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Monday, 14 January 2013

Soap Oprah

It's looking very much like we're going to hear some confession from Lance after all. It seems retreating into seclusion and denial while the drip, drip of confessions, revelations and negative reports and articles in the world's media have finally cracked him. Will we get a genuine apology? Will he apologise to those who he hounded and vilified? It remains to be seen, but I sincerely doubt Lance will be sincere.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Team Sky spins Yates departure

In addition to the dignified and honest confession of Bobby Julich over the last few days, we have also had the news of the departures of Steven de Jongh and Sean Yates from the Sky Procycling management and training staff. While de Jongh's was a straightforward, low key confession to previous doping while a rider, the official statement regarding Yates left us with more questions than answers.

In response to press stories in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere that a similar confession had been made, Team Sky issued the statement: "Sean has been interviewed and there were no admissions or disclosures that would have required him to leave the team". This is an interesting statement because it does not say that Yates claimed to have no past involvement in doping, but merely that he did not state that he did.

My take on this, is that Sean has decided to leave the team rather than make a confession since he was not willing to do so. There seems no doubt that Yates has health issues - a heart problem due to his many years of hard work in the peloton (a not-uncommon affliction in this sport), and my guess is that he prefers to avoid the massive media scrum that would surround him, particularly since he spent his last few years in the Peloton with Lance, and due to USADA's release of a photo of Yates with the now infamous 'Motoman'.

The health issues are a convenient excuse, but also a good reason to avoid the stress that would undoubtedly follow a confession which included Armstrong. The question of course, is whether or not the media will accept this rather feeble cover story and leave Yates in peace, or whether more digging will follow.

Meanwhile, Jorg Jacksche has expressed doubt that the current revelations will solve cycling's problems:

“This isn’t a solution. It’s like trimming the weeds but leaving the roots untouched. If you individualise one problem and just point the finger at Lance that won't solve the issue. Lance Armstrong isn’t the problem of cycling. The problem is the system that allowed for a Lance Armstrong and that’s a huge difference.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

On another Planet....

The fallout from the UCI's announcement on Monday 22nd October at a widely reported and televised press conference continues unabated as stories, opinions and statements from within and outside the world of cycling continue to appear in the news.

As predicted, the UCI decided to make a concerted effort to tie the entirety of Cycling's Worst Era around Lance Armstrong's neck and throw him to the sharks without so much as a pepper spray ("There's no place for Lance Armstrong in Cycling"). UCI President Pat McQuaid's cliché ridden rhetoric of denial and excuses was as predictable as it was unacceptable.

McQuaid not too successfully tried to avoid the obvious question of why the UCI would take a donation of over $100,000 from a rider whose blood samples had recently showed suspicious signs of EPO use according to the Director of the lab in question. The Irishman seemed unrepentant about the UCI's failings, not to mention disinterested in suggestions that it might be a positive move to negate the conflict of interest the UCI has of being the body which both police's and promotes the sport, by separating those two factors.

McQuaid also criticised journalist Paul Kimmage and whistleblowers Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, claiming they were "cashing in" by writing books on the subject while labelling the latter pair as "scumbags". Clearly, the UCI's culpability in this whole sordid affair is not to be acknowledged, and McQuaid is unwilling to recognise that only by writing Rough Ride did Kimmage actually get the truth out. No signs of "Sorry Paul, you were right all along" from the President of World Cyclings Governing Body.

Probably the worst offenders of this inability to see how vastly at odds their stance is with public opinion and facts, are the two latest idiots to add their ill-thought penn'orth to the mix, Samuel Sanchez and Miguel Indurain. We have to wonder what planet these two are living on when they are still offering support for Armstrong, claiming that "he hasn't tested positive" and there "isn't any direct evidence". Are professional cyclists really that ignorant of the rules in addition to the facts of this particular case?

To my mind, the psychology is clear here. The only reason that Big Mig and Sammy haven't condemned Armstrong for his undeniable guilt in running "the most sophisticated doping program in sporting history", is because they're guilty of doping too. Miguel Indurain won his Tour titles at the beginning of the EPO era when Lance was just starting as a professional and Sanchez rode against Armstrong before he retired in 2005. Perhaps Sanchez is still doping, but in any case, both have made their guilt clear to anyone who doesn't wilfully avoid reading between the lines.

