Saturday, 26 March 2011

The End of the Road

Sadly I have made the decision to close this blog and also my twitter account. This is due to the torrents of abuse I have received in recent months from people via twitter and email.

I would like to say thank you to the many people who supported me, in particular thanks to @dimspace @inrng @festinagirl.

It is important to continue questioning the goings on in the cycling world. Although we may think that the sport is attempting to solve its problems they are wrong. This year highlights that there is so much more work to do and some many fighting against positive changes. Governance and doping are still the main two problems in the sport and sadly I cannot see a time when this will not be the case.

I look forward to reading Richard Moore’s new book on Team Sky. I hope it will examine in-depth the team and the wider failings of British Cycling. I doubt it will cover the topics that I would really like to hear more about. Such as the facilitation of @Chris_Boardman’s use of doping products in the build up to his World hour record attempt, why is Shane Sutton really still at British Cycling? & what real involvement did Dave Brailsford and Fran Millar have in David Millar’s doping programme.

I am off to find my ‘inner chimp’.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dave Brailsford Interview Part Two: Deloitte Investigation

This second post on the full transcript of the interview between Brailsford and McRae will focus on some interesting points that Brailsford made on the Deloitte investigation and the changes the team are implementing for the new season.

One interesting piece of information that emerged from the interview was at the end of last season 19 people, out of a total 67 people working at Team Sky, left. With only two riders leaving, Calzati and Vigano, the majority of people who went were people who worked behind the scenes. Brailsford goes onto to state that they left because they did not ‘fit in’ and that all have been replaced. Again I ask who has taken over Brian Nygaard’s role in the team. Is it Fran Millar? If it is why is she not listed on the team’s website like Nygaard was last year. 

The admission from Brailsford that money cannot buy the experience of riding a tour successfully is a welcome one. The acknowledgement that the Tour takes longer than one year to work out how to ride successfully as a team is important. Many times last year Brailsford made statements saying how the amazing staff and coaches at British Cycling where going to re invent how to win the Tour de France. They would apply their amazing thinking that led the track team to huge success in Beijing. These ideas have not really borne fruit yet or were rubbish like getting the riders to warm up behind black screens blocking the fans from watching. The success of British Riders on the track in the 2008 Olympics came after many years of hard graft, learning and getting beaten on the track calendar. This will be the same on the road and Brailsford still has not fully realised this yet and is still too keen to achieve too much too quickly.

The Deloitte investigation, for those who know little or nothing about it read this. Interestingly McRae did not ask Brailsford about it instead Brailsford mentioned it, William Fotheringham (also an excellent Guardian journalist) recently said to The Inner Ring that everyone he had spoken to about it had been very guarded about it. While the Inner Ring said: ‘re Deloitte report, I'm told it led to several points being raised between UK Sport + British Cycling’. Brailsford’s answer to the final question goes against both those views;

And outside opinion is so fickle – you're either a genius or an idiot?[Laughs] Exactly! I think there were doubts about me doing both jobs and there was a report done by Deloittes and they came up with nothing. Last year was difficult. But we know what we're doing, we know what people we've got, and we're focused on clear targets. We're looking healthy across the board. I'm still convinced we can be successful on all fronts.

There was already a hint of this attitude earlier in the interview when Brailsford alludes to the Majorca training camp that took place in January that saw Sky riders and the British men’s & Women’s pursuit squad all train together and benefit from the expertise of the Sky and British Cycling staff.  He goes onto to state that ‘for the first time there was tangible evidence that this amalgamation of Team Sky and British Cycling is really, really working’. I do not have a problem with this but I was worried UK Sport and the Deliotte investigation would. The fact that Brailsford went ahead with such a camp must surely mean he knows that the Deliotte investigation is not going to report anything that damaging. 

