Sunday, 26 August 2012

Lance Armstrong - crimes, lies and why it still is important

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Photocredit Lukas Jackson/Reuters

Henrik Ibsen, said to be the most frequently performed dramatist after Shakespeare said this famous quote in the play "The wild duck" (1884):
If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.

Not that Lance Armstrong is an average man, by all means he's not, but I'm sure you get where I'm heading.

Before writing this post I had a couple of days of thinking. Not on the facts and how they play along. Work got in the way and frankly I also wanted to get a post like this heading somewhere. After all, despite what fanboys and girls on his side claim, this is big. Despite what the lack of spine among some riders, managers and industry people tell, this is the biggest fraud in the history of sports. That's why it matters. Not that some of the evidence is fourteen years old and that Armstrong is a retired athlete, this goes into the core of what sports is and how it should be. That is why it is important to me.

I won't play the "I'm-so-disappointed-card" because I'm not.

The organisations
Some have expressed that this is bad for cycling, among them are Tom Boonen and Lars Bak whom I watched yesterday stateed this in addition to several others on twitter. I disagree. The case has made it quite clear what the problem is, and it is not the riders. The way the UCI has exposed themselves, their governing capabilities and intentions during this case have been both tragic and somewhat entertaining. Why? Because the rest of the world is paying attention. I have been wondering if the best thing for cycling would be if the IOC threw cycling out of the Olympics. That way, the different national federations would "wake up and smell the coffee". On the other hand, such a move would mean organisations like USADA wouldn't have jurisdiction, which isn't a good idea. Anti-doping work need to be impartial, period
Speaking of USADA, I am a bit confused and anxious reading that so many from the US seem to want the organisation to disappear. To me, the cornerstone of a sports organisation is excactly the impartial work an organisation like USADA does. If there was a SPOTY in the US, my vote (if I had one) would go to Travis Tygart and his crew.
When US Attorney Andre Birotte closed the fed investigation of Armstrong, I was upset. Why on earth would he do that? No matter whose side you're on, a thorough investigation would, in my opinion, be an end to this case once and for all. But no. So when I heard that the USADA picked up the glove and got hold of the overwhelming evidence, I looked upon this with great interest.

US Cycling sided with the UCI, not surprisingly. Take a look at the flow chart at Cyclismas to get an understanding of the links.

As the UCI continues to make an utter bad impression regarding their top management capability to govern, I'm eager to find out what ASO is up to and their thoughts on the matter.

Business as usual?
Lance Armstrong is, besides being an outstanding gifted athlete, also a very good businessman. I got nothing against a guy making a lot of money on his own. Basing it on fake results is an entirely different case. Today a leading newspaper in Norway, claimed Armstrong has made more than $100 million over the years, in addition to owning/leasing a private jet and valuable property. Add a very solid network of powerful people from business to politics. Some are trying to dissociate themselves from him as much they can, whilst others seem to be sticking with their fallen hero. News says that Livestrong donations went from $3k per day to $78k following the controversy from last week. Just as Armstrong has been trying to do, duck and divert the news about his doping into a public cancer-awareness campaign, as he has done repeatedly with luck the recent years, this however, is not a fight about who does what to/against cancer. It's about the biggest fraud in the history of sports. The fact that Armstrong spent some of his earned money to set up a foundation to help awareness is a good thing. Several thousand people voluntarily work for Livestrong giving help to people who need it is great, no matter how cynical its boss is. Just as cycling is bigger than Armstrong, the "fight" against cancer most definitely is too. Despite his attempt of trying to make people believe otherwise getting people emotionally attached to him and his story. His story is great, I was inspired by him once. But this is not about cancer, this is about something else.

Bull or bear?
Armstrong's way of getting his way is well known to people familiar with cycling. What I find the worst in his statement as he "turn the page", is this: "At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its methods and motives (...)". I almost don't know where to start. Armstrong himself is considered a bully himself and one of his methods for getting at his critics, it is excactly acting like one. Ask Betty and Frankie Andreu, who allegdely witnessed Armstrong confess to doctors on the 29th of Oct 1996 using PEDs how they felt during the years. Ask Simeoni and Bassons who were literally bullied out of the peloton (ask their wifes and families too while you're at it, who lost one of the households income). Ask Tyler Hamilton about the episode at CacheCache and ask Greg Lemond what happened to his bikecompany after he called out to Armstrong. Ask Emma O'Reilly who once was Armstrong's masseuse. Ask David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The list goes on and on.

