Thursday, August 31, 2006

Survivor Goes Jim Crow

Okay, so everyone knows Survivor is trying to maintain its ratings by creating race-based tribes. That Survivor -- or any reality show -- would attempt the shocking is, well, hardly shocking. I've ignored this story so far for two reasons. First, other stuff has taken a back seat to the ProTour lately. It has been an interesting year and I find myself warming to the whole ProTour concept. Second, I couldn't care less what Survivor does. Nevertheless, despite my non-interest, I happened to click through a Drudge link, where I was confronted with this abject nutjobbery:
[Producer Mark] Burnett claims dividing the four teams on SURVIVOR: COOK ISLANDS according to race eliminates any tension between the groups and thus avoids racism.
Hmmm. Why didn't anyone think of that before? We could eliminate racial tension simply by segregating -- the word could not be more apt -- the races. What a brilliant idea . . . You say what? Tried before? Nooooo. But this is different. Burnett has vowed strictly to enforce a policy of seperate but equal in all respects. Buffoon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

McEwen Gone

More on today's Vuelta Stage 5 later. For now, it's enough to note that the Pimpernel is wheels up on his way home, having failed to finish today's stage within the time limit. So much for stage wins in each of the three Grand Tours this year . . .


Sweetness & Light is asking questions the media will not answer. I confess that, at first, I thought the "stressed out over his arranged marriage" defense was insipid. Then I saw this:

Hmmm, I thought, of all the twisted Muslim excuses for mass murder, this one borders on the almost believable. But, even so, the question remains: why couldn't he have just put a shotgun in his mouth and spared the innocents? Or is the first thought of stressed Muslims to kill infidels in willy-nilly fashion? Based on the photo, I propose Omeed be extradited to Afghanistan where he may live out his days in wedded bliss. Yeah, yeah, I know, the 8th Amendment probably stands in the way . . .

Finally, the incident raises another root-cause question akin to that recently noted at Scrappleface: Why do they hate pedestrians?

Brandt in Coma

Yesterday, at the one-day Belgian Coupe Sels race, Davitamon- Lotto's Christophe Brandt ran full on into a road sign at 50kph. The crash left Brandt with a severed renal artery, five broken ribs, a punctured lung, a badly damaged spleen and a broken arm. The severed renal artery required removal of one of Brandt's kidneys. Christophe has been placed into a medical coma for a few days and, at this point, he appears out of the woods in terms of the originally life-threatening nature of his injuries. Best wishes to Christophe, his family and the other riders who went down, including Robert Slippens who was also injured quite badly (ten broken ribs, punctured lung and multiple collorbone fractures).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Vuelta Stages 3 & 4: Ventosa & Zabel

Stage 3
Stages 3 did not yield a great deal to discuss. Fran Ventoso took Stage 3 in a surprise for Saunier Duval-Prodir, crossing the line ahead of Thor Hushovd after a searing day in the saddle (credit: AFP). SDV launched a 1-2 punch in the last kilometer, first sending David Millar on a big attack and then launching Ventoso when Millar was caught in the technical bits of the finish.

Okay. A 1-2-3 punch. Before the finale, David de la Fuente did go on a 200k break-away. But that happens, like, everyday, right? Seems like it at least. The man is something else.

Finish: (1) Ventoso (2) Hushovd (3) O'Grady

Stage 4

Stage 4 was almost as hot, though not nearly as long as the previous day. A few moments ago, the Milram boys gave Erik Zabel a lead-out he appeared determined not to waste. He got on top of his gear early and never let up, powering to the line ahead of Hushovd (C.A.) and J.P Nazon (AG2R) (credit: AFP). This was mighty Thor's third runner-up finish in as many days. Although he retains the Gold leader's jersey, his early Vuelta is looking very much like Boonen's early Tour -- lots of effort, a leader's jersey and, still, no result. Tomorrow, the Vuelta heads into the mountains and it will be a little while before another sprinters' day.

Herr Zabel!!!

