Category Archives: not racing

Seven ways to ruin the Olympic road race

It’s one morning into Channel 7’s coverage of #Rio2016 and I’m already bloody furious!

The men’s road race was on last night, undoubtedly one of the races of the year, and apparently an absolute ripper. I missed it.

I saw the first part of the race, which was fine, but at 1am and with 3 hours more racing ahead, I had to give in to sleep, making sure to hit record on the PVR before I went. You see, we have a baby and she doesn’t understand Olympic sport or timezones.

This morning I jumped out of bed, ran to my TV while carefully avoiding looking at my phone (spoilers), then got stuck into it.

It was all going to plan, I was enjoying the coverage and Scott McGrory’s commentary, and looking forward to the business end of the race… those brutal climbs and twisty descents…

Disaster struck! THE SWIMMING STARTED (who could have predicted that?) and Channel 7 decided to punt the cycling from its main channel onto 7 Mate.

“The road race will continue for a short time, for the time being, over on the Olympics from Seven app, and will return on 7 Mate…”

Ai, caralho! It’s 3am and I’m asleep! My PVR doesn’t know it needs to change channels! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!

The disaster struck with 73km to go, but then the race came back. Then the same message at 63km to go, for a look at the rugby 7’s. Yet again, the race came back! It seemed the producers were literally making and changing decisions on the fly.

Filho da puta!

Then with 54km to go it was off to the pool, and that was basically it. The action was elsewhere.

I saw a tiny bit (a minute or so) more cycling with 20km to go, but the race had blown up by then, and we’d missed everything important. Besides, it was immediately back to the pool. I watched all this in 30X fast-forward, desperately hoping for more bikes, and fearing the worst.

With 500m to go the telecast returned, so I saw Greg Van Avermaet win the sprint. Yay, Greg!

No. I am pissed off that I missed the race.

Yes, it’s the Olympics, there’s a lot on at once, and you can’t please everyone. But switching channels mid-event with no warning is a real dick move.

What should Channel 7 be doing instead?

Be predictable

Make a commitment that if an event starts on a particular channel, it won’t suddenly move to a different one. Publish which channel is hosting which sports in advance. The event schedule has been set for months.

Support expected user behaviour

Understand that the games are happening at the worst possible time of day for Australian audiences, which means people want and need to record things. This should be obvious, and the Seven telecast should support this basic user behaviour.

Give people information

The broadcaster needs to let people know which channel to watch/record! Seven has provided no way of knowing which of its three broadcast channels is showing a particular event. Its app shows what time an event is on, but crucially not which channel. Even if I did stay up to watch an event, Seven’s lack of forewarning means I have no idea if they’ll actually show it, or where.

Don’t make people do stupid things

If I want to be absolutely sure not to miss an event I want to see, I need to record all three broadcast channels, and then fast-forward through all three recordings until I can find the event. Ugh!

Technology is great, but only when it solves a user’s problem

Seven is live-streaming events through an app. Last night I woke up and tried to watch the road race finish using it, but it couldn’t connect to the servers, so that wasn’t an option. It’s also impossible to record a live stream, so the app doesn’t solve the ‘3am problem’. The app is slow, buggy and designed poorly. It feels like a real afterthought or exercise in box-ticking. The website is worse. Telstra seems to be responsible for this.

Have a plan B

As of Sunday morning (when they’re most needed) there are no highlights of the road race available in the app. There seems to be some video available for premium subscribers – I don’t have a problem with monetising Olympic content, which Seven paid a lot for, but frankly the app’s performance and reliability are so poor at this point that I don’t trust it enough to pay for it.

The kicker is: I knew this would happen, and I was really nervous about missing the road race, because Australian broadcasters are consistently terrible (see scheduling, punctuality, the quality of their on-demand services and apps, platform support etc). Cycling is a minority sport, and it isn’t taken seriously by commercial broadcasters, so it gets shoved around.

It was bad enough in 2012, but in 2016 it’s a joke. We’ve been living in an on-demand, user-centric world since at least Beijing 2008 – why can’t our Olympic broadcasters catch up?

