Monthly Archives: October 2012

Contador offers Armstrong support

Alberto Contador, the two-time Tour de France winner banned for two years for doping, thinks Lance Armstrong has been treated unfairly over cheating claims.

“He is being humiliated and lynched, in my opinion. He is being destroyed,” said Contador.

“At certain times and places Lance is not being treated with any respect.”

Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after

not contesting a damning United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report.

Armstrong report key claims

Lance Armstrong

  • Achievements of USPS/Discovery Channel pro cycling team accomplished through the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen
  • Armstrong’s career at the team was fuelled from start to finish by doping
  • More than a dozen former team-mates, friends and former team employees confirm a fraudulent course of conduct
  • Armstrong acted with the help of a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers and others within and outside the sport and his team
  • He had ultimate control over not only his own personal drug use but over the doping culture of the team
  • Team staff were good at predicting when testers would turn up and seemed to have inside information
  • Evidence is beyond strong and as strong as any case ever brought by Usada

The Usada report called the American a “serial” cheat who led “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.

Armstrong has kept quiet since Usada’s report was published earlier this month.

Pat McQuaid, the president of cycling’s governing body the UCI, said the Texan “deserves to be forgotten” as he banned Armstrong from the sport for life.

But Contador, who rode alongside Armstrong in the Astana team in 2009, said the 41-year-old had left a lasting legacy in the sport and criticised the Usada report’s reliance on testimonies from former team-mates and team officials.

“Right now people are talking about Lance but there has not been any new test or anything,” Contador added.

“It’s based exclusively on witness statements that could have existed in 2005.

“What I do know is that if cycling is popular in the United States it is thanks to him.

“If they know over there what the Tour is it’s thanks to him, if there are top-level teams and races in his country it’s thanks to him.”

Contador won the Tour in




but had

his 2010 victory struck from the record books after testing positive for clenbuterol.

After missing the 2012 race, he won this year’s Vuelta a Espana and has been made favourite for the 100th edition of the Tour de France in 2013.

Contador is not the only cyclist to have defended Armstrong, with his fellow Spaniard Miguel Indurain refusing to assume his guilt.

“Even now I believe in his innocence. He has always respected all the rules,”

Indurain told Radio Marca in Spain. 

“I’m a bit surprised. It’s strange that this was only based on testimonies.”

Indurain, who won five Tour de France titles between 1991 and 1995, added: “I think he will come back and appeal and try to show that he played fair for all those years.”

The UCI’s decision to annul Armstrong’s results from 1 August 1998 once again makes Indurain the joint record-holder in the Tour, alongside Belgium’s Eddy Merckx and Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil.

Alberto Contador

Contador (left) was sat alongside Bradley Wiggins at the announcement of the 2013 Tour de France route

British cyclist Roger Hammond, who rode with Armstrong as part of the Discovery Channel team between 2005 and 2006, called the American

a “fantastic” team-mate who “never, ever” offered him performance-enhancing substances.

Hammond’s compatriot Alex Dowsett, who rode for the US-based Trek-LiveStrong squad, called Armstrong a “legend” for his battle back from cancer.

And Olympic gold medallist and USA cycling coach Jamie Staff

told BBC South East Today:

“He’s been kind of a scapegoat really.

“A lot of people have done it, probably everyone in his generation.

“He seems to be the one everyone is picking on, probably as he was the most successful.”

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Team Sky strive for cycling’s moral high ground

Dave Brailsford made two big promises in 2009 when he announced the formation of a British-based cycling team for the following season.

No longer satisfied with just Olympic domination, Team GB’s commander-in-chief was going to use BSkyB cash to take the first home-grown rider to victory in the Tour de France within five years, and he was going to do it with a team untainted by doping.

It says much about the relative innocence of the time to note it was the first of those ambitions that provoked the most comment, and when questions were asked about the second half of the mission statement they were to do with what it meant for reformed doper David Millar’s chances of employment.

Continue reading the main story

So why does it feel like Team Sky are in disarray, while Garmin-Sharp are being touted as the future of the sport?

Millar, it turned out, would become the proof of that commitment to zero tolerance. Contrite (and definitely good) enough to ride for Brailsford’s GB teams at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, the Scot had a two-year gap in his CV that Brailsford’s Team Sky could not ignore.

This restatement of the pledge to do things differently, beyond reproach and without compromise, was underlined by the fact that Millar and Brailsford are friends. It should also be remembered that in 2009 the rider was already well along the road to rehabilitation with the team that would become Garmin-Sharp

by the time Bradley Wiggins delivered on the first,

and much derided, half of Brailsford’s brag three years later.

