Welcome to hell, Wiggo

Source: “Sky Sports”

The last year’s Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, pointed to the Giro of Italy after getting his greatest aim. Everyone thought that it was a strange choice, as those riders who show enough strength to fight for the Tour tend to focus their entire career into the French race. Far more in the case of Wiggins, who is 33 and will not have many other chances to repeat his success in France.

He said that he wanted to win another 3 weeks race and Giro is the second most prestigious race of the world. Probably Wiggins thought that he could use the same method that he used in the Tour. Getting the same good shape that he had last year, use his teams strength to control the peloton and thanks to his superiority in time trials, get the pink jersey in Brescia. Turn the Giro into a velodrome and rule with the power of his sophisticated method of data and scientific stats.

Now that 11 stages of the course race have been ridden, we can say that Wiggins was wrong and reality has shown that winning the Giro is much difficult than winning the Tour, in particular for a rider with his features.

First of all, although the first week in Italy is not as hard as in France, where the peloton flies during 7 days and there is much stress to get the first positions of the bunch, in Italy the first week is full of death traps. Short but steep climbs, stages with not a single flat kilometre, bad weather and so on. In Wiggins’ case, his main problem during the first week has been a combination of two factors: bad weather and dangerous descents. He lost time and showed weakness when the road went down and he also caught a cold, what did not allow him to show his real abilities. In fact, he told in the start of the race that data said he was in his best shape ever.

He is actually fourth and more than 2 minutes down in the GC. Surely, taking into account that a 56 kilometres long time trial has been ridden, before starting the Giro he expected to reach at this point wearing the pink jersey with a great advantage. He managed that scenario in his mind.

The real situation is quite different: if he wants to win the Giro he needs to attack and get time in the stages which he expected just to defend his jersey. In this new scenario, Wiggins is not the favourite to win the Giro and he is not even the only option for his team. Some think about Rigoberto Uran as team leader, a better climber than him who has never shown weakness in the descents. He has already won a stage with a great demonstration of strength taking advantage of the other leaders’ control of his team mate.

If he had not wait to Wiggins the rainy day that the Briton descended, in his words, “like a girl”, he would be just one minute behind Nibali in the GC. Unfortunately for him, he had to wait and team managers will not entrust him to lead the team so soon. Probably they will commit the same mistake as in the 2011 Vuelta. Then Froome showed that he was more capable of winning the race than Wiggins and he lost time working for him. Afterwards, if he had not lost that time, he probably would have beaten Cobo. And the story seems to repeat.

There is still much more to come: many steep ascents, dangerous descents, attacks from the Colombian and Italian riders, controversy inside Team Sky and so on. At this time nothing seems advantageous for Bradley Wiggins, but he tries to send the message that he will no surrender.

Last year, in the Tour, Wiggins and Team Sky played the role of the hammer and got a crushing victory. Now Wiggo is the nail and it is difficult to think that he will recover and become the hammer again in such an unfavourable scenario as the hard third week of the Giro.

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Spanish sport loses all credibility

Source: Dani Pozo (AFP)

We all knew that Operacion Puerto was no more than a cover-up strategy to avoid further damages in the national sport. As doping was not a crime when the mentioned Operation was carried out, Fuentes and company could only be banned for acting against public health. The highest prison sentence request was a two years one. The final sentence, one year prison condemn and four-years ban to work as a sports doctor He will not go to prison becouse of his lack of criminal record. Ignacion Labarta was also condemned for four months and Yolanda Flores, Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz were absolved.

But the worst new was not that these cheaters were almost all absolved and condemned with such light sentences. The fact that embarrasses the public opinion, the world of sport and the international athletes is that, according to the judge’s sentence, we will never know whose blood was inside the more than 200 bags discovered under Fuentes charge.

Although the Spanish Antidoping Agence has stated that they will appeal that decision, we should not rely any more on Spanish justice. It is widely known that Spain has been indulgent with doping and cheaters for years. Probably most of the greatest achieves by Spanish athletes were accomplished thanks to performance enhancing drugs and a permissive legislation and a loose control of doping.

Recently, the Spanish government has approved a brand new anti-doping law, mainly because such a permissive country as Spain could hardly request 2020 Olympic Games. So they make that new law for making up such a flagrant lack of responsability against doping.

But now, after 7 years, Spain had the opportunity to show that they really want to fight against cheaters and doping. A wasted opportunity, as we know that more than a hundred athletes used Eufemiano’s prohibited methods to get sport success but we probably never know their name. Press unveiled some years ago whose bags were the codenamed blood samples, but  as they discovered ones, they omitted others, probably the names of the greater athletes.