On the positive side, Seven’s coverage and commentators are (so far at least) nowhere near as jingoistic and brainless as Nine’s nauseating effort in London. Small mercies.

When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio…

The Rio Olympics (Jogos Olimpicos do Rio) start tomorrow (AU time) with the traditional Opening Ceremony. Brazilians not being known for their subtlety and restraint, it’s likely to be a pretty epic spectacle, riddled with enough clichés to drive a person to drink.

So I made a drinking game.

Yes, it’s an early start for Australia, but as the Brazilians probably wouldn’t say, “É tempo de festa no Rio!”

You could also play it without the drinking and call it Rio Bingo, I guess.


(PS contains Portuguese swear words and at least one dick joke)

(PPS this is obviously aimed at Australians or people watching the Australian TV coverage, but you may be able to substitute Bruce MacAvaney for your own local sports broadcasting doyen/doyenne)

(PPS this being a cycling blog and all, I should point out that the men’s road race is one of the first events of the games, so make sure you’re not too hungover to watch it!)

Mitch Docker and his Life in the Peloton

Mitch Docker has become a bit of a cult hero of mine, and he’s recently launched his own podcast, Life in the Peloton.

The Orica-GreenEdge rouleur has built up a bit of a profile through the OGE Backstage Pass, where he’s always a smiling presence on the team bus, but his own podcast featuring long, open interviews with teammates and others shows there’s a lot more depth to him.

Docker was in the break at Road Nats 2016, but was called back to help his teammates chase Jack Bobridge.
Docker was in the break at Road Nats 2016, but was called back to help his teammates chase Jack Bobridge. Here he is rolling along waiting for his team to catch up.

Docker lets his guests tell their stories, but has a natural flair for asking the right questions to keep the discussion moving along, perhaps the result of many hours spent travelling and staying in hotels with his fellow riders, combined with his natural curiosity about people and their motivations.

He comes across as a laid-back raconteur, with an emotional intelligence that is rarely displayed in public by elite athletes (Australians, at least). He teases out some revealing personal insights – the episode with Scott McGrory describing his path to Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 is quite incredible; and Alex Edmondson’s honest telling of the bullying he copped from older riders – he names one in particular – when he joined the national track endurance squad is another story you won’t see in a press release.

The overall impression is one of a real team man who just loves cycling, loves to chat about cycling, and loves being around people who cycle.

Nek minnit, drilling it on the front of the chase.
Drilling it on the front of the chase.

Docker suffered a pretty serious crash at his favourite race, Paris-Roubaix, where he bit the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest pretty hard. Here’s hoping he’s back on the bike and behind the mic soon. In the meantime, check out his work so far through his site or the usual podcast places.

Recommended for casual and serious cycling fans alike.


This is the story of my father David, a man with a lifelong passion for cycling that was so strong, it actually led to him missing the birth of his first child.

This was before the times of mobile phones, of course, and he was squeezing in a few days’ cycle touring and camping somewhere along the Murray River. When I decided to make my appearance into the world a month early, it was several days before he could be found and informed that he was now a father, and that he should get back to Melbourne to face my mother, who had driven herself to hospital and spent several days trying to convince the nurses that she did actually have a husband.

I forgave him for missing my birth, but he can’t have been too repentant: I (much) later found out the old bastard missed my first birthday for the same reason. In fact many of my childhood birthdays involved driving to meet my Dad in country Victoria, where he’d be touring around the backroads with a bunch of schoolkids, showing them the beauty of the outdoors on two wheels. As a result, I had Great Victorian Bike Ride souvenir t-shirts for most years in the 1980s. He was a teacher, and along with some of his colleagues and parents he would take groups of kids on cycling expeditions a few times a year. When I was old enough, about 12, I was allowed to come on a few trips, fully loaded with a tent, sleeping bag and clothes in panniers on my heavy steel mountain bike.

