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July 27, 2006

Will the Real Floyd Landis Please Stand Up?

You know that I've got a lot going on elsewhere in my life if I don't finish my Tour de France summary article before the G.C. winner is accused of doping and could be stripped of the title.

The Floyd Landis Story was great while it lasted. His improbable performance on Stage 17 deserved its own chapter in Tour de France history, at least until the revelation today that he was the rider who tested positive for apparent manipulation. Austin Murphy from Sports Illustrated reports, however, that Landis was receiving cortisone and thyroid hormone treatments during the Tour, and those presumably could have an effect on the levels of testosterone and epitestosterone in his blood.

I think we're in for a long series of administrative hearings after Landis' B-test comes back. I'm assuming that it will come back positive, and then the real fun begins as the case makes its way from through the cycling and athletic regulatory bodies.

I don't want to get into whether Floyd Landis will ultimately lose his Tour de France General Classification title. I've read that the testosterone ratio test is often overturned in appeal processes, but I don't know enough about those cases to know whether the circumstances are similar to Landis'.

I got a bit of a kick out of listening to Sports Radio 66 WFAN today because I got to hear Mike Francesa and Steve Somers try to take calls on Landis' plight. Anyone who'd ever ridden a bike with clipless pedals could have called in and been treated like an expert.

I guess this is an indication of how big the story of Landis' failed doping test is in America. But, it's also an indication of what will happen if Landis is ultimately able to explain his unusual test results: Lots of people here in America will still think he's a doper. For the average sports fan in America, there's now little difference between Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis. I feel bad for Floyd.

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July 21, 2006

Wall Street Journal Explains How Americans Came to Dominate The Tour de France

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article today that sums up the impact of American riders on the pro peloton since Greg Lemond. The author, Sam Walker talked to Jonathan Vaughters, Bobby Julich, and Peter Cossins from Procycling.com to get some answers.

{Floyd Landis'} miraculous comeback has already revived a question that's been puzzling the sports world for nearly a decade: How can the Americans consistently dominate a sporting event that's about as popular back home as professional bass fishing?

The answer lies with a generation of American riders, all born within five years of each other, who spent the 1990s stumbling through Europe in search of a formula that would help them beat the world's cycling powers.... Their success seems to have been aided by a jumble of factors: an excellent Olympic training program, a shortage of stateside races, a changing of the guard among Tour de France sponsors and to some extent, their own unorthodox approach to training and technology.... "This group of American cyclists is probably the most eccentric group of people you'll ever meet," says Jonathan Vaughters, a Tour veteran and former teammate of Lance Armstrong. "We're a bunch of obsessive-compulsive workaholic nutballs who'll do whatever it takes to win."

This article is definitely worth reading if you have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal.

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July 20, 2006

Landis Rides Away from the Field On the Day After His Disaster

Bob Roll called Stage 17 into Morzine "the most exciting cycling race" he'd ever seen. Who can argue with that?

Floyd Landis' performance today surpassed all of the epic rides I've seen in person or on television. The closest thing I can think of to the level of sheer effort expended by Landis was when Tyler Hamilton soloed into Bayonne on Stage 16 in 2003. The difference is that Hamilton wasn't riding himself back into serious contention in the General Classification after losing over eight minutes to the field in the previous stage.

During one of the intermediate climbs today, Phil Liggett reported that the French media didn't like Landis in the Yellow Jersey on previous stages because he "didn't exhibit panache." That's not a problem anymore.

I wasn't sure about Oscar Pereiro or Carlos Sastre's performances in previous stages: had they been great or simply good when others were terribly off? I think they both proved today that they each have guts enough to deserve the General Classification championship in the event that they somehow hold Landis off in Saturday's time trial.

Everyone seems to be discounting the possibility of unusual tactics tomorrow, but after what we've seen in the past few days of the Tour, can anything be ruled out?

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Bambi Francisco from MarketWatch.com Video Blogging the Tour de France

Bambi Francisco, a financial reporter for MarketWatch.com went on a cycling vacation along the route of The Tour de France for the past few weeks, and decided to video blog her trip. She was on a trip organized by Marty Jemison Cycling Tours, which gave her brief access to Team CSC during the rest day in Gap.

She decided to buy and use a Samsung Sports Camcorder to make her vlog entries. She wasn't specific, but I'd guess that she used a Samsung X210L MPEG4 Sports Camcorder. This is a compact, weather-resistant digital video camcorder with 1GB Memory and a 10x-Optical Zoom with image stabilization. It includes an external clip-on lens that can turn the X210L into a helmet cam.

