Athletes with dentures


Think about your grandmother. Yes, that old woman that wakes up in the morning, does the shopping in the market, prepares dinner and spends all the afternoon watching TV. And now imagine her wearing an athletics uniform and trainers and running 200 metres or taking part in a high or long jump competition. Weird, isn’t it?

Images like that were usual in the last European Veterans Athletics Championships, held in San Sebastian during last week, with athletes between 35 and 96 years old coming from all around Europe. I had the opportunity to work as a referee and I would like to share some experiences and situations that where absolutely fascinating.

The simple fact of be still living at the age of 95 is an extraordinary feat. But it is far more extraordinary to practise sport and have the nerve to travel from Finland, Belgium or Russia to compete against other athletes and try, at those ages, to win the title of European Champion. That is the case of Emiel Pauwels (96) and Ilmari Koppinen (95) the only two athletes over 95 that competed in San Sebastian and that faced each other in the finals of 60 and 200 metres. Pauwels won both races, but there is not room for doubt that both runners deserve to be considered as great champions. The Belgian also got the silver medal in the 400m, an event where he was the only over 95 years athlete and competed in the over 90 category.

Here is the video of the 60 metres final in the category of M95, with Pauwels winning by a tiny advantage of 0,12 seconds:

It was also a striking imagine to watch women over 80 running in speed races and after reaching the finish line, when the organization staff boys guide them back to the changing zone, see how their hands slide towards the lads bottom. The spectators could not stop laughing at that surprising view.

But which we  can consider  “the image” of the championships spread from one phone of the staff members to the others. An old man let his false teeth in the box where athletes  put their belongings just before they go to the start line and forgot them there when he finished and picked-up his clothes and his sport bag. The false teeth remained there until a staff member found them when the box was going to be used by another athlete. I suppose that someone brought the teeth to the lost properties room where the owner got them back. 

A competition like this, with athletes coming from so different cultures and countries, let us many curious stories. A Russian man, after taking his number and official equipment from the competition headquarters, asked to a staff member where he could catch the bus to Paris, as he had booked a room in the capital city of France, more than 800 kilometres away from San Sebastian. It seems that for Russians 800 kilometres is not a wide distance for travelling. Another athlete, from Hungary, arrived to San Sebastian with 30€ in his wallet and thought it would be enough for spending the whole week in the city. He could not imagine that in San Sebastian you can barely have 2 meals or a very humble one night lodging with that quantity.


The competition is some kind of mix between a “circus” with very old people doing things that you hardly could imagine they were be able to do and an athletics competition with very prepared and conscientiously trained athletes that are too old to compete against the best of the world, but find in the veterans category a motivation to lengthen their sport career.

With more than 3.000 athletes participating, this kind of competition mixes sport, tourism, self-improvement and praise to the old people skills. Although the society makes them seem useless and they are thought to spend the rest of their live prostrated, sitting in their couch watching TV, they still have the courage and vitality for travelling to a foreign country, dress with their nation’s official uniform and run, jump or throw to try to win a medal. Absolutely inspiriting and exemplary for all of us.


Andy Schleck, the story of a complete breakdown


The last Andy Schleck’s episode reported by a French politician, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn, has lightened which is Andy Schleck’s current state: he is absolutely sunken in the shadows. That politician wrote in his Facebook page that he met a famous rider, classified second in a Tour of France, drunk in a lifter, unable to press the correct button due to his bad condition. When people inquired him who was that cyclist, and some started speculating that could be Andreas Kloden or Jan Ullrich, he clarified that the rider was Andy Schleck.

Some days ago, after giving-up at Tirreno Adriatico’s seventh stage (one of the hardest stages recently held), RadioShack Team’s sources stated that they have failed focussing to improve the rider’s physical condition instead of concentrating in his mental health. And now we have understood the regrets of the team about having paid scant attention to their rider’s psychical recovery, as this seems to be the main hurdle to be back in his best shape. To sum up, his real problem is more psychological than physical.

The fact is that since last year’s Criterium du Dauphiné Schleck is living in a vicious circle. Withdrawals in almost every race that has taken part, his brother’s positive doping test and the consequent ban and so on have not allowed him to demonstrate the great rider he is. Or better to say, he was. Schleck has never been on of those riders that love cycling more than anything in the world, cycling is not his main passion, but a great way to earn his living. He loves money and fame, but happiness and sport success do not depend in either of them. And thus why his recovery will be hard, because he will give up when things will not go well for him. He is mentally very weak.

