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.

The New Religion

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

“Doper!”

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

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

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

PR Geniuses

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

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

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

The Gist Of It

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

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

 

 

The Drugs Don’t Work

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I’ve been through some of these issues before, the phenomenon of the sudden disappearance of the majority of those riders who come from high altitude environments during the major EPO years. It’s quite possible we still have a hangover from this in the current bio-passport policed environment, where riders can no longer go ‘full gass’ on the substances that make the most difference to aerobic performance & recovery. Could this be why some riders are currently able to produce incredible performances without drugs, could we be experiencing the aerobic talent that was missing all those years starting to drift back into the peloton?

Lost Years

I firmly believe that during the major EPO years we never saw the most talented cyclists reach the top of the sport. I suspect that some of that era’s finest riders never even made the pro ranks, they were left unable to proceed in the sport, outgunned by dopers & unwilling to participate in a gunfight while carrying a knife.

To illustrate this, we hear about the ‘good responders’. These individuals reputedly had low natural hematocrit (HCT) levels. The UCI limit, which was set at 50% (but 51% was the accepted target) ruled out many riders from the pro peloton. Prior to a valid test for EPO, riders were able to boost their levels from what is considered a ‘normal’ european sea level dweller value by over 10% in some cases. The worldwide HCT average value is considered for sedentary individuals is said to be around 42% to 54%, an athlete may be expected to be a bit lower due to training stress. This obviously creates an automatic disadvantage to athletes who live at altitude, or who spend time at altitude.

A study in Italian helicopter pilots who spend plenty of time high-in-the-air at altitude showed that their average HCT was 55%. This illustrates the huge variation that environmental factors have on HCT, we hardly saw a high altitude Colombian in a major race for several years. As I’ve said before, I don’t suppose that Colombians are less prone to doping than any rider from any other country, but their ability to improve ability from a very high natural HCT level was almost impossible, compared to the low-land dwelling individuals. Some Colombians would have been over the 51% level naturally, they had no hope of competing in those times. Charly Wegelius explains in his book about a constant worry of keeping his HCT level below the level it would trigger a break from racing ‘on health grounds’, as even though a European, his whole family had higher than the population normal HCT %’s.

This leads me to imagine that riders similar to those who would previously have been the top performers in cycling may now have returned. We may be unfairly tarring them with the same brush as riders from the past, but similar athletes may not have been capable of taking a place in the top flight of cycling when no EPO tests were available. They could be a few percent below the previous performances, but had they been in the peloton before, they would have been in the 2nd or 3rd groups on the climbs, not leading them. Without EPO, I find it hard to imagine any substance that could create these kinds of performances from ordinary riders, this is the crucial piece that is missing from doping accusers. What exactly is it they are taking that is making their performances better that anybody else, I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for this.

Data Issues

Currently, we have at least one Colombian rider undergoing tests due to questions about their bio-passports. One of these is Sergio Henao of Team Sky. As far as I’m aware, the majority of the data collected for the bio-passport project was predominantly carried out specifically in the sport of cycling, around the time that a test for EPO had just been rolled out & an era we know was tainted. I’d suggest that at this time, some of the test sample consisted of ‘good responders’. This leads us to the big question, perhaps we have a data issue right now, where the high altitude riders are suffering further issues with the bio-passport due to the original sample of data that was taken from the riders at the time.

The Gist Of It

I’m no expert on physiology or blood, I’d be very interested to hear from anybody who is, who can maybe shed some light on whether or not the above is a correct hypothesis. That the previous sample population that was tested isn’t relevant to the current sample population. The current riders are subject to the data gathered from a potentially abnormal group of riders who fitted a specific low HCT requirement during the major EPO years & had just abandoned major EPO use due to a test being developed. That there may be clean riders suffering from the hangover from an era that cycling was blown apart & the culture of widespread EPO use was reduced massively over a short period of time due to better testing & the bio-passport. I had forgotten all about this post, but in light of recent rumours of questions being raised informally regarding another Colombian rider, this issue may rear its head yet again, obviously in the week before the Tour, as usual.

