May 6, 2013

My Boggs Enduro adventure


This is a tale of what happens when you take a roadie and throw him (me) into a three-day mountain bike race. When Isaac mentioned the race to me a few months ago, I brushed it off almost immediately. Then, after some browsing, checking the dates and my sanity, I decided it would be a good mid-road-season break. If, of course, by “break” you mean destroying your body in every way imaginable in just three short days.

So I ogled the race website and not seeing the “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing on an MTB” category, decided to register in sport. Because why the hell not? And I’m always a fan of biting off a bit more than I think I can chew.

Here’s kind of how it all went down. I say “kind of” because the results don’t really count, and categories don’t really matter, so I’m putting the entertainment factor ahead of accuracy.

Day 1 – Hill Climb

We lined up around 5:30 in the evening ready to climb a 1.7-mile stretch of dusty fire road. Having the benefit of every other group going ahead of us, not only was our view of what’s to come partially obstructed by the dusty cloud ahead, but most of the air was also replaced by dust. Because who the hell needs to see or breathe during a hill climb, right? Just go until you fall over!

I lined up in the front row. On the signal, Zach took off and got a short gap. I immediately bridged (a roadie term) and stayed glued to his wheel for a little bit. Isaac was right behind me. “Holy crap! Why did I just go out so hard? This feels just like a cross race! Oh, I remember why I don’t race cross.”

Luckily, while very strong, Zach wasn’t super human either and the pace settled. Then I did one of those famous reverse attacks I’m known for while going up the hill and attacked myself all the way into seventh place. Which for me, up a hill, is frankly not too shabby.

I apparently also lost my mind near the top of the hill because I swear I recall someone yelling, “sprint!” And I did! I then spent 10 minutes hacking up everything I had just inhaled in the last 14 minutes: dust, some pine needles and maybe a baby squirrel, but don’t hold me to that. The best part of the hill climb was that it was over and I could finally have a beer! You can’t even imagine how hard it was to have been in the woods since noon without a single beer!

Day 2 – 8-Hour Solo

The format is simple: ride until you drop! The course was a loop of about 8.5 miles made up of fire roads and mostly smooth single track. Objectively speaking, it wasn’t technical at all, but because I’m as graceful on a mountain bike as a polar bear riding a tricycle in a Russian circus, some of it was probably more challenging for me than for mostly everyone else.

There is one thing I do well, however, and that is pacing. I knew that pacing and calorie intake would be the difference between having a very hard day on the bike and a “fucking kill me now” day on the bike.

For me, pacing is an afterthought, I have that down to a science: leave the ego at home, let everyone go as fast as they want, and find them bonked a few hours later because they went out too hard, or never see them again because they are way stronger. Calories were a different story mainly for two reasons: I pace to ride non-stop, and it’s very challenging to unwrap food on downhill sections of singletrack and chewing solids up steep fire road climbs isn’t ideal either. Intake would have to be in liquid or semi-solid state.

Here was my plan (and I caution all of you to not try this unless you are 100 percent certain your stomach can handle it – I wasn’t, but mine did): I mixed four very heavy bottles of Cytomax, each having about 5 scoops, or 400 calories, and added endurolite powder to each of the bottles (it was going to be warm). I prepared three full Camelbaks of water, two 100-oz and one 70-oz and stuffed some GU gel packs in my back pockets for extra calories and a caffeine boost. The plan was to drink the syrup from the bottles, drink it down with water, and once in a while pop a GU.

I lined up alongside 700 others, with the 70-oz Camelbak on my back, a bottle in the bike cage, and gels in my jersey pockets. We’re off!

The first lap was fairly uneventful other than the part where I wiped out in a switchback and sliced right though my forearm with a sharp rock, but I had eight hours left to ride, so who has the time to take care of that, right? I figured the blood would just dry up and all the dirt flying through the air would make a nice seal for the wound. If this happens to you, don’t be stupid, go get stitches! Unless you too have so many gnarly scars on your body that one more won’t really make or break it for you on the social scene.

On lap two something very unpleasant happened, I started to cramp. I had no idea why. It wasn’t yet warm enough to be suffering from dehydration, my calorie intake was going great, and I didn’t go out too hard. The only possible explanation I could come up with is that my body is just not used to the efforts required to ride a mountain bike and my muscles didn’t take kindly to being thrown off the deep end. 