Team Sky won 49 other races in 2012 to finish top of cycling’s world rankings by almost 500 points (which is more than five of the UCI WorldTour’s 18 teams managed all year).

Garmin-Sharp, on the other hand, finished the year in the middle of the rankings, and with three riders serving six-month bans for their parts in the doping conspiracy that helped Lance Armstrong “win” a record seven Tours de France between 1999 and 2005.

So why does it feel like Team Sky are in disarray, while Garmin-Sharp are being touted as the future of the sport?

That is a question many in cycling have been asking since the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada)

dumped 1,000 pages of evidence online

to bury Armstrong’s already tattered reputation as a sporting hero.

The tarnished Texan grabbed most of the headlines, but Usada’s investigation damned a generation. When the sport’s governing body, the UCI, was finally forced to respond to this indictment of its own incompetence, nobody was surprised to hear it would not be reallocating Armstrong’s titles.

Estimates of just how bad cycling’s drugs problem was during the Armstrong era vary, but one expert told me this month he thought “90% of riders over the age of 35 had doped at one time, to some extent”.

It says much about the lost innocence of today that a comment this depressing does not seem excessively pessimistic. This was the polluted talent pool from which Brailsford had to recruit.

Recent weeks have seen three senior members of staff leave Team Sky, two having admitted to doping over a decade ago, and a retiring rider confess to having lied to the team about his past on at least two occasions. These four followed team doctor Geert Leinders out of the door, although he was eased out a few weeks before Usada boiled Lance.

Of course, we all now KNOW guys like Michael Barry, Steven de Jongh, Bobby Julich, Leinders and Sean Yates had skeletons in their bike bags.

But can we really say we KNEW this then?

Strongly suspected, sure: but to the extent Usada’s investigation, and the ones under way in Italy and Spain, have revealed?

I am not so certain about that but some have already made their minds up. For them, the case for the prosecution is clear: Brailsford knew how unlikely it was to find a dozen clean riders to add immediate competitiveness to his talented youngsters from British Cycling’s academy; and he was insulting people’s intelligence if he thought he could hire another dozen good apples to fill the coaching ranks.

Zero tolerance, they say, was a charade to entice sponsors and fool thousands of new fans into thinking Team Sky was not like those nasty cheats from the bad, old days.

It would have been far better, they conclude, if Brailsford had copied the more pragmatic model established by Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin-Sharp.

Vaughters, like Barry, was one of the 11 former team-mates of Armstrong who testified against him, admitting his own use of performance-enhancing drugs in the process. Having already done so in print, and hinted at it a number of times previously, his mea culpa was greeted with zero surprise.

Somewhat more surprising, however, was the fact that three of his riders – Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie – also made confessions, for which they have received reduced bans.

Nothing wrong with that, plea bargains are integral to the US justice system, and belatedly telling the truth is better than never telling the truth, ahem, Lance.

There is also no doubt that Garmin-Sharp are “one of the good guys”: they were early adopters of the no-needles policy, and they have an admirably open attitude to testing data and training methods.

So far, so much better than what went before. But is it also “better” than Team Sky’s attempt to be clean from the beginning?

The cycling world gathered in Paris last week for the announcement of the route for the 2013 Tour de France, the race’s 100th edition. Vaughters was there with both his Garmin-Sharp hat on, but also as president of the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP).

The AIGCP represents the teams and it used its traditional pre-Tour route launch powwow to formulate a response to the LA smog that threatens to choke the cycling’s undeniable recent progress against doping.

I bumped into Vaughters as he came out of this meeting and I put it to him that there are currently three approaches to running a team: his way, Brailsford’s way and the way of the ostrich.

Wearing his AIGCP hat, he could not comment, but it strikes me as interesting he is not seeking another term as president in 2013. Trying to find common ground in a room full of men that includes Brailsford, the ever-controversial Bjarne Riis and Armstrong’s friend Viatcheslav Ekimov, must be tiring.

But he did have an answer for my question about Team Sky’s approach being naïve.

“It’s not naïve, it’s idealistic,” he said.

“In my opinion, the best way to go is to have a truth and reconciliation process that looks at everything that has gone on over the last 20 years, with all the main actors involved, and say ‘let’s move forward with zero tolerance’, absolute, concrete zero tolerance.”

Brailsford wants the same thing; he just wants the same thing on his team now.

Speaking in Paris a day later, he said: “[Vaughters] and I have a lot more in common than people think. We both run clean teams, we both want a clean sport, and we have some very similar ideas on how we can achieve that.

“But we decided to set out with a certain approach – it doesn’t have to be everybody’s approach – and we’re going to stick to it.