Meet the Schleckers

Fränk & Andy Schleck, the brotherly duo are known to be incredibly close, joined at the hip racing partners, always on the same team, they do everything together, they have an incredible family ‘circle of trust‘. They used to appear to come across as the happy, polite & cuddly (stick insect cuddly) brothers, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, not any more.

It’s rarely we’ve ever seen them apart, that was until Fränk got busted for doping during the 2012 Tour de France, since then it’s a very rare occurence to see Andy with a number on his back. He fractured his sacrum during the Critérium du Dauphiné last year, there was also a war or words between the brothers & their disgraced directeur sportive John Bruyneel, after he spoke badly about the close-nit pair to the media. Andy has appeared to lack motivation since then, with his brother missing from training & racing due to his ban, he just doesn’t seem to have it anymore. Today in the media he reckons he could be the surprise of the Tour, this sends shivers through my spine.

Fränk’s hazy past

Fränk was a client of Dr Fuentes, you may have seen a little case recently going through the Spanish courts with the good doctor. Dr Fuentes was a gynecologist by trade, but has been proven to be the go-to-guy for blood doping athletes, he’s not the first guy you’d expect to offer you advice on interval training, he didn’t get performance gains that way. Fränk went to Dr Fuentes for some ‘really good interval training plans’ in 2005, this all came out in 2008 when German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed some details regarding a bank transfer of about €7000 from Fränk to Dr Fuentes (probably the last time he didn’t pay for training in cold hard cash, lesson learnt). His case then went to the Luxembourg cycling federation & they agreed in 2008 that Fränk had in fact gone to the worst possible guy in the entire world, to get some interval training plans for an exorbitant price, that nobody in their right mind would pay for interval plans. While this was going on, if anybody has read Tyler Hamilton’s book, everybody in the peloton knew who the go-to-guy for blood doping was, Fränk & Andy obviously never spoke to anybody else to find out this common knowledge, they always do everything together.

Why we should worry

I used to like Andy, but the Little Schlecker is not coming across very well these days, his brothers antics have also raised his suspicion levels to ‘DANGER DANGER’. Andy’s brother IS a confirmed doper, he has also used one of the most notorious doping doctors in world sport, are we to believe he did all that without the knowledge of the one person he spends most of his time with, plus if Fränk is to believed, he also told his brother nothing of the legitimate trainer he thought he was hiring.

When Contador lost his 2010 Tour title to doping, Andy was awarded the race, but he grudgingly accepted that he had won it & said that he was not the rightful winner. If somebody of good moral standing was beaten by a doper, surely there would have been some anger, something derogatory said about the removal of the rider who soaked up the glory in Paris, surely a murmur of discontent, nothing!

There’s simply too much smoke for me, I have to sadly admit that I hope Andy bombs in this Tour, keep him away from the polka dot jersey, lets hope he doesn’t try & tarnish it. If he suddenly starts performing on the climbs again after getting no results the last year, I think we should all be asking questions.

FrUnderdog

Much has been said about the meteoric rise of Sky’s stage racing surprise, Chris Froome. We find ourselves asking how can somebody so suddenly rise from pack fodder to taking 2nd place in two grand tours in such a short space of time? Forums & Twitter are full of people ‘who know’ Froome is doping, but they don’t actually know, they’re just putting forward viewpoints, so it’s rarely you see any explanations for him performing as he does, I’m trying to offer the alternative in this blog. If the Forum/Twitter hordes are incorrect, they are slating the thing they want to happen, a clean winner, it may be true it may not, but none of us have hard evidence either way, so opinion is currently our only tool. I half-expect to get proven wrong in an apocalyptic Rasmussen style expose in July, but here’s why I’m going to give a cautious smile if Froome wins in Paris in July.

