Thursday, May 20, 2010

OUCH! (pun intended)

Well then......I guess I owe Greg Lemond a big fat apology, and one to anyone else who has painfully listened to my thoughts on one Floyd Landis and his supposed innocence. Talk about the punch to the gut of the century.

For those who have not yet heard, Floyd Landis declared last night that he needed to clear his conscience and admitted to systematic doping throughout the latter part of his career leading up to and including his victory in the 2006 vintage of the Tour de France. You can read the full story as it is currently being told here: Of course, this story has gone around the world of the internet about five million times at this point and there will be much more to be learned in the coming days, but start with this article by Bonnie Ford. She is an excellent journalist who gets the real scoop and reports on it accurately and faithfully.

Guess Martin Dugard had it right. Mr. Dugard was originally asked to be the ghost writer on Floyd Landis's autobiography and inexplicably (at the time) later turned down the offer. At the genesis of this story four years ago, he was one of Landis's staunchest defenders. If memory serves, shortly after the original AAA hearing, Mr. Dugard posted on his blog that he believed wholeheartedly Landis doped, much to the dismay, chagrin, and vitriol of the rest of Landis's defenders.

Like most everyone else who defended Landis, I suppose, this morning greeted me with an incredible mix of emotions. Even called my wife to tell her I was sad about this. Although she finds cycling painfully boring, she knows how passionate I was about Landis's cause and how closely I followed it. "Four years of proclaiming innocence and now this," was her response. I agree.

How do we believe anything Landis says at this point? I don't agree with Pat McQuaid (president of the UCI) on a lot, but on this I have to agree on the lack of credibility that exists for Landis. Far be it for me to put into question someone admitting their indiscretions, but the timing and motivation sure seem odd. Landis, in the same breath, mentions the statute of limitations (on opening doping investigations) as his cause for coming forward now, and that he has no proof of anything on anyone other than himself. Why even come forward then? Why mention the statute of limitations if an investigation will ultimately lead to nowhere? Landis became the pariah of the cycling world by fighting the system so hard, and one wonders if he is simply grasping for straws at this point in an attempt to return to the top level of competition before father time finally catches up to him. He does have a lot of circumstantial evidence, and one could certainly argue that no one was better placed to know the secrets of Lance Armstrong than the person Armstrong took under his wing, but there is nothing concrete. We have a smoking gun, but nothing more.

Ah hell, who am I kidding? Can we believe in any of these guys anymore? If doping is what it takes to get to the top, does that mean it wasn't really talent that was killing me at the amateur ranks all those years? I know people I have raced with have suggested that doping is rampant in the amateur ranks because there is no testing, but that's what has to be done to get noticed by someone who will actually pay one to race.

I can't give up on all of my heroes. Nope, not just yet. I'd even forgive them all if every one of them came forward and said they were doping, but now they were putting all of that behind them and starting with a clean slate. Then again, how could anyone possibly ask someone to come forward and admit to something they have never done?

More will be written about this in the coming days, but it smells like crap, and it's coming from Floyd Landis's direction. Is there an agenda? Is he doing this for personal gain of some sort? Or is he really telling the truth? For now, it's any one's guess, and like every other cycling fan, I don't know what to believe anymore.

The Razor's Edge

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Like sands through the hour glass....

So let me get this straight. Greg LeMond is at it again. Some of you may have already heard about or read his latest comments regarding his views on the current state of cycling, and if you haven't I will be re-posting some of those comments here, courtesy of Mr. LeMond, as he has done for the past nine years or so, recently interjected himself back into the limelight by making disparaging comments about the pro peloton of today. I, for one, have seen similar comments from him over the years a few too many times, and now I owe Mr. LeMond my thanks. His most recent comments have given me the impetus to finally create my own blog on the subject. So, Mr. LeMond, thank you. A general word of warning about this first post. Most of these things have been brewing in my mind for the last nine years, and it got especially hot during the Floyd Landis AAA (American Arbitration Association) hearing for doping charges two years ago (which I will get into with a later post), so this will probably be epically long. I'll try to shorten them up moving forward, but for this one, don't say you weren't warned.

Before I get into why I feel Mr. LeMond is misguided, ill-informed, blissfully unaware and/or conveniently forgetful of his OWN records in sport, or perhaps a combination of all three, I want to preface it by saying that I do feel Mr. LeMond is truly well intentioned and honestly believes what he is saying. For the record, I'd also like anyone reading to know Mr. LeMond was a big hero of mine during my teenage years and he was the reason I went and bought my first road bike. Currently, for those unaware, he is involved in litigation with Trek and Lance Armstrong over Trek's decision to cut ties with his LeMond brand of bicycles. Trek's reasoning behind their decision has been the remarks LeMond has made over the years against Armstrong and cycling in general which Trek feel has done damage to their brand image. Purely from a business perspective, and from one man to the next, it's hard to believe a person would make remarks that can damage them and their company's credibility unless they actually believe them. Let's be honest with the fact that Mr. LeMond would have been much better served from a business perspective if he had formed an alliance with Armstrong, rather than battling it out in a war of words with him. With that, however, let's move forward with some things we know as FACT, and apply a little bit of common sense to them.

