Doping in sport: nothing changes, it just gets stupider

“The Ag2r La Mondiale team will continue to do everything possible to defend the ethical values that should be the rule in top-level sport.”

These are words attributed to Vincent Lavenu in a press release from the Ag2r La Mondiale cycling team.

In a sport that is in a constant battle for legitimacy owing to its ongoing and deep-rooted problems with doping, what ethics are being defended?

Professional cyclist Sylvain Georges, member of the Ag2r La Mondiale team, tested positive for heptaminol after taking a “ginkor fort” (ginkgo biloba) “drug” which, unknown to Georges, contained heptaminol.

Georges openly admitted that he took ginkgo biloba, he admits that he did it with the intention of trying to improve circulation in his legs, and he refers to it as a “drug”.

Yet he also says “I haven’t cheated” and “I have always detested doping.” His team manager Lavenu had said “I am sure he had no desire to cheat…”

But he did have a desire to cheat. He used what he thought were drugs with the intention of improving his performance through their use. What are the ethics at play here?

But this all gets stupider: this case should be an eye-opener about the use of “alternative” therapies in the quest for performance improvement through doping.

Stupider still: the Georges case isn’t the first time “alternative” therapies have come to the attention of cycling authorities or the law, in the context of sport doping. Outright quackery is pursued by athletes desperate enough to try anything to improve their performance and this quackery is ultimately, unfortunately, given legitimacy by its association with athletes.

Georges has said that he uses homeopathic remedies, and uses this as an example of his goodness and natural approach to health.

There are ongoing cases of cyclists and other athletes engaging in ozone therapy.

Then there is the omnipresent kinesio tape. Athletes from all disciplines have eaten this stuff up based on zero facts, and in fact the way it claims to work contradicts how other products that athletes love are supposed to work.

Even the absolute staple of a professional cyclist’s life for a century — massage — does not necessarily provide any physical benefit: “…evidence to support or refute the effects of massage on sports performance is insufficient to make definitive statements…”; “The research literature to date is insufficient to conclude whether massage facilitates recovery from a fatiguing effort.”

All this demonstrates that athletes don’t always use critical thinking in their approach to performance improvement (judging by what Matt Rendell wrote, I think Marco Pantani may be the poster-boy for that — he rejected the use of heart rate monitors etc., but used homeopathy and chiropractics — then of course backed up his efforts by using EPO).

Frankly I feel that sports authorities/regulatory bodies need to at least try to educate their members and address the encroachment of quackery into sports. For cycling there is the very serious issue of its legitimacy; is cycling going to move from being known for pharmaceutical doping to being known for quack doping?

Follow-up: Sylvain Georges was fired from the Ag2r team.

A story about Lance Armstrong

This is not a story about doping. This is a story about being a jerk.

Just about anyone who followed professional cycling through the 90s knew that Lance Armstrong was a jerk; his behaviour was mentioned in cycling magazines and commentary (Although to give credit where it is due, second-placed Armstrong waited for Laurent Jalabert at the 1996 Paris-Nice when Jalabert crashed while leading the race). Then Armstrong had cancer. Then in the second season of his miraculous comeback Armstrong demonstrated what a jerk he was and nobody seemed to notice.

After stage six of this year’s Giro d’Italia there were plenty of articles about the group slowing after the big crash on a narrow road which notably caught Bradley Wiggins (a main contender for the overall race) after a routine bike change.

Mark Cavendish was widely praised as a noble sportsman but even he said:

“Everyone slowed down … We were up there. The other teams were riding, but they weren’t going full gas. I’ll stick up for every team out there, that they weren’t going full gas. … It didn’t speed up; it slowed down.”

This event at the Giro reminded me again of Armstrong’s behaviour in 1999.

As long as I have followed cycling I have understood that there should be fair play in a stage race regarding the general classification (GC) contenders; don’t attack when the other guy is down; wait if a contender crashes; win for the right reasons, because you are the best, not because the other guy had bad luck.

This ideal is not always followed, but when it is not followed the offending rider or riders are usually reminded of their ill behaviour. A recent example is Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck’s dropped chain in the 2010 Tour de France. Note later in the article: there was a general slowing during stage two of the 2010 Tour when most of the peleton were caught behind a crash.