"Finally, everything flowed!" said a happy Zabel, who accomplished his first major victory this season today. "There is a special feeling about this victory because after a difficult season with ten second positions and many third places, to win here is very special. It is also important because this is a new team for me."

Zabel explained that he had to change his mindset throughout the season, and that he was not originally expected to win at Team Milram. "When I went to the team I had the mentality to help Petacchi for the season, but after his crash in the Giro I had to change my focus and try to win again," he said. "I finally have a victory so it is perfect."
The old man still has legs! And, judging from the podium photo (credit: AFP), is just not down with the Vuelta's silly hats. Perhaps by the time the race again hits the flat land Ale Jet will have his legs back too. If so, look for the Milram boys to stomp a few more finishes. For now, Zabel sits in P2 just 27 seconds off Hushovd. Tomorrow, though, promises a brand new GC.

Finish: (1) Zabel (2) Hushovd (3) Nazon

GC: (1) Hushovd (2) Zabel (3) O'Grady

Also of Note
: Looks like Baden Cooke will be back on the ProTour next year as the UCI has offered a ProTour license, contingent, of course, on financing. Unibet says financing is no problem. It should be interesting to watch Unibet's transition to the (really) big time. Racing the full ProTour calendar is quite a bit different than wildcard participation in a few races. The team will need to bulk up quickly.

More: The Men in Tights are paying props to the Erik as well. For me, what makes Zabel's win today so special is that he never gave up. It's been three years since his last win in a Grand Tour, he hasn't won a ProTour race this year and only one (I believe) in the last two years, and has over twenty second or third place finishes since his last win (Stage 1 of the Bayern Tour). Anyone else with over 200 victories might decide to stop being beaten. Not Zabel. He never quit digging as hard as his 36-year-old legs could dig. And today he schooled the younger crowd, breaking first and holding position. Yep. Milram is a happy binch tonight -- this almost makes their Vuelta. Somehow, though, I suspect there's more to come . . .

Peloton Jim: "He's Back!"

Banshee a-Go-Go: "I guess the old man can still race!"

Sunday, August 27, 2006

GP Ouest France-Plouay

They were also racing in Brittany today at the ProTour GP Ouest France-Plouay. Last year saw a photo finish with George Hincapie taking the honors over Vincenzio Nibali. This year, to avoid another too-close decision, the race introduced another hill to the circuit that winds around and finishes in Plouay.

The race was a classic. With about 10k to go, Frank Schleck touched a wheel at the sharp end of the peloton and his crash split the group but good. Popovych (Disco), Fletcher (RAB), Nibali (LIQ) and Mori (SDP) led several small groups to the line. Fletcher and Nibali pulled a gap on the other two with about 4k to go but, after messing around a bit in the last k, Popo and Mori caught up. Popo was out front going to the finish but clearly gassed from the brief chase. Fletcher dived to the left leading out the sprint; Nibali effortlessly took his wheel. About 50 meters out, Nibali turned on the power. Fletcher could not respond and the 21 year-old grabbed the win (photo credit: AFP). Nibali is rapidly becoming something of a sensation and should be great fun to watch over the coming years. With a win in Plouay and a third in Cordoba, it was a good day all around for the Liquigas crew.

Of other Note: Today was Viatchslav Ekimov's last race (photo credit: JF Quenet). The peloton will surely miss the old man as he transitions to the role of Sport Director with Discovery. As for me, I still think Eki's got one more Tour in his legs and I wouldn't be surprised to see him contest the London prologue next July. Wishful thinking? Probably.

Vuelta Stage 2: Bettini Comes Through

On paper, Stage 2 promised a bunch sprint finish. Although an early break left Mario Sarraga of wildcard entry Relax-GAM with the Climber's Jersey, the race did not disappoint once the group was caught. As the race hit Cordoba, the Peloton was hammered almost single file. Once American Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) swung off the front (making pace for McEwen), three of the Milram boys took over and turned hella-pace for Herr Zabel, who sat fourth wheel looking good for the sprint.

