Tag Archives: michael rogers

Who’s in your Grand Tour Dream Team for 2014?

The Grand Tours have finished for 2014 and we’re on the downhill run to the season’s finish.

This week, as I soft-pedalled my way through the ennui that accompanied this depressing realisation, a thought struck me: ‘if you could pick a dream team of nine riders based on their performances in Grand Tours this year, who would you pick?’

Image credit: Ian Wakefield (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iandwakefield/14421245888/)
Image credit: Ian Wakefield (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iandwakefield/14421245888/)

It would have to be a balanced squad, not just a team of GC whippets. You’d need some sprinters and some blokes to do the grunt work. You’d have an unlimited budget (hey, spreadsheets are for proper jobs).

Any performances from non-Grand Tour races don’t count. Winning classics doesn’t help here, sorry Gerro.

I’ve chosen three GC riders, three sprinters and three wildcards.

Some selections were easy. Yes, predictably the three GC winners are present, but each of them won their respective titles in relatively straightforward fashion, were clearly the best riders in the races. I couldn’t convince myself that Jean-Christophe Peraud’s battling second at the Tour was better than Contador’s win at the Vuelta.

Marcel Kittel is another obvious choice. He almost can’t be beaten.

The others are less clear cut, and I’m sure there’s a few of you who’ll have other suggestions. It’s hard picking just nine guys. Anyway, here’s my Grand Tour Dream Team.

  1. Vincenzo Nibali
    It’s hard to think of a more perfect performance than Vincenzo Nibali produced at the Tour de France. For me, it was easily the best ride of the year, and one of the best individual Grand Tour performances I have seen. Right from his surprise victory in stage 2 in Sheffield, it was clear that Nibali had come to France in peak form. Go hard or go home was the theme, and by stage 5 on the cobbles he already had the Tour by the throat and his rivals faltering. Nibali won four stages, led the race for 19 out of 21 days, and won by 7’37” having barely dropped a second to any rival. He’s first picked.
  2. Nairo Quintana
    Many fans were bitterly disappointed when Movistar chose Alejandro Valverde as leader for the Tour de France, leaving their Colombian prodigy at home. It seemed crazy after Quintana’s storming 2013 performance. Quintana himself was disappointed, but management insisted that riding the Giro as leader would be better for his development. As it turned out, Quintana put in a scintillating performance in Italy, and clearly demonstrated that he isn’t fazed by the responsibility of leadership. His crash at the Vuelta was a massive shame, but his superbly aggressive performance in Italy still guarantees him a place in my dream team.
  3. Alberto Contador
    A season built around the Tour could have ended in disaster when the Spaniard lost concentration and crashed on Stage 11. His surprise return for the Vuelta provided some redemption, but his winning performance despite recovering from a broken leg really only increases speculation about what might have been if he’d been able to finish the Tour. That said, his Vuelta performance was full of grit and determination, despite coming in underdone. It’s a grudging selection for me, but I think it ranks him as one of the top 3 GC riders in this year’s Grand Tours, ahead of the podium-getters from the Tour.
  4. Marcel Kittel
    This year, Kittel has clearly been the best sprinter in Grand Tours. He looked unstoppable in the first days of the Giro, winning two stages before getting sick and withdrawing from the race before stage 4. He returned in the Tour, winning four stages including the two that all the fast men wanted, stages 1 and 21. On the flat, Kittel is virtually invincible. Between him and Nibali for the easiest selection.
  5. John Degenkolb
    Kittel’s Giant-Shimano teammate has disproved the conventional wisdom that having two gun sprinters in the same team is a recipe for ego clashes and conflict. The two are different enough that they don’t really compete for the same stage wins, and their rapport seems strong. Four stage wins and the points jersey in the Vuelta shows how good Degenkolb is when given the opportunity, and he can get over modest hills to win sprints that Kittel can’t.
  6. Michael Matthews
    The flashy Aussie sprinter came of age this year. He won two stages at the Giro (including the TTT) and wore the pink jersey for six days. He sat out of the Tour de France, but returned to the Vuelta in style, winning stage 3 and wearing the leader’s jersey for three days. Matthews is a highly versatile sprinter who can win on stages with moderate hills. I’ve picked him ahead of Nacer Bouhanni because of his all-around ability to win and then hang on to leader’s jerseys where other sprinters would struggle – that’s hugely valuable to his team.
  7. Rafal Majka
    Despite coming into the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour squad at the last minute and seemingly against his will, Majka’s role as a support for Alberto Contador changed when the Spaniard crashed out. Switching to freelance mode, Majka took his chance and won two stages of the Tour, and the KoM jersey. This followed an impressive Giro d’Italia where he finished 6th overall. I think Majka is the best super-domestique in the world at the moment.
  8. Tony Martin
    Always the unbackable favourite to win the time trial stage(s) in any Grand Tour he rides, but he also managed to take stage 9 of the Tour de France with a solo breakaway that ripped the peloton to shreds. He’s also a great team rider, regularly seen drilling it on the front to shut down breakaways for his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team, and is a huge contributor to that team’s regular high finishes in team time trials.
  9. Geraint Thomas
    I’m picking G. Thomas because he’s become one of the most valuable riders in his team, even without the wins and profile of some others. He is relentless, tough as nails, and completely selfless. He only rode the Tour de France this year, but some of the rides he put in for Chris Froome and Richie Porte were incredible. He still finished 22nd overall – not bad for a guy who was working for others and is better known as a classics man. Picked for his grunt work and attitude.