The amalgamation of Team Sky and British Cycling should be a good thing for both parties. However is it a good thing to have the same person being the performance director for both? Brailsford admits he over extended himself last year but says he now knows the right balance between his two roles. Surely it would be better to have a different person in each position instead of Brailsford in both. They are plenty of other suitable candidates who could take over in either role. Clearly Brailsford’s efforts would be better focused on one job.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dave Brailsford Interview: Doping & Team Sky's Anti-Doping Policy

The Guardian today published a feature interview with Dave Brailsford ahead of the Track World Cup meeting in Manchester this weekend. The interview was done by perhaps the second best newspaper interviewer in the country, Donald McRae. It is worth checking out his profile to read his past interviews of other sporting stars as they are very interesting and insightful. Perhaps following Paul Kimmage’s lead  McRae has since published the full transcript of the interview on the Guardian website. This is well worth a read for any cycling fan. I managed to fill two sides of A4 with notes while reading the interview so I have plenty more topics and issues to blog about. This first topic that I want to tackle from the interview is the one that most people have been tweeting about since the article was published, Doping and Team Sky’s anti-doping policy.

Donald McRae winning a Sports Journalist Award

Dave Brailsford says that Team Sky is ‘at the forefront of trying to promote clean cycling’.  I would agree that Sky, along with some other teams Garmin  & HTC, have an admirable policy of anti-doping amongst their riders and their rider recruitment. The ethos at Team Sky has always been to create an environment where the riders would never feel the pressure or need to dope. This I think has been achieved. What I feel Team Sky has failed to do is be more public about their anti-doping stance. For example little is known about their in house testing procedures of riders and whether they have a no needle policy. The team that is currently leading the way on this front is Garmin Cervelo as confirmed by the Inner Ring. They in fact go further and have published blood profiles after the 2008 Tour de France of Christian Van De Velde and Bradley Wiggins after 2009 Tour. Sky may be doing all these things as well but nobody in the cycling community knows about them. Why not have a page on their excellent website devoted to anti-doping and explain the measure they take. Part of having an anti-doping ethic in the team is publicly supporting it and this will help change the general ethos in the sport and hopefully enlighten the non-cycling fan of the sports anti-doping efforts. This last point is badly needed considering recent developments.

Bradley Wiggins' Blood Profiles

When asked by McRae if he had changed his ‘zero-tolerance’ thinking by approaching Neil Stephens about joining Team Sky a Sports Director, Brailsford later half of the response was as follows:

And it seems to me and this is the one thing I've learnt: there's a general perception, and this is only an observation on my part, that certain people admitted to doping in the past who apologize and they generally get forgiven. People say, 'OK, fair enough, you've apologized.' I think there is a degree of humility and remorse that they show and people say, 'OK, fair enough, you can have a second chance.' And then there are other people who have done exactly the same thing and yet there are still disliked. There is still a negative towards them. That's interesting to observe. David Miller is now somebody who is generally considered to be a good guy who has come through a difficult time. He's liked again. But there are other individuals who don't get the same leeway. I don't know why…

I hope you excuse me including such a long quote but I think it is the most interesting in the whole article and therefore merits inclusion. My explanation to Brailsford would be that fans of the sport have to deal with so many scandals and doping cases over the years that they become extremely sceptical. As a result they only forgive those who have doped who are very clearly and definitively anti-doping; those who are not clear do not get forgiven.

My own example of this is Rolf Aldag and Brian Holm. They both confessed to doping after they had retired from the sport. The main reason behind their confession was not guilt but the fact that the former Telekom massage therapist Jef d’Hont was going to go public about the doping that went in the team in his new book. Why do I not forgive them? Well at the live screening of ‘Chasing Legends’ at the 02  in London on October 21st there was an question and answer session that took place after the film with both Holm & Aldag along with Cavendish and the film’s director hosted by Phil Liggett. When Liggett asked Holm and Aldag what was the proudest moment of their careers they both responded by saying it was helping Bjarne Riis to victory at the 1996 Tour de France. I almost jumped out of my seat in anger. I am sorry but you did not win that Tour with Riis clean and therefore you did not win that Tour end of. I presume riders like Ricco still believe that he won two Tour de France stages in 2008.  If they still have that attitude then I would not want those sorts of characters coaching, advising and directed promising young talents like Tejay Van Garderen and John Degenkolb.