David, universally known to his students as ‘Rowdy’, rode his Bob Jackson touring bike to work every day for 25 years, with students’ assignments for marking in his Carradice saddle bag (he’d order a new one every decade or so). This was a time when riding to work was a pretty weird thing to do, and he was regularly shouted at from passing cars, had bottles thrown at him, and even the occasional egg. His disdain for fashion and preference for utility over appearance probably contributed.

His other bike was a Jack Taylor tourer, in Reynolds 531. He didn’t ride it as often, preferring the cheaper Bob Jackson for reasons he never fully explained to me. He’d bought both bikes while living in England in 1976-77 after his parents had passed away. He lived in Cambridge, a paradise for the bicycle tourer, worked in a bike shop, and toured the countryside with the local touring club. At one point he did the John o’Groats to Land’s End (the length of Great Britain) ride.

In 1991 he introduced the family to the Tour de France. It was Indurain’s first Tour victory, and the 30 minute highlights package on SBS every night captivated me and my sister for the next decade. As you can see, I’m still captivated.

Never a racer, in his forties he discovered Audax, starting off with 100km rides and quickly building up to longer rides in pursuit of brevet cards. Audax clearly captured his imagination with its spirit of determination, independence and mental and physical challenge. A wiry man with a strong mind, he was well suited to long distance cycling. As his rides got longer he realised his old touring bikes were holding him back, and he finally treated himself to a new bike.

His Vetta road bike was a beautiful Italian machine made right at the zenith of steel framebuilding, just as carbon fibre was beginning to appear in the pro peloton. It was beautifully hand-painted in the Italian way, with ovalised tubing, plenty of chrome and Campagnolo components. The thing wasn’t just pretty, it was stiff and smooth and comfortable and fast. Once or twice he let me ride it, and I felt a million dollars, the impression of effortless speed and that intangible feeling of a quality steel frame left an impression on me that remains today.

By this time, I was old enough and strong enough to go on some big rides with him. We rode up Falls Creek together, my first big mountain climb. We did the Audax Alpine Classic (I did the 130km, he did the 200km) and I shot off at the start like the teenage idiot I was, virtually collapsed over the finish line in Bright, and saw him fly effortlessly past on his way to Mt Buffalo, looking as fresh as a daisy.

With his kids growing up, and a new bike to enjoy, Rowdy now had the time to really test himself. He finished the Audax Alpine Classic 200km several times (he wasn’t fast but he knew how to pace himself all day) and stepped up to really big rides, including the Fleche Opperman, a 24-hour team time trial where the team designs its own route covering at least 360km. His best attempt netted a 430km route.

David (in blue) with his Vetta on an Audax ride.

In 2001, he decided to skip the Alpine Classic and stay home for the long weekend. On the Sunday morning, the 28th of January, he went out for a ride with two friends, the regular ride down Beach Rd to Frankston and then back to St Kilda, and home.

He never came home.

At 9:30am he was hit by a car in Brighton, and died instantly.

The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel on her way home from an all-night party, drifted across four lanes of traffic and collided head on with the three cyclists, killing my dad, putting his friend Hugh Lowy (the father of one of my closest friends) into intensive care for a few weeks, and barely touching the other rider.

That was 15 years ago today.

The driver of the car, Lynette Satalich, was charged with culpable driving and spent 18 months in prison. I bear her no ill will, I know she has suffered from her mistake ever since. In court it was clear to us that her life had been broken just as profoundly as ours had, or more. Over the years since she has gone out of her way to campaign for greater care from drivers, giving a number of interviews on TV and in print imploring others to take care on the roads. I respect her for that, it shows great courage.

I barely touched a bike for five years after Dad was killed. I just couldn’t really deal with it, the fun of cycling was gone. It was 2006 before it began to return, an impulsive purchase of a Fuji road bike rekindling my enjoyment. Carbon fibre! Dad would have marvelled!

I moved to London in 2007, following the footsteps of my parents who had both done the same in their 20’s, before they’d met, and the bike became my transport, my sport and my network of friends. Slowly my passion for the bike returned, through repetition as much as anything else.

