Friday 30 October 2009

How can Pat McQuaid stand over Zabels appointment?

I grew up in Glasnevin, a stones throw from the home of the McQuaid clan. I was in class in school with one of the family. I raced alongside a few of the others and knew pretty much all of them. So when Pat McQuaid was elected to the Presidency of cyclings world governing body, the UCI,  it was natural to have a moment of pride that one of our own could rise to such an exalted position. It was also natural to feel that, at last, one of the good guys was in a position to finally do something about the scourge of doping in our sport.

As recently as a month ago, after a turbulent first term, McQuaid appeared to reinforce what remains of those hopes in his speech accepting a second term. "There is no place for cheats in our sport", he announced to the UCI Congress, later adding "the most important thing is that they recognize the UCI is the government of the sport of cycling worldwide, and its authority as such is indisputable".

A month later the UCI, and therefore McQuaid himself, seem to have gone out of their way to to undermine those words. How? By the unbelievable appointment of Eric Zabel to the UCI Pro-Tour Council is how.

For those who don't know, Eric Zabel is a German ex-rider, renowned as the best sprinter of his day. He won six consecutive Tour De France green points jerseys, collecting 12 stages along the way, in the late nineties and early noughties. He also won four Milan-San Remos, three Paris-Tours and numerous other races in a long career.

However, his achievements have been overshadowed by is own admission, in 2007, that he used EPO in preparation for the 1996 Tour while riding for Team Telekom. He has been applauded in some circles for his "courageous" tearful admission, while still riding professionally. Since his retirement, far from skulking off in disgrace, Zabel has been lauded at the highest level. First in his capacity as coach and "inspiration" to current sprinting ace, Mark Cavendish, and now by this appointment, where he joins ex-riders Vittorio Adorni, Roger Legeay, Charlie Mottet, Stephen Roche, Dario Cioni and Cedric Vasseur, not all of whom are squeaky clean either. 

Now I'm not necessarily one to say all dopers should be shown the door in disgrace. Each case is different and it is possible to make amends for past indiscretions. However, I don't believe Zabel fits that bill.

Firstly, lets look at his confession. Far from being motivated by a desire to come clean and contribute to the future health of the sport, Zabels hand was forced by the imminent publication of a book by Telekom masseur Jef d'Hont, and by the confessions of several of his teammates, all lifting the lid on organised doping within the team. The lies had run out of time.

Second, it wasn't his only brush with doping. In 1994 Zabel tested positive for Clostebol metabolites. Of course he denied it, claiming it was in an ointment innocently used on him. He was let off with a small fine and UCI points deduction.

Thirdly, let's look at what Zabel has said and done to contribute to the fight against doping since his confession. As far as I can find, nothing! David Millar has had his critics since his return from his doping ban but at least he's made some effort to contribute to the good fight. Herr Zabel, it appears, prefers not to dwell on such nasty matters.

In a month when McQuaid came very close to having to present the rainbow jersey to one of the embarrassment (thats the collective noun!) of dopers currently riding in the peleton (Basso, Vino, Valverde come to mind) it beggars belief that the appointment of Zabel to any official post sends anything but the wrong message. I guess there is a place for the cheats in our sport after all. Can the UCIs authority remain "indisputable" if they keep up like this?

Friday 16 October 2009

Everything you need to know about cycling in Dublin

Check out the pic here, taken by Joe Drumgoole, which just says it all about Dublins bike lanes.

Bike Fitting.

Not long after I started upping the cycling from just a daily commute to "proper" rides of 40/50 miles or more at the weekends, I began to feel a pulling in the right side of the groin. I thought it just needed some stretching so ignored it.

When I moved on to my new road bike, I spent a good bit of time setting up my position. Complete with plumb line, spirit level, measuring tape, some help from the wife and a large dose of feel I adjusted saddle and cleats over a period of a couple of weeks until I had what I felt was a good position. If I had any doubts it would have been that I felt my stem might be a bit long, but then I'd been used to the upright position of a mountain bike for years so it was natural I'd feel a bit stretched out on a road bike.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the pulling in the groin turned into an ache in my back. Some days I almost had to fold myself upright after a spin. And then, four days before I was due to ride the 100 mile Tour of Meath, I was sitting in my office when I felt as if I'd been stabbed in the lower back. I was in spasm!

