either that or a pristine & beautiful ‘retro’ steel race bike. Very close-by will be a fella sitting with a €1 pint, a big smile on his face and will always give you a welcoming nod if you’re in bike gear. He’ll be wearing either brand new club kit, or very old club kit, but definitely nothing in between, he keeps that for under his winter tops, it’s a nostalgia & modern-day thing, the new stuff he’s wearing will be hidden for a few years soon, only to reappear in a sunny bar with a sea-view somewhere overseas. He’ll meet up with other similar types for a ride, all with skinny arms & legs, but a few spare tubs in their midriff, out for a nice sedate pace in the sun, only to return later to another watering hole. They return home with a cyclist’s tan lines from mostly sitting in bike gear at the pub, stories of riding the bike each day to tell the wife & spread the embarrassing stories about what happened to the newbie on his first training camp with seasoned clubmen.

#3: Wide eyed newbie. The fate of this type really depends on what company they keep on the training camp, it could be any of the other types, so if you’re new to cycling choose wisely. This guide will help you identify what you want to do with your time off work & who you will associate yourself with. Most newbies will be talked into the training camp by others for a purpose, either to genuinely help them progress and get some form as the club’s early season secret weapon, to have somebody to ‘drop’ on the training rides, or as a good wheel to sit on. So make sure you ease yourself into the training camp and don’t choose the hardest ride on the first day, it’ll likely ruin the rest of your week. Gravitate towards the faster rides and the days pass, but a complete pummeling on day one will make your week a disaster. Beware of the seasoned clubmen (type #6), they’ve been riding & drinking for years, so treat the evenings as the training rides, ease yourself into the night stages.

#4: The Racer. There are large numbers who take their hard-earned holiday from work very seriously indeed, they are solely here to get absolutely pummelled on the bike and get some serious training in the bank. This group will tend to be the most multinational training ride at the camp, with some serious kudos to be earned & routes including the local major climbs. If you want a very hard ride, with no let up and often no stop, go with these guys, but take plenty of water & food, it’ll be a while before you stop. The racer won’t often be seen at the local bar in the evening, although may make a brief appearance a couple of nights to appear to be social, but will quickly scamper away to bed & will make sure that he rooms with another of his type.

#5: The Triantelope. Famed for an inability to handle a bicycle, they leap from their bicycles like antelopes in the Serengeti, hence the name. The value of the bikes the triantelopes ride will often compare with type #1, but these riders are much fitter. But beware of the bunches, especially if ‘silly bars’ are being used, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is a reason for the poor bike handling though, remember they do three sports, you likely just do one, the technicalities of the transition from cycling to running means that a different position is adopted, so saddles are flung very far forward (way beyond UCI regs) and more weight is focussed ahead of the front wheel, not ideal for unknown mountain descents on a far away island, or close bunch riding. You’re best advised to stay away from this group at the training camp, they tend to ride alone most of the time at home, so bunch etiquette is almost completely unknown to them, you’d probably get a good workout but it’s not really worth the risk, it’s a different sport, leave them to their own quirks & oddities, we have plenty of our own.

#6: The Clubman. This one is your ‘true’ training camp type, they know the score, they’ve done it before, they can hang onto the fast guys and give a pasting to the slow guys, they’ll pick & choose which group they ride with & generally get more out of a week away than most of the other types. Most training camp aficionado’s will eventually gravitate towards #6 (apart from #5), while #2 is an even more experienced form of this type, he’s gravitated past #6 into #2. The clubman will also enjoy a couple of good evening visit to the local watering holes while you’re away, while treating the daily rides as serious training & the rest of the camp as their annual warm weather social event with riders they’ve literally known since they were teenagers. If you’re a newbie & you get in with a good group of clubmen, they’ll open up a number of opportunities for rides to you, provide evening entertainment and cement yourself into the bizarre world of bike culture in a week-long crash course (this bit not literally).

Survival Techniques

The training camp is going to be very demanding, so there are a few things you need to bear in mind and keep under control, especially if you’re not used to riding every single day for a week or two.

  • Before packing your bike, make sure it works correctly, the bike you take may have been put away all winter, it needs a road ride to make sure everything works & nothing is broken from last year. Do this at least 2 weeks before you leave, not the night before, so you’ve got as chance to get your local bike shop to fix it.
  • Pack your bike properly, a damaged bike on arrival is your worst nightmare, that’s what you’re here to do, so use all means you can to make sure your bike arrives in one piece and survives the onslaught from the worst of baggage handlers.
  • Chamois cream – Get yourself some & use it from day 1, smear your chamois with it, you’ll sweat much more in the heat & you’re also likely to be sitting having a coffee after a ride for some time before getting changed, the ideal environment for germs to grow.
  • Clean your kit – Never wear undergarments that have been worn the day before without a wash, again this is just common sense, your hotel will be able to wash clothes for you or use the sink in your room with a non-bio cleaner you bought at home.
  • Sun Cream – This goes without saying, don’t come back looking like a lobster, you live in a cold damp place & if your skin has ever seen any sun, it’s not seen it since last summer. You need to make sure you never forget to put it on, it will ruin your training camp if you forget, so even if it’s overcast, wear sun cream.
  • Drink lots & lots of water, on the bike, after a ride, just keep drinking water. If you’re doing any post ride pub visits, it becomes even more vital to rehydrate after a ride.
  • Eat as soon as you can after a ride, it’ll help you recover for the next days training.
  • Check your bike before each ride, check your tyres especially, locate the local bike shop on day 1, if there are any mechanical disasters you’ll need to know where this place is.
  • Don’t assume it’s all going to be sunshine, prepare for showery days and for it being cold at the top of hills. It’s tempting to just take shorts & short sleeves, but check the forecasts and make sure you can get out every day no matter the weather.
  • Above all be self-sufficient, you’re in a foreign country, so take a multi tool, spare tubes & a map so you know where you are and how to get back to your digs, as long as you get home every night you’ll be fine.

Conclusion

The training camp isn’t something to be worried about if you’re prepared for it, get some winter training in before you go and you’ll be fit & ready for a big increase in training load. The key to it is enjoying yourself, this isn’t meant to be purgatory, it’s a week away where you’re main focus is doing something you really enjoy, riding your bike. If the rides are too much, choose an easier group, but make sure you get out every day, you’ve earned this holiday, make the most of it.