An excellent blog by Scottish climbing legend Robert Millar sums up the last 48 hours admirably, complete with a tacit admittance to his own use of amphetamines and Cortisone (toys by comparison to Lance's arsenal of drugs and methods).

Here's a quote:

"Want to know who was juiced? That's easy – just ask to see their blood levels . Before EPO, the haematocrit norm would have been around 40-42%, gradually reducing as a grand tour went on. Then suddenly everyone's jumped to 50% or more and stayed there for weeks at a time. There hadn't been a step forward in human evolution, the only thing that had changed was the arrival of what Laurent Fignon called the new Super (French for high octane fuel) and those willing to supply and administer it."

Sunday, 21 October 2012

What will the UCI decide?

Tomorrow, the UCI will announce its decision on whether to ratify, or appeal USADA's sanction of Lance Armstrong. In the case of the latter option being chosen, this would involve an appeal to the CAS and a long, drawn out process during which all sorts of embarrassing details might emerge.

It occurs to me that USADA may have some more evidence up its sleeve, particularly concerning the allegations of corruption and collusion with Armstrong by senior UCI members including Hein Verbruggen, the then President of the organisation.

Recent press stories have reported allegations that Verbruggen took a bribe from Nike, to cover up a positive test by Lance in the early part of his Tour de france reign. If this is true, the bank records will tell the story, providing an authority with jurisdiction and the power to subpoena decides to act.

My guess is that because of these factors, and the continuing bad press that an appeal would entail, the UCI will wrap the whole thing around Armstrong's neck tomorrow, hanging him out to dry and hoping the whole thing then just goes away.

But of course it won't...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reinforcing the Omertá

It is clear to me that Sky's promise to fire anyone who has a doping past is pretty stupid. What's the incentive to come clean? I posted as much on their Twitter page. No-one is going to convince me that Sean Yates never doped and never saw anything at Motorola/Discovery etc. Especially not Sean Yates. But why the hell would he confess now?

The worst offender though is Omega Pharma Quickstep who are insulting my intelligence if they want me to believe they have sacked Levi Leipheimer for stuff that happened years ago rather than because they wanted to save money with which to pay Cavendish's salary. What's the betting if Cav was staying with Sky that Levi would still have his job? Did they sack Tom Boonen for recreational Cocaine abuse? I don't think so....

There have been a fair few confessions in the cycling press in recent days, but I'm more interested in the non-confessions. For instance, while I've always felt their attitude showed that Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady were pretty opposed to doping, I'm not convinced with their claims that they never even dabbled - particulary since we've heard all those claims before from You-Know-Who. Here's hoping Jensie and Stuey aren't holding anything back, as they're a couple of my favourites.

In addition, it's high time we saw some confessions from Team Managers and other non-riding staff such as doctors and soigneurs. Riis has rather forced himself into a corner because he didn't confess to his post-career incitement to dope in his press conference in 2007, but only to his personal competitive career misdemeanours. He's now backed into Omertá again. Don't expect that little story to go away Bjarne...

Garmin have the most sensible and workable example of how to deal with the problem: offer what is essentially a refuge home for talented riders trying to escape from doping culture and Omertá to come and give them a clean slate, whether they be former associates of Lance Armstrong (Y-K-W) or more recent offenders like Thomas Dekker. Vaughters vision for a sport with an environment where doping is not part of the equation is based on his own experience as one of Ferrari's and Bruyneel's experimental lab rats.

Finally, I find it pretty ironic that Team Sky are engaged in this 'Zero Tolerance', unforgiving 'battle' against corruption and drug abuse in cycling, considering where the money comes from. Who is more crooked and dishonest than the Murdoch family?