And those ones that were responsible of the greatest doping system never discovered in Spain have been almost absolved. Nor Saiz either Belda have been condemned. Both cheaters and liars that have deeply hurt our sport and never apologised, that treated riders as machines to get success and that changed cycling into a circus of unbelievable performances, have been absolved.

Shame on Spanish sport and authorities. Open bar for dopers and cheaters. Before the new law was approved Spain was the paradise of doping and dopers. Many athletes have stated that (Read the Reasoned Decision by USADA). Doctors as Del Moral, Fuentes, Padilla and many others have acted as scientifics of doping without limit. The Spanish sport grew to become the greatest power and we already know why. Doping has never have limits. Everything has been cheating and covering up. No justice here. No more reliability on Spanish sport.

Cheating in sport

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Winning is something great. People like winning, surely you love winning. Even when we are playing cards or videogames we try to do our best in order to win. The victory is the shaft of the sport, but it is not only about to win. Is it worth winning at any price? Why does our  society tend to praise the winners and forget those ones that albeit making great efforts and overcoming themselves in an outstanding way, they fail in holding a trophy or being the first to cross the finish line?

Many athletes cheat because they suffer a great pressure to win and if they don’t, they become unworthy. This lack of reconnaissance of the no-winners makes them take the decision of gambling and acquiring products for enhancing their performance. They do it because in professional sport only winning matters.

But I would like to take a look back. More than a century ago some countries were struggling for being the firsts to set foot on the North Pole. We still do not know who really was the first man to reach the Pole, as many thought or pretend to have reached it, but later it was demonstrated that they did not say the truth.

Frederick Cook claimed that he reached the Pole on April 1908. Now we know that he lied, as at the pace that he stated to have carried on in his way to the Pole was not possible for an early 20th century explorer. To take Cooks version true we will need to believe that he walked 60 kilometres a day, what is absolutely impossible under those conditions (heavy baggage, rough surfaces…). In those years of controversy the Royal Geographical Society considered that Robert E. Peary was the first to reach the North Pole, a year later Cook had claimed to do so. However, nowadays, it supports neither Cook nor Peary, although it is widely believed that Peary did it first.

Cook at the summit of Fake Peak. He told that it was Mc Kinley’s summit.

But there are many evidences that put into trouble Peary’s version and albeit he probably got very close, surely closer than anyone before, it is unlikely that he got his aim. And, furthermore, many suspicious gaps where found in his journals.

Both Peary and Cook had fight during years for something that had become and obsession for them. Reaching the North Pole was their ultimate goal and who knows if their cheated to their own and, of course, the American society, which expected them to conquer that uncharted land and rise the countries glory. In fact, Cook had cheated some years before when claimed to have surmounted Mountain McKinley. To demonstrate his feat Cook took a photograph of himself on the summit of a mountain that, years later, was discovered that it was a much lower mountain (15.000 feet lower). Now it is called the Fake Peak.

Since them, many other great feats are believed to be false, like Maurice Herzog’s climb to Annapurna. The book he wrote after going down the mountain, while recovering from his serious injuries, describes a magnificent and epic adventure in Nepal. First, it was a great challenge to explore the lands and try to find the possible ways up to the mountains and, then, going up an eight-thousand mountain was also quite challenging.

After finishing the World Was II, countries started some kind of race to conquer the still uncharted places of the world. France was one of the countries that invested more to put their flag on the top of the highest mountains. The goal was clear: to find and reach the top of an eight-thousand mountain. They invested money and hired the most skilful mountain climber from the Alps. Herzog lead that expedition.

In some way, all the country hoped tthem to reach the summit and, this way, raise the countries glory and gain international respect. There was much more on game than just surmounting a peak. Herzog and company brought in their rucksacks the expectancy of a whole country. To fail meant to disappoint a nation. And with that pressure, they left towards the unexpected.

The picture that supposedly show Herzog on the summit of Annapurna. Source: ambafrance-es.org

The fact is that although Herzog claims that he reached the summit, and so he described in his book, after some years his version has been dismissed many times. Lachenal, the one that escorted Herzog in his way to the summit, died just a few years later they come back from Himalaya. Maybe too soon to feel sorry about their big lie and to confess.

I don’t want to state that Herzog cheated and that he was a liar, but it seems unlikely that when people still die climbing that mountain and the death probability at Annapurna is so high, he reached the top in 1950. He had just two evidences to certify his success: his word, and we know by experience that people uses to lie when such feats are called into question, and two photographs of him supposedly on the summit of Annapurna. I say supposedly because we can not say that the pictures show the summit of the mountain and thus his epopee has been questioned during many years. In fact, we have just Herzog’s word as a proof of his success and, unfortunately, he also died a few months ago. And, once again, some suspucious gaps in his journal put into doubt his succesful story.