At about 250-300 meters to go, Zabel took off but couldn't quite get on top of his gear. Zabel's break was early and his mediocre jump left a window for the other big boys. They quickly powered through it. The God of Thunder was there for Credit Agricole and Stuey O'Grady was taking a shot for CSC. It was, though, the Pimpernel who grabbed the front and looked to come good on the line, but Zabel's early break may have forced McEwen to go about 50 meters too early for his legs. Also in the mix was Uros Murn (Phonak), right off McEwen's left shoulder. About 50 meters before the line, Murn gassed and veered left, opening a gap through which powered Italian Champion Paulo Bettini. Bettini clearly surprised McEwen and Robbie just sat up as Bettini rolled through and across the line for a terrific win (photo credit: AFP). Hushovd, digging hard as usual, took second; Paolini came home third for Liquigas.

Carlos Sastre had an uneventful ride until he punctured within 2k of the finish. Somehow, Sastre got back to the bunch -- which, in fairness, was strung out over a kilometer or so -- and lost no time apart from the time bonuses on the line, which he was not going to challenge for in any event. Throughout the stage, Hushovd grabbed bonus seconds at the sprints and, added to the time bonus he earned at the finish, mighty Thor is the new Gold Jersey of the 2006 Vuelta. Bettini sits in second and Sastre is third, seven seconds back.

Also of Note: Two spills in the Peloton today -- David George (Relax-GAM) went down at 116k but was quickly up and on his way. More dramatic was Walter Beneteau's (Bouygues Telecom) crash at 48k. Although Beneteau went down very hard, he managed to get back on his horse. It remains to be seen whether the incident will lead to an abandon down the road. It was a very hard fall.

Today's Finish: (1) Bettini (2) Hushovd (3) Paolini

: (1) Hushovd (2) Bettini (3) Sastre

Tomorrow: Córdoba - Almendralejo, 219 Kms. A couple more Cat. 3 climbs and, God willing, another bunch sprint.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Vuelta Stage 1: CSC Torches Malaga

Starting his third Grand Tour of the year, Carlos Sastre takes the Gold Jersey to get the Vuelta underway. Although Sastre powered the CSC boys over the line, the real victory here belongs to the team as a whole (duh, ed.). CSC collectively demolished the 7.3k TTT opening stage in Malaga, hammering out an average pace of over 57k/h (that's about 35 mph) (image credit: Graham Watson). Try to hold on to that for even a single kilometer. You might come close . . . going downhill. And, if anyone on CSC deserves to be singled out for credit, it's Fabian Cancellara, who took a truly punitive turn on the front before dumping the team into the finishing bends. Although it looked like Cancellara had torn himself apart, he somehow managed to get himself back on last wheel as the team took the line. Brilliant stuff.

So, just how good was CSC today? Well, almost as much time separated CSC and second place Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears (7 seconds) -- which, incidentally, looked very strong for Valverde -- as separated Caisse d'Epargne from Quick Step in tenth place (eight seconds). And all 21 teams were covered by only 37 seconds. CSC was damn good.

As for Sastre, I doubt he can win the Vuelta. He gave too much in the Tour de France to have enough form to make through the next three weeks on top. He will, though, be a factor in determining who does win and, to that end, I suspect he'll cash out one or two pretenders in the first mountain stages later this week. One thing is for sure: his team is on tip-top form.

Also of Note: Gerolsteiner leader David Rebellin crashed hard in an early round-about after a touch of wheels. Gerolsteiner did not wait. The only help Rebellin would get came from Marcel Strauss, who either went back quite near the finish or simply blew up and got caught. Both Rebellin and Strauss finished 2'50'' back, putting Rebellin in a nice hole from the jump. Why didn't Gerolsteiner pull up for its purported leader? Two words (or one name, take your pick): Markus Fothan. After losing the Tour de France Young Rider category to Damiano Cunego by the skin of his teeth, look for Fothan to have a strong Vuelta. I doubt, though, Rebellin is ready to go gently into that good night. I'd have liked to have heard the conversation at the Gerolsteiner dinner table tonight. The only other rider of note to lose his team was Angel Gomez, who took the line 28' after the rest of the Saunier Duval crew. Even so, Gomez lies only 41" down.