I wonder if Armstrong, like several other sports icons, thinks that regular laws don't apply to him.

Armstrong claiming that there are no physical evidence of him doping might be true. But as many statements from Armstrong during the years, it's just halfway true. What is a physical evidence? A test? We know Barry Bonds didn't fail one, Marion Jones didn't fail 160 (!) tests until she confessed lying to federal investigators and fans in tears. So it couldn't have been difficult dodging tests then?
The AFLD even claims Armstrong was tipped off before tests, more among the excellent work by Shane Stokes over at Velonation, here.
Testemonies from those surrounding him who witnessed the crimes year after year should be sufficiant.

The fundament of sports
Whether you have a romantic view on sports, like I do, or are a full time cynic, I don't know. To me sports is about equal terms. No matter your background, race, political standpoint and gender, you meet and compete against others. Now there will always be development and athletes searching for the upper hand. That is usually fine as society needs to evolve to move forward. The marginal gain-philosophy is also fine with some limitations. That's why we have rules and organisations are put in place to govern. I don't want some teams with unlimited budgets being able to sport 5,6 kg bikes while other can't afford bikes weighing less than 7,9 kg. To me ethics and framework within sports are chrystal clear and vital for a sport to function. It is as simple as that. Chemistry in sports can and must never ever set the premise for who will win.

The effects of someone cheating runs deep, and I can only imagine the amount of people effected negatively by it. People close to the doper, family, teammates and their family, staff and so forth. Not to mention the competitors who were deprived a possibility which in return affected their family again.

Despite what Armstrong says in his statement "the same courses, the same rules", it doesn't make it right if everybody is doing it. Just as one cannot face the mirror and say that it was okay to bully a classmate just because everyone else did. It doesn't make it right, ever. I understand times were different then compared to now, but that was then, this is now. As USADA have overwhelming evidence including more than 10 witnesses, some of the teammates and Armstrong's friends, claiming they saw Armstrong dope, a physical evidence doesn't matter. The same goes for other cases tried before the court, not related to sports. Some of the alleged witnesses have even admitting to doping themselves, stepped forward and taking responsibility.

Cycling is bigger than Lance Armstrong, much bigger. Yes, the cases are old but he and others surrounding him are taking advantage of his cheating yet today, making millions of dollars. The message is clear, no matter how big star you are, what you did was wrong and letting that go by unnoticed just because some of the incidents happened 15 years ago is not right. Remember, according to USADA, some of the incidents are just a few years old. Many say Armstrong quitting was an admission to guilt. I tend to degree as this is the closest thing to admit guilt we'll see from Armstrong. I just hope that this case now can be closed and cycling can move on. The evicence will come out as the cases of Bruyneel and others still are ongoing. We will see what steps Armstrong takes if this happens, but there is no doubt that his all American hero-status has taken a blow. Far to big for him to recover from and the number of powerful people seems to decrease by the hour. Is this bad for cycling? No, not in my opinion. Discussing doping and getting facts in the open is good for cycling. It proves cycling has taken a position. WIll people continue to dope? Yes, but I believe the number of riders go down. As Vaughters said: "let's not give them the option." Lets level the playing field.

Will Lance Armstrong's life lie come out? I think so. He could have taken the initiative several times, he could have emerged with a different legacy than he will now. I hope this will be a lesson for everyone.

As I write this post the words of Brian Nygaard came back to my attention:
Integrity is what you do when nobody is watching.
Something for each and everyone to remember.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The voice in ear - helpful?

Becoming king - or should I at least say Sir?

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When you're out on the road, how do you encourage yourself during the most intensive workouts? Do you picture yourself in a break two kilometres from the finish line as Peter Sagan is closing in on you? Or perhaps you are picturing Lefevere or Madiot behind you in the team car yelling "Allez! Allez!"?

From time to time anybody enjoys a bit of help on the way, right? A tiny motivational voice somewhere far back, whispering words of encouragement along the way. For a recreational cyclist, this voice, if you have heard one, is probably your own swearing or your annoyingly fitter friend you (at the time) would like to go somewhere the sun does not shine. For a professional cyclist it can be just the same (probably not with the fitter friend but who knows). Suffering is equally hard and not depending on fitness level, there is a saying that climbing hills don't get any easier the more fit you are, you're just going faster.