There is no room for doubt that he is one of the most gifted riders of the peloton. Since his outstanding appearance in the Giro d’Italia in 2007, until them he was a complete unknown rider for most of the cycling fans, he was expected to dominate the world of cycling. If he was able to get a second in such a tough race as the Giro when he was just 22, what was he not able to do?

He then aimed to win the greatest cycling race and in fact he achieved his aim, after Contador’s disqualification gave him the 2010 Tour de France win. He also got two second places in 2009 and 2011 and added a Liege-Bastogne-Liege race to his winner list. But the most remarkable fact that he achieved in those years was that he seemed the only rider capable of beating Alberto Contador, unstoppable until Schleck started shining. Schleck was the only one that dared to attack him in mountain stages and the Spaniard feared him. And in 2011 he played the main role of one of the most memorable days of the modern cycling, when his “all in” attack in Col du Izoard with more than 60 kilometres left recorded the epic cycling that the fans love.

Whether Andy Schleck will have enough strength to get out this vicious circle is a complete enigma. If what the French politician says is true, the key aspect of his recovery will be to make him understand that hard work and mental strength is the only way to be back in his best.

His challenge to come back in his best shape will be for him the tougher hurdle that he has ever faced. It is usually said that for an athlete the most difficult thing is not to get to the top, but to stand there. Schleck reached the top and now has fallen so deep that he seems unlikely to return to the top. Some people have started comparing him with Chava Jimenez or Marco Pantani. I thing that his case is not so extreme, but his team needs to do a great effort to bring him back from the shadows.

The “logarithmic cycling” and how to avoid it


The term that I have used to headline this post may seem strange. I will explain it briefly. Since Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky discovered that a “fat-ass” rider can win the tour thanks to sophisticated specific training, the application of science on cycling has been thought as the panacea for performance enhancing. We know that some years ago science was used in other ways to make riders go faster (yes, doping existed and most of the riders used it), but this applications where more linked to medicine.

Since cycling is doing great efforts to be a cleaner sport, with the so called “modern teams” with Dave Brailsford, Sean Yates and Tim Keirrison’s Team Sky leading them, new training methods are been introduced. People in the world of cycling now talk about SRM tools, watt-counter systems and so on. Sky has turn roads into velodromes, every single movement seems to be measured. When we see Team Sky riders setting the path of the bunch they ride at the ideal speed, the one that is suitable in every moment of the stage, appropriate for their leaders strength and form. Even when the leaders attack, after having caused enough fatigue to the rest of the bunch, they focus on their little screens to check that they ride under the correct watt threshold. Everything must be always under control and thus how Team Sky has been so successful in the stage races of the last two years. This way they won last year’s Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Volta ao Algarve. And in 2013 they have also won Paris-Nice with Richie Porte, using the same strategy they formerly used with Wiggins and Froome. It does not matter who is the leader, they always act the same way. 

But suddenly, at today’s stage in Tirreno Adriatico, cycling has turned against the Team Sky’s “logarithmic cycling”. And that has succeeded thanks to 3 main factors: the meteorology, the route and, above of all, the riders’ ambition. For almost 6 hours cyclist have stand under the heavy rain that, if possible, has toughen a stage that was designed for pain. Uncountable short but steep climbs in the second half of the stage have converted the stage in a mined battle camp. With 50 kilometres remaining, some riders needed to put their feet off the pedals for not falling to the wet pavement. It was such a tough climb that riders moved in slow motion, some of them, at the back of the bunch, moving from one side to the other of the road, zigzagging to avoid losing the balance. Images of suffering and epic cycling.

In that context, and with the chase just 2 minutes ahead, the bunch has decided to fight for the victory and the main riders, considering that the stage was being so complicated, started to move trying to dismast the control that since then Chris Froome’s team had installed in the race. They found a great opportunity to become the watt counter useless and test the leader’s strength and ability in a chaotic final, take him out of the protection of data and science and carrying him to a face to face struggle. (Click here to watch the stage’s highlights)

Nibali attacked toughly in a 20% slope and only Joaquim Rodríguez and Peter Sagan, the stage winner, could resist his pace. Froome did not manage to keep his balance and after losing many positions in the last short climbs, spent too much strength trying to get to the chase group, for the first time in 2013 Tirreno Adriatico, racing alone with many riders ahead. Without teammates around, his effort was not enough to reduce the difference between his group and the two groups that rode ahead. Thus he lost a race that seemed to be his.