And so it went on. For the next 7 hours it was a balancing act of steady pedaling to avoid leg seizures, drinking syrupy mix to avoid bonking, and trying to navigate singletrack so as to not go head first into a tree or a rock. I originally hoped to get nine laps under my belt, but as my legs cramped harder and harder, my pace up the hills had to be more and more moderate. On the other hand, by lap four I knew I had eight laps in the bag as long as my “nutritional” plan didn’t go haywire.

The eighth lap. As I passed the start finish at the end of lap seven, I saw the clock at 3:18PM. This meant I had an hour and 27 minutes to do one more lap.  (We had to be done with our last lap by 4:45 for it to count.) Up to that point, my slowest lap was an hour and 10 minutes, so with no pressure at all, I made my last pit stop to pick up the last Camelbak and kept on going. Half way through that lap, I realized exactly how perfectly I had paced – I was just getting to the point where I barely trusted my body to control the bike into turns when the final climb was before me. I looked at my Garmin, saw that I had plenty of time and dragged myself to the top one final time. From there, it was just a few turns on mostly smooth singe track and I was at the finish. Eight laps in eight hours and 34 minutes was good enough for 26 out of 68 who started in the Sport category. I, of course could go on and on about how I felt, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

PHOTO CREDT: Isaac Sparling
Day 3 – Super D

So this is the thing where I was supposed to roll down the hill for about five miles as fast as possible. Maybe on a good day, that would have seemed like a good idea, but after almost 70 miles and eight hours and 34 minutes on the mountain bike, there was not a single thing appealing about it except being done. I promised myself at the beginning of this season that barring a mechanical or a ref’s call, I’d finish every single race I start, and being too tired to come up with excuses, I made my way to staging.

My request to start last was vetoed and having apologized in advance to everyone starting behind me, I rolled off. For some, the goal was to get to the finish as fast as possible. For me, it was to show up to work on Monday. My body felt like I was taking the last run on skis at the end of a very long day in the mountains – muscles refused to do anything I asked them to, but I managed to cross the finish line safe and sound. And all the bitching and moaning notwithstanding, it actually was a lot of fun.

Thanks to Carlos, the guys at Bike Monkey, all the volunteers and sponsors for putting on this great event. Also a huge thank you to Muscle Milk, Cytomax, Ritchey Logic, Felt Bicycles and Enzo’s Buttonhole for supporting me in this and other cycling endeavors!

As I was leaving on Sunday, I wasn't sure if I'd do this event again, but this morning as I woke up, I discovered that every single muscle in my body is sore. I will definitely be coming back next year because as far as I’m concerned, once you’ve found a way to put yourself in the pain box on a bike, you have to keep coming back until it stops hurting. 

Apr 16, 2013

Chico Stage Race report


I’ve eyed this event for a couple of years now, and this year finally decided to give it a go. It would be my fourth stage race in six weeks and I was looking for a solid performance after a few sub-par ones at Madera and Topsport.

The Road Race

The road race is a 45-mile loop out of Paskenta with a 4.5-mile section of gravel that ends 3.5 miles from the finish. The rest of the race is flat with a few rollers.

It was warm and calm, so wind was unlikely to be a huge factor. There were several teams with numbers in the race and I had no intention of doing anything heroic unless a move went up the road with proper representation. As I suspected, everyone was kept on a very short leash and no one was allowed more than 100 meters on the field.

The entire 50-plus field rolled into the gravel section, and I had two thoughts going through my mind — don’t stop pedaling, don’t brake. I wasn’t ideally positioned, but not horribly, in the top third of the field. A few hundred meters into the gravel a guy ahead of me on my left wipes out, takes a few more with him and all I see in a ball of dust is a guy curled up on the ground ahead of me. Luckily there was room to get around and I quickly bridged to what ended up being the selection (with a couple other bridging later).

With the gravel and rollers, we ended up breaking up and after jumping back and forth between groups, I rolled in with a small group in 16th place, but only half a minute down on the winner. Most importantly, however, I gained a lot of time on guys I knew could TT well, and in this stage race, that makes all the difference.

The crit

The course was an L-shape six-corner crit with strong winds on the back side and a tailwind into the finish.

My plan for the crit was to stay safe and lose as little time as possible (none, ideally). The whistle blew and the pace picked up immediately, which I liked. The peloton strung out and we were single file for the first five or six laps. After the first time bonus prime went, the pace slowed down a bit and the field began to swell, with riders trying to move up in position.

As more primes got called, the field stretched out some more, and then came back together again. I looked down at my SRM and saw we were about 19 minutes into a 40-minute crit when the last time bonus prime was called. I knew after the prime, the pace would die down, which I didn’t particularly like because that’s when everyone becomes a Pro Tour sprinter and corner dives into position. To my even greater surprise, the next time we came around, the 6-to-go card was up. “WTF?” – I thought.