No interference
Some riders, like Dave Zabriskie, doesn't want any feedback at all during his TTs. Zabriskie's suffering takes place internally, according to Allen Lim, who used to be Garmin's team physiologist, said that "When he's in a time trial, he thinks of himself as a superhero".

Not exactly Marc Madiot-style that's for sure. Whether young Thibault Pinot enjoys this kind of encouragement is unknown. As is if he had any choice I might add.

Remember this one?

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Wiggins' approach
Bradley Wiggins has a totally different approach than Dave Zabriskie. Constant feedback on time gaps relative to major competitors, distance to climbs, any obstacles and so forth. In the interview below where Wiggo speaks about the Olympics TT, (video tweeted by Rich Land earlier today), Wiggins says that Sean Yates, "who's been in the car all year (...) came down for the day." Never change a winning team, it's all about marginal gains, eh?

Next time you're out there on your favourite climb, try saying some calculated words to yourself. Before you take that ride, take a couple of minutes to visualize yourself going up that hill. Imagine what you see, what you smell and hear and above all - how good you feel.
When climbing, grab a second here and there. 30 seconds after you are on the top of the climb, the pain is gone. How do you want to feel like when you are done?

If this doesn't work you can always download Madiot's monologue, it will probably do the trick too.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Arctic Race of Norway - the new stage race on the calender

"We wish to make the Arctic Race of Norway a strong contributor on the international race calendar. Based on the extremely beautiful nature and concept, this race will be unique in international cycling." - Yann Le Moenner, ASO managing director.

The words of Yann Le Moenner is from a trip to the northern part of Norway just two days after the 2011 Tour de France, where three ASO executives, among them Baptiste Kern, ASO Development Director for new concepts, paid the organisers of the Arctic Tour of Norway a visit. The ASO directors did a trip on a RIB to Trollfjorden where they witnessed the famous spectacular turn by the coastal express. They also visit the city of Svolvær and went out fishing in the lovely Lofoten area.

The five-stage race is supposed to begin on the 25th of July 2013.

The magnifiscent Lofoten

Photo from Brittannica

The long term goal is to host a World Tour event in Norway, but the application to UCI aims for 2.1 classification, something the ASO presence as an organiser seem to be a guarantor for. In Norway, the Glava Tour of Norway is the only race with a 2.1 status, something the organisers of that event had to work hard over several years to get.
The 2.1 classification means that minimum 50% of the riders will be from World Tour teams.

The early days
The organiser in Norway has its roots back to the Andørja Sportsklubb, who started organising a cyclo sportive called Tour de Andørja back in 2000. The race has developed during the years and consists today of a road race, MTB race, free ride on skis, in addition to an event for kids and some running events - all under the umbrella of Tour de Andørja Triple Challenge.

The organisers set themselves big goals already from the beginning. In 2003 they set an ambition to host the national road championship, which was granted in 2004. The national championship in 2006 was helt at Andørja (small island in the northern part of Norway). The plans of organising a big international event began in 2008, with the organisers going to Ringerike GP (now Glava Tour of Norway) to learn form their experience and in 2009 they went to Denmark for the 2.0 race held there.

Two of the individuals responsible for the Arctic Race of Norway, Ole Skardal and Knut-Eirik Dybdal, used their contacts within media, namely sports director at the TV2, Bjørn Taalelsen, and above all Trond Ahlsen (also TV2), and a meeting was arranged in Paris 27th of April 2011. The Norwegians came well prepared with video of the landscape and a powerpoint brief in French. The meeting was scheduled to take 20 minutes, but lasted for over three hours.

ASO and ARN officials in Trollfjorden

Photo by ARN
Game plan
The race is relying on a package so to speak, with exotic and new ways of organising a race combined with nature at its best. The race offer spectacular landscape of the northern part of Norway, breathtaking nature with the sea, mountains and wildlife like whales. I spoke to Knut-Eirik Dybdal about how to attract be best riders to the race, as it will take place just after the tour when several big names will ride different high-income crits around Europe and with the Eneco Tour coming just after. The reponse was "partly the whole spectacular package, partly high prize money for the stages." The fact that ASO are among the organisers guarantee a certain technical and logistical frame to the race
"Another important matter is the exotism of the race, taking place as far North as it is with the special light and nature. The fact that the teams and riders will stay on cruiseships for the entire race is new to cycling. This means they can bring their families as well, a nice gesture as the travel days during a season is somewhat full as it is. The teams, riders and media will each stay in the same hotel for the duration av the race, something which is unique in stage races", Dybdal says.