Unlucky to miss out:

Peter Sagan
His Tour de France green jersey showed his consistency and versatility, but he didn’t win a stage. He also failed to win a stage at the Vuelta. If he can overcome being a marked man, and rectify some tactical naivety, Sagan clearly has enough buckets of ability to fill an Olympic swimming pool. This year, he’s been better outside Grand Tours than in them.

Michael Rogers
Has had a great year after the worst possible start, under a doping cloud. Since being cleared, he’s ridden with a freedom that has rarely been seen during his long career, and it’s netted him two Giro stage wins, and one at the Tour. That’s a great return for a guy who doesn’t get many personal opportunities. Also a great team man.

Alejandro Valverde
Probably the most versatile rider in the world. How many others can win during the spring classics (he won Roma Maxima and Fleche Wallonne, and was second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege), miss a Tour de France podium by a handful of seconds, and then back it up with a Vuelta that netted him 3rd overall, 2nd in the points jersey, 3rd in the mountains jersey, and two stages (one individual, and a team time trial)? He’s got lethal finishing speed for a guy who can climb with the elite, and he’s also amazingly consistent through the season. He might not win a Grand Tour again, but he’s usually not far off the podium and he really loves a stage win.

Fabio Aru
Astana’s ‘mini-Nibs’ emerged from obscurity this season to finish on the podium in the Giro and 5th at the Vuelta. He also won a stage at each, showing that at just 24 years old, he’s Italy’s next likely Grand Tour challenger after Nibali himself.

Nacer Bouhanni
Despite being the second-favourite sprinter on the FDJ.com team, Bouhanni cleaned up five Grand Tour stages this season: three in the Giro and two in the Vuelta. Bouhanni only misses out because Kittel dominates him head-to-head, and he’s still not versatile enough when the road gets lumpy.
He’s had a combative year with his team management preferring Arnaud Démare for the Tour, and his race programme has been cut short by criticism of FDJ management after he signed for rivals Cofidis for next year. Despite all this, he won more Grand Tour stages in 2014 than Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel combined.

Adam Hansen
Because how can you have a Grand Tour team without Adam Hansen? He’s now finished ten in a row, and even claimed a stage win at the Vuelta this year. Hansen is the ultimate team rider, and everyone knows it. He’s also grown in confidence over the last two years and is now often making the race. Very dangerous in a break.

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Was Mick Rogers really stupid enough to take clenbuterol?