Brian Holm & Rolf Aldag

The abandonment of Sky’s zero-tolerance policy caused quite a stir on twitter when the article was first published. Blazin’ Saddles was first to get in on the act by jokingly saying that Manolo Saiz must be going to Team Sky.  Others like Flamme Rouge poured scorn on the Sky anti-doping policy by asking ‘This Sky thing about Zero Tolerance was this looked at before or after they signed Sean Yates?’. The Inner Ring passed judgement by saying ‘I don't have a problem with Brailsford's realism, just the idea of "zero tolerance", either you live by it or you ditch it.’ I would agree. Sky’s zero-tolerance approach was always an admirable one but perhaps a bit too idealistic. So many of the professional peloton have been associated with doping one way or another than it makes it very hard to have 100% clean backroom staff. Some would argue that Sky do not have this as Sean Yates is part of their backroom staff I would avoid making a judgement on him. 

Euan Lindsey raised an interested point of view to me on twitter yesterday on this matter. He argued that the ‘zero-tolerance’ was created to try and create a buffer between Team Sky and the track programme in case there was problem created by a positive test.  Ultimately Sky’s new approach comes down to whether you trust Dave Brailsford judgement as he will have the final say in the composition of the team. Personally, and some of you may be surprised to read this, I do trust Brailsford’s judgement on this matter largely because of his decision not hire Neal Stephens.

Lastly Dave Brailsford commented on the ongoing Michael Barry saga about which I recently posted a blog. Brailsford comments are similar to the ones he has made before which I summarised in the previous blog. One of the pieces of feedback I got from that post was again from Euan Lindsey. He argued that Barry may have flirted with doping at his time at US Postal (not too dissimilar to everybody’s favourite anti-doping hero Jonathan Vaughters) and realised it was not for him and that he was more than happy riding clean in support for his team mates and not winning races. I must confess this has always been my opinion although I have no proof to back it up. All I wish is that if this is the case that Barry comes forward and tells the truth. 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Michael Barry: Doper or not?

Michael Barry is perhaps one of the most revered riders around not only in the peloton but also amongst cycling fans. For professional riders he is liked as he is highly experienced rider who has spent most of his career faithfully supporting his various team leaders. Outside the peloton, fans admire him because of the way he talks about cycling and his exceptional writing style that really places the reader inside the peloton. His books ‘Inside the Postal Bus’ and ‘Le Meteir’ are riveting reads that are essential for cycling fans who want a more insightful view of what it is like to ride in the professional peloton. His website is full of fantastic blogs and great videos of him out riding. All these things made him a rider that I trusted and believed which, at the moment, is very few in the professional peloton. Then last year Floyd Landis had a change of heart and finally came clean and his revelations included that he had doped alongside Michael Barry.

His exact words in an email dated April 30th to USA cycling President Steve Johnson were:

“While training for that Vuelta I spent a good deal of time training with Matthew White and Michael Barry and shared the testosterone and EPO that we had and discussed the use thereof while training.”

When the allegations leaked Michael Barry responded to them immediately and directly and stated that he had nothing to hide and is proud of being an athlete who competes without the use of any banned substance. Team Sky, to their credit, also were quick to react via Dave Brailsford restating the team ambitions to race clean and saying that Michael Barry had given them his side of the story and he was cleared to race unless Landis’ claims could be substantiated by facts.

After this exchange the furore over the allegations quickly died down and Barry went on to finish the Giro and ride the Tour de France in support of Bradley Wiggins. The Canadian Cycling Association ordered and independent body the Canadian Centre for Ethics to carry out an investigation into the matter but little has been heard since. I sent emails to both these organisations a week ago asking for an update on the investigation and have received nothing in return. So it may still be ongoing or it may not.