From that point on, I was mainly focused on staying safe and finishing in the main bunch for the same time. I was partially successful – I stayed safe, but due to small gaps in the finishing sprit, I lost about 5 seconds (raw time) to the winner, who also got a 10 second bonus. Jesse Reeves, who won the road race and was in the lead on GC, picked up a second place in the crit and another 11 seconds on me (6 bonus and 5 time), and was now ahead by 54 seconds heading into the TT. The race ended up being only 32 minutes. 

The Time Trial

I knew I’d have to ride the TT of my life to pull back all that time and finish in the money (top 5). Luckily, my legs were feeling phenomenal and I was feeling confident I could get it done. I started the TT 15th overall.

Having looked at past year’s results, I knew I’d have to ride the 10-mile TT in under 23 minutes to have a solid shot at the podium. 

Three … two … one … go! I kick and within seconds settle into my aero position. “Shit, forgot to zero out the SRM!”  Instead of getting out of the aero position to fiddle with buttons, I made a quick calculation while my brain still had some glycogen reserves and in my head zeroed out the time and distance.

I caught my 30-second man within a mile, the minute man a few miles down the road, then the minute-thirty man and now there was no one ahead that I could see and I just kept asking myself, “can you push any harder?”

With about three miles to go, I could see I was making good time and that gave me even more energy to push. Then I saw what I thought was the finishing tent, and started driving to the line, only to discover 200m later that it was just a combination of a road sign and a van that made it look like a tent, and the finish line was really nowhere in sight. “Oops!” I settled down, kept it steady and soon saw the 1k to go marker. From that point on I just kept revving up the effort making sure everything is left on the line.

As I crossed the line, I glanced at the SRM clock, tried to do some math while focusing on not puking and figured I rode something in the mid-22s – best 10-mile time I’ve ever had. Now it was just a matter of waiting until the results got posted.

The finishing straight

About 90 minutes later, the results sheet got taped to the table and I didn’t have to scroll very far. I was third in the time trial and gained enough time to earn the third spot on the podium – I was very pleased. The time trial has always been my favorite discipline, and I was glad to finally break a streak of lackluster performances and race to my potential.

Final podium. Jersey short and sandals was clearly the outfit du jour.

More importantly, my performance at Chico was the last checkmark I needed to qualify for a Cat 3 upgrade, and am very much looking forward to racing with my Cat 3 teammates!


Apr 8, 2013

UCI lends a hand to USAC in fight against grassroots cycling

When I began riding my bike, as a kid around Chicago, it had set me free. All of a sudden, I was no longer confined to my neighborhood, but could go see friends who lived several miles away. I’d regularly ride all over Rogers Park, and from there to nearby Lincolnwood and Skokie to visit friends and sometimes just to explore; on my Huffy, in my sneakers and of course without a helmet (something for which I would reprimand my younger self  now).

Over the years, I’ve met numerous cyclists who’ve expressed the freedom they felt when they first got on a bike and how that moved them to pursue the sport in a more serious way. However, as the cycling world recently learned, if you are so good on a bicycle that you get the privilege of holding an international UCI license, freedom should be the last thing on your mind when it comes to how and where you race your bike.

By now, the news of USA Cycling’s aggressive stance toward UCI licensed riders participating in non-USAC events has spread like wildfire, with several misinterpretations, clarifications and even a letter to USAC from the UCI president Pat McQuaid. While USAC is claiming that it is merely trying to conform with the UCI rule 1.2.019, its past relationships and financial ties to the UCI cast substantial doubt over those claims.

Background

UCI and USAC have long been tied in an interesting financial and personal relationship. The lynchpin of which is one person, Thom Weisel.

In 2000, USAC was in financial distress and on the brink of insolvency. That’s when Weisel stepped in and single-handedly bailed USAC out with a $1.5 million check. In return he got to put his people at the helm, like Steve Johnson (a long time Lance Armstrong supporter), and later Jim Ochowicz, who sat on USAC’s board of directors from 2002 until 2006.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. As reported bythe Wall Street Journal, from 2001 until 2004, Weisel’s firm managed the finances of then-UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The broker at Weisel’s firm handling Verbruggen’s money was non other than Ochowicz. So from 2002 until 2004, an active member of USAC’s board was in charge of at least a part of the personal wealth of the acting president of the UCI. Who, as it happens, is still the honorary president, likely not without some lingering influence over UCI policies.