LeMond's latest comments come by way of a conference entitled "Play The Game" at Coventry University, in the U.K. Again, courtesy of, here is what he has to say:

"What I've watched for the past 15 years has been almost robotic racing. I used to gasp for air and had to think about when I could take a sip of water – my sport drink – I'd try and time it for a flat section on the switchback of a climb," said LeMond. "[Now] I see people talking on the 'phone' [radio] riding a climb at the front of the Tour de France. For me it's surreal – I don't recognise the sport anymore."

Let's analyze these comments and see what insight we can glean from them. He states that "the past 15 years has been almost robotic racing." Not too outlandish of a comment. I think that most cycling enthusiasts would agree with that. It's his inference that it has to do with something illegal that I disagree with. I believe that what we see today has more to do with the evolution of media coverage in the sport rather than the effects of doping. Doped or not, when a cyclist is at his limit, the suffering is still the same.

Greg, I hate to break it to ya, but racing has changed dramatically since you were in the peloton. Most of us by now know how Lance Armstrong famously feigned fatigue during the 2001 Tour de France on a stage leading to L'Alpe D'huez for the benefit of the opposing team directors and their in car television sets. He did it specifically so Jan Ullrich's Telekom team would take control and wear themselves out leading up to the L'Alpe. In fact, Armstrong has also gone on record saying he specifically tries to race robotically so no one can tell when he is suffering. Back in your day Greg, without in car televisions and headset radios, the only people who knew you were suffering were the 2 to 5 other elite racers that were there with you. Call me crazy, but I don't think one of them was going to roll back to their team car to tell their director to round up the troops and attack because you were suffering. In the peloton today, mostly due to the preponderance of media coverage and radios, all of the riders know in an instant when someone is in danger of being dropped. Even at the amateur level, I myself have tried to race while disguising I am at my limit and have seen evidence of other racers doing the same.

LeMond's comments about water - his sport drink - are borderline comical considering they completely discredit all that he is trying to preach. Sports drinks laced with electrolytes have been proven time and again to technically be performance enhancing, in that they allow an athlete to perform better for longer than by just drinking water because they replace what is lost through sweat. Maybe that is the real reason everyone is going faster these days. Could it be that simple? Sports drinks versus water? That's a part of it, but it is a small part of a much larger equation.

LeMond constantly cites the advancement of average winning speeds during the Tour de France as evidence of doping. Now, I'm not so naive as to believe that no one is doping, nor am I jaded enough to believe that everyone is. Every kind of competition that has ever been known to man has always been shown to have cheaters and recently several big name cyclists have admitted to dabbling in the dark side. Likewise, there are innumerable accounts of competitions being won fair and square. So, let's look at some facts as we know them and see if doping really is responsible for the increase of average speeds.

For purposes of comparison in average speeds, let's cite the two most relevant examples as it relates to Mr. LeMond. LeMond last won the Tour de France in 1990, and his average speed was 38.621 km/h. The most recent running of the Tour de France in 2008, was won by Carlos Sastre, with an average speed of 40.50 hm/h. Using simple mathematics and dividing 38.621 by 40.50, the Tour in 1990, won by Mr. LeMond, was done at 95.36% of the speed of the most recent Tour in 2008. Simply put, there is a difference of less than 5% in actual average speed.

Now, let's compare bicycle weights from the late 80's and early 90's to today. Today, knowing what bicycles weigh is a relatively simple affair. We know that the UCI (the governing body of professional cycling) has rules in place which state a bicycle entered into a sanctioned event can weigh no less than 6.8 kilograms, or 14.99 pounds (6.8 multiplied by 2.2046). Indeed, with the proliferation of carbon fiber as the primary frame material, it is possible to fairly easily, if very expensively, build a 7 or 8 pound bicycle these days. Since we know that to be true, we know that every professional riding today will for the most part be pushing the absolute limits down to the last gram of the 6.8 kilogram rule. Professional bicycles, through the 1980's were by and large made using one frame material and one alone: steel. It's a labored search trying to find some actual real weights of Tour de France winning bicycles from the 1980's, but we can make an educated guess based on personal experience and the limited information that IS available. Lance Armstrong, in his autobiography It's Not About The Bike, makes reference to his pro bicycle weighing in at 18 pounds from the mid 1990's during which aluminum and titanium started being utilized as frame materials. I can tell you that my first road bike, purchased in 1992 was a Panasonic DX2000, steel frame, which weighed in at about 25 pounds, and it was a small frame, most likely 47 cm (forgive me for not knowing exactly, but I was 15 and I had yet to truly geek out on bikes at that point). Let us then be conservative and assume that LeMond and his contemporaries were riding bicycles that weighed approximately 21 pounds in 1990. We also know that there are featherweight riders at 120 pounds, and heavier riders at 180 pounds, so let's assume an average rider weight of 150 pounds. Therefore, in 1990, the average rider/bike combined weight was 171 pounds, and in 2008 it was 165 pounds. Again, using simple math and dividing the smaller number by the larger number, we have a difference of about 3.5%.