Rouleur admissions

It’s well worth getting yourself a copy of the latest Rouleur, it carries a very good interview with Froome, Ned Boulting portraying him as an overly polite octopus killer & for the first time I recall, he’s said that he DID attack on La Toussuire in last years Tour. Seemingly he thought his team leader was fine in the group, dropped back to look at everybody, then had a go for himself, unaware he was about to get chastised over the radio. He was trying to make a race of it, after an almost processional Tour, this is what the fans were looking for, the top two riders vying for supremacy, but only one looked supreme that day, he ended up being the loyal domestique & sacrificing his own personal ambitions for ‘The Team’ and allowing the Sky media machine to process their very British champion (although Belgian born & Australian fathered) over the questionable Britishness of a Kenyan expat. Maybe they didn’t quite believe it either. During the interview I also liked the fact that his girlfriend, Michelle Cound liked to slag him over his ungainly bike riding style, Froome seems to just let her get on with her own style of PR, he seems slightly amused by it, he’s not trying to create a media personality, he seems like somebody who’s just likes getting on with it. You’ll probably get some interesting insights by following her on Twitter, you can see them HERE.

Sacrifices

We’ve seen Froome sacrifice himself for the same team leader on two occasions while in a great position to win a Grand Tour. In the 2011 Vuelta, Sky changed the leadership at a very late stage once it was obvious that Wiggins was faltering, even though Froome had actually been wearing the race leaders jersey after the Stage 10 Time Trial. It ended up with Cobo winning, with Team Sky taking 2nd & 3rd on the podium. Most believe that had Froome been team leader earlier in the race, he would have been victorious, he would not have had to work, would have been able to follow the moves & more importantly, he would have been allowed to attack.

We all know the story at the 2012 Tour, where Froome was obviously the strongest rider in the race & team tactics dictated the winner. It’s no surprise that keeping Froome chained any longer is not going to help Team Sky in any way, he needs to be unleashed as he has been during early 2013.

The Doping Issue

Nobody can say that Froome’s performances don’t seem out of this world, they are incredible. I don’t have any hero’s in cycling, to put it bluntly I can’t trust anybody anymore. On that basis, I’ve given up trying to sum up who’s doping & who’s not just by performances, I don’t base it on court evidence either (if there is some, I’d obviously take that as proof), I base it on history, who they associate themselves with & inconsistency relative to others & themselves (currently or previously). Sometimes I even consider them less likely to dope because I like their personality, but nice guys dope too, I’m sure we all do that, I’m sure most of the online rants start because somebody simply doesn’t like a certain rider, it’s easy to get caught up in it.

Let’s take two convicted dopers, Contador & Valverde, since their return to the peloton I am almost at the point of thinking that these guys are now clean, their performances are way down on where they were previously, each rider still attempts to attack as before but cannot sustain it, they also cannot repeatedly attack like they used to & their time trial performances are much worse than before. We’ve seen Contador beat Cancellara on a relatively flat time trial around Lake Annecy (for those who say it’s got a hill in it, I’ve ridden the course, the hill is nothing to bother these guys), he now finishes time trials around the positions of other climbers, in around 50th place, this looks real to me. I’m not saying that these guys are not supremely talented riders, Contador in particular now looks like an incredibly talented climber, but he has suddenly lost the other talents he used to have while maintaining his climbing ability, which is also diminished but still good enough to perform well against a ‘cleaner’ & less corrupt sport, i.e. you probably can’t buy a test result anymore under closer scrutiny, whether that’s governing bodies, labs, or other forces that allowed that to happen, we don’t know yet.

My point is, that it’s easy to compare Froome to Contador and assume the worst, but we’re comparing him to something that has changed dramatically, the Contador of today has no turbo fitted, he’s normally aspirated these days. Likewise with most riders from the previous era, they’ve suddenly lost a lot more than just the dope, they’ve lost years of information & progress while under the tutelage of tarnished individuals. The old-school teams are (and were) run by people of that era, they have no idea how to gain a Tour winning performance clean, they never had to & their riders never had to, they presumably just injected it & one large time-consuming area of training was overlooked for potentially two decades. These teams & riders may have a hugely diminished idea about how to bring their riders to that kind of aerobic level naturally, than teams who have invested heavily in sports science & not just employing one of the blood manipulation centres or doctors.