One important aspect is the midnight sun. Not only because it is spectacular in itself, but because of the business opportunities it provides. If you're confused think broadcasting across continents. The possibility to have one or more stages late in the evening european time gives possibilities to broadcast live to the US prime time. So much for the watching races live at odd times on a language you don't understand.  

1st row: Ståle, Yann Le Moenner, Knut-Eirik Dybdal, Trond Ahlsen, Baptiste Kern, Petter Ytterstad and Bjørn Taalesen.
2nd row: Asbjørn Andersen, Jorodd Asphjell, Anita Olset and Laurent Boqouillet.

Photo by Ole Skardal.

The organisers and ASO will, as soon as the Govermental financial guarantee is given, establish a company reponsible for organising the event. ASO will own 60% while Arctic race of Norway 40%. Note, this is not the normality of ASO ownership, which tends to be 100%. The Vuelta is an exemption where ASO own 60% as they bought a share in the race back in 2008.
The budget for the first year is about 27,3 MNOK equivalent of €3,7 million. To be approved ny the UCI as a stage race, the organiser have to prove 100% financial support.

The race follows one the ASO models, with establishing a rather small race organisation and rely on short-term rentals/augmentees of the spesific competence needed.
ASO are a technical as well as a financial guarantor to the UCI in addition to the prospect of hosting a stage race with high UCI-classification.

ASO will at the highest have as much as 30 people involved woth the race, a symbol of how much they want this race to succeed. The majority is mostly technical personell as ASO has a special role as technical organiser of the race.

According to Knut-Eirik Dybdal, Thor Hushovd has already spread the word among the riders in the pro peloton, making sure they are informed about the race.

Behind the company Arctic Race of Norway AS is a company called Nordic. Nordic is a company that has several interests in the region in terms of property development, hotel management and restaurants.

Ole Skardal and Knut-Eirik Dybdal at this year's Tour de France - talking to ASO-personnel.

Photo by Mads Bang Pedersen, downloaded here

In order to bring such an event to Norway, or anywhere else for that matter, numbers are of highest importance. Privat corporations as well as politicians depend on numbers, hopefully not the red ones. So here are some of the estimated effects:

  • 2013: 117 MNOK / €15,7 M in returns to the area, 88 MNOK of these related to tourism
  • 2013: 263 new jobs in the region if the race takes place

  • 2016: 333 MNOK / €44,7 M in returns to the area, 298 MNOK of this related to tourism
  • 2016: 719 new jobs in the region if the race takes place 

  • Marketing value associated with TV-exposure estimated to be 15,5 million USD (same as Tour of Oman)
  • In addition to the existing hotel stays the race organisers estimates 36880 nights additional in 2013.
The ASO have estimated that a stage race of this caliber need three years as a minimum to be able to generate stabil income through sponsors etc. As of now the organisers are in dialog with several potential sponsors, but as this early stage, revealing these could jeopardize sponsorship. However, the organisers want the sponsors to be active in the area/region and with the intent to help cycling, in addtion to the business perspective of wanting to boost their own sales.

The race will generate sideeffects as a result so entrepreneurs - unite!

The route
As of now the route is a well kept secret. But, what is known is that starts and finish need to be in towns for several reasons, to ensure this is the big fiesta it can be and of logistical reasons. The race will take place in all the three northern countys in Norway, a crossing of the polar circle, a finish in the city of Svolvær in Lofoten and Tromsø can not be ruled out. Another important matter is capacity for harbouring cruiseboats.

The race have so many possibilities for a unique atmoshere with the special nature of the northern part o f Norway with the special wildlife. The possibility to have a stage race on a latitude far North is exotic and the ASO directors loved it when they paid the area a visit.

The race is depending a govermental financial support, in order to be fully approved by the UCI. The organisers and ASO have put a deadline on themselves to have this in place no later than 1st of September 2012. The UCI seem to have faith in the project, as they already have scheduled the race on the race calender from the 25th of Augsut 2013.