On stage two of the 1999 Tour de France (the first Tour that Armstrong won) there was a major crash on a narrow causeway; over half of the field and many of the serious contenders for the GC were caught behind the crash. Immediately after the crash the lead group of 13 continued to ride in echelon, Armstrong’s friend and faithful teammate George Hincapie at the front with Armstrong (wearing the yellow jersey of the race leader) next to him, riding hard and out of the saddle as they left the causeway. This hard riding, eventually added to by Abraham Olano’s ONCE team, and Bobby Julich’s Cofidis, continued to the end of the stage and over half of the field lost at least 6’03″.

“Lance Armstrong knows what he’s got and he’s prepared to work now.”

“… they must be feeling like it’s Christmas here …”

“We could be talking about this escape right through to the end of the Tour de France as the day it started to shape the destiny of the final yellow jersey.”
Phil Liggett

On that day Alex Zulle, who would ultimately finish second on GC 7’37″ behind Armstrong, lost 6’03″ because of the crash. The entire race could have been ridden very differently if all of the main contenders were six minutes closer to Armstrong.

Armstrong didn’t win his first Tour because he doped. Armstrong won his first Tour because he was a jerk — but the new wave of fans he acquired didn’t figure out (or chose to ignore) that he is a jerk until 2012.

Frame design problem: Litespeed C-series

A friend of mine purchased a Litespeed C3 (made from the same moulds as the C1 and C2). He got a great deal, he likes the bike a lot and he is happy with it — except for one thing. The chainstays and dropouts are designed in a way that won’t let him remove the rear wheel without completely unscrewing the wheel’s quick release.


The chainstay is bulged up to the dropout and the gap between the bulge and the derailleur B-knuckle is too narrow to allow the skewer nut to pass through. This is the stock skewer on the stock Fulcrum wheel specced by Litespeed.



Perhaps a different skewer nut will allow the wheel to be removed — this has not been tested to date.

Searching online does not produce any references to others having the same problem — did my friend get uniquely large skewers or in the years that the C-series has existed has nobody mentioned this problem online? Anyway there are complaints about the frame’s incompatibility with trainer clamps because of the bulged chainstays.

In 2012 Velo Magazine published its “VeloLab’s Aero Revisited” reviews of aero road bikes, which included the Litespeed C1. Velo measured user friendliness: ”The C1 garners the most User Friendliness points of any bike in this test”. The user friendliness is judged by things like cable routing and the seatpost with its associated clamps. When testing new bikes does Velo do things like removing wheels from the frame?

Sep Vanmarcke: broken wheel at Paris Roubaix?

At the 2013 Paris-Roubaix did Sep Vanmarcke finish second on a broken front wheel? Cyclingnews/ photos suggest it to be so.

edit pr_blanco_02_670

edit pr_blanco_04_670

Please notice in the second photo that the brake caliper quick-release is open — this is the kind of thing a rider would do if his wheel was messed up, out of true or whatever and he wanted to keep riding.

With memories of folding all-carbon front wheels from six years ago and less I must admit this improves my opinion of all-carbon front wheels a bit — although the nature of the impacts in Paris-Roubaix are surely different than the famous wheel-folding crashes (Burghardt hitting the dog, Cavendish at the Tour of Switzerland, etc.).

In other news the deep-section front/shallow rear combo that Vanmarcke finished on makes perfect sense. I do not know if he had an involuntary wheel change mid-race or started with the combo, but he has each style of wheel where its advantages will work best and disadvantages are minimised. I’m a bit surprised this combo isn’t more common in cobbled races. From the few race photos of non-Vanmarcke Blanco riders found during my exhaustive five-minute internet search I can say he was the only one of at least four Blanco riders to be using this wheel combination. (Vanmarcke #56 is easy to spot with the silly-tape on his right knee.)

Shock: tight rear wheels cause scratches.

Since I signed up to the Cervelo forum I’ve noticed recent concerns about tight-fitting rear wheels causing scratches on seat tubes. There has probably been discussion of this sort of thing since bike frame manufacturers started to take consumer-oriented aero designs seriously, but I am new to that particular forum so I have not noticed the repeated concerns until now.

