Okay, so the doping scandal bloodbath continues. The top contenders currently out of the Tour de France are:
Jan Ullrich Ivan Basso Francisco Mancebo Alexander Vinokourov
Which leaves, by my estimation, the following true contenders for the overall:
Floyd Landis Levi Leipheimer Denis Menchov Yaroslav Popovich Carlos Sastre Cadel Evans Alejandro Valverde Gilberto Simoni Damiano Cunego
All in all, not a bad list of contenders, really. Despite losing the top two favorites, the remaining general classification riders are still a very strong, impressive group of athletes. The Tour could be even more exciting despite the loss of Ullrich, Basso and Vinokourov.
And at any rate, Tom Boonen and Dave Zabriskie are still riding, so all is well for me. Them's my boys.
It's tough not to have an opinion about doping in cycling. Since I'm far too poor to afford truly performance-enhancing substances and don't have any kind of medical connections, you can trust that I'm an unbiased observer of this topic.
Concerning the continuing Spanish doping investigation, I personally think it a bit of an overreaction to immediately kick out top riders from the Tour de France simply because their names showed up on a list of suspects. Nobody has been legally charged with anything, and nobody has failed any doping controls. All it took was an accusation and the biggest race of the year is over before it started for guys like Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. That seems a bit harsh. I understand the importance of maintaining a positive image for the sport as a whole, but Lance Armstrong was accused of doping (including very serious, substantial accusations) throughout the last seven years and he was never threatened with suspension from his team nor any races. That seems a tad inconsistent to me.
As for doping in general, I will maintain my earlier position. As long as winning is the goal of bike racing, doping will continue to be a problem. As long as EPO produces almost magical performance gains for cyclists, it will continue to be a problem. There's no getting around it. As long as cheating produces wins, riders will cheat. Banning all the various forms of doping will always prove ineffective just as banning alcohol failed in the United States during Prohibition and just as banning illegal drugs during the War On Drugs has also failed. You can't make something go away by banning it---you have to remove the motivation behind the behavior. As winning races is the motivation behind doping and bike racing in general, doping and bike racing will never be separated. You could test every rider every day and nothing would change.
Is doping always wrong? I don't know. Can it be physically dangerous to those who dope? Yes. That's the main concern for me. If race organizers insist on making every stage of a month-long grand tour more than 150 kilometers full of crosswinds, rough terrain and high mountains, doping will be almost necessary for riders who want to win. Some of those riders could endanger their health through unsafe doping. Would it be more realistic, and ultimately more responsible, to regulate the legal use of doping substances as to protect the riders' health and maintain a level competitive field? Would that even work?
Who knows? I do know that the ongoing rhetoric of "cleaning up the sport" and "kicking out the cheats" will ultimately prove meaningless, just like it did back in 1998 when doping was supposedly eliminated by the Festina Affair. As we have seen, doping will always be a part of professional cycling. It's tough to accept, but reality is what it is. I'm now of the opinion that every single member of the pro peloton has doped in the past and/or is currently doping, and those who haven't/aren't sure aren't winning any races.
I guess it wasn't necessary for us to see his full grossness during the medical check after all:
Disgusting photo "courtesy" of AFP.
Also out is Ullrich's teammate Oscar Sevilla, leaving T-Mobile with just about ZERO legitimate general classification riders. Ouch.
But the fun is not over. Also among the riders listed as involved in the vast doping network are the following major stars: Francisco Mancebo of AG2R, both Jose Gutierrez's of Phonak, Jörg Jaksche and Joseba Beloki as well as Isidro Nozal and Michele Scarponi of Astana-Wurth. And the biggest name of them all: Ivan Basso of CSC. No word yet on Basso's status for the Tour.
And that's not nearly the full list of implicated riders. To say this is bigger than the 1998 Festina Affair would be an understatement...more to come, no doubt.
So this whole Spanish doping scandal is getting out of control. Everybody and their mother has been implicated now, including Jan Ullrich and even Tyler Hamilton, who seems less and less credible every time some new info on his blood doping case hits the papers.
The latest reports from CyclingNews are depressing, to say the least. I mean, it's no secret that just about every pro cyclist in the ProTour is a doper, but the full scope of the cheating is becoming mind-blowing.