As best I could determine, rule 1.2.019 predates McQuaid’s ascension to UCI presidency in 2005. However, given the length of time that Verbruggen has been involved with the UCI, the rules were undoubtedly drafted on his watch.*

Current enforcement

Fast forward to 2013, and UCI licensed riders in the U.S. start to receive emails and letters stating they are no longer allowed to compete in unsanctioned events and may face fines and suspension if they do. The rule has been on the books for quite some time, and states:

No license holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognised by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI.

A national federation may grant special exceptions for races or particular events run in its own country.

USAC has not enforced the rule until now, and I’d like to focus on the last sentence of the rule, which, plainly read, gives USAC discretion to permit riders to participate in certain unsanctioned events.

Is this new enforcement implemented to hurt riders? In all likelihood it is not. This all has to do with the ongoing battle between USAC and grassroots cycling organizations like ABR and OBRA. The grassroots cycling association in Colorado caved and in 2013 folded into USAC, but there are many holdouts. Most of them will likely never fold into USAC unless they are financially pressured to do so. What better way to flex some muscle than prohibit the top cyclists from competing in these grassroots events? The promoter will either suffer from not being able to attract top talent, which then draws participation from amateur participants, or fold into USAC like in CO.

What’s in it for USAC? That’s simple: more money. As promoters are forced to get permits from USAC, they have to pay fees, and USAC’s bank account swells. Additionally, as more events are sanctioned by USAC, more racers have to buy USAC licenses, which would also be a financial windfall for USAC.

My theory

I’d like to postulate a theory, which in light of the above, to me appears to be the most likely one.

If I’m the president of USAC and I see that member enrollment has been holding steady at around 60,000, I know approximately how much money USAC will be taking in yearly from memberships. What better way to increase membership than to force promoters to permit their events under USAC, which in turn will not only increase the flow of dollars from promoters to the USAC, but also from new riders who may have never otherwise purchased a USAC license because they were more than happy to race within their grassroots organization.

The only problem with implementing this plan is the amount of backlash USAC would receive in light of the last sentence of rule 1.2.019, which gives it discretion not to enforce this rule. What better way to deal with such backlash locally than to have some high-ranking UCI official provide an overly complicated explanation as to what those 17 words really mean?

Is it so unlikely that Steve Johnson  (hand-picked by Weisel, who took care of UCI’s president’s money) picked up the phone and asked good old Pat to help him out with a stern letter of admonishment explaining what “exceptions for races or particular events” really means? I don’t think it is, and here’s why.

Here’s how McQuaid explains the exception:

For example, an event may be organised by an association that does not have a link to the National Federation, such as a race specifically for members of the armed forces, fire fighters or students or perhaps as part of a national multisport event.

With the exception of these special cases, the National Federation is not permitted to grant an exemption to a cycle event which is held, deliberately or not, outside the federative movement. For example, in no case should an exception be granted to a cycling event that is organised by a person or entity who regularly organises cycling events.

In light of the above, the exception is virtually unworkable and completely superfluous, and had that been the intent of the UCI, the last sentence of 1.2.019 would have never been drafted.

If the event is specifically for members of the armed forces, fire fighters or students, then a UCI holder cannot participate unless he fits into one of those categories. Moreover, reading the two paragraphs in tandem, if the race is created specifically for a certain group, but is created annually, or by a person who organizes other cycling events, UCI holders still cannot participate. According to McQuaid’s interpretation of the rule, the only event for which USAC can give a permission to a UCI license-holder to take part in would have to be a once in a lifetime event, organized for a specific group of individuals by someone who doesn’t organize bike races. Am I the only one who finds that absurd?

This, in essence, narrows the exception to such an extreme as to make it pointless. This fact is what leads me to believe that McQuaid’s interpretation is completely fabricated to aid USAC in its war with grassroots promoters. This could not have possibly been what was envisioned when this rule was drafted, and McQuaid cannot, ex post facto, change the meaning of UCI rules, without an official amendment, in a letter to Steve Johnson. That is simply not how rules are made or enforced in any organization, even one far smaller and less far-reaching that the International Cycling Union.


* Member of the Board of the Fédération Internationale du Cyclisme Professionnnel [UCI’s prior incarnation] (1979-1982), Vice-President (1982-1984) then President (1984-1991); President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) (1991-2005).