Since then I've been having to scale back the cycling and have had a few physio/acupuncture sessions which have helped. However, while my back is feeling good, and I have no pain while actually cycling, my right sacro-iliac joint is still quite tender.

More and more I've been thinking that maybe my position on the bike might be contributing to, if not causing, the problem. I was on the verge of getting a shorter stem but before I did I decided I needed some help. I did a little research and discovered a website called They advertise a Video Based Bike Setup Analysis which includes video and hands on analysis of both the bike and rider to try to optimise position. It comes recommended by several web sources and at €70 it seemed a good investment relative to Physio visits at €50 a time.

I had my appointment tonight with IrishFit and I'm very impressed. The analysis was done by Leo Heenan, billed as a Sport Rehabilitator and Sport Massage Therapist (and self confessed bio-mechanics obsessive), and it was so much more than just measuring me and my bike.

Leo started having me do various stretches and exercises, as well as him doing some hands on manipulation of my legs, hips and feet. From that he diagnosed that I have issues with my hamstrings, hips, lower back and glutes (bum!) that need work. He outlined some useful exercises for me to do at home and gave me a very comprehensive explanation of what they should do for me.

Only after I'd had a once over did we turn to the bike. My own road bike was set up on a turbo trainer with two cameras pointing at it, one head-on and one side-on. I got on and Leo put some white stickers on me, one at each joint (knee, ankle, hips) and also on my foot and shoulder. I then rode at a fairly gentle cadence (about 80 rpm) while Leo recorded footage on his laptop.

After a short time, Leo stopped me and started tracing lines on the side-on image in front of him. He was measuring the key angles at my hips, knees and ankles. From that he was able to say categorically that my saddle was too low. So it was off the bike and the allen keys were out. We raised the saddle and then repeated the process. It took two more times to get it right, with a fresh analysis after each adjustment, by which time my saddle had been raised a full 4cm (really!!) and had been moved forward a small bit. I was shocked by that. Leo advised that this position would be a big change and I might want to take it in smaller steps over a few weeks but in the end it would be necessary to help sort out my back issues and also to make my pedaling much more efficient.

He then measured the angles on my upper body. From that he advised that I had been right that my stem isn't right. However, it's not too long. It's too SHORT! That's why I've been getting pins and needles in my hands after 30 miles or so, and why my neck is very tight after a bike ride. None of which is helping my lower back. I need to increase from the 100mm I have to at least a 110mm, if not even a 120mm.

Then it was on to the head-on camera. That was interesting. The software traces the movement of the stickers on each knee and charts a path on the screen. The ideal would be a straight vertical line. Mine showed a banana shape, with my knees moving out on the upstroke and in again on the down stroke. Leo was able to explain that this was due to my hips being too tight, forcing my knees out. To be fair he did agree that the belly hanging down as I hunch over doesn't help but that the main issue is the hips. On the plus side my ankles and hips were in line, which means my cleats are well adjusted and my feet are in good positions.

That concluded the analysis. All in it took nearly an hour and a half and my bike was set up quite differently by the end. The last part of the service is that Leo will produce a full report containing not just bike measurements but also his report of the physical analysis and also a program of stretches and exercises for me to follow, tailored around my specific issues.

So as well as having my bike set up for me I feel the real benefit is that it's made me much more aware of how my body core relates to my bike riding and my general health. I have the beginnings of a way out of the pain and discomfort to what hopefully can be much more enjoyable cycling. Overall, while the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, I feel it was €70 well spent and would highly recommend a visit to IrishFit, and to Leo in particular.

I will admit that the twelve mile or so ride home felt a bit odd with my saddle so high, but I did get off the bike feeling my back was much straighter than after my spin last weekend.

BTW Leo has some footage and a sample report on the website here.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Track events to be removed from the Olympics

I read today that the UCI is planning to remove some of the endurance events from the track program in London in 2012. According to the plan is to remove the individual pursuit, the points race and the Madison from the Olympics and replace them with a programme which would comprise of  the men's and women's individual sprints, the team sprint, the keirin, the team pursuit and a new omnium event. The omnium would be made up of a flying 200m, a points race, a scratch race, an individual pursuit and possibly some other events. The reason given is to "bring parity to the men's and women's programmes, with five events for each".

What are they playing at? Is this a UCI idea or, more likely, does it come from the IOC? Is this all part of the incessant drive to move the Olympics away from the vision of Baron De Coubertin and towards the vision, and money, of the Murdochs of the world?