On one hand it's sad because I'm coming to realize that most of my cycling idols are doped to the gills. But on the other hand it's extremely reassuring---I don't suck so bad after all. I look at races like the Tour de France and know that I could never perform at that level, ever. Now it's more clear than ever that the pros can't do it either, at least not with a little "help".
The good news is that neither Tom Boonen nor Ivan Basso have been implicated at all in the Spanish scandal. I guess they found an outside supplier. Good thinkin'.
Recently, a regional racer named Bret Neylon was seriously injured in a crash during a race in Ohio. I'm definitely not the only person to wish him a speedy recovery and the very best of luck. I'll be following all the updates on his condition hoping each day he shows massive improvement.
Bret Neylon leading the winning break during the Cat 3 race at the LMPD Crit. Photo courtesy of John Bennett
Get better, Bret. We all hope to see you on the road again soon.
Well, I just posted that I didn't have much to post about, but leave it to me to find something worthwhile no more than ten minutes later. Pictures of me!
Below are two shots from the recent LMPD Criterium in downtown Louisville, featuring yours truly and my typical race face, "the fish out of water".
Photos courtesy of John Bennett
I'm pretty sure the first shot was taken just after the group reeled in my silly, short-lived solo attack. I'm nothing if not a giant waster of energy. Anyway, thanks to John Bennett as always for his fantastic photos. Be sure to follow the link and browse every race from that great day.
Pardon my boringness this week, there are a few things distracting me from typing about bike racing. The Tour de France is still a week away. I'm in the middle of a much-needed recovery week, so my training is pretty simple and dull. Also, the World Cup is still going on. Though I played soccer in high school I'm not much more than a periodic fan of the sport, but I do love to watch the World Cup and this year's tournament is definitely exciting.
Well, it's exciting for everybody except the USA. We suck.
I'm sure this little blog will be more fun to read in a week or two, so be sure to check back. In the meantime, I'll try to come up with something worth your time, but I'm not making any promises.
So apparently Jan "Strudel" Ullrich can still time trial. Wow. What big news! He won the final stage of the Tour de Suisse with an impressive race against the clock, beating such feared rivals as Angel Vicioso and Janez Brajkovic. Who?
Photo courtesy AFP
Sure, Jan beat Ivan Basso in a Giro TT, but consider that he only gained 28 seconds by doing so. Even if the Tour this year contained five individual TTs and Jan won every single one of them, he'd still only pick up a couple of minutes at most. Basso can conceivably gain 5-10 minutes on Fat Jan in the mountains, even though there are fewer this year than in previous years. All of Jan's bulk is a serious advantage in the TTs, but as usual he will suffer like a dog on the climbs while Ivan spins easily to the top with a smile on his face.
Jan Ullrich is no more a Tour contender this year than he was in the past seven. Basso, if he can maintain his Giro form and luck stays with him, will beat Ullrich big time.
If you read this sad little blog on a regular basis, or maybe you just check it out irregularly, leave me a comment and tell me about yourself. Do you race bikes? Do you follow the pro peloton? Where are you from? Do I know you personally?
Post a comment and drop some knowledge on me. Thanks.
(EDIT: I have changed the setting to allow anyone to comment, not just Blogger members, so feel free to make anonymous verbal attacks. Thanks.)
If there's one undeniable truth in amateur bike racing, it's that the lower category races are always the most dangerous. It's not rocket science. Guys in lower categories like 4 and 5 are simply less experienced racers and have likely been riding their bikes for less time than guys higher up. Race low, crash often. Tell someone you're racing a 4/5 event and the first thing they'll say is "you should upgrade, that stuff is way too dangerous."
This season, I think, has really challenged that notion. I've done as many 3/4 races this year as 4/5 or just 4 races, and the the majority of the crashing was in the higher categories. In L'Esprit, a huge crash took out nine or ten guys in the 3/4. At Clark State Forest, I went over the bars at 25 mph after some guy went sideways in front of me---also a 3/4 race. At Da Vinci, several guys, mostly Cat 3s, crashed out hard while the 4/5 race was completely upright. And this past weekend, though there was definitely a messy last lap in the 4/5 crit, I watched no fewer than three pile-ups in the 3 race.