Today, I am still reminded of David every time I step over a top tube, which is often. My own love for cycling came from him, but I express it in my own way.

I know that he affected others, too. I’ve met many of his former students over the years, who remember him fondly. My surname is not common, and he taught hundreds of people over the years. Several have told me they went on his bike trips. Two of them are fathers of kids at my cycling club. I am never sure if they know he is dead, or how he died.

I am still angry that he is gone, but thankful for what he taught me, and I know that paradoxically his death made me a better person.

I am angry that fifteen years later, cyclists are still killed unnecessarily on the roads, and that virtually nothing has been done about this. I am incensed by the cavalier attitude of too many drivers, who don’t give a moment’s thought to the responsibility they owe to others.

His loss still affects me, my sister and my mother profoundly. My daughter, who will be born any day now, will never know her grandfather. My sister is distraught that Dad will never meet her son, but is determined that her little boy will grow up knowing about his missing grandfather.

Of course his life was about much more than cycling, but I suppose it has become the most salient way I connect with his memory.

Today I hope that David would be proud that his bad luck has not destroyed the love for cycling he spent twenty years diligently building in me. I honour his memory every time I race, every time I push hard up a climb, and I give a silent nod of thanks every time I ride past the place on Beach Road where he fell.

Today, I honoured his memory in a simple way that he would love: I rode to work.

Rapha borrowing from CS Grupetto?

Can anyone else see an odd similarity between this new Rapha Team Sky training jersey design:

It's nice, but a bit pricey.
It’s nice, but a bit pricey.


And the kit of London community cycling club CS Grupetto?


(image by Ricky Sampson)

I suppose imitation is a form of flattery.

The CS Grupetto kit has been kicking around London’s Famous London since 2008.

Still, the Rapha version may not be the better one. According to Wayne Peach, the man who designed Grupetto’s kit,

“I very much doubt that the pockets are large enough to contain a proper size Melton Mowbray pork pie, which as we know, is a design benchmark for all grupetto kit”

So at least there’s that.

GoPro goes broadcast

It seems that plenty of cycling fans will have one of their wishes granted this year, because GoPro has just announced a partnership with Vislink to add transmitting capabilities to GoPro action cameras.

This means on-bike footage can be broadcast live (or at least near-live) during race telecasts.

This is a huge improvement over having to wait for the race to finish so video can be loaded, edited and uploaded to a video sharing site, and it should add another important dimension to race coverage.

I wrote about on-bike video last year, and said at the time that live broadcasts would be the thing that really made it useful, so this is a welcome step.

What is Vislink? It’s a serious professional broadcast technology company with experience in microwave, satellite and cellular transmission, among other things. The fact that GoPro is partnering with a professional broadcast technologist and service provider rather than a consumer electronics firm indicates that this is pitched at the serious end of the market, rather than enthusiasts. That’s arguably a step up-market for GoPro.

I’m sure GoPro’s competitors will also be working on similar capabilities, so viewers could be in for plenty more innovation.

Story via TechCrunch. 