Ironically at a time when Sky is coming on board to sponsor cycling (a development I'm not sure I'm all that comfortable with, but that's another story)  the Olympics are becoming indistinguishable from any night of the week on Sky Sports.

When Baron De Coubertin formed the idea that “organised sport can create moral and social strength” did he envisage billionaire golfer Tiger Woods taking a break from his Major targets to have a bit of fun at the Olympics, or the multi-millionaires of the NBA bitching and sniping at each other in the name of sport while on a break from Monnday Night Basketball, or whatever it's called. Do these "stars" really represent the Olympic ideal, more than a relative unknown Pursuiter, like say& David O'Loughlin, who has ploughed a lonely, and underfunded, road to achieve a dream for it's own sake.

Is the downgrading of cycling really about making room for the cash cows, the ratings grabbers? Is that why the events that take a bit of time and understanding are being done away with in favour of the fast, action packed sprint events?

Gender equality is the ostensible reason being quoted by Pat McQuaid for this move. It might be news to Rebecca Romero that her pursuit gold in Beijing wasn't in "parity" with Bradley Wiggins' one, or Petra Rossner's in Barcelona wasn't on a par with Chris Boardman's, or Marianne Vos didn't win a points medal to match Joan Llaneras one in 2008. Apart from the Madison all of the events facing the axe are already there for both sexes. Does this mean we'll have mens synchronised swimming and men performing gymnastic routines with ribbons in the name of parity? Will there be an equal number of mares and stallions in the equestrian arena?

Or is there another agenda at work? It has been an open secret that there has been tension between the Olympic movement and cycling for some time. Is that why cycling seems to be losing status and events while swimming seems to have every possible distance in every possible event Games after Games. Swimming had, I believe, 32 events at the last Games. Now I'm not arguing that swimming should lose any events. It caters for equally dedicated and largely unsung athletes. What I am saying is that some sports appear more equal than others.

So please, keep the real sportsmen and women and ditch the peacocks. That's what the Olympics really should be about.

Friday 2 October 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 3

And so to Sundays big one, the Elite Mens race. On a beautiful sunny day in Mendrisio, the atmosphere was building before we even got there on the train. It was even more exciting for us given that there was a very real feeling going around that the Irish lads had a real chance of success. We had the green "Ireland" t-shirts on and the Tricolour out so we were a match for blue Italian, red Swiss and orange Dutch fans any day.

We were only a few minutes out of the station when the first sound of the helicopter approaching had us making for the roadside. As we turned an Irish voice beside us was telling her Mum to get to the barriers. She spotted us with the flag and was straight over. She was surprised, and delighted, to hear that there were Irish riders in the race.

Turns out they weren't over from Ireland for the event but were in fact locals! The mother was from Galway.  She'd married a Swiss man 25 odd years ago and had moved to Mendrisio with him. The voice we had heard first was her daughter, in her early twenties and Swiss born and bred. That was amazing to us because her accent was pure Galway! Apart from how she pronounced some place-names you would not have thought she came from anywhere else. So we chatted for a bit, explained what was going on in the race, pointed out the three Irish lads in the bunch and moved on.

Irish Champion, Nicolas Roche

Dan Martin and Philip Deignan on Acqua Fresca
early in the race.

After going to the second climb, Novazzano, on Saturday we headed for Mendrisio town and the first climb, Acqua Fresca. This was another steep one, rising in several ramps through the town and out into the country above.

If the other side of the course was the Belgian village, there was no doubt but that the Dutch had taken over this side.  At one point the Dutch and Swiss fans on opposite sides of the road were counter chanting "Holland", "La Suisse", "Holland", "La Suisse"! Just like their Benelux neighbours the Dutch were downing the beers with enthusiasm as the DJ called out party games and race related quizzes for Dutch themed (ie Orange) prizes.

By this stage the race had settled in to the usual Worlds pattern. A ten man break had opened a 7 minute gap on the bunch and were grinding out the laps in the sunshine. German sprinter Andre Greipel was a surprise inclusion in the break, not least to himself according to his post race interviews.

Andre Greipel (Germany) in the early break of the day.

The bunch was being controlled by the big nations, including the Aussies and the Belgians.

Stuart O'Grady of Australia (right) leads former
World Champion Tom Boonen of Belgium (far left)

At this stage, before the inevitable fireworks kicked off, it was time for some lunch. As we tucked in to a stand up lunch in a local shopping arcade, who should come along only the Irish/Swiss mother and daughter from earlier. But this time there was no doubting their loyalties. Having found out there was Irish riders to support they'd rushed home, donned their best Ireland tops and grabbed their Tricolour. They were out for the day now!

