Monthly Archives: July 2009

As(s)tarloza Suspended — And So It Begins

Winner of Stage 16 of this year’s Tour, Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel, tested positive for EPO in an out of competition test on June 26. He ‘s been suspended from racing and will face a disciplinary hearing by the Spanish Cycling Federation. I’m sure he’ll request an analysis of his B-sample and then claim ignorance about how this all could have happened. The script is well ingrained in popped riders now.

On the day of his win Astarloza said “It’s the best day of my life.” I’m guessing today is right up there as one of his worst. It will be interesting to hear the backstory on this out of comp test. Was he being targeted via the blood passport program?

And the question that still needs to be answered: Why do these guys think they won’t get caught? I wouldn’t be surprised if today is the first day of a long month of drip, drip, drip doping news connected to the Tour. Then we have the 2008 Tour retro testing to look forward to in the fall.

Will any of the big names come out to condemn this or will the Omerta prevail.

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Why So Angry Greg?

Another July has come and gone, and along with it the Tour De France. And what would the Tour be without some bombs tossed by 3-time tour winner Greg LeMond? This year Greg is on about VO2 max testing and rates of ascent in the Tour’s mountain stages. This topic was previewed last year when LeMond showed up at Lance Armstrong’s press conference at the Interbike tradeshow.

In the grand scheme of things LeMond has a good point. Why thrash about with blood, urine, and hair testing when one can simply look at power output to determine what’s going on inside the body. In short LeMond is suggesting testing young pros to determine their VO2 max (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise). The higher the VO2, the faster, longer you can go. He also suggests fitting every rider’s bike w/ a power meter. With power data, a VO2 baseline and stats about the length and incline of climbs on a race course one could determine when an athlete is riding above their natural physical ability.

The problem is that Greg comes at the whole thing from an accusatory stance. Ever since Armstrong started winning Tours Greg LeMond was there to throw cold water on the idea that Lance was clean. This article does a good job of summing up LeMond’s history with Lance while shedding some light on his own demons. I’m no fool. I know cycling has a drug problem and that more/better testing is needed, but Greg LeMond could be leading the way through calm, reasoned ideas rather than innuendo-dripping articles in French newspapers and ambushes at press conferences. How about a concrete plan for his VO2 testing? I’m sure one of the cycling mags would love to give him some real estate to describe his ideas. But the stone throwing just doesn’t help. Especially with a guy like Armstrong who likes to get his back up when he’s accused and pushed.

Greg LeMond has given a lot to cycling. I wish he could find a way to continue to help push the sport forward.

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Jens Voigt Crash — Horrific

In today’s stage 16 all-around strong man and (by all accounts) nicest guy in the peloton Jens Voigt had a horrific crash. Voigt, who was traveling about 50 mph when he fell, is out of the race, but according to his team is “OK under the circumstances.”

The other excitement in today’s long stage w/ 2 big climbs was seeing Lance Armstrong bridge a 30 second gap to the main contenders on the road. There were shades of the old Lance as he stood and powered away from some of the other GC favorites. He didn’t gain any time, but it was cool to see him going hard with the best in the world.

Another torturously hard stage tomorrow with even more climbing that today. Yes, another downhill finish, but with a profile like the one below everyone is going to have to be on their game.

Nasty Day

Nasty Day

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Speed Talks — Cavendish Screams

mark-cavendish-nike-speed-talks

Fast Is As Fast Does.

In what was billed as a finish that suited a different type of sprinter, Mark Cavendish showed all his rivals that when you have speed like he does some factors don’t matter. This vid (sprint starts about 4:30 in) has a great overhead view of the sprint which I’ll dissect a bit here.

Team Colombia delivered Cav to 150 meters on the long finishing drag. From there it was all about strength and fight. Hushovd actually tried to get the drop on him and went first.

Hushovd tries to out-jump Cav.

Hushovd tries to out-jump Cav.

However, as soon as Cavendish got going Hushovd was spent. Tyler Farrar made a huge effort to go out and around Thor. A power-move to be sure, but the road also bent around to the right making his path even longer. I bet in retrospect he wishes he’d stuck on Cavs wheel up the inside, but at 40 MPH decisions aren’t always the best.

Tyler takes the long way as Thor fades

Tyler takes the long way as Thor fades

In the end Tyler got closer than he has to Cav in this Tour so far.

Almost for Tyler Farrar

Almost for Tyler Farrar

The fact that these guys are so far ahead of the field at these finished is pretty stunning. In recent years you would have 6-10 guys within a few bike lengths at the finish. Not it’s 3 or 4. Which goes to show the power these guys are dropping in the last few hundred meters.

From what I can see in these finish videos Farrar isn’t getting a smooth ride in the last kilometer. He’s usually down to one helper and ends up having to stick his nose out in the wind too many times. If he can address that I think Tyler has a real chance to win one of these. It’ll take a mistake by Cav because right now he appears to be just plain faster. But mistakes happen in sprints and Tyler just needs to be there to capitalize.