I'm no expert, but I blame a couple of things. First, a lot of guys are sandbagging it in the 3 and 3/4 races when they should be riding up with the 1s and 2s. Maybe because certain teams in this region tend to dominate the higher category races, strong guys on smaller squads don't feel like they have a chance. So they sit in Cat 3 and try to overpower each other. Second, the fields are just simply bigger this year in all categories, with more guys showing up to race and willing to ride all-out. Bigger, stronger fields and less-organized teamwork is a sure recipe for bloody battles on the road. At least, that's my theory.
The current crop of Cat 4s in this region are a talented, up-and-coming bunch, and to be honest I feel safer racing with them than some of the higher category guys I know. Funny how things work around here.
Below are some choice pics from the Cat 4 race in Cherokee Park this past weekend. Mostly featured is the lead pack, with both my teammate Larry and myself represented. Larry's the stud with the nice tan, I'm the loser with the tattoos.
The last photo is of young Andrew winning the sprint and taking his first victory in impressive fashion.
All courtesy of Audrey Harrod, as usual. Thanks again!
Disappointing result for the team, but a fun race for sure. Now if I can only avoid sucking next year...
Race Reports: LMPD Foundation Crit and Cherokee Park
LMPD Foundation Crit:
This race was living proof that if you promote something well, the turnout will be fantastic. Even for amateur bike racing.
The fields for every category were enormous, with some really quality racers turning up from out of town for the Pro/1/2 crit at the end of the day.Our crit, the lowly 4/5, started first, early in the morning at 9:30. This was actually a benefit, though, since a lot of the runners from the 5K event that started at dawn were still milling about and the weather was still relatively sunny and cool.Our race had the biggest, loudest crowd by far. Our field was big, too. More than 50 guys lined up at the start, with the usual suspects from Team Louisville, Pedal Power, Humana and of course the jokers from Bolla (us).
As planned, we hammered straight from the gun and strung everything out right away. Within one lap, 20 of us had formed a strong lead group and dropped the rest of the field.The course was a winding 8-corner loop with some seriously rough pavement and dangerous obstacles in places. A couple of manhole covers nearly killed me. In general, though, the streets were in decent enough condition that our group could build serious momentum and maintain a 26 mph average. Not bad, considering that's the same average as the Cat 3s later in the day.
Lap after lap went by for a half hour with just a few serious attacks including a stupid one from me that nearly destroyed my legs. I always think attacking through the start/finish is a good idea and always live to regret it. At least I got the announcer to say something about Bolla (I'm a corporate shill) and say my name (I'm an arrogant jerk). Though the group caught me in about two seconds, it was worth it I suppose.
Fast forward to the last lap. The lead group was still together for the most part (we dropped one or two) and heading into the back side of the course. Around one of the last turns, a couple of guys suddenly forgot how to ride their bikes and decided instead to run into each other. Three or four guys hit the deck, including the unluckiest man in the world, Joe of Humana/Cycler's Cafe along with another guy that did a face plant on the sidewalk. Ouch.The rest of us made it through and sprinted for the finish, with my teammate Larry and I bringing up the rear in 9th and 10th place respectively. A Pedal Power guy took the top spot with Matt S. from Team Louisville in an impressive third. Bolla finished outside of the money (again), but made a great showing for the most part. At least the race had a huge crowd and people cheering every time we came through the start/finish!
Cherokee Park "Road Race":
Almost every single day that I ride my bike, I ride through the Cherokee Park Scenic Loop. It's got fast flats, good hills and great overall scenery. When I heard they were having a circuit race on the same Scenic Loop this year, I specifically built my training around it. It paid off, as my fitness was perfect. In bike racing, though, having the legs is not always enough.
Our race was Cat 4s only with the Women's field starting directly behind us. Our pack was actually much smaller than yesterday, with no more than 25 guys altogether. We had five Bolla riders in the pack, but right from the start our teammate Jeff had a mechanical mishap and hit the deck hard, leaving four of us.
The course was run backwards from the usual right-of-way, making it a little more interesting for those familiar with the park. Run the usual way, the course includes a left hairpin at the bottom of a super-fast descent. Run the way we raced it, the hairpin becomes a tough uphill big-ringer that really taxes the legs.The pace was fast from the start again, but for the most part we didn't lose anybody except for a couple of guys (including two of my teammates).
