Not the Best Start to the New Season

This year hasn’t seen the best of starts for TWT. Blogging aside, my bike has suffered from two breakdowns, both involving the derailleur, and last month my cycling plans were seriously hampered after my rear wheel was stolen. This then wasn’t replaced properly by my local bike shop and caused a further problem when I was in the middle of a ride on the Isle of Wight, then another when I was visiting the Cyclopark in Gravesend. All in all, its been a very stuttering start. After February’s floods, which affected the area where I live very badly, the weather hasn’t improved much and has alternated between snow (in March) to perennial downpour. It seems that every time I’ve managed to find time for a proper ride, the weather has conspired against me.

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The View Outside TWTs House in February

With Mrs TWT due to give birth next month and with a two year old running around, I’m finding less time to devote to cycling so am planning some changes to my routine. The only real time I’m getting to ride is on my way to work, so I’m looking to change where I’m based, maybe with a view towards being able to cycle all the way in. At the moment, I live 30 miles from where I work – which is fine one-way, but I’m not sure I fancy working shifts and then cycling for 60 miles. I’ve also applied for a further Ride 2 Work certificate so I can get that road bike I was talking about at Christmas. I’ve settled on a Cannondale Synapse 5 after test-riding it at Evans’ Gatwick store and it was beautiful. It’s slightly over the certificate value maximum of £1000, but the difference is worth it. I’ve never ridden a road bike before that test run and have to say that it was an awesome experience. The bike was effortlessly smooth to ride, responsive to handle and comfortable for a beginner like me. More on that when it arrives.

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TWTs New Year

I didn’t blog much over the Christmas or New Year period because of a distinct lack of cycling on my part. This was, in part, due to the appalling weather and flooding all around me, which would surely have put off even the most determined of cyclists! Despite having nearly three weeks off work, I managed barely a handful of rides – but at least what I did manage was more than my standard commute. So, in the past few weeks I have:

1) Invested in a Turbo Trainer during the sales. I picked up a Tacx Satori Pro with mat, DVD and stand for £149.99, down from almost £350 from Decathlon, far cheaper than even online stores had it. I’ll post about my experiences on this another time, but this was my way of stopping Mrs Tubby always whinging about me going out on my bike.

2) Joined a small Social Cycling group that I met on the GoSkyRide website, which meets up every Sunday. I completed my first ride with theme and (just) about managed to keep up on my clunky hybrid. Riding with others is so much more fun, and I aim to join a proper club later this year.

3) I decided to do the Sport Relief ride in London in March – just the 25mi course, though!

4) I cycled from Central London all the way out to the M25 boundary, taking in all the major tourist sites along the way.

5) I cancelled my Sky Sports subscription owing to wall-to-wall darts coverage, football and a compete lack of cycling coverage, despite Sky sponsoring one of the strongest pro teams in the world! Ironically, just as I did that! they’ve started covering the Tour Down Under…

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Clenbuterol

Michael Rogers, back when he was riding for Team Sky

Michael Rogers, back when he was riding for Team Sky

Today, yet another cyclist – Belgian rider Jonathan Breyne of UCI Continental Pro team Crelan-Euphony – has tested positive for the banned substance, Clenbuterol, following his ride at the Japan Cup in October 2013. This follows hot on the heels Michael Rogers’ positive test (pictured) for the same substance earlier this week, following his victory at the same event. Both riders had previously been racing in China the week before. Coincidence?

I’m no chemist, so much of the information I’ve pulled together here is from secondary sources.

Clenbuterol’s main legitimate use is as a prescription drug for those with severe breathing difficulties. It is a stimulant and increases aerobic capacity; it doesn’t take much to understand why it is a banned substance for all sports around the world. The now-notorious EPO does much the same thing. It also makes the body burn fat faster and more efficiently, which has led to it being used as a weight-loss drug by some celebrities and it is commonly pushed as a “fat burning pill“. It is also very popular on the bodybuilding scene. The trouble is, it is prohibited in the EU and the USA for just about everything, other than in limited medical and veterinary circumstances. It is possible to obtain it in the EU / USA, much like other illegal drugs can be obtained in very specific circumstances, but for someone who just wants to pop a few pills to help with weight loss, that isn’t going to happen. However, like most things in the modern age, it can easily be obtained on the internet – and the main place to get it is China. Even in China, its general use is illegal – but it still occasionally crops up as a food additive, owing to China’s more lax farming controls.