Precisely at Annapurna, in the race to become the first woman reaching the fourteen eight-thousand mountains of the world, Miss Ho, the South Korean alpinist stated having reached the summit when she did not. On 27 April 2010 she became the first woman to get that feat, as Edurne Pasaban got his fourteen mountains on 17 May. But Miss Ho’s climb was under suspicion since the beginning and some months later the Korean Mountain Federation didn’t recognise Miss Ho’s ascent. Formerly, some Sherpas told Edurne Pasaban that she neither reached Kachejunga’s summit.

Imágenes de la televisión coreana KBS en las que se ve a Miss Oh en la cima del Annapurna.

Miss Oh supossedly on the summit of Annapurna. Source: KBS

To have the first woman climbing the fourteen eight-thousands would be a reason to be proud for Korean government and that is why the Korean alpinist had a wide support from the authorities. She climbed the mountains at a frenetic pace but, at the end, become a victim of her own ambition. Alpinism is not a speed sport. It is much more than climbing mountains as fast as possible. She probably never understood that, she cheated and shamed the world of sport and alpinism.

More recently, Lance Armstrong leaded the greatest cheating story in the world of sport. He confessed afterwards and thanks to that we all know now that, certainly, his sport career was so successful thanks to performance enhancing drugs. I am not saying that Armstrong was not the best rider of the moment, as many other rivals of him also admitted having doped and thus he won in equal conditions. But he cheated and lied. And he is paying for it.

Doping is probably the most used way to cheat in sport. Diving, flopping and pretending injuries are another.

The society is sending a clear message to the world of sport: we only care about winners; we do not care about effort, overcoming stores or so one. We love the ones that get the ring, hold the trophy or reach first to the finish line.

The way of avoiding cheating in sport is changing the values of our society. If we praise an athlete that trains 8 hours a day and overcomes difficulties, but does never win, he will not have the temptation of cheating, as this public reconnaissance might be enough prize for him.

Of course, winning is great and winners deserve to be praised. But is not only about winning at any price. He must not only focus on the goal but in the way. Probably media is guilty for creating this kind of society that only praises winners. If we do not want cheaters we must promote other type of values.

A minute’s silence for Thatcher is out of place

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

The recent passing of Margareth Thatcher has create a debate about whether she deserves a minute’s silence or not in this weekend Premier League football matches. Wigan’s chairman requested a tribute for Baroness Thatcher at his side’s FA Cup semi-final against Millwall on Saturday but the idea was rejected. The FA, as institution, will not honour the former Prime Minister, but teams, as individuals, are allowed to keep a minute’s silence if they wish.

The fact is that with such a controversial personality been honoured, both loved and hated at the same rate, it is easy to imagine that the detractors would probably whistle during the minute’s silence. A demonstration of respect could, this way, turn into a demonstration of hate or any kind of negative feelings that have nothing to do with a football match.

But I want to go further. Why should a football field, or even other sport field or stadium, pay tribute to a politician? Does that personality have anything to do with sport? Did she represent  the values of sport? The answer is no. In our modern society it is usual to use big gatherings of people for political purpouses, making an ideological use of crowded places. I could understand a football field paying tribute to a recently dead legend of sport, but to a politician? What is the real sense of that?

Sport represents equality and, in some way, unity. Every person is equal when joining a football team, they are valued for their sport talent not for any other feature that  society uses to separate and discriminate human beings, as ethnic origin, religion or purchasing power. In this sense, politics mean division: the ones who think one way against the others. Perhaps in England and some cultures politic parties are just rivals, but in other countries, like Spain or Italy, we can consider them enemies, as they come from a non-democratic history. And thus de division is even greater.

Margareth Thatcher, as many other political personalities, does not represent those sport values of fraternity and there is no sense about paying tribute for her. Even when supporters of two different teams tend to discuss and row there is always something that joins those supporters who  strongly hate the rivals colors: the love for football and sport, and it’s values. They are rivals, no enemies. Unfortunately, Thatcher created many enemies during his mandate.

I always  thought that mixing politics and sport is disgusting. Politicians have many times tried to use crowded gatherings to support their interests, but sport does not deserve to be stained by their vile deed, giving ideological meanings to social meetings that represent just love for sport. Minute’s silence for Margareth Thatcher are out of place in football stadiums and if any club decides to pay her tribute I would not understand people critizing the ones that decide to boo, as it would be a democratic expression of their feeling towards someone that, probably, did not benefit them during his mandate. An it is their right to express their disagreement.

Athletes with dentures

Source: Metroecuador.co.ec

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.

Source: alexrotasphotography.com/gallery_530700.html

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

Source: Elreferente.es

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

Source: Steephill.tv

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.

http://video.gazzetta.it/vince-sagan-nibali-nuovo-leader/0b11e20e-8a75-11e2-bc5c-838ef8f87b52 (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.