In Paul Kimmage’s mammoth long interview with Floyd Landis I was delighted to read that he asked him about the Barry acquisition. Below is the exchange in full:

P.K Okay, that’s fine. There is one last question. A lot of people were puzzled when you named Michael Barry in the emails and a month later, May 2010, he posted the following response on his website: I am shocked at the allegations from Floyd Landis.  A few years ago, I cycled the Vuelta a Espana race and trained two days prior to the Vuelta with him – one 6 hour ride and one two hour ride. I did not share or use any banned substances such as EPO when I was riding with him and am dismayed at his allegations. Landis is either lying or has mistaken me for someone else. Did you mistake him for someone else?
 F.L Nobody is more or less guilty than anyone else here but it’s time to tell the truth. I understand the difficulty and the risk in admitting to doping. I am in no place to judge because I denied it for years as well. Michael Barry is going to do what he feels he needs to in order to protect himself, but unfortunately in this instance his choice is to do what I did and lie. I hope for his sake that someday he can tell the truth and feel free.
What is clear from Kimmage’s wording of the question is that even he, the arch doping sceptic, is a little unsure of Landis accusations against Barry. Yet, Landis reiterates his previously stated stance that Michael Barry doped.

Many people in the cycling world are giving little to credence to anything Landis says at the moment due to his past history of lying. But if you read the whole interview you get a real sense of the man and the reasons why he doped and you do begin believe his argument that he has no reason to lie now about matters like these.

All this leaves the cycling fan in yet another tough predicament. Do I believe a rider who has been a credit to his sport, is extremely articulate, writes amazingly and clearly and has a love for the sport of cycling? Or do I believe a rider who has lied to millions to get money out of them and yet know seems to be willingly telling a lots of truths about his past and has little reason to lie anymore? It is these sorts of difficult questions that a cycling fan has to ask himself/herself regularly and they really start to erode my love of the sport.  If you cannot trust Michael Barry then which riders can you trust?

I am still undecided about Michael Barry as there are no facts yet to emerge to back up Landis allegations as the US Federal case on doping is still ongoing. Too many times cycling fans are very quick to rush to a conclusion.  All I wish is that when Michael Barry does have to give testify in front on a grand jury he is brave enough to tell the truth whatever that maybe and that he can live with himself afterwards.

I would love to hear other people's opinions on Barry so please feel free to post a comment below.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Some extended 'Inner Chimp' Musings

The latest Cycle Sport Magazine has a very funny line about Team Sky. In the previews of each team for the new season it had a ‘Was’ and ‘Now’ line about each team.  For example the RadioShack entry read:

Was: The Lance Armstrong – Johan Bruyneel farewell Tour
Now: What, we’ve got to race after January?

The Team Sky one was as follows:
Was: The Manchester City of the Peloton
Now: The Wigan Athletic of the Peloton

Team Sky Live Web Chats:

At the recent cycling camp Team Sky had in Majorca, the team started taking part in live web chats via Cycling Weekly and the Team Sky website. This was a great new idea and provided an excellent forum where fans could ask the questions that the common cycling journalist normally fails to do. This move to make Team Sky more accessible to its large fan base should be greatly applauded and I hope it continues throughout the season. One way of improving them is to publicise them a bit better as many people missed out on them.

'Inner Chimp'

I was lucky enough to get one of my questions asked to Dave Brailsford and here it is with his response:

AntiTeamSky: Question for Dave - You say that for the riders to perform best they need to be given everything they need to be at the top of their ability. Do you agree that they do not need their Team Principal telling the media that Team Sky will win the Tour De France with a British Rider; surely this just puts far too much pressure on the riders?

Dave Brailsford: Hi AntiTeamSky actually there's a big difference between setting an aspirational goal as against telling the riders that this is what they have to do. With the riders the approach we take is to encourage them to be the best that they can be, as they are ultimately in control of this. It's an approach that has worked very successfully with the British team and one which we firmly believe in. P.S. What would it take to make you pro Team Sky? What about a day at a race with us?

While his answer was good it was what I expected. I suppose it is a tough balance to set goals, make statements to please the sponsors and not put too much expectation on the riders. I would love be able to interview Dave Brailsford one on one but I doubt that will ever happen. I would much prefer that than a day at a race with the team but thanks for the offer Dave.