I thought the video clips that Francisco posted were interesting, but she dubbed in a music track that makes it almost impossible to hear what people in the videos are saying. Some of her commentary on the race indicates that she doesn't have much of an idea of who the leaders of the race were at the rest day. She probably wasn't spending much time watching television and surfing the Internet at the time.

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Slate Publishes the Story of a Bay Area Cyclist Who Finished the 2006 L'Etape du Tour

Thanks to my friend Frank Steele at TDFblog.com, I've read another account of the experience of riding this year's L'Etape du Tour that finished at the end of the Road to Nowhere-- on Alpe d'Huez.

I've talked about wanting to participate in L'Etape du Tour previously on Operation Gadget, but this year I might have paused before sending my application even if I'd had the resources to go and the time to train. I've been to Alpe d'Huez, five years ago with my wife Kathleen on our honeymoon. I'm sure I could climb it on a bicycle if I started at Cycles et Sports in Bourg d'Oisans after a good night's rest. I'm not at all confident that I could have finished L'Etape du Tour this year when it went from Gap to Alpe d'Huez on July 10.

Andrew Tilin competed in L'Etape du Tour this year and lived to tell about it. It's a great story.

July 19, 2006

Why Floyd Landis May Have Bonked on La Toussuire

ThePaceline.com has what I think is an excellent article from Chris Carmichael offering a possible explanation why Floyd Landis bonked on the lower slopes of La Toussuire at the end of Stage 16 of The Tour de France. Carmichael suggests that the absence of other Team Phonak riders in the lead group with Floyd Landis for most of today's climbs was the critical factor leading to Landis' lack of energy at the end of the stage. According to the article:

If Landis did indeed bonk on the final climb, it means he wasn’t consuming enough calories on the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Mollard. When you’re the team leader surrounded by rivals who are looking for any opportunity to attack, you can’t drop off the back of the group to get food from your team car. Without teammates in the group who can do the short delivery runs, it can be very difficult for team leaders to get their hands on enough food.

This sort of problem only occurred to Lance Armstrong once in his seven year run as Tour de France champion: Stage 16 of the 2000 Tour de France finishing on the Col de Joux-Plane. On that stage, Armstrong lost 1 minute 37 seconds to Jan Ullrich and could have lost far more time than that if that stage had evolved as today's stage to La Toussuire did for Landis.

I believe that Team Discovery Channel was constructed from that point on to ensure that Armstrong had a teammate with him at all times during mountain stages, so that he could be supplied with food and drink at regular intervals. Although it may not have been clear that this was a critical factor in the success of Discovery over the years, it's pretty clear now. [ Registration required to read articles on ThePaceline.com. ]

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July 17, 2006

Is George Hincapie's Tour de France Performance Being Hampered by Low Body Weight?

I think I was one of the many American viewers of The Tour de France who wondered why George Hincapie lost over 20 minutes to the General Classification leaders in the Pyrenees. I wasn't convinced that he would be able to stay with Floyd Landis, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, and some of the other likely top finishers, but I didn't expect him to fall so far behind on the disastorous Stage 11 to Pla-de-Beret.

Over the weekend I saw an article on Podium Cafe, Why George's tour is so bad, that quotes an article from The Gannett News Service in its entirety because the article is not widely available on the Internet. The article quotes Rich Hincapie (George's brother) as saying, "We talked to the team doctor, and he said that basically George came into the tour so skinny that his body doesn't have enough reserves to recover day to day. It was kind of a big gamble to lose as much weight as he did. After a while, you start burning muscle."

Further research led me to Rich Hincapie's blog for The Greenville News and a post ominously titled Race is over where Rich said:

Well today {Stage 11} did not turn out well at all for the team.

George looked so strong out there and once again it looked like he just ran out of energy. The team doctor says he came into this tour way too light and it has really made things difficult on him....

OLN hosted a conference call with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen earlier today, so I asked the best commentators in cycling about George Hincapie's weight and whether they'd noticed a change.

Paul Sherwen said that he wasn't sure that Hincapie had lost an excessive amount of weight this year compared to previous Tours, but that George had trained this year to be a Tour rider rather than a classics rider and that he had never been expected to finish mountain stages in the first group of riders on a consistent basis before.

He also said the Hincapie may not have the right mindset to be a team leader in the Tour at this point. He compared Hincapie to Sean Yates, one of the Directeur Sportifs for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team who Sherwen said was an excellent cyclist when riding on behalf of a teammate, but didn't have the same success when he tried to ride for himself.

I don't think Paul was saying that George Hincapie isn't cut out to be a team leader, but that the pressure of riding as one of the co-leaders of Discovery was unbelievably intense and that may have contributed to his performance in Pyrenees.