Saturday, 6 October 2012

Letter to ProCycling Magazine - 05/10/2012

Dear Procycling

Curious to read the letters page in this month's Procycling and see how many people are either a) polarised in their opinions, and/or b) missing the point. The defenders of the faith trot out all the usual clichés about 'Witch Hunts' and 'Inspiration' and 'Fighting against Cancer', blah blah. My perception is that Armstrong doesn't care much about other people's cancer. What he does care about is his personal wealth and image for which his Foundations are a vehicle. Livestrong.com is a profit making organisation, not a charity and Lance is as cynical as they come. Other's seem to agree with Lance that we should just forget about the whole thing and that it's 'Bad for Cycling'. Armstrong said recently in an interview that he thinks everyone should just 'move on'. I'll be sure to remember that if I ever find myself in court: "I think everyone should just move on, your Honour".

But to my mind, the issue was never about retrospectively stripping Armstrong of his Tour victories. Nor do I think there is any point in doing so, although USADA are simply following the existing rules. No, this is about Planet Armstrong's PR machine still trying to tell us that 2+2=5. It's also about the issue of secrets and lies and how they fester and poison the future as well as the past. Our sport is like a dysfunctional family in which all kinds of unspoken abuse has occurred. Until we completely lay bare the past of not only Armstrong, but the system that created and protected him, we cannot possibly hope to 'move on'. Armstrong should confess and apologise, not only to the fans but to riders like Bassons who he bullied out of the Peloton. The UCI should confess too and Verbruggen and McQuaid and others who presided over this sordid period should leave the sport in the hands of a new generation.

Perhaps then, we can have some closure.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Armstrong Dead-Bats the USADA

The news came through today that Lance Armstrong would not pursue arbitration of the USADA case against him, claiming that "Enough was enough" on the matter, while still declaring his innocence.

This didn't really surprise me, since it would appear to be the only way that Lance can prevent all the sordid details coming out in leaks to the press during a hearing. Instead, the likely legal process now, will be deflected away from the actual evidence of Armstrong's doping and that of his associates, towards a dispute between the UCI and anti-doping bodies WADA and USADA, likely to take place at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, over whether or not he is stripped of his Tour titles.

Armstrong apologists will use this turn of events to declare an end should be made to the 'Witch Hunt' Lance claims he is the victim of, while his detractors will see it as a tacit admission of guilt by a man who dare not allow testimony to be properly aired. In any case, it is a clever tactic by the 7 times Tour de France (former?) winner to keep uncertainty alive, whereas many of his peers, such as Bjarne Riis, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton made belated, full confessions of the reality of the sport they lived in.

In a couple of weeks, Hamilton's likely to be controversial new book, will be released, reportedly laying bare the doping practices and Omérta in the Peloton. It's clear Armstrong knows his decision will not lay the matter to rest and that former teammate Tyler's book will throw even more fuel on the fire, but to the Armstrong camp, denial and keeping uncertainty alive are the central tactics of the Public Relations policy in recent years as his business circle has become more and more defensive in the light of mounting testimony.

An example of this, was Tailwind Sports and Armstrong's claim that a decision by a court to find in his favour against a sports insurance company SCA Promotions was based on the evidence rather than the simple facts that the UCI still recognised his victories and that a doping clause had not been written into the contracts. This served to sway the opinions of many who didn't take the trouble to look into the actual details of the case - a cacophony of threats, intimidation, attempts at bribery and legal manoeuvres to prevent the truth coming out, with damning testimony from multiple witnesses who had all at one time, been part of Lance's 'inner circle'.

Over the next few days we will see the usual calls to let sleeping dogs lie, together with those of the opposite view. My own view probably lies somewhere in the middle; I don't believe Armstrong should be stripped of his titles, since there is no-one credible to award them to. But to those who understand human physiology and know that it is impossible to output 520 Watts for 30 minutes up a steep mountain pass without blood manipulation, it will doubtless be frustrating that such simple facts are not it seems, going to be aired in a legal procedure against the American in order to force him to end his insult of our intelligence.

Like I said previously, I believe Armstrong is more likely to disown his mother than confess so his refusal to take on Travis Tygart in a fair hearing should come as no surprise if it is understood by the observer that Lance is well aware that the evidence against him is overwhelming.