Feb 11, 2013

Pinned

I've talked about this to so many racers over the few years, that it finally dawned on me that perhaps if I blog about it, I can stop regurgitating sentences and just regurgitate one — "yeah, I've got a blog on that." Or maybe it will actually help to somewhat alleviate the problem. Either seems like a good cause to continue typing.

So what am I talking about? The horrible, awful, offensive way in which many racers pin their numbers. And I'm not necessarily talking about alignment (full disclosure: I did once manage to pin my number upside-down, but I was extremely sleep deprived), however, I will talk about it briefly below, but rather pinning technique itself. Flapping numbers that don't hold, or blow up like sails aren't only annoying to the rest of the field due to noise they make, but aren't much help to the racer either.

Here are some tips on how to properly pin a number to your jersey for a bicycle race (or any other race, so pay attention runners and triathletes!):

1. Stretch the jersey. Typically at the race site, I stretch it over my knees, zip it, and turn the side where the number goes toward me. If I'm pinning to a skinsuit, I'll put it over the steering wheel of the car and zip it. You have to zip it! If you happen to carry a big pillow around, that works well also. (PRO tip: don't pin the jersey to your pants)

2. Position the number on the correct side. For most races here in NorCal, the number goes either on the right or on the left, so whatever side of the road the camera is on, it can capture your number as you cross the finish line. Keep that in mind when pinning! Your jersey has a middle panel on each side, most of the botton half of your number, should be on that pannel. But no more, otherwise the number will be too far down. Go too far in the other direction, and the number will lie flat on your back. (PRO tip: don't position your number in such a way as to seal off your back pocket — in a longer race, you might need it)

3. Forget the holes. I wish number manufacturers would just stop putting holes in numbers altogether. They are useless for cycling. Do not put pins through the pre-made holes in the numbers. When you pin, make holes in the number with the pin. (PRO tip: read number 3 again)

4. Use 8 pins for each number. The math is easy, 4 corners + 4 sides = 8 pins. (PRO tip: bring the same pins to the races each time — it saves resources)

5. Twice through with each pin. Start with the corners by pinning through the corner, going twice through the number and the jersey. Then pin each side of the number in the same way with the pins going parallel with the side of the number on which you're pinning. Wow, that came out sounding way more complicated than intended. Just look at the picture below. (PRO tip: fold the corner of the number over and pin parallel to the fold for stronger hold — works especially well for stage races, where you have to reuse the same number several times)

6. Check it out. Put your jersey on, lean forward to simulate your cycling position and see how the number looks — I typically use my car windows to do that. It took me quite some time to be able to get all the pins correctly on first go. Usually at least one would be a bit out of place and make a strange fold in the number. But after a few times, I just learned where the numbers go.
This is how it's done. 

Feb 2, 2013

Knights Ferry Road Race

It was my first race of the season and I was curious to see what my legs can do and what we could do as a team. Knights Ferry is a 60-mile, rolling race on an out and back, and out and back course that finishes on a hill just shy of a kilometer in length. Representing Squadra SF on the line were Alex, Brian, Graham, Mario and I. We had several alternative strategies worked out, but I guess that’s what happens when you have a doctor and two lawyers racing together.

The whistle blew and we headed north into a mild NW wind, with the temperatures in the low sixties. The plan for the first lap was to sit in and see what the field was going to do. I got to the start late, staged near the back and spent the first couple of miles slowly getting myself to the front. Graham got on the nose, I pulled up next to him and said I wanted to test the field and see how much they wanted to race, so I attacked (we’re at mile 4 here) and immediately got separation. I kept going at a steady pace, looking back periodically to see if there was a bridge attempt (no one that crazy in the field today), or a chase.

The field looked wide and not interested in chasing for a while, and I thought that perhaps if I got over the hill solo, it could get interesting, but as I began approaching what would be the climb to the finish, I saw the field narrow and start to get close. Given that it was still early in the race and I had oxygen in my brain, I figured at this pace I’d get caught before the climb, and that’s the last place I want a charging peloton to pass me. So I eased off and got reabsorbed into the group with about 2km to the top of the climb. I got in fifth wheel and we all crested together. However, after the catch, the pace never quieted down. We drilled it hard up the hill, fast down the other side and the race stayed really fast and on for the first 35 miles. While we didn’t drop anyone, it ate up a lot of legs in the field.

Graham was doing an amazing job rotating with a few others in the front and keeping the pace really high. At mile 25, I started to cramp. I’ve never cramped this early in a race, but I went to the back to rest, dumped some water on my thighs [read: crotch] (thank you, black kit!) and kept going. After the first turnaround, we come back through the start and were now heading south to the second turnaround. The pace is still very high and shortly after we cross the start line again, a Suffolk-SunPower (f.k.a. Webcor) rider attacks solo off the front and gets separation.