You can follow the Vuelta a few different ways. First, check out for complete coverage (access fee of 18 Euros). Second, follow real time satellite data with Google Earth. Finally, has excellent live text updates.


Tomorrow: Málaga - Córdoba, 176 Kms. The route features a couple of Cat. 3 climbs and the race will, in all likelihood, feature a bunch sprint for the finish. I'm pulling for Herr Zabel, whose Milram team looked like it's ready to give us the lead outs they couldn't in France. I just hope Petacchi isn't quite ready to push. It would be very nice to see the old man with his arms in the air just once more. Also watch out for Thor Hushovd, Danilo Di Luca, Paolo Bettini and, of course, the Pimpernel, Robbie McEwen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Disco Boys Say Yes

Team Discovery is pissed. And, I think, rightly so. Although it was a legitimate racing accident, Schumacher should have been relegated. It wouldn't have affected his place on GC or his win in the Young Rider classification. The failure to relegate, however, undoubtedly altered the outcome. Is this another instance of the UCI wanting to put American cycling in what the UCI believes is its place? Perhaps. According to Disco director Dirk Demol, the UCI officials "said Schumacher didn't do it on purpose and there was nothing they could do . . . It was like they were happy with the decision." In the photo (credit AFP), Big George seems less than interested in Schumi's explanation.

To Stefan's credit, though, he didn't celebrate on the podium. Here's a tip, Stefan. Next time you drop a Tour leader, wait for him. We've seen top pros do that in circumstances where the stakes were immensely greater. In fact, we saw it in the same race where the famous image to the left was captured.

Perhaps this will put the bit in Disco's teeth and get Tom Danielson a high GC place (a win?) in Spain.


In the background, Big George Hincapie is about to hit the pavement (photo credit AFP). The red jersey he's wearing is the leader's jersey of the Eneco Tour (formerly known as the Benelux Tour). The fellow in yellow is Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher, who started today's final stage a mere three seconds behind George in the general classification. It was Schumacher's rear wheel that sent George skidding. Schumacher finished second, grabbed a four-second time bonus and won the Tour. Hncapie protested, but the stewards concluded that Schumacher's vigorous cut across Hincapie's bow had been caused by a fan. In the end, it's a racing accident. Sure would have been nice to see George win, though, considering his miserable lap of France and all. Here's hoping George will be back in the European Peloton next year. For now, we'll see him next month at the USPRO Championships in Greenville, S.C.

Oh. The guy in the foreground? That's Phillipe Gilbert, who rode the lead group off his wheel with three kilometers to go hammering toward a brilliant stage win.

And now . . . it's Vuelta time!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

When It Rains . . .

News today that Floyd Landis's father-in-law, David Witt, has been found dead in his car in San Diego. The cause of death? An apparently self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. Witt and Landis became friends in the late 1990s (Landis met his future wife through Witt, not vice-versa). Witt also figured prominently in Landis's move from mountain bikes to the real thing. Of course, the Chateau's sympathies are with both families but the timing certainly provokes one to wonder. One question: where was Witt in July? Curiouser and curiouser.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Olmert Must Go

So, if I've got this right, a non-state terrorist organization invades Israel, kidnaps its soldiers, indiscriminantly rains death down upon its civilians and is rewarded with recognition as the functional equal of a sovereign UN member state. WTF? It's hard to spin this as anything but an across-the-board win for Hezbolla and its Iranian patrons. Then again, it is the Middle East, so why should we expect anything from the UN other than an unmitigated disaster. They say insanity is the repetition of previously failed behavior with the expectation of differing results. Apparently, it's also a pretty apt description of the UN approach to world crises. UNIFaIL? Give me a break.

I can only ask whether anyone doubts for a minute that American tanks would have rolled across the Rio Grande weeks ago if the same thing was happening along our Texas border? Israel has been thrown under the bus, again. And, sadly, its own Prime Minister appears happy to be so thrown. Olmert and his Chamberlainesque government must go. Now. And, then, Israel must get back to the serious business of defending herself against this existential threat. No other sovereign nation on God's green earth would tolerate this crap.