Race organizers have discovered how to create a stage ideal for fans’ joy, reviving the epic of the ancient cycling, when riders reached the finish line one by one, losing minutes and provoking great changes in the overall classification.

Today we have not seen Team Sky’s boring control that desperated both fans and rivals last Tour de France. He have seen the superb all-powerful team suffering and losing the control of the situation.

Showing such superiority they have create a willingness of watching uncontrolled cycling, with attacks, attractive routes and epic movements. And that is what we have watched today, a total breakdown of Sky’s dictatorship thanks to the weather, the toughness of the short steep climbs and, above of all, the courage and ambition of Vincenzo Nibali, a man that must be regarded as the current main entertainer of cycling races.

Tylor Phinney’s great deed

In such an epic day, I want to praise Tylor Phinney the same way I have praised Nibali or Sagan. However, he spent 37 minutes more for fill in the stage. 37 minutes more under the rain. 37 minutes more of pain. And, in his case, there was no recompense in the finish line. No fight for the victory, or improvement in the overall. He only wanted to finish the stage, after been left alone by his “grupeta” fellows, who decided to give up with 130 kilometres to the finish. But he did not. He continued alone, under the rain and surely thinking “what the fuck I am doing?” I strongly recommend reading his last tweets to understand how a rider feels after doing what he has done. And a little detail must be added: his effort was useless, as he arrived out of time limit. Pure cycling.

The cannibal queen


In cycling the nickname “cannibal” is usually given to those outstanding riders who are dominant during a long period in which no victory seems to fulfil them. They keep winning over and over again until their rivals get absolutely hopeless. Eddy Mercks and Sven Nys where nicknamed this way when they started winning endlessly and established a sport dictatorship in their respective period.

At 25, Marianne Vos already deserves to be given that nickname. If it possible Vos is a more complete cannibal that the before mentioned two riders, as she has dominate the whole women’s cycling: cyclo-cross, track and road. Just taking a look at her list of relevant victories can you realize who is Marianne Vos, without a doubt one of the most dominant athletes of the history of sport. To compare her with Eddy Mercks is more than right, moreover at this point I try to think whether the Belgian would have ever won titles in other disciplines of cycling and, at the same time, be so dominant in road cycling. And that  seems quite unlikely.

Vos has demonstrate not only having talent and physical capacity to beat their rivals, but to be capable of overcoming her own limits to get victories that for any reason offered her more resistance. That is the case, for example, of the Giro Donne, a race that she was determined to win and has already won twice. She had to lose weight to improve her climbing skills and perform better in the tough roads of Italian ascents. So she did, and she won the race.

She neither gave up when she seem to be incapable of winning the rainbow jersey again, trying to repeat her succes in 2006. Until last September 2012, she waited patiently although winning the silver medal five times in a row. She waas obliged to be close to the rider that every year during a five-year period was taking the world best rider’s jersey, just a step higher than her in the podium, when everyone believed the victory must be hers. She end up retaking the jersey thanks to a impressive attack climbing the Cauberg, an acceleration that will remain for many years in the cycling lovers’ memory.

When the winter comes the temperature drops down and most of the riders, both women and men, tend to hibernate, hiding from the flashes, selecting a good place for recovering and then start training for the next season, but she doesn’t stop at all. It is cyclo-cross time, the discipline in which Marianne has won more world champion titles, five, in overall 6 participations. Thus during winter Vos increases her number of victories, with her distinctive smile and those appealing blue eyes in her muddy face, hands up, and her first rival more than a minute behind. That is the most repeated image in the races that Vos takes part.

Source: cxmagazine

As said before, Vos has dominated road, cyclocross and track cycling. I haven’t mentioned the other great discipline of cycling, the mountain bike, because she only competed in mountain bike in her early years. And, of course, she won the national championship. But this discipline will not miss Vos’s talent any more, because she stated that she will compete in Rio 2016 for trying to win a medal. She has already won Olympic medals in both road and track cycling and if she accomplishes her new goal, she will achieve an unbeatable feat: no other rider has ever won 3 medals in three cycling disciplines. And, certainly, many years will pass until any other is near of such a feat, as it seems unconceivable, at least in men’s cycling, where is impossible for any rider to combine succesfully such different disciplines.