Phil Liggett said that he thinks George is very unhappy with his Tour so far. He said that they have difficulty seeing and speaking to the riders in person in between stages. He and the other commentators work "one day ahead", so they leave the finish line rather quickly after the stage is over and travel to the finishing city of the next stage. As a result, he hasn't seen George Hincapie face-to-face since the Prologue and is only seeing him on television like the rest of us.

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July 11, 2006

ThePaceline.com Publishes a Great Interview with Cycling.TV Host

Chris Brewer of ThePaceline.com published a great interview with Anthony McCrossan of Cycling.TV. This is the website that provides streaming video access to many of the smaller road cycling events that don't make it on to U.S. television.

I think it's great that The Paceline is coming out with articles like this. It seems like they realize that cycling fans have a huge appetite for behind-the-scenes info and always seem to be asking themselves, "Wow, how did they do that?" It's not just the riders and their performances that fans are interested in, but the whole scene.

McCrossan talks candidly about the role they play in the cycling community, including their negotiations with host broadcasters over Internet rights to major cycling races, their dealings with OLN, and how Cycling.TV's backend works. [ Registration required to read articles on The Paceline ].

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July 10, 2006

How Will the European Critics Treat Floyd Landis Now?

When I heard the news about Floyd Landis' chronic avascular necrosis condition in his right hip, I was shocked. A moment later I thought, "the European nay-sayers claimed that Lance Armstrong had an advantage because he learned how to use EPO in an undetectable manner while he was fighting cancer. What will they say about Landis now that his condition has been disclosed to the public?"

Then I remembered that the UCI made him lower his handlebars in the Stage 7 Individual Time Trial. I bet that people who don't want Floyd to win will think that his praying mantis time trial position is somehow truly advantageous.

What next? If he somehow manages to get back to world-class form next year, will people say it's proof that the artificial hip is a weight or an aerodynamic advantage?

Seriously folks. It doesn't matter if Floyd Landis is a Mennonite or a Martian. You can't help but root for him at this point. [ Registration required to read article in The New York Times. ]

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July 9, 2006

Unusual Time Trial Shakes Up General Classification

Did anyone expect that Serhiy Honchar would win the Stage 7 Individual Time Trial of the 2006 Tour de France? I certainly didn't.

Honchar has turned in good time trials in the past, mainly in races like the Giro d'Italia which is not on television a lot in the United States. He had never done this well in a time trial in the Tour de France before, but yesterday he was the only rider to exceed 50 km/h.

Floyd Landis was the only American rider who was able to stay close to Honchar. He only lost 1:01, which isn't a huge amount of time to lose to Honchar, since he's unlikely to do well in the mountains. Honchar's teammates Michael Rogers, Patrik Sinkewitz, and Andreas Kloden are more of a threat to Landis because they all climb fairly well.

The big issue in my mind is whether Team Phonak can protect Landis the way Team Discovery protected Lance Armstrong in the past, or the way Team CSC could have been expected to protect Ivan Basso had he not been withdrawn from the Tour? Of course the team did successfully protect him in Paris-Nice, The Tour de Georgia, and The Tour of California, but none of these races is as long or as difficult as a grand tour.

I think everyone watching the Tour was lured into a false sense of hope for Team Discovery Channel's on the GC. Yes, they had a lot of people in the top 10 during the first week, but they didn't do well in the this time trial. It was interesting to read the comments of Johan Bruyneel before the start of Stage 8. The big statement for me was: "What was the big surprise was the dominance yesterday of T-Mobile and one can fear what would have happened if Ullrich had been here; the Tour would probably be over."

I guess it's safe to conclude that Bruyneel doesn't think that the Tour is over yet, but it won't be easy for his potential GC contenders to make up over two minutes. [ Registration required to read articles on The Paceline ]

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July 5, 2006

Doping Scandal, Injuries Taking Their Toll on Cycle Sport's Cover Boys

Cycle Sport July 2006 Cover with Riders Out
Cycle Sport America has photographs of six
riders on cover of their Tour de France
Guide 2006
. So far four of those riders
are out of the race due to withdrawal
or injury. [ Photo: Cycle Sport America ]

Has anyone noticed that two-thirds of the riders depicted on the Cycle Sport America cover for July 2006 have left the Tour de France due to the Operacion Puerto revelations or due to injuries sustained on the road?

