This past week I was immersed in the cycling industry. Typically that’s not the case. I’m at home reading or watching the news, Skyping with my contacts and generally keeping an eye out for what’s shaking in the bike world. Sometimes it’s good (Philippe Gilbert winning the gold in the road race and teammate Taylor Phinney the silver in the time trial at the world championships in the Netherlands) and other times it’s bad (the UCI suing journalist Paul Kimmage). Let’s start with the interesting.
Last week was Interbike - the bike industry’s biggest show in America. The convention is open only to bike dealers, media, distributors, and of course bike companies. At “The Show” there’s usually a standout bike that gets everyone buzzing, but I honestly didn’t see it this year. Sure there were some interesting bikes like the LOOK 675. The French bike company’s aero model had the top tube aerodynamically designed to flow into the stem, creating a seamless transition for the wind to cross over the front of the bike.
Jim Moss who, like me, is a member of a podcast called the Spokesmen mentioned an interesting point regarding bike innovation. To give you some background – Mr. Moss is a lawyer specializing in sports and recreation. When the question was posed to us why there weren’t any jaw-dropping bike designs, Jim said that in these tough economic times research and development on bikes is reduced because it is expensive. The changes come from the component/accessory side of the industry. I would also add that a lot of the big players in the bike world (Trek and Specialized) hold their own dealer shows and unveil the latest and greatest bike there. By the time it gets to Interbike the new design is old news.
For me the interesting bits were the accessories. We saw the Giro Air Attack helmet debut in the Tour de France to some snickers. Yeah it looked like a skateboarders’ helmet, but the purpose of the lid was aerodynamics. It was pointed out to me that many helmets look very similar and the Air Attack was designed to not only be faster, but stand out from the crowd. It does that on both counts. I placed the Air Attack on my head with the visor and I looked like a Storm Trooper. But damn, if it’s going to make me a bit faster I’ll wear this lid - and honestly I like to stand out from the crowd. And since we’re being honest - all helmets make us look kinda dorky.
Another accessory that stood out was the Giro Empire shoes. These were designed to be a one-off for Taylor Phinney who is a bit of a fashion maven. I was wondering if they were more of a fashion piece than a legitimate performance shoe. The Empires come in two models: bold grey with neon green or all black - and both standout visually. The performance aspect of the shoe is the Easton EC90 carbon sole - those things wouldn’t flex. To further prove that the Empires are indeed a performance piece, Phinney wore them in the Giro d’Italia prologue, the London Olympics, as well as his silver medal time trial ride in the World Championships last week (Located in the U.S.? Watch Worlds video highlights in our videos section).
With cyclocross season underway Castelli has a nice ‘cross skin suit called the ‘Cross SanRemo. Like the Speedsuit the Garmin-Sharp riders were wearing, the ‘Cross SanRemo’s material is a bit thicker to ward off the cool temperatures. Also, the seams and overall fit of this ’cross-specific suit allows better range of movement when off the bike. Castelli also offers the SanRemo Speedsuit in custom team graphics. Hmm ... wonder if they can make a RoadCycling.com kit?
While Interbike was in full effect professional cycling continued what seems to be the never-ending doping drama. In a move that is doomed to failure or at the very minimum a huge public relations blunder, the UCI is suing journalist Paul Kimmage.
Lawyer Charles Pelkey explains in his “Explainer” column on the RedKitePrayer site that filing the lawsuit in Switzerland shows that both the current UCI president Pat McQuaid and past president Hein Verbruggen aren’t confident in the merits of their lawsuit. The suit is what Pelkey described as a SLAPP suit which stands for, The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. He goes on to describe what this type of lawsuit is - “(it) is essentially a suit filed with the intention of keeping critics silent, by targeting a select few of them in a public battle.”
In this case the select few is Kimmage, who is now unemployed. And let me tell you, even when employed, journalists aren’t the best paid in the media food chain. Verbruggen and McQuaid realize that you can’t get blood from a stone, but regardless, Kimmage has had to retain legal counsel and that will cost money. And the longer the case drags on, the more expenses there will be. This puts the fear of god into any journalist who might raise their voice in opposition. No one wants to be sued.
I’ve been told by someone with close knowledge of the case that Kimmage has been offered pro-bono services from lawyers, so that will help him immensely. In addition the Cyclismas and NYVelocity sites have started a ChipIn and the total raised, as I write this, is over twenty thousand dollars to help defray the costs of the lawsuit.
This suit by McQuaid and Verbruggen in my opinion shows a new low from the top brass at the UCI. Suing a journalist to intimidate is a cowardly act from those two. This also shows the level of desperation the UCI has been reduced to. I believe deep down McQuaid and Verbruggen know that the party is coming to an end - the graft, the sleazy deals and general incompetence of how they ran the governing body is all going to start spilling out.
USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart stated in L’Equipe that what will be revealed about the disgraced Lance Armstrong is “terrible, 30 times greater than everything that has come out until now, through books or investigations.” Wow!
Speculating on what that “30 times greater” might be there must be damning evidence against the UCI and how they, at the minimum, stuck their heads in the sand when organized doping was at its zenith.
But as I read all this I was hopeful that today’s professional cycling was much cleaner. Looking at the surface it has seemed that way: average speeds are down, VAM scores (mean ascent velocity) are within the realm of the believable and gone are the solo attacks from three mountain passes remaining in the stage to take the victory. I thought we were looking at real, authentic racing.
Ex-doper David Millar said that he believed that the racing today was cleaner than it had ever been. However Michael Ashendon, who is considered an anti-doping expert, wrote an opinion piece for Cyclingnews.com and stated, “Omertà is alive and well in September 2012.”
“Despite the self-serving data bending and associated propaganda to the contrary, I am led to believe that there are pockets of organized, highly sophisticated dopers even within ‘new age’ cycling teams. Personally, I don’t accept that the ‘dark era’ has ended, it has just morphed into a new guise.”
That statement just froze me in my tracks. I read how teams are hiring riders and staff only after being vetted for past doping or at least hiring those who confessed and stood up against it (David Millar as an example).
But the person who has led the anti-doping charge from a scientific standpoint is still getting calls from riders regarding doping. Team Sky was internally “investigating” their team doctor Geet Leinders who worked at Rabobank when Michael Rasmussen was booted from the Tour de France when it was shown he was “missing in action” for doping controls. That was followed up by the fact that former team director Theo De Roy told Volksrant, a daily Dutch newspaper, that doping was tolerated on the team.
Cyclingnews reporter Barry Ryan caught up with Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford and asked him about the ongoing investigation. I can only imagine Brailsford’s eyes were like a deer in headlights when asked to comment on the status. He replied to Ryan that the results would be in “soon.”
My favorite sentence of the very brief exchange between the Cyclingnews.com reporter and the Team Sky team owner is, “A follow-up question was interrupted. ‘I don’t want to comment on it anymore,’ Brailsford said, already edging towards his team bus, before adding: ‘We’re here to talk about the Worlds, aren’t we?’”
And that’s where we are - Omertà still in effect. Brailsford creeping backwards toward the sanctuary of the shiny blue and black Team Sky bus. But I’m still going to believe - maybe naively - that it is still better than the Armstrong era when it was organized and tolerated as the cost of doing business in professional cycling. There are teams doing the right thing regionally, nationally and internationally.
Once USADA puts public the evidence they have against Armstrong we can’t sit back and say, “everything is clean now.” Reporters and bloggers still have to question and push for the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Otherwise we’re going to slide back to where the sport has risen up from. Let’s not let that happen. I hope you will go to Cyclismas.com and contribute to the Paul Kimmage ChipIn to help ensure journalists aren’t intimidated in the process.