Great time of year to get on your bikes…

It might be pro road cycling’s off-season, but the traditional Aussie summer thwack of leather on willow is still being drowned out by spinning freewheels and the clacking of plastic cleats on cafe floors. Yes, the sun is out, the tan lines are crisping up nicely, and Australia’s cycling community is putting a collective leg over like Errol Flynn in a…. hang on, just updating my cultural references… like Mick Jagger at a… no… like Chris Froome on his honeymoon? It’s Aussie bike-riding season! Well, technically it’s always bike-riding season, what with the National Road Series (NRS) happening all winter, and all the state-based and club-based road races too. And it’s never a bad time to ride a bike, right? But this time of year is extra sweet. The weather is warm but not yet boiling, the dive-bombing magpies are calming down a bit, and you can head out for a ride reasonably confident that you won’t get drenched. In Melbourne, where I live, there’s racing more days than there isn’t. You can race in the morning, at night, after work, on the weekend, on the road, on a velodrome, down a mountain, up a fire trail. You name it, and you can attack it with two wheels and a fistful of energy gels. There are sportive rides, mass-participation rides, hill climbs, coffee rides, gravel grinds, mountain bikers dodging snakes (that should be an Olympic sport now that I think about it) and the rest of it. It’s a great time to be riding in Australia. And the professionals know it. It’s their off-season, which for the Aussies (and some adopted ones) means heading home for some time with family and friends, a bit of time off the bike, and then back into training in warm weather to start the build up to January, when Nationals and the Tour Down Under get the serious season underway. It’s a great time of year to spot internationally-famous riders catching up with old mates on the local roads, and dropping in to club races for a bit of fun. Chris Froome is even heading to Tasmania to race a crit with Richie Porte on December 7th. Froome has just gotten married, and he’s not a renowned crit rider, so don’t hold your breath for a massive performance from the former Tour de France champion, but still. How many times has a Tour winner raced in Australia, let alone in Launceston? Richie deserves a medal from the Tassie Tourism Board for that little effort. It all sort of starts this weekend in Melbourne with the Melbourne Kermesse Championships, where the local racers get a chance to have a go against some World Tour pros. A kermesse (not the green singing frog) is a Belgian style of circuit racing, sort of like a giant criterium. This circuit, around an industrial estate in suburban Scoresby, is not exactly the pinnacle of cycling’s natural beauty, but its sweeping curves should be fun to race on.

This is part of the Melbourne Kermesse Championships course. It's in a business park.
This is part of the Melbourne Kermesse Championships course. It’s in a business park.

Orica-GreenEdge riders Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker are racing in men’s A grade, along with Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort, Trek’s Calvin Watson, Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff, and leading rider agent (better known as a Tour de France green jersey winner) Baden Cooke. The rest of the men’s A grade field is a good blend of NRS riders and Melbourne’s fastest club racers. They’ll be bang up for it, too. Women’s A grade is also peppered with internationals: Kimberley Wells, Road/MTB/Track star Peta Mullens, Rebecca Wiasak, National TT champion Felicity Wardlaw, and Bridie O’Donnell will be amongst the contenders. There’s also a team time trial and lower grades, for the up-and-comers and weekend warriors (and even some hack bloggers). A disclaimer: my club is sharing in the organisation (but seems inexplicably determined to avoid earning any credit or publicity for doing so). If that’s not your cup of espresso, this weekend is also the beginning of the Domestique 7 Peaks series, which is a great series of free, supported rides up some of Victoria’s best mountains. I did the Mt Buller ride last year and had a great time. In a couple of weeks Orica-GreenEdge has its annual Winery Ride, where fans can meet the team’s riders, another good chance to get motivated (and drink some wine afterwards). That’s just a tiny taste of the bike-related good times going on around these parts. Good fun is really what this time of year is all about. Get on yer bikes, it’s a great way to see the gun riders up close and personal.

Is there a better approach to anti-doping?

Cycling’s perennial bugbear – doping – has reared its head again recently, with highly visible EPO positives to the Iglinskiy brothers, the rather limp response from their Astana team, and the evident toothlessness of the MPCC group which claims to safeguard clean cycling.

I know, doping never really went away, for all the talk about ‘different’ racing styles, biological passports and a new generation. I do think progress has been made on reducing dopage, but of course the trickle of positives reminds us that there is still plenty of work to be done.

The trouble, of course, is that catching cheats is extremely difficult, even with the biological passport and targeted testing regimes. It’s not always black and white, either. Often, prosecuting a doping case comes down to interpreting the probability of an athlete’s biological profile being influenced by natural versus artificial factors.

Proving guilt can be bloody difficult. The truth is that much of the fight against doping in cycling is based on automated algorithms and statistical modelling techniques that are designed to reveal physiological outliers. The software makes probabilistic bets, and if abnormalities of the right type are found, the data is examined by human experts who then make assessments of the probability that the data shows doping.

Reasonably, because the cost of false positives is so high (in terms of rider reputation and career damage, legal costs and even the kind of mass sponsor and broadcaster exodus we saw in the post-Armstrong period) the probability of a genuine positive needs to be very high before action is taken.