Well.....that's interesting. Even just going into the most basic changes in cycling during the past twenty years and taking only bicycle weight into account, the actual difference in speed is now around 1.2%. It can also be argued that comparing speeds from different Tours is near impossible considering each year presents a different route with different challenges and for sure, different types of weather. In fact, I would argue that the only proper way to get a good comparison would be to run the same route, year after year, with everyone on the exact same bicycle for 20 years. We haven't even taken into account yet the increases in efficiency seen by technological advances such as STI (Shimano Total Integration) levers, stiff soled carbon fiber shoes that are locked into the pedals, much stiffer frames, better frame and wheel aerodynamics, ceramic bearings, lower rotational weight and rolling resistance, among many other advancements that I could go on for hours about. Even helmets and clothing have become aerodynamically more efficient. One could even argue, that any reasonable thinking person could see that cycling as a whole has become at least 10% more efficient today than it was in the 80's and early 90's and therefore professional cyclists as a whole are going slower than they were when LeMond last won the Tour in 1990.

Which brings us to the most compelling argument of all that the riders of today really are going slower. Mr. LeMond still holds the record for the fastest individual time trial over 10 kilometers at the Tour de France with an average speed of 54.545 km/h. Now, wait for it.......that record was set in 1989. Yes. That is a FACT. Admittedly, it is also reported that there was a relatively moderate tailwind that day which aided the cyclists, but it still doesn't obscure the facts. It's widely held that it was LeMond's attention to aerodynamics which helped him overtake Laurent Fignon for the lead in that final time trial, but the fact that is conveniently forgotten by defenders is that a moderate tailwind would mitigate any advantage gained by superior aerodynamics as the wind resistance in front of the rider would not be as much. The bicycle used was relatively pedestrian compared with today. Certainly, it was advanced for it's time but it was nothing like the dedicated time trial frames we see now, which have been maximized for aerodynamic efficiency (in low speed wind tunnels no less) and one thing alone: speed.

It's also interesting to note that Mr. LeMond back in his heyday was widely recognized as a pioneer of advanced technology in bicycle racing. If I'm not mistaken, he was the first to go to a low speed wind tunnel, adopt clipless pedals, adopt aero bars, and one of the first if not the first to use a power meter. For someone with that kind of history, complaining about sports drinks, "phones" (radios) and technological advances in general sounds like a whole lot of sour grapes.

Among other things LeMond goes on to say, "On climbs... today with watt-measuring devices, you could literally look at someone's oxygen intake and estimate how many watts they could produce at their best. When there's a huge variation in the norm – statistically there's been huge variations in the past 15 years – without a drug control, without detecting a steroid, just with statistics and analytical data you could likely decide whether someone's cheating."

Variations in what? Power output? VO2 max? It's been reported that Lance Armstrong has a lower VO2 max than LeMond did at his peak. Floyd Landis, on the day he allegedly tested positive for steroids in 2006, had an average power output of 281 watts. Completely within the range of an elite level cyclist. How is what Mr. LeMond proposes even possible? Any person that has been even a cycling enthusiast for a while knows that some days are better than others. Some days we can wake up and feel great, have an amazing ride, only to do everything exactly the same the next day and feel horrible while going a lot slower than the day before. It's part of the fickleness of this sport and of the human condition. Things change within our bodies from day to day. And what about intangibles? The will to win? Adrenaline? Psychological advantages? Certainly, all of these can play a part in the moments when every cyclist can go beyond the shear numbers and what his limitations should be if the chance to win presents itself.

For the record, I believe that Greg LeMond rode clean, and without doping. I also believe that Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis always have as well. The point of this little exercise is to put to rest condemning individuals based on accusations and innuendo. How is it possible with all of the advances in equipment we have seen today versus twenty years ago that a cyclist such as LeMond can arguably have ridden just as fast as the riders of today if he himself wasn't doping? I, personally, believe it comes down to genetics and the will to win. Those attributes of the greatest riders all of us have witnessed, should never be taken away from them.

Inevetably, some of you will think I am crazy, especially in my support of Floyd Landis. For those who wish to learn more of my thoughts on that, I will be addressing them in later posts, but for some background into the more evil practices of WADA and the UCI, please visit the following references:

Trust but verify at Sadly, the people behind this blog are no longer posting, but all of the information that was ever posted there can still be read.

Daniel M. Rosen at Rant Your Head Off ( who thankfully is still posting.

WadaWatch at is also incredibly insightful. The author, known as cystalzenmud, is probably the smartest person on the planet. If you can read through the legal-eze, nothing will open your eyes more into the seedy practices of the World Anti Doping Authority.

Many thanks to the people behind these invaluable resources.

Until then....

The Razor's Edge