In late December, I wrote a piece for The Roar examining the circumstances around Mick Rogers’ positive test for clenbuterol in Japan, shortly after the Tour of Beijing.

Today, the Secret Pro, writing anonymously for CyclingTips, weighs in on the Rogers case with some comments from inside the pro peloton.

Go and read the original, but this quote stuck out for me:

“In the scheme of things, Japan Cup is equivalent to winning a regular Sunday club race. Why would anyone risk ‘preparing’ for that? People I’ve spoken to that have been around for a while says they haven’t heard of anyone taking clenbuterol in the past 20 years. You’d be ‘glowing’ for too long.

Every rider agrees that Mick’s case is a muck-up, but at the same time nobody is publicly jumping to his defense.

It makes no sense that anyone would take clenbuterol with the testing that’s done these days.”

Well, that’s what I reckon, too. The most effective drug in the world is practically useless to pro athletes if it’s easily detectable.

The Rogers case hasn’t publicly progressed since December, but murmurs about the possible next step are picking up.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote back in December.

Was Mick Rogers really stupid enough to take clenbuterol?

The news of Michael Rogers’ positive test for clenbuterol is a perplexing one for cycling fans.

A second positive test in China a few weeks later, by Belgium’s Jonathan Breyne (who subsequently attempted suicide) (http://www.theroar.com.au/2013/12/22/belgian-cyclist-attempts-suicide-after-positive-drugs-test/) has reignited discussion about this substance.

On the one hand, weariness and cynicism about doping continue to pervade the sport; but digging a little deeper into clenbuterol reveals the sporting world needs to have a serious discussion about this substance’s handling by authorities.

In cycling, the most famous case of clenbuterol doping is of course Alberto Contador, who was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France victory after testing positive and claiming that it was caused by eating a contaminated steak.

What’s often forgotten is the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) found that Contador had most likely ingested the clenbuterol accidentally in a contaminated supplement, and because of WADA’s strict liability rules he received a two-year backdated ban.

The CAS panel found that both Contador’s claim about contaminated steak, and the UCI’s contention that it was the result of a blood transfusion, were possible, but equally unlikely. Cases of clenbuterol contamination in meat seem to be vanishingly rare in Spain, and CAS ultimately found Contador’s excuse to be unsatisfactory.

You can read the CAS judgement here.

It’s worth pointing out that even the UCI and WADA didn’t allege that Contador had deliberately doped with clenbuterol, probably because there was so little of it (apparently 50 picograms) found in his urine.

The proud dopers over at Steroid.com suggest a daily dose of 40-140 micrograms per day, for men. This puts the amount of clenbuterol found in Contador’s body at approximately 1/1000,000th of an active daily dose.

The recent cases involving Rogers and Breyne will be very interesting, because clenbuterol contaminated meat in China is a different matter to in Spain.

Clenbuterol contamination is a well known problem with Chinese beef, due to its widespread use during beef production, and WADA and sports governing bodies have been warning athletes about the risks associated with eating meat in China for several years.

Indeed, Chinese Olympic athletes were apparently banned from eating meat in the lead-up to the London Olympics, such was the risk of positive tests.

Professional cyclists have no excuse for not being aware of this, and exercising extreme caution.

I haven’t seen reported anywhere the amounts of clenbuterol found in either of Rogers’ or Breyne’s samples, so we don’t know whether their respective positives are similarly low doses to Contador’s.

Both riders vehemently protest their innocence, but of course we’ve been there before.

However, I haven’t seen any serious commentators arguing that these riders were deliberately doping with such an easily-detectable substance, whose main benefit seems to be weight loss (not often a problem for cyclists at the end of a long season), for a relatively meaningless late-season race.

Rogers at the 2012 Olympics

Why would a cyclist use this substance?

According to Wikipedia: “It causes an increase in aerobic capacity, central nervous system stimulation, blood pressure, and oxygen transportation. It increases the rate at which body fat is metabolized while increasing the body’s BMR. It is commonly used for smooth muscle-relaxant properties as a bronchodilator and tocolytic.”