I get myself from the very back of the field to about fifth wheel, when in a matter of 200 meters, the four guys in front of me disappear. So instead of just eating wind and pulling everyone along, I attack off the front and try to bridge. Incidentally, that’s almost exactly the same place I attacked the last time. I was slowly but steadily getting closer to him, but the guy never looked back. “Does he not want to know if anyone is bridging or chasing?” – I thought to myself. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “slow the f**k down! Let’s work together!” And while I was gaining on him, the field was gaining on me, and the catch was also going to be made at the base of the climb. Now in addition to not being a climber, I have cramps to deal with, so I sit up.

Within a minute I’m caught, and Mario does exactly as we planned, attacks immediately as I rejoin the field. No one answers and he makes the bridge. The field, however, would not be held back and they get caught near the top or shortly after we crest. At this point I’m fading through the back of the field as we go up the climb, but still completely in control of the situation. We hit the north turnaround the second time and the guy front of me takes a horrible line, forcing me to unclip to avoid going in the gutter. The twisting motion of pulling my foot out causes my calf to cramp and I end up pedaling one legged around the cones. I clip in and catch the field on the downhill.

At this point I need to decide how we are going to end the race. One of our plans was for me to attack from about 3-4km out and hope to hold it to the finish (or be the carrot and have the field be the leadout for my teammates) if I felt good. So that clearly went out the window. The second option was for me to get on the front at 2km to go and drill it with all I have to the base of the climb and let Graham, Mario and Brian sort it out – climbing being their forte.  So that’s what I commit to. Lucky for me, the attacks and the efforts put in by Graham on the front completely destroyed the field and we went into a complete lull after the abovementioned turnaround.

I ride off the back for a while, then pull up to Alex and tell him to pass on to Brian and the rest the plan for the remainder of the rest. Now my main focus is to get my cramps under control and have something to aid the finish. We were going so slowly, that after the second southbound turnaround, the Cat 5 field, which started a few minutes after us, caught us and passed us. As they passed us, I heard an unpleasant noise in the back – not a crash, but I knew something wasn’t right. Soon after, Tam Bikes guy, Dean, pulled up to me and said, one of our guys broke a spoke. I looked up and saw Mario, Brian and Alex up the road. “F**k! Graham is out!”

At this point, Alex was covering anything that moved on the front and putting in attacks to further hurt the field. I kept my nose out of the wind, spinning as easy as I could and not spinning at all if possible. We’re approaching the 2km mark. Alex did his job and is now toast.

I come up to Brian and tell him what’s going to happen. I see the maker, but I’m slightly boxed in, and Dean is to my right. I ask him to let me out, and being the gentleman, he obliged. I got on the nose and drilled it to 27mph into a headwind until I couldn’t do anything else. But by that point, we were at the base of the climb and my job was done; I pull to the side. Mario and Brian were sitting great, about eight-tenth wheel and as I faded back, attacks went flying and I saw Mario following wheels up the climb. The guys who attacked after I pulled off quickly faded back.

My race was done, I dropped my chain into the small ring and rolled to the finish for the lanterne rouge. Mario is the first guy I see, “Second place!” I’m ecstatic – it worked! Then a minute later, Brian rolls up, “I got third!” Now I’m elated through the roof! I’m so overcome with joy for a great team performance that I almost forgot I just rode for 35 miles with cramps.

Next up, Cantua Creek!

Jan 22, 2013

Questions Oprah failed to ask Lance Armstrong

On Monday, Jan. 14, Lance Armstrong taped a confession interview with Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Tex. Between the taping and the airing of the interview on Thursday and Friday, there was a lot of speculation as to what he would say; how forthright he was going to be; whom else he would implicate in his confession. Admittedly, over the last year, I’ve been following the issue closely (almost to the point of obsession). What interested me most was what he wouldn’t say; where he would keep quiet; and which questions he would refuse to answer.

Within the first minutes of the interview, it was clear that to the world of cycling as a whole, Armstrong’s confession would be more or less useless. He refused to talk about anyone but himself; meaning neither Pat McQuaid (the current president of the UCI), nor Hein Verbruggen (past president of the UCI for much of Armstrong’s racing career) were going to be implicated. I certainly wasn’t holding my breath, but prior to viewing the first part of the interview, there was hope he would bring down the house, throw them all under the train, and force a top down reconstruction of the UCI – something the sport of cycling desperately needs. None of that happened.*

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Oprah came to the interview ill-equipped, and many times throughout the program, I wanted to see a follow-up; I wanted an issue pressed, but she just moved on.