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Dos Hombres Un Camino

In the tradition of great Mexican telenovelas I present Lance y Alberto in Dos Hombres Un Camnio.

Daytime Drama

Daytime Drama

As we head into the second week the tour is becoming a great daytime drama. All of the elements are in place. Older, wiser hero – check. Handsome, young upstart, sí. A full cast of characters of all shapes, sizes and nationalities with a psychologist’s couch-full of problems, done and done.

While Lance has publicly said in recent days that there is some tension between him and Alberto, Contadore has said the opposite. On Monday’s rest day he stated “”It’s a subject which is starting to tire me a bit.” “It’s too repetitive. For me there are no tensions. I am totally relaxed and focused on the competition.”

Things should remain pretty mellow until Saturday and Sunday – w/ Sunday’s mountain-top finish at Verbier being potentially game-changing. But I said that last week and I was wrong, so we’ll see. But in the meantime the tension will only rise and the days tick down to Paris. The ultimate question will be Quien es mas macho?

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Well, That Was Sort of Lame…

I promised fireworks and they delivered a chess match. I wanted a slug-fest and they gave me a tickle-fight.

First off the bunch lets a group of non-GC contenders get 11+ minutes up the road. In the end most of the break stays away and young Frenchman Brice Feillu gets the win. Good for him, and France, but it rates a “don’t care” in my book for exciting bike racing.  In the GC group perennial wheel-follower Cadel Evans actually attacked today. Yes, it was late in the stage and not at all devastating, but hey, he was there. If Cadel’s attack was weak, Jurgen Van Den Broeck’s was embarrassing. It almost looked like an afterthought.

Finally inside of 2k Contador manned-up and put in a nasty attack. The TV cameras sort of missed it at first, but later had a good long shot of him coming from a wheel or two behind Armstrong and putting an instant gap on the GC group. Nobody moved to go after him, so they all must have been pretty gassed. I suppose we’ll never know if Armstrong could have gone with him, but chose not to or if he simply could not. In a post-race interview Armstrong said that AC’s attack was not part of the plan:

Asked if Contador’s move had been pre-arranged, Armstrong said, “That wasn’t really to the plan, but I didn’t expect him to go by the plan, so [it was] no surprise.”

That seems a tiny bit pissy, but who knows. I will stoke a little inter-team strife with this image I came across that appears to show Armstrong at the front of the chase, with a I’m going pretty hard look on his face. But, of course I wasn’t there, so again, who knows.

Is That Lance Pulling?

Is That Lance Pulling?

The next 2 days both feature big, long days in the mountains, but neither is a mountain-top finish. Saturday has 3 categorized climbs, but the last one is over 40km from the finish line, so big time gaps on GC would have to be created early-ish and held. Sunday has only 2 climbs, but the second is the Tourmalet – a monster. 17km of climbing. Again, however, they are 50km from the finish after the descent of the Tourmalet, so things can re-group.

With the lack of action today from everyone except Contador the teams of the other GC guys really have to get going on these stages. Do something interesting – attack in groups of 2 or 3, go from a long way out, something… No sense in leaving this race to the last week.

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Friday’s Ride to Arcalis — This should be good

As if Astana wasn’t holding enough cards before the TTT they now have 5 riders in the top 10 that have significant time gaps over all the other contenders.

Could the tour effectively be over for everyone, but Armstrong and Contador? A quick look at the time gaps says yes, but this being cycling, of course, anything can happen. The combo of Monday’s field split and the TTT has left contenders like Sastre (+2:44), Evans (+2:59), Menchov (+3:52), and Andy and Frank Schleck (1:41 & 2:17) relatively far behind Armstrong and Contador. Yes, loads of time can be made up in the mountains, but in order for that to happen Lance and Alberto would both have to have bad days. And even if that were to happen Astana still has Leipheimer and Kloden near the top.

I believe that the only chance any of other GC guys has to wrestle the 2009 title away from Astana is to form an alliance w/ one or 2 of the other contenders. It’s the kind of thing that allegedly doesn’t go on in pro cycling, but probably does. None of those chaps have a chance w/ just their own teams, so an unholy alliance is all that can salvage any podium hopes.

It will be interesting to see how Astana plays it on Friday. The stage is pretty nasty — 5 categorized climbs ending in the beyond category (HC) Andorre Arcalis. The last time the Tour came here a young Jan Ullrich destroyed the field to set the stage for his 1997 win. It’s 10 km at an average gradient of 7 percent. The first km averages almost 9 percent which should knock the group down to a select few very quickly. Will Astana play the old role of driving the pace w/ their leaders in reserve? Or is there a new strategy w/ several strong men?

If you’re anywhere near a TV tomorrow you should try to catch the last hour or so of coverage on VS. It will be a slug-fest.

Ouch!

Ouch!

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