  • Ullrich: Out due to decision by T-Mobile Team in response to Operacion Puerto disclosures,
  • Basso: Out due to decision by Team CSC in response to Operacion Puerto disclosures,
  • Valverde: Out due to broken collar bone in crash during Stage 3,
  • Landis: Currently in 9th place in the General Classification,
  • Hincapie:Currently in 3rd place in the General Classification,
  • Vinokourov:Out due to failure of his team (Liberty Seguros / Astana / Wurth / whatever) to have the minimum number of riders available to start the Tour de France, again due to Operacion Puerto.

I love to read Cycle Sport. They've just been extremely unlucky, as have all of the major cycling magazines, in whom they chose as their featured riders on the cover. Hopefully George Hincapie and Floyd Landis will survive all the way to the finish in Paris.

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July 3, 2006

OLN Highlighting Telemetry from Polar and SRM Gadgets On Board TdF Bikes

OLN is highlighting data from Tour de France riders' heart rate monitors again in its 2006 broadcasts. They provided information exclusively from Polar Heart Rate Monitors in 2005, but this year they are showing the heart rate data from both Polar and SRM.

SRM is known more for its power meter technology. Polar has both excellent heart rate monitor technology and a unique power meter technology. The third power meter manufacturer is CycleOps, manufacturers of the PowerTap.

BikeTechReview.com has an excellent comparison of the three competing power meter technologies. SRM uses strain gauges in the crank to measure torque and pedaling cadence, and from that to calculate power. CycleOps uses strain gagues in the rear wheel hub to measure torque and rear hub angular velocity to calculate power. Polar uses a sensor on the chainstay to measure chain tension and speed to compute power.

Each technology has its advantages. SRM probably has the most accurate technology, since they measure the force applied to the crank. CycleOps' PowerTap often reports about 2% less power than SRM in the same conditions, in part because of the power lost in the translation from the crank to turning the rear wheel hub. Polar's method may not be quite as accurate as SRM's or CycleOps, but it's far simpler and cheaper because Polar doesn't require a custom crank or rear wheel hub.

The cost of these power meter systems vary widely, with the high end systems only being practical for professional use. An SRM power system for the Shimano Dura-Ace 10 drivetrain costs $3,400. I saw Floyd Landis' bike at last year's Tour de Georgia when it was equipped with a CycleOps PowerTap. A PowerTap SL adds between $1200 and $1300 to the cost of a bike. Polar's Power Option for their S-Series heart rate monitors like the Polar S-725 is the least expensive at about $350.

If you're wondering how OLN is able to pick up the data from the Polar and SRM bike computers, the manufacturers provide auxillary transmitters that are attached to the riders bikes. This increases the transmitter's range to well beyond the standard two meter (6 foot) distance.

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July 1, 2006

LeTour 2006 Version 2.0 Adds Rider and Team Lists, Fixes Treo Problems

Le Tour 2006
Deepweb has fixed problems in
LeTour 2006 that made it incompatible
with the Treo 650 and 700p Datebook.
[ Image: Deepweb Internet Solutions ]

Our friend Ad de Vries and his coworkers at Deepweb in The Netherlands have released Version 2.0 of LeTour 2006. The major new feature of this release is the inclusion of team and rider lists. This was done by adding two small buttons to the upper left area of the map (not shown in our screen capture) labeled "Teams" and "Riders".

The riders lists are well designed in that they provide the race number, name, and home country of each rider organized by team. Deepweb has also included a tiny thumbnail image of each team's jersey on their riders list screen. All of this information would be very helpful to a first time spectator at the Tour who was in the Depart or Arivee area.

I would have loved to have a riders list on my phone at races I've covered in person in the past. It probably wouldn't be necessary for me to identify the riders on the top teams in this year's Tour because I've seen folks like George Hincapie and Jens Voigt at other races, but it would be great for identifying domestiques for teams like Bouygues Telecom.

The other key feature in this version of LeTour 2006 for me is the Treo Datebook bug fix. It turns out that there was a problem with the feature that let you add Tour de France stage information to your Palm Datebook, at least with respect to the Treo 650 and 700p. I first mentioned this possibility in the article Dutch Developer Releases PalmOS-based Guide to the 2006 Tour de France. I wasn't able to be any help at all during subsequent testing, but the guys at Deepweb found and fixed the problem.

This Palm app is highly recommended for Treo users who want to follow the Tour.