Here are some excerpts from the interview where I felt Armstrong wasn’t pressed far enough:

OW: When did you first start doping?
LA: … I guess early in my career there was cortisone, and then the EPO generation began.
OW: Began when?
LA: For me?
OW: For you.
LA: Mid nineties.

I guess Oprah wasn’t really interested in how he got into the culture of doping in the first place. Follow up questions I would have asked: When was the first time you ever doped? Was it something you sought out, or was it given to you by a coach, teammate, DS? If so, by whom? We heard from Armstrong’s 11 teammates about how each was pressured into doping upon joining the professional ranks. I’d like to know whether the same pressure was applied to Armstrong, or whether he sought out the unfair advantage – that would likely paint a very different picture.

* * *

Armstrong begins talking about the doping culture during his Tours de France and says: “I didn’t have access to anything else that no body else did.” [sic]

Oprah moves on to read a statement from USADA, but before she does, she says the reasoned decision was a 164-page report. Really? I guess she got the Readers Digest version, because it took me about 3 days to get through the entire 1000-plus pages (the decision and all affidavits supporting it). Did other teams have Michele Ferrari on an exclusive retainer? She let him introduce the “it was a level playing field” argument and didn’t even bat an eye.

* * *

LA: … There will be people who say there are 200 guys in the Tour I can tell you five guys that didn’t and those are the five heroes. And they are right.
OW: What did you think of those guys … now you just called them heroes but what did you think of those guys — at the time when you were riding — who were riding clean? Did you think they were suckers? Did you think they were … what?
LA: No, and that’s no, I didn’t. The idea that anyone was forced or pressured or encouraged is not true. I’m out of the business of calling somebody a liar…

How do you not follow that up with questions about Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni? The latter of whom Armstrong single-handedly chased down on stage 18 of the 2004 tour and bullied him — because he testified against Ferrari — in an effort to shut him up. How is that not force, pressure and (euphemistically) encouragement? He lied and she just let it go.

* * *

OW: Were you afraid of getting caught?
LA: No. … There was no testing out of competition. Theoretically there may have been, but they never came. … And throughout my career, there wasn’t that much out of competition testing.

Oprah is like a deer in the headlights listening to Armstrong talk about scheduling of EPO injections and showing up to races clear. However,  how does the above statement not set off alarm bells? First of all, you just had the guy who for the last decade screamed he’s the most tested athlete in all of sport say he wasn’t really tested that much.  Second, there are several documented accounts of Armstrong purposely evading testing. Mike Anderson, his one time friend, helper, mechanic described it in great detail in a recent article. Additionally, there are accounts in Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle's The Secret Race of how out of competition testing was thwarted, either by evasion or by stalling tactics.

* * *

OW: Your former teammate, Christian Vande Velde, told USADA that you threatened to kick him off the team if he didn’t shape up and conform to the doping program.
LA: That’s not true.

How hard was it, in preparation for that question about Vande Velde, to yank page 19 of his affidavit from the reasoned decision? Which in part reads as follows:

“119. Lance began without any small talk and got right to the point. He told me he felt I was not serious about my preparation for cycling and hand not been following Dr. Ferrari’s program.

120. Armstrong told me if I wanted to continue to ride for Postal Service team I would have to use what Dr. Ferrari had been telling me to use and would have to follow Dr. Ferrari’s program to the letter.

121. The conversation left me with no questions that I was in the doghouse and the only way forward with Armstrong’s team was to get fully on Dr. Ferrari’s doping program.”

Armstrong already stated in the interview that he’s done calling people liars, so why not confront him with these statements and ask: When Vande Velde made the above statements, was he lying in his affidavit, yes or no? Instead, she just let him move on and talk about the whole thing in ambiguous terms, like “I was the leader of the team and I led by example.” She let him go on denying the fact that he ever gave a verbal directive for anyone to dope.

* * *

When Oprah questions Armstrong about being a bully, toward the end of a long narrative and a couple back-and-forth exchanges (where he says that cancer is what made him a bully), he stated: “Winning seven Tours, I knew I was going to win.”

Let’s back this train up a bit. Less than 10 minutes ago, he was saying he felt everyone was doing it and in his mind it was a level playing field, and yet he knew he was going to win? How was he so sure? Was it because he was just overly confident in himself, or perhaps he knew that Postal’s doping program had no rivals at the Tour?