“Some have said people are getting ‘kicked out’ but it’s not like that. We’ve decided to sit down and talk with every member of staff, ask them if they represent a risk to the team, and support them if they do – it’s been very constructive.”

With hindsight, trying to change things for the better, so quickly, while trying to win Grand Tours, might have been a tad naïve. It was certainly ambitious.

But Brailsford’s response to the Armstrong crisis has not been a PR stunt, smokescreen or any other act of deception he has been accused of by some online critics. It has been an example of leadership.

It has also received the unequivocal support of BSkyB, which backed zero tolerance in 2009 and backs it now, even if that means, as is possible, there will be more vacancies at the team in the coming weeks.

The re-interview process has not finished and there are still riders and staff with questions to answer. Finding replacements will be no easier in the current market than it was in 2009, but I would be surprised if Brailsford gets burnt again.

“If you want to improve, or change something for the better, particularly in cycling where there is a history, you have to make some sacrifices,” he added.

“If you continue doing more of the same, you end up in the same place. They’ve proved that time and time again in this sport.”

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Wiggins 2009 Tour result upgraded

Bradley Wiggins has had his 2009 Tour de France fourth place elevated to third after

Lance Armstrong’s disqualification for doping.

Armstrong’s seven successive tour wins from 1998

will not be awarded to others

but his results from his comeback in 2009 and 2010 will be reallocated.

Wiggins was behind Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Armstrong in 2009.

Following his 2012 Tour de France win, the 32-year-old Briton has now claimed two podium finishes.

An International Cycling Union (UCI) spokesperson confirmed: “In 2009 the placing of Mr Armstrong will be reallocated.

“Bradley Wiggins is the third-placed rider for the Tour de France, 2009.”

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Team Sky’s Dowsett joins Movistar

British time trial champion Alex Dowsett has left Team Sky to join Movistar for the 2013 season.

The 24-year-old from Essex joined Sky as a neo-pro rider in 2011 from the US-based Trek-Livestrong development team.

He has since shown his potential as a top time triallist, winning the British title in 2011 and 2012 and finishing eighth at this year’s World Time Trial.

“It gives me new opportunities and Movistar have been itching to have me,” Dowsett told BBC Essex.

“It’s been fantastic at Team Sky. I thank them for everything they have done for me.”

Dowsett missed out on a place in Great Britain’s Olympic cycling team when his preparations were hampered by an elbow injury.

He also blamed his omission

on the decision to allow drug cheats to represent GB at London 2012, with David Millar, who

admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2004,

included in the squad.

He made headlines earlier this month when

he described Lance Armstrong as a “legend”

in the aftermath of the American’s drugs ban.

But Dowsett said he was referring to what Armstrong had achieved in the fight against cancer and added he would not want to shake the Texan’s hand.

The move to Movistar gives the Commonwealth Games silver medallist the opportunity to step into the main body of a team and to challenge for tour stage victories.

Movistar won the team classification at

this year’s Vuelta a Espana,

where Alejandro Valverde also took the points and combination classifications.

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Clancy named in GB sprint squad

Double Olympic champion Ed Clancy is one of seven gold medallists from London 2012 named in the Great Britain team for next month’s Track World Cup.

The 27-year-old endurance specialist will combine with Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes in the three-man, three-lap team sprint event in Glasgow.

Olympic team pursuit champions Laura Trott, Dani King, Joanna Rowsell and Steven Burke are also in the squad.

Staged at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the event runs from 16-18 November.

Burke and Andy Tennant, a world champion who was a non-riding reserve at the Olympics, are joined in the men’s team pursuit squad by Track World Cup debutant Jon Dibben, Owain Doull, Simon Yates and Sam Harrison, who won World Championships bronze in the event in 2011.

Completing the 15-rider group are Becky James and Jess Varnish, who will ride in the women’s sprint events.

Varnish focused on the team sprint for the Olympics, competing with Victoria Pendleton, but judges

disqualified the duo for a takeover infringement.

British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford said of the forthcoming competition: “The period of time immediately after an Olympics is an interesting one for the team as it allows us to try out new line-ups and look at how the younger squad members are developing.”

Great Britain team:

Men’s Sprint

Ed Clancy, Philip Hindes Jason Kenny

Women’s Sprint

Becky James Jess Varnish

Men’s Endurance

Steven Burke, Jon Dibben, Owain Doull, Sam Harrison, Joe Kelly (reserve), Andy Tennant Simon Yates

Women’s Endurance

Dani King, Joanna Rowsell Laura Trott

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Johnny’s favourite stores