It doesn’t take much effort to locate sources of Chinese Clenbuterol all over the internet. The Qufu Xindi Chemical Research Company don’t advertise it on their official chemical product list, but they are quite clearly selling the substance on other sites. It is easily obtained on forums and even sites openly selling performance-enhancing drugs, which aren’t even legal in the UK. Steroid Supplier and Muscle Junkies are two other such sites I’ve found in the last couple of minutes, and I’m sure I could easily find more. The thing they all have in common is the source: China. This is also where both Reyne and Rogers claim they have unwittingly taken the substance, and both blame it on contaminated food, as have many other athletes before them.

While with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke I’m still very much undecided, when it comes to Michael Rogers I find myself a lot less supportive. Rogers left Team Sky just as their anti-doping charter was drawn up and he had refused to sign it. He left swiftly and joined a lesser team, Saxo-Tinkoff. Rogers is also known to have visited Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong’s now infamous doctor who was at the centre of the world’s biggest ever doping scandal, back in 2005 and 2006. I read Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, and am left in no doubt that people only went to see Ferrari because they wanted performance-enhancing drugs. He is utterly discredited. As such, for me, there is too much smoke around Michael Rogers to give him the benefit of the doubt unconditionally. His argument around contaminated food may have some merit, but consider that even the Chinese national team banned their own athletes from eating Chinese meat ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games so that they wouldn’t run the risk of ingesting any Clenbuterol. The same argument was used by Alberto Contador back in 2012 and it didn’t work then. UCI rules also make it absolutely clear (s.21, p.6) that it is the rider’s responsibility to control exactly what goes into their bodies. It beggars belief that in a country notorious for food contamination that teams – especially a WorldTour team like Saxo-Tinkoff – wouldn’t be aware of that.

What will ultimately decide the fate of Rogers and Reyne is the quantity of Clenbuterol in their systems, and this is the great unknown right now until proper hearings are held. Both Rogers and Reyne have tested positive for the substance in a China, where it is notoriously added to food to “bulk up” livestock. It is also the country where it is easier to get hold of than anywhere else in the world. Coincidence? We shall soon see.

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JTL Charged with Doping Offence

I don’t usually follow individual cases on this blog, but given my support and love of Team Sky, I have been following Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s case with considerable interest – not least because I remember how well he did at the Tour of Britain 2012 and how pleased I was when Sky snapped him up. JTL stood out in that competition as a class act. I’d never heard of him before that, but it was obvious he was destined for the big time.

Now he has been charged with a doping offence, my confidence is rattled a little. I find myself trying not to judge or rush to conclusions; no evidence has been made public yet and JTL is entitled to defend himself. Yet, given JTL’s circumstances – his medical history, the step up in class, a new regime – there are many reasons why his form could have suddenly fallen off when he joined Sky. I hope he’s innocent, but something is nagging at me. The UCI are going to be very sensitive to doping at the moment and I just can’t help but think they would make such an allegation unless they had cast-iron evidence.

Given Michael Rogers’ positive test in the last few days (another ex Team Sky rider), I really hope the team doesn’t get dragged into this as a whole. I believe them when they say they “race and win clean”. Let’s hope that faith isn’t misplaced.

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Boris vs Ventoux

In one of the most epic cycling challenges I’ve ever seen, Rob Holden decided to see if it was possible to take a Boris Bike from a docking station in London, drive all the way down to the south of France, ride up to the top of Mont Ventoux, and get his bike back to the dock within 24 hours so as to avoid a penalty charge. This was all done for Macmillan Cancer Support – a truly worthy cause.

The video can be found by clicking here.

And whether he succeeds or fails, you can find his Justgiving page here.

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Stolen Saddle Bag

Saddle Bag

Today, some odious little tosser has stolen my Bontrager saddle bag from my bike. It didn’t have anything in it