Moreover, immediately after, he begins talking about how doping was like putting air in tires and water in bottles, and that it was part of the job. Again, if it was so common, how was he so sure he was going to win every one of those seven Tours?

* * *

Oprah then comes back to the question of whether he pressured others to dope, and here’s where I was holding my breath for her to confront him with statements of riders. Instead, she threw him a softball:

OW: So you never suggested that [your teammates] see Ferrari?
LA: Umm, Ferrari … and again, it’s hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names, but there are people in this story … Let me say this, they are good people, and we’ve all made mistakes and there are people in this story that are not monsters, and they are not toxic, and they are not evil. And I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man and a smart man. And I still do.

Immediately they cut to a video about Ferrari. So, where’s the answer to the above question? She asks him directly whether he told Postal Service riders to go see Ferrari and instead of answering, he pays homage to the guy. And when pressed about Ferrari’s involvement with the team, Armstrong simply backs out and refuses to answer under the premise that he doesn’t want to talk about other people.

* * *

OW: You’ve said time and again in dozens of interviews that you’ve never failed a test. Do you have a different answer today?
LA: Umm, no … I mean I never … I didn’t fail a test. Stuff was retroactively tested and so then technically, yes, retroactively I failed those, but the hundreds and hundreds of tests that I took I passed them. And I passed them because there was nothing in the system.
OW: What about the Tour de Suiss? The Swiss tour?
LA: Again, I’m going to tell you what’s true and what’s not true. That story [referring to Tyler Hamilton’s account of how Armstrong told him about the EPO positive test and that it was going to be taken care of] isn’t true. There was no positive test, there was no paying off of the lab, there was no secret meeting with the lab director.
OW: The UCI did not make that go away?
LA: Nope. And I’m no fan of the UCI. That did not happen.

Here Oprah tried, but I would like to have seen one more question asked: Are you saying Tyler Hamilton lied in his interview, book and affidavit when he described that incident at the Tour de Suiss, yes or no? Also, as to the "hundreds and hundreds of tests," there were only around 240 test he took throughout his career, which (counting only the years he was active) works out to fewer than 20 tests a year on average. 

* * *

OW: Why did you make that donation to the UCI?
LA: Because they asked me to. [He goes on denying there was a cover-up. Repeats that he’s no fan of the UCI] There were things that were a little shady; that was not one. They called and said they did not have a lot of money. I was retired. I had money. They said, “would you consider a donation?” I said, sure.

That statement was so well crafted, it completely confused Oprah as to what she even asked. First of all, the so-called donation was not made when Armstrong was retired. The UCI admitted in 2010  taking $100,000 in 2002, when he was still very much not retired. Second of all, according to the UCI, they accepted it, not solicited it. Third of all, there are two great follow-up lines of questioning Oprah failed to pursue. 1. What were the shady things you mentioned? Can you give some examples? 2. Who’s “they”? What was the name of the person who contacted you to ask for a donation?
This is critical information that is absolutely crucial to cleaning up the sport from the top down, yet no further inquiry was made.

* * *

OW: When the Department of Justice just dropped that case and no one knows why – I have to ask you -- did you have any influence in that whatsoever?
LA: No. None.
OW: When they dropped that case…
LA: It is very difficult to influence…

So was it just a coincidence that on the same day that André Birotte ordered the investigation closed, Feb. 3, 2012, Livestrong Foundation donated $100,000 to Planned Parenthood, an organization favored by President Barack Obama? The donation was made at the time when the Susan G. Komen foundation announced it would stop making donations to Planned Parenthood and the organization stood to lose a substantial chunk of its yearly funding.

* * *

OW: Was there anybody who knew the whole truth? Have you told anybody the whole truth?
LA: Yeah.
OW: Let’s go back to Kristen.

What? How do you not utter anther three letters after that “yeah” – who? Who was the person you told the whole truth? Who knows everything? How is that not a natural follow up to that answer?

To say the interview fell short of my expectations would be an understatement, and it may be because Oprah was focused more on Lance Armstrong than the world of cycling, but it doesn't excuse the fact that her alleged search for truth fell very short. 


*I suspect this was in no small part due to the advice of his lawyers. It is now clear that he lied under oath during his deposition in 2005 when he was involved in litigation with SCA Promotions, but the statute of limitations on perjury ran. However, any mention of a conspiracy now would revive the statute of limitation and could be the basis of a RICO action. Not to mention the ongoing qui tam action brought by Floyd Landis, which the federal government is on the brink of joining.