Meanwhile, during that period, other teams had been developing coaching & training methods, we can assume not the top flight teams (they wouldn’t have been competitive), but perhaps amateur teams, this is where working within the rules has potentially became a bit of an art form (Chris Boardman said himself that the position rules were something to ‘bump up to’, a guide to show how far you can go). So we know that formerly amateur outfits, like the GB track team, were working just inside the guidelines on dimensional rules to gain advantage, can we also assume they were using sports science to replicate what made the EPO era riders go so fast, that’s where the smart money is? Attempting to discover what physiological characteristics the EPO enhanced in riders & how could similar enhancements be replicated without the use of drugs & without compromising rider safety or health?

The New Peloton

My assumption is that the massive changes stated above are happening right now within the peloton, that we’re currently in a very important transition period, that the new methods which evade the positive tests but get similar physiological results are state-of-the-art training, coaching & facilities. In a bizarre manner, these advances may not have been possible without the EPO era, after all where would sports science have gathered their data for turning increasing blood volume & haematocrit translating into exceptional performance, with EPO charged riders they could now measure this & set a target to aim at. This current transition period makes the old-school riders look relatively poor & the new-school riders look superhuman. It won’t last, the old-school teams didn’t have untalented riders, they used different methods, it will take a couple of years to catch up as new-age riders filter out of the coach led teams & into the old-school teams, spreading the knowledge. The managers of these teams must be having a very hard time right now, time-consuming & expensive coaching & facilities require a much larger budget than black market pharmaceuticals, they have to justify their budget increases & they have some hard questions to answer to their sponsors.

So things are changing rapidly, there’s plenty of riders getting popped right now, plenty of biological passport transgressions getting aired & hopefully this is reducing the attraction of taking shortcuts. As I’ve said in previous blogs, we’re moving back into an era of specialists, climbers who can’t time trial, time trialists who can’t climb, Colombians, if you remember 80’s pro racing, it looks a bit like that.

So Why Froome

I’ve stated the scene pro cycling is currently operating within above (as I see it). So how has a mid bunch level climber become a Grand Tour winner, bearing in mind he’s not actually won any yet, but you get the idea.

For all you watts-per-kg nerds out there, lets first of all take a look at that, Froome looks like skin & bone now, but google-image some photos back to 2010 & you’ll see quite a difference, he’s lost a lot of weight. His own website says he currently weighs 69kg, so some websites have reported that he can average 6W/kg for some 30 minute climbs. That would give us an estimate of 414W for his 30 minute critical power (CP30), you’d normally take about 5% off this to give a rough estimate of functional threshold power, so we then get the figure of about 393W for critical threshold power, that equates to about 5.7W/kg.

So if we don’t even consider any training advances since 2010 & assume he’s only lost a conservative 3kg, we’d calculate his old W/kg at threshold as 5.45W/kg. He wouldn’t make the front group on the Tour mountains with that power to weight value. The difference between being an also ran & making one of the front groups in the mountains is marginal. He was previously an also ran, he couldn’t go with the big ‘turbo’ attacks, he was heavier, he didn’t have access to modern coaching & he was from a far away land. The last point is possibly the most crucial, an African racing in the Euro peloton is going to be treated with suspicion, not what they’re used to, perhaps Froome avoided getting involved in EPO due to being an outcast, could he be trusted? This could be why his current performance seems so unnatural, it could be that he performed against a doped peloton in the past, then when the doping gets less he looks better & better. I’m not saying he didn’t want to dope, but he may not have been in the gang, like an English student appearing in 2nd year of a Scottish inner city secondary school, he’s not going to have lots of friends, he’s not in ‘the club’.

I’ve also got this niggle about his improvement after he was awarded the full support of Team Sky, there hasn’t been much, it happened at the very beginning of his step up to the top squads, once he had access to the coaching system. If there was some mystical team wide doping programme going on, I’d assume that they wouldn’t allow their riders of lower stature, or riders they may not have been keeping, to know what was going on. Froome only rose to the top during the 2011 Vuelta, up to that point he was still looking for a team for 2012, surely only the most idiotic DS would introduce him to the top-level doping programme at that point. It just doesn’t add up, if there was a top-level programme for their top riders, surely Froome would have improved dramatically since then, he’s not, he’s just remained extraordinary. So if they have a ‘super programme’, it doesn’t work. I don’t think they do.

