Polite discussion and black tape

News & Results

03/5/2013| 0 comments
by Neil Browne
Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis in their US Postal days Fotoreporter Sirotti

Polite discussion and black tape

Some of the main protagonists in the doping scandal met at Yale.

If you're like me you've been catching up with Europe's first major stage race of the year, Paris-Nice. Depending on where you live your television is either tuned in on EuroSport or the computer is fired up and Paris-Nice is streaming onto your monitor.

As always the New Year means new technology. I've said it before: I'm a tech geek. So I couldn't help but laugh when I saw that the winner of the 2013 Paris-Nice prologue, Damien Gaudin of Team Europcar had black tape over a front-facing vent in his helmet.
Thousands of euros probably went into the design of that helmet and the finishing touch to make it a little more aero was tape. It worked as he beat Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) by one second. How soon before I see helmet vents taped over at our local time trials? Is black tape the new technology to be banned by the UCI? Will tape only be allowed if it's applied using the 3:1 ratio that the UCI has deemed appropriate?

Regardless the 2013 road season is on, but what would a week of professional cycling be without some drama? Last Thursday Yale University hosted a panel discussion on doping in professional cycling called “Spinning Our Wheels.”

Moderated by Jacob Hacker, a Yale law professor and cyclist, the panel consisted of Tom Murray - a bioethicist, Travis Tygart - CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Jonathan Vaughters - manager of the Garmin-Sharp professional cycling team, and Floyd Landis - former winner of the 2006 Tour de France and now a retired professional cyclist with a namesake gran fondo.

Called “Spinning Our Wheels” the purpose of the panel was to discuss doping which was rampant in the late 1990s to 2000s and the effect it had on the professional peloton. As Vaughters said, “EPO caused the face of the sport to change.”

The panel was the idea of Landis who had initially approached Yale with the idea for two reasons. First, wanting to discuss publically doping in the professional peloton and, second, because - as Landis puts it - “I like to talk in front of people.”

Landis is unable to discuss details regarding the whistleblower suit against Lance Armstrong which the federal government has decided to join.

While there was no additional or breaking news arising from the panel discussion it was Landis' first public appearance in a panel, which in itself was kind of interesting. Was he going to show up looking like a crazed homeless guy? No. Instead he appeared in a suit and tie appearing normal. I was kind of disappointed as a part of me wanted him to make Charlie Sheen “Tiger Blood”-type statements because, selfishly, that just makes for easy writing.

When the Spinning Our Wheels panel discussion concluded, Landis carved out a few minutes in his busy schedule for me to get his thoughts. At times he took my questions very seriously and other questions not so much.

I asked how he felt the “Spinning Our Wheels” panel discussion went.

“I think it accomplished its goal of putting the subject in front of uninvested people (Yale students and the public) and who might come up with a novel approach that's more effective to protect clean athletes.”

At one point during the panel discussion a bar graph was used to demonstrate how the climbing speeds in the Tour de France have declined in recent years, in contrast to the 1990s and 2000s when EPO use was rampant, dipping down to speeds similar to those in the 1980s. Did Landis feel this demonstrated that USADA and other government agencies were winning the fight against doping?

“I am highly skeptical of the claims that cycling has been cleaned up as Vaughters states. The reason the bar graphs show that the speeds of the winning riders have been reduced down to 1980 talent might be because the best riders have been kicked out. In other words it might only show that the B-team was doping.”

Sitting next to Landis in the panel was Vaughters who simplistically debunked the “level playing field” myth. But according to Landis, Vaughters thought the panel was going to discuss a completely different topic.

“I told him it was a fashion show and it wasn’t until he got there that I told him it was an anti-doping panel,” said Landis.

Yeah, I don't believe Landis' explanation of Vaughters' appearance either. That said the Garmin-Sharp manager was impeccably dressed, so perhaps he thought fashion was to be discussed later?

Vaughters and Tygart had many interesting points and opinions which were helpful to those not fully immersed into the minutia of the cycling crisis. The discussion at Yale for the most point was aimed at those who are still trying to wrap their head around all the information. Vaughters and Tygart were breaking it down into chunks that people could understand.

Vaughters briefly explained vector doping, AKA blood doping, but left out its recovery advantage. However, his explanation was good enough for the general public that was attending. Meanwhile, sitting quietly was Landis who has undeniably strong opinions about how the sport is run and has also been a part of team-wide doping. Why was he quiet?

“I organized it so those guys could voice their opinion. I'm not that involved in cycling anymore and I was interested in what they had to say.”

One rider who was not a part of the Yale panel discussion and would have been an interesting addition, if he had the courage to answer questions truthfully, was Lance Armstrong.

“No,” was the succinct answer to if Armstrong had been asked to be part of the panel.

The highlight of the whole event is the last 90-seconds of the discussion where someone tried to crowbar her way into the question and answer portion of the event. Trust me – go watch it and you'll understand why “#earpieces” is a popping up on Twitter.

As more lawsuits pile on the discredited seven-time Tour de France champion and he refuses to cooperate with USADA an increasing number of people no longer care what Armstrong says. His own LiveStrong Foundation is looking to put him in the past. In a recent Nielsen Rating Armstrong was the most disliked athlete. Unfortunately until the complete doping story is revealed history will be repeated. And to be fair, Armstrong isn't the only one to share the blame. U.S. Postal team owner Thom Weisel is conspicuously absent in federal documents. Could behind the scenes negotiations be taking place to keep Weisel out of court and way from negative publicity? Time will tell.

Anyways, we now have Paris-Nice to focus on, black helmet tape, and with five months until the 2013 Tour de France starts, we may start discussing who is going to be on the top step of this year’s podium on the Champs Élysées. It's never too early to start discussing that...

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