The rear wheel of the S5 is close. Sand and small stones may get in there but the fear of objects getting stuck is unfounded. Big stones don’t want to cling to rotating bike tyres (and “big” is relative; in this case “big” and “huge” are still quite small, but big enough to theoretically get jammed between the tyre and seat post). Even if something huge did stick the brake mounting plate should knock it off. Whatever debris that does manage to get between the tyre and seat tube will be quickly spit out by the tyre. The frame will get scratched. It shouldn’t be the end of the world.

S5 tight fit

The rear wheel of the 1999 Giant TCR was also a tight fit with short chainstays — the back of the seat tube was pressed in so the wheel could fit.

TCR tight fit 2

The frameset pictured below has about ten years of hard riding in it, including rainy rides, gravel roads, sand and a memorable occasion with new tyres that were surprisingly sticky, picking up every piece of sand and grit on the road for the first 20 minutes of a ride.

TCR tight fit scratches B


TCR tight fit scratches A

The scratches look bad but none of it is really deep and the frame is fine. Sometimes while riding I would hear a quick “sthwa” sound; this was a pebble that had stuck to the tyre and been drawn against the seat tube. I expect the S5 seat tube to look something like this in a few years.

Bicycle speed wobble

Jebel Akhdar start

The start of my ride up Jebel Akhdar.

Just over a year ago I suffered a horrible bicycle crash after climbing the road up Jebel Akhdar. The crash was a result of speed wobble (also known as shimmy or castor wobble) that started at the top of a short turning descent; I was not able to control the oscillation and I crashed into a metal guard rail at a turn, going over the guard rail and landing on the road’s embankment.

Despite over twenty years of riding experience, with on-and-off mountain riding over the past fifteen years, this was only the second time I had experienced high-speed wobble on a bicycle; the first time was about a month before on Jebel Hafeet. On this first occasion, coming out of a steep hairpin turn, I went into a tuck with hands touching the bar tops and quickly passed 60 km/h; a gust of wind triggered the wobble. The road was straight so I had time to get my hands (one at a time) onto the hoods and brake. The wobble stopped before the next hairpin.

After that first event I read a lot about the phenomena and tried to understand it. One thing that was immediately apparent was that there is much contradictory or confusing advice regarding speed wobble.

These contradictions led to a regrettable part of my crash that day; a common piece of advice to stop wobble (besides braking) is to unweight the saddle. After managing to get my bike through a right-hand turn I unweighted the saddle and the wobble immediately got worse — much worse. The frequency remained the same but the amplitude (the violence of the side-to-side motion) immediately increased making it extremely difficult to hold the handlebars. Returning my weight to the saddle did not reduce the amplitude. This happened just as the road steepened and went into a left-hand turn and that is where I crashed.

In hindsight I think the best option would have been to clamp the top-tube with my knees. This is another commonly advised technique for stopping wobble. It will not instantly stop the wobble but it will greatly increase dampening, taking energy away from the fork’s oscillation, so the wobble should stop sooner than without dampening; my own simple experiments demonstrate that the further forward you can get your knees the better. In the case of my crash, by the time I had to use a Plan B there was no time left for a Plan B.

Looking forward I intend to write more on my experience exploring speed wobble and what I have learned about it. I feel strongly about sharing information on this topic because my lack of understanding that day last year left me at very serious risk of death due to blood loss and ultimately with a seriously injured leg which is still not fully healed. I cannot help but feel that this crash was avoidable.



The creative outlet that I have focused on for some time is transblue, my “band”. It is strictly a recording project; I cannot envision the circumstances warranting live performance ever coming about.

Vocals are performed by Dalia Gebran. Currently one song is published but there is a backlog of songs awaiting completion.

Composing and recording never fail to be interesting and I am glad I resumed these after many years without thinking at all about music. The stepping stone to this project was the weekly jam sessions I had with my old friend John. With John playing drums and myself on either bass or guitar we would improvise for two hours at a time. These weekly meetings only stopped because I relocated.