Public Opinion

The reason I wrote this piece is because I like Froome, he comes across as a very polite man in TV interviews, there’s no bravado & he seems to value the position he’s in without mocking anybody. The French love him, he does his French interviews first, where some of his English-speaking predecessors were asked questions in French, they responded in English, there is no such thing here. In one l’Equipe headline he has now been given the tag ‘Froome le Patron‘. On the other hand, the impression I get with Wiggins is that he’s uncomfortable in public, the way he deals with it isn’t meant in the manner it comes across, but it comes across badly to the public worldwide. It seems like Wiggins public personality isn’t managed in a positive manner. He won BBC Sports Personality, but outside the UK he’s misunderstood in the extreme, he doesn’t deserve the kind of ridicule he gets, but the French take offence to speeches that liken the podium ceremony of the Tour to a chipper bike race or village fete raffle, perhaps more than Armstrong’s ‘miracle’ speech.

My view is that there are various reasons why we can believe his extraordinary performances are real, but I can also see why there are serious doubts, we’ll just have to wait & see. I just hope the sport has cleaned up as much as the riders are telling us, but in the past it’s been proven you can trust a rider as much as you can an MP, an Apprentice contestant or a TV presenter, I’ll not hold my breath.

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My name’s Di Luca, I live on the 2nd floor.

Twitter breathed a sigh of dis-contentment this week when 2007 Giro winner Danilo Di Luca was seen attacking on the finale of stage 4 at the Giro, it brings back memories of an era we were all trying to forget when we see Di Luca going well, we only assume one thing.

Why the blog title?

The lyrics for Suzanne Vega’s song ‘Luka’ fits our rogues name nicely, it also helps us explain to some extent his actions, his state of mind & his justification for the various scandals we know he’s been involved in, plus presumably many we don’t (yet) know about. I’ll start referring to Di Luca as ‘Suzanne’, I think it’s a nice name for him. Here’s a link to the lyrics.

The song is about domestic abuse, from somebody talking silently to somebody else who lives close to them, who knows you can hear what’s going on in their flat, but doesn’t want you to interfere, for whatever reason that may be. I’m likening Luka’s ‘significant other’ to Di Luca’s doping, only in his case, he does actually have a choice, unlike ‘Luka’. Suzanne loves his drugs, he’s been involved in several investigations, here’s a few…

2004: Oil for drugs investigation. Wikipedia information.

2007: Abnormally low hormone levels.

2007: 3 month doping ban.

2009: Tested positive for Cera EPO during the Giro.

2010: Admits to being a doper.

So Suzanne is a proven & banned doper, his previous best results were during a period he admitted to doping, so it’s hard for fans to believe that he can perform at the top level without drugs, that’s why when we see him attack the best riders in world we all tweet a sigh of discontent, even @BriSmithy exhaled in disgust. It’s really is ‘not normal’.

Suzanne’s history is littered with a love for his abusive ‘significant other’, an addiction he knows hurts him but he just can’t keep himself away from it. We all like to marvel at ‘panache’ and the ability to attack in the mountains, but in almost every one of the years we marvelled at Suzanne, there were questions about where that ability actually came from. Sometimes drugs look like panache & the attacking riders we loved to watch were not naturally capable of what we enjoy seeing them do. I can only hope that he doesn’t win a stage, I’m fully aware that there are plenty of others similar to him still riding, but this fella really irks me. He’s been rubbing it in everybody’s face for a long time and always seems to get a chance to return to the peloton, again on a team that doesn’t have to adopt the bio-passport, it’s disappointing for fans like myself to even see him there.

It really wouldn’t be any surprise if Suzanne was the Grand-Tour winning rider the Secret Pro was referring to as the rider caught up in a bio-passport infringement “I can’t say who it is but when the news breaks you’ll know who I’m talking about”, only time will tell.

Another rant, why can’t I watch the Giro on Eurosport before it’s my bedtime, I really want to watch the Giro!

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.