The pack stayed together for all six laps, with only the occasional attack that didn't go anywhere. Luckily, despite the fast pace, the hard turns and the twists in the course, nobody went down. A true miracle.As always, I started the race at the back of the pack to get my bearings and assess the field. By three laps in, I was on the front leading the group up the hills with Larry and trying to set a pace at least a couple of guys couldn't hold. Surprisingly I didn't blow up, and for the most part wasn't even breathing hard.Unfortunately, by the final lap I had lost my good position and was stuck again near the back of the field. Up the final climb to the finish, my legs were there and my sprint was strong, but being so far back I didn't have a chance in hell. I passed at least six or seven guys, including my teammate Larry, but couldn't get close enough to get a decent result. I had to settle for lucky 13th*. The good news is that my little buddy Andrew, a strong rider still only 15 years old, won the sprint for his first ever victory! Congrats to him!
Overall, Larry and I rode really well this weekend in both races and at least made a good showing. As long as Bolla plays an active part in every race and is visible to spectators and announcers, I'm happy. Hopefully we can score a win at some point this season---but we're just getting started and the sky's the limit.
Thanks to all the sponsors who made the races possible this weekend, and thanks to Sean and Matt S. from Team Louisville for being amazing guys to race against. It's always a pleasure.
*The results online are now saying I finished 14th, which is strange considering the posted results at the race course yesterday had me in 13th and I finished ahead of the rider now in my place...hmmmm...oh well.
Big race weekend starting tomorrow. Feel strong, ready to go. The fields for the 4/5 crit on Saturday and the Cat 4 circuit race on Sunday don't look very imposing at this point. Should see good results.
Today was "low duration high intensity" training, which always means sprints and jumps. I warmed up for twenty minutes around the Seneca Park loop and then began the first of five full-on sprints. My legs felt super strong today and I had no problem winding it up to 30 mph while seated, then jumping out of the saddle and pumping as hard as my little toothpick legs could handle. First sprint max speed: 36 mph in 53x12. Not terrible for a guy who has zero sprinting talent and "ballerina" legs.
Each interval was consistent in duration (15-20 seconds) and maximum speed (35-36 mph) which means I never lost power output during the workout. That's the goal. Even after five intervals I wasn't totally wasted, and still having some life left in my legs I finished the day with an easy 20 minute spin through the neighborhood. Very nice recovery overall.
I'm feeling good about this weekend. First is the downtown crit on Saturday, which is a 4/5 race for 500 bucks. That's the most money we lowly local Cat 4s have raced for all year. Then on Sunday it's the Cherokee Park race, which will likely prove to be a leg-buster despite only being 30 minutes long. The Cat 4 field doesn't look that strong according to the pre-registry list, so chances for a high finish seem very good at this point. We'll see. At least I know the course.
Now I rest, then a couple hours out tomorrow for endurance. I better find some pasta to eat.
Tom Boonen isn't the only amazing young Belgian cyclist in the pro ranks. Yesterday, Philippe Gilbert, still just 23 years old, won the second stage of the Dauphine Libere by soloing across the line five full minutes ahead of the pack.
To be honest, it always kind of makes me mad when guys much younger than me win pro races. Now that I'm closer to 30 than 20, it's not that rare of an event. Cycling, for the most part, is a young man's sport. But to know that I waited so long to get into the sport always frustrates me, since the very best of the best have been racing for ten years by the time they're 24. I'm 27 and this is still my first full season.
That and I suck. I guess sucking frustrates me more than my age. Anyway, at least I can relive my lost youth vicariously through the exploits of Boonen, Gilbert, Thomas Dekker and all the other kids in the peloton, and rest assured that some day they'll be old and gone while I'm tearing up the local masters' races.
Dave Zabriskie, one of my favorite pros since his Vuelta stage win in 2004 (where he said the Guns 'n' Roses line "You Can't Catch Me" kept him going on the huge solo break), showed his dominant TT form once again by winning the prologue of the Dauphine Libere stage race in France.
Photo courtesy Luc Claessen
Z will be looking to repeat his win last year in the Tour de France prologue (2 seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong) and once again wear the yellow jersey. Looks like he might have a pretty good chance.
"Road racing requires stamina, strength, mental focus and fortitude. But the rewards are huge and grow the more effort you put into it.
More and more men are discovering that riding a road bike can be the perfect counterpoint to our cosseted and quick-fix modern lives. We’ve become so used to instant gratification and sanitised pleasure that we have forgotten that the greatest highs come from the deepest lows, that there is a unique satisfaction from applying yourself totally, then seeing the results. From pain comes pleasure."