Allah (links be upon him) is all over this travesty.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Here We Go Again

The animals are restless. Fortunately, they are being caged. Unfortunately, they are not being killed. At least not quickly enough . . .

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Floyd's "B" Sample Is Back

As expected, the "B" sample confirms the 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone found in the "A" test (see here for UCI's official statement). I assume the B test also is positive for signs of exogenous testosterone, which is based on evaluation of the amount of Carbon-12 and Carbon-13 isotopes in the sample. In nature, C-13 prevails over C-12 by about 100:1. As near as I can tell, though, life has long selected for C-12, which has beneficial effects in chemical reactions. Thus, the ratio of C-12 to C-13 in carbon-based molecules produced by living systems is higher than that which would otherwise be expected. Apparently Landis's sample shows a carbon isotope ratio that is somewhat skewed from what one might normally expect (see here for an explanation that, although bordering on the inscrutible, forms the basis of my understanding).

Consistent with its unambiguous obligations under the UCI ProTour Code of Ethics, Phonak today sacked Floyd, terminating his contract a few months prior to its natural expiry. This is an incredibly sad day. Even so, Floyd for now remains the 2006 Tour de France champion. As per UCI regulations, Floyd's case will now be transferred to the USA Cycling Federation for disciplinary procedures. As part of that process, Floyd will finally be permitted to offer a formal defense. Thus, just as it was on the morning of Stage 17, it is time for Floyd to go to war. But how?

Well, here's my take: the findings and the testing methodology from which they are derived are subject to substantial challenge. For example, Floyd's reported 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone could just as easily be the result of epitestosterone depletion as testosterone elevation. After all, what doper would be dumb enough to load up on testosterone without loading up on epitestosterone at the same time to keep the ratio in line.

It seems to me that the isotopic ratio is likewise subject to legitimate question as a basis for differentiating natural from exogenous testosterone. The test can only tell us what isotope ration it finds. It is only by inference that those findings support the existence of synthetic testosterone in the sample. All that to one side, though, what about the tests Landis took after Stages 16 and 18 as GC Leader? Hearing nothing to the contrary, we must assume Floyd's results were normal. As Bob Roll asks:
Can one sample be nearly three times different in 24 hours than a previous sample? Can the body absorb, metabolize and convert any substance into a controllable sample that has been recorded to be a ratio of 11 to 1 of testosterone vs. epitestosterone -- almost three times the allowable ratio in one single day?
Finally, both WADA (World Anti-Doping Authority) and this specific French laboratory need to be vigorously investigated and, if necessary, mercilessly attacked. Don't forget for a moment that WADA (by way of the oh-so-aptly named Dick Pound) and this very lab were responsible for last year's outrageous L'Equipe allegations concerning Lance Armstrong's 1999 urine samples. As I noted at the time, both organizations were unflinchingly crticized in the report prepared by an official UCI investigation.

As for my view on what happened, I remain agnostic. The evidence simply is not yet in. Even so, one of two things must be true: either Floyd doped or he did not. And, in the "did not dope" category, two particularly noxious possibilities linger: Floyd may have been unknowingly doped, i.e., drugged by a malefactor of unknown intent or the sample may have been intentionally compromised. As Bob Roll expresses it, Landis's, like Armstrong's, "most egregious [in]discretion [may simply be] being much better at racing a bicycle than their European contemporaries."

In my practice, I have repeatedly helped establish that, contrary to popular belief, scientific testing can -- and often does -- lie. If you did not dope, Floyd, take the battle to WADA and take no prisoners. On the other hand, if you did, please spare us the disappointment of false hope.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Landis Update

Not looking good for Floyd. Today's NYT reports that Landis's test was positive for synthetic testosterone. Even so, every reputable doctor claims there would be no effect. That said, I have one career cycling doper allege that testosterone doping has a virtually immediate effect of short duration, giving cyclists a little buzz and the ability to generate and sustain greater wattage. Who knows, though. At least yet.