Where are her limits? She is now 25 and if she continues in the way of the last years, maybe in 5 years to come we will be talking about one of the greatest athletes of the history and the best female athlete ever. She is not as highly regarded as she deserves due to two main reasons: she is a woman and, unfortunately, our society doesn’t take much into account female athletes and she is a cyclist, a sport that due to doping scandals has been despised by the world of sport and media.

In any case, I believe that Vos deserves to be mentioned in this humble blog due to her contribution to the world of sport and I think there was not a better way to show my respect  and my admiration that dedicate her a post.

The fourth position trophy

Photograph: EFE

The winner will not get a trophy to exhibit in the club’s museum. “We are the champions” will not sound in a crowded celebration and the club’s name will not appear in the list of winners of any championship or cup and remain there for the history of football. But from now on three teams will struggle for something more important than any title: the future. Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea need to get the last Champion’s position each of them for different worrying reasons. But for all of them the 4th position will mean more than a FA Cup or a Capital One Cup.

Arsenal seems to have improved their finances and for the first time in some years Arsene Wenger is going to manage a big amount of money to bring the team back to the winner’s way. However, to sign up “top” players is essential be playing de Champions League. It would be hardly improbable for any of the best players to accept signing for a club that misses the greatest team competition of the world. Not getting the forth position could bring the Gunners to a paradoxical situation: they will have the money to sign top players, but those players would be ready to lower their status by playing the Europa League instead of the Champions League. And that doesn’t seem much probable, so achieving the unique still remaining objective for the season is the only chance for Arsenal to overcome their mediocrity.

Eight years has already passed since Arsenal won a trophy last. If they are unable to sign good players, their lack of tittles will continue and another problem will be added: it will be difficult even to compete for the Champions League positions. Arsenal could suffer the same cycle of decline like Liverpool: without playing CL it is more difficult to convince top players to join the club and without good players it is impossible to reach the fourth position in such a competitive league as the Premier.

In the case of Tottenham, the situation is similar, as they have a Top 3 player in Europe right now, which will be improbable for them to keep if the team is not playing CL. Of course, I am talking about Gareth Bale, one of the best players of the world for which many of the greatest teams in Europe will bid in summer. But Bale has just played the Champions League once when Tottenham lost abruptly by 5-0 aggregate against Real Madrid in 2010/2011 season’s quarter-finals.


Such a gifted player is thought to compete not only for doing a good performance in the world’s best competition, but to try to win it. Above all because Bale was born in Wales and his only opportunity to shine playing international competitions must be with a team, as his national team will hardly clasificate  for the World Cup or the Eurocup. So he will not wait any longer to get the European glory and if Tottenham fails in obtaining the Champions League place, it will be complicated for them to retain their best player.

For Chelsea, the up-to-date European champion, not getting the fourth place would be a complete disaster. They own some of the best players of the world and their massive budget do not let room for doubt: Champions League is a must for them. The situation in Stanford Bridges’s team is stormy. With Rafa Benítez complaining about the supporters’ attitude and Abramovich’s decision of calling him “interim manager”, if Arsenal gets closer in the classification the players and the supporters will agitate the environment and that could be really harmful for the blues.

They are still playing for the FA Cup and Europe League tittles and that factor is thought to be always dangerous, as it will not be easy for the players to keep the concentration on league matches.

Photograogh: Getty Images

Tottenham has 54 points, Chelsea 52 and Arsenal 47. But the Gunners will just play league games until the end of the season and the coming matches seem much easier: in the remaining 10 matches, they will only face Everton and United as the hardest games.

Chelsea and Tottenham will play against each other, which will give Arsenal a good chance to regain some points. Also, both teams will face Liverpool and Everton, who  have European wishes, and they probably lose points in those games. We must take into account too that both Chelsea and Tottenham are trying to win the FA Cup and the Europe League, which be a factor of distraction in the home competition that will give the Gunners a chance, although being 5 points behind, to get the so needed Champions League position. In any case, it will be hard for the three of them and allevery of the 10 remaining matches will be played as finals.