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June 30, 2006

I Wasn't Around When the Impact of Operacion Puerto Hit the Tour de France

My first indication that something significant was wrong in the world of Professional Cycling was an email I received early Friday morning from Ad de Vries of DeepWeb Internetsolutions. He said that he was sending me the latest copy of his Palm application LeTour 2006:

This evening or tomorrow morning... the official riders list will be added to the program and the official 2.0 version will be released on our site. It {looks} like not all riders will be present for the start because of a big doping scandal. :-(

I read that and said, "I wonder what he means by that?", but I was running out the door. I had to leave to attend a memorial service for my uncle, Marty Bortner, in another part of Pennsylvania. Uncle Marty died two weeks ago but his family had been delayed in putting together a day of rememberance.

En route to the memorial service, I started getting emails from people asking me in almost breathless tones, "Did you hear about the scandal at the Tour de France?" One included a link to an Associated Press story that I read using my Treo 650. I was as shocked as everyone else when I read that Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo, and others were being withdrawn as a result of their implication in Operacion Puerto.

Probably the funniest line of the day came from my brother-in-law Scott Kuykendall who wrote: "My club's recruiting cat 3's for some race over in europe tomorrow," followed by a link to a Velonews article summarizing the withdrawals.

OK, so I'm back from a whole day on the road and I've seen the OLN Tour de France Race Preview, which was a reasonable summary of what had already happened by nightfall in Strasbourg. I'm sure you're all interested in what I think about the situation, so here goes.

  • Cycling takes advantage of a unique opportunity to clean up its act. I think the powers-that-be in cycling realized when Operacion Puerto started to produce significant evidence that now is as good a time as any to come down hard on the riders and team officials implicated.

    The retirement of Lance Armstrong marked the end of an era anyway. Why not get serious about the rules now, take the ratings and attendance hit that may result, and end up with a fairer sport?

  • American Cycling Fans get a lesson in European standards of justice. Most European countries don't have innocent-until-proven-guilty mentalities. If you doubt me, go there, rent a car, and notice how many Photo RADAR installations you see for the automatic detection of speeding.

    This situation is similar although the stakes are much higher. None of the riders who are being withdrawn from the race have even been charged with crimes yet. As far as I know, none of them have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs or blood doping per se. Yet all must be withdrawn according to the UCI Code of Conduct for Pro Teams [Acrobat / pdf file] that reads in part:

    Without prejudice to the right to terminate the contract for serious misconduct, {professional teams are} not to enter any licence-holder {professional cyclist} for events who is subject to judicial proceedings or investigation for facts relating to sporting activity, or any act constituting a breach of the UCI antidoping regulations, or any other intentional criminal act.

    1. as from the opening of the investigation or proceedings:
      • if the facts are admitted by the party in question, or
      • if information from an official source available to the UCI ProTeam shows that the facts in question cannot be seriously contested....

    It seems like the cyclists who were withdrawn from the Tour because their names came up in documents associated with Operacion Puerto don't have much recourse if the evidence against them doesn't result in an indictment, much less a conviction.

I had been avoiding writing about cycling here on Operation Gadget as much as possible. For months I've wanted to get involved in another blog (produced by me or someone else) where my cycling coverage and analysis would be less off-topic. In light of these recent developments, however, I feel compelled to cover the Tour de France as I did last year.

This could prove to be the most interesting Tour in years. I hope that the actions taken by the authorities in Spain and France turn out to have been in the best interest of the sport of cycling.

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June 22, 2006

Dutch Developer Releases PalmOS-based Guide to the 2006 Tour de France

Le Tour 2006
Deepweb has released LeTour 2006
to help Palm users follow the
2006 Tour de France. [ Image:
Deepweb Internet Solutions ]

Frank Steele at TDFblog.com recently pointed out that Deepweb has published Le Tour 2006 a PalmOS application that provides stage profiles and distances, as well as intermediate Sprint and King-of-the-Mountains points. An update is planned to provide information about teams including rider lists.

I downloaded Version 1.0 on to my Treo 650 in order to see how well it works. The screens are written mostly in English, with the big exception being that the application uses the term "Etape" to refer to each stage. No big deal there.

The biggest glitch I've seen so far is that the Le Tour 2006 application is supposed to be able to insert information about each Etape (stage) into your Datebook. Whenever I try this, my Treo 650 does a soft reset. This may be because I run DateBk5 from Pimlico Software. I emailed Deepweb to report the problem and I'll let you know if I hear that they can repeat the problem.

I definitely think this software is worth having on my Treo, and I'd recommend it to any Tour fan who is aTreo user.

Update: According to Ad de Vries from Deepweb, "At this moment we have no complains about using LeTour on a Treo 650 (the same for our F1 program) but of course we will check it ASAP with the Treo 650 simulator (we don't have such a nice device overhere) and let you know if we know more about your problem."

This is a great response to receive from a Palm developer-- another reason you should download LeTour and give it a try.

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