A couple of laps more and a surprising split was formed. Actually there were two splits. The first was being forced by the Italians and contained defending champion Allesandro Ballan, while the second was being driven by the Belgian team and contained former champion Tom Boonen. The two groups joined up and for a bit it looked like the peleton was not going to close it down. Most of the big countries were represented in the break so who was left to chase?

Defending World Champion, Allesandro Ballan of Italy
follows Belgium's Greg van Avermaet in the mid race split.

Well that was answered soon enough. The strong Aussie team were obviously not along for the ride and, despite having Mick Rogers in the split, massed at the front to get their co-leaders Evans and Gerrans back into contention. It was a powerful display  of teamwork and strength and eventually bore fruit as the remains of the field came back together for the finale.

The Aussies lead the chase.

At this stage the Irish lads were still in there. Philip Deignan looked the more comfortable, Dan Martin was hanging in but Nico Roche was looking like he was feeling the pressure.

 Philip Deignan looks more at ease than eventual winner, Cadel Evans.

Nicolas Roche feeling the effects of a long season.

As we made our way back towards the finish area we heard that Roche had had enough. The word from the Irish pit was that after his amazing Tour De France debut, and subsequent heavy racing schedule, he was just too tired.

As on Saturday the rush was on now to find a telly to see the finish. Today it came courtesy of a Belgian fan club whose tent must had had fifty odd people crowded around to witness Cadel Evans outwit the Swiss and Italians to net Australia's first World title. As a former resident of that fine country I was almost as happy as I'd have been if one of ours had done it (well not quite, but a bit happy!).

Dan Martin leads 2009 World Champion,
Cadel Evans

1st Cadel Evans (AUS)                      6:56:26
2nd  Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS)            +0:27
3rd Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (ESP)          s.t.

For a full race report see

One of the great things about attending in person at an event like the Worlds is you get to enjoy the non-racing parts too. At the Start/Finish are there was a trade village with various stands including a very impressive display team.

And best of all I finally got to fulfil a dream and take the final stage in the yellow jersey (well almost!).

Thursday 1 October 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 2

Following on from the womens race was the race for the Under 23 Men. As there were no Irish riders in that I have to say we weren't fully engaged in the action, but it was a good chance to walk some more of the course, in reverse.

The final kilometer was pretty straight and flat, through farmland, but as we approached the red kite we could hear some serious partying up ahead. That was the Belgian Village, a cordoned off area, open to all, where the Belgians could gather, listen to a Belgian DJ, watch their riders on the big screen and fill themselves with their country's staples, beer and frites (with mayo of course!).

On up the hill and the camper vans were gathered. Dutch, Belgian, Italian, British, Norwegian, Spanish, U.S. ... you name the country and there seemed to be a camper van with a flag of that country on top. And it was pretty obvious some of them had been there for a while from the array of BBQs and beer coolers scattered around their patches. Best of all amongst the mayhem was the British couple relaxing in their deckchairs, reading their books, the very picture of gentility! More tea, dear?

But the locals had all the best spots bagged, as these two pics clearly show!

From there it was a good two kilometers down to the bottom of this, the second, and steepest, hill on the course. It's really only standing there that you appreciate the gradient and hence the severity of the race.


On down the hill, past the beer tent where the Fermoy lads were camped out for the afternoon, and we finally came out on a motorway flyover marking the bottom of the previous descent. By that time the race was in it's final stages and we again had to find a telly fast. That came courtesy of a beer and coffee stall who had set up a laptop on the counter, streaming the race live. A small gathering of locals, as well as a Norwegian couple and us, were glued to it, only pulling away to run over to the barriers to see Romain Sicard of France fly around the corner on his way to a well deserved victory.

Standing around the laptop at the coffee stall felt more like being at a local pub than on a flyover. Customers gathered around the TV watching a sporting event, banter going back and forward, armchair criticism from the Italians, who seemed very peeved that a Frenchman was about to win, and the owner occasionally joking (in Italian) that really we should be buying something.

1st  Romain Sicard (FRA)    4:41:54
2nd Betancur gomez Carlos Alberto (COL)   +0:27
3rd Egor SILIN (RUS)  s.t.

For a full race report see