All of which seems useful for an elite athlete, and cyclists in particular, but some reading around some of the less ethical parts of the internet – bodybuilding sites – indicates that clenbuterol is used mainly for weight loss, particularly after an anabolic steroid cycle so that food intake can remain high without worrying about getting fat. (http://www.musclechemistry.com/upload/articles-new/65546-clenbuterol-faq-how-cycle-clen-clen-side-effects-doses.html)

Keeping lean just after you’ve stopped taking steroids is not the kind of use case you would expect from an elite cyclist during competition.

Especially when it’s possible to detect 1/1,000,000th of an active dose in urine.

You would have to be a complete moron to take clenbuterol as a professional cyclist.

Sure, we’ve seen some pretty stupid acts by dopers in the past, but the risk:reward payoff for this substance is absurdly stacked in favour of getting caught. I just don’t believe that Contador or Rogers are that stupid.

What we do know is that stories of clenbuterol contamination in Chinese food seem highly plausible. Lee Rodgers pointed this out in his piece earlier this week: a WADA-accredited laboratory found that 22 out of 28 recent travellers to China tested positive to clenbuterol.

If 78% of the (admittedly small) sample tested positive, it seems clear that the chances of ingesting some clenbuterol from Chinese meat are well beyond “possible” and verge on “very likely”.

It’s fair to ask why these riders were eating meat at all. It’s also worth asking how teams with their own chefs, dieticians, and staff (at least in Rogers’ case) could allow something like this to happen.

There is nothing in Michael Rogers’ statement to indicate whether or not he followed guidelines on avoiding meat. It’s possible he went ‘off-piste’ and ate a meal outside of the team environment. Perhaps he only ate in team hotels. We don’t yet know.

But there needs to be a serious discussion about whether eating a meal should be enough to ruin someone’s career and reputation.

At the moment, we have a situation where the rules about substances like clenbuterol (there is no allowable amount and testing for it is phenomenally effective) are extremely strict, but the known risk of accidental positives is high.

Riders are understandably not happy about this.

Garmin-Sharp’s young Australian rider Lachlan Morton put it succinctly on Twitter [He seems to have recently deleted his account – Ed]: “How do you know how your meat was prepared on the road?” (https://twitter.com/lachlanmorton/status/413478594845741056)

“I’m worried” (https://twitter.com/lachlanmorton/status/413478628047872000)

Robbie McEwen was similarly blunt:

McEwen also pointed out that there’ll be a long queue of riders trying to avoid racing in China next season:

The problem is that World Tour teams are compelled to race in the Tour of Beijing, so somebody is going to have to race there. The UCI has too much invested in China to simply stop racing there.

So what can be done?

In the short term, teams might have to go temporarily vegetarian while in China.

Failing that, they may have to bring their own meat supply in from Europe (or indeed Australia).

But these are just band-aid solutions to a deeper problem regarding banned substances which are known to be used in food production.

WADA needs to urgently investigate whether it’s appropriate to introduce a minimum threshold for returning a positive test for clenbuterol and other similar substances.

It could be far below the level of an active dose, while still remaining high enough to avoid positives from trace amounts found in food.

There is precedent in establishing accepted ranges for particular substances, particularly naturally-occurring substances like testosterone, or several blood cell values.

Clenbuterol does not occur naturally in the body, so this would be setting a precedent for synthetic substances.

For both Contador and Rogers, there is a sense in some cynical circles that this is an ‘Al Capone’ bust: they may have got away with plenty in the past, so getting them on a technicality is some kind of rough justice.

I understand the frustration with doping that engenders this attitude, but I don’t think it’s right to leave doping booby traps around for random riders to fall into.

We need to avoid a repeat of the situation this week, where a young rider (Breyne) attempted suicide because of a positive test that looks reasonably likely to have been caused by food contamination. Riders who are genuinely trying to behave ethically deserve some protection.

Bogus positives also serve to undermine the trust of riders and fans in the anti-doping movement, and this should be avoided wherever possible.