This leaves an uncomfortably large and murky grey area where unscrupulous riders are able to use the modern sophisticated doper’s bag of tricks (microdosing, masking agents, small transfusions, and other techniques) to dope, while flying under the statistical radar, so to speak.

Think of a recent case like Team Sky’s erstwhile rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, recently banned for two years after UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) ruled that his irregular blood values could not be explained by binge drinking and dehydration. The ruling effectively made a decision that on the balance of probabilities, it was almost certain that Tiernan-Locke was not just ‘on the piss’, but taking it as well. He stuffed up badly and his blood values set off all the alarms. Two-year ban.

Contrast his case with Roman Kreuziger’s ongoing argument with the UCI and WADA over whether his biological passport was criminally abnormal in 2011 and 2012, or just a bit idiosyncratic. It took more than two years (and probably a new algorithm) to reveal the alleged problems with his biological passport. The red flags weren’t raised.

It’s ten years since my last read of an exercise physiology textbook so I’ll reserve my judgment, but Kreuziger (and his experts) have argued that the probability of doping is not conclusive enough to ban him. The Czech federation agreed on September 22, so for now he is free to race. I don’t know for certain if Kreuziger was doping or not, but I do know that his argument rests on exploiting doubt about the probability of a genuine positive. He is well and truly in the grey area.

So, why am I writing about statistics?

Well, there’s an interesting new approach to anti-doping, and it’s being led in Australia. It’s intended to complement existing anti-doping by rewarding athletes who are statistically very likely to be clean, by certifying them as being so.

If WADA and bans are the anti-doping stick, then the Clean Protocol is the carrot.

It shifts the emphasis away from proving doping, where certainty has to be near-absolute, to endorsing a rider for being clean. Because riders who don’t meet the protocol face no punishment, the threshold for repercussions can shift – the protocol doesn’t say that any rider is doping, it just says “we guarantee this rider is clean”.

The bar for proving someone is clean can be placed in a very different area, statistically, than the bar for proving someone is dirty. It can be much tougher.

For the majority of clean riders, the current status quo is frustrating because there is no way of separating them from riders who are in the grey area of ‘doping but getting away with it’.

By signing up for the Clean Protocol (or similar, as long as the methodology is trustworthy) riders would have a way of proving (to a very high degree of certainty) to fans and sponsors that they are not doping.

It creates an incentive to be fastidiously clean, because the commercial implications for sponsors, and teams hiring only certified riders, would potentially be huge.

So, who’s behind this idea? Three people: Australian Teague Czislowki, Briton Andrew Johns (a lawyer and an ex-elite triathlete respectively) and American Dr Mike Puchowicz, a sports medicine doctor from Arizona, perhaps better known to cycling fans as the writer of the Veloclinic blog, where he analyses power data from climbs.

Puchowicz has a great explanation of the reasoning behind the Clean Protocol on his blog.

The basic protocol is that athletes must disclose who they work with; undergo psychometric testing; provide all the biological data gained in the course of normal WADA and other testing; provide information on injuries, supplements and therapeutic use exemptions; undergo a series of psychological deception tests of varying complexity; and encourage the people they work with to sign up for the protocol and undergo the same testing.

It’s undeniably stringent. But it needs to be, if the aim is to certify to such a high degree of confidence that a person is clean.

I think the idea has a lot of merit, provided the modelling techniques used are peer-reviewed and transparent. The scientific rigour must be unimpeachable.

Athletes might argue that the demands of anti-doping are already unreasonably tough – principally the whereabouts requirements and early-morning knocks on the door from testers – but as we’ve seen, the punitive approach has been hitting the limits of its ability to weed out dopers for many years. The Clean Protocol doesn’t replace any of the current testing, it’s additional and complements it.

Groups like the MPCC have failed to increase trust because their commitments have been shown up as hollow, there’s no rigour underpinning their statements about clean sport. A voluntary certification supported by robust science would be a very different proposition.

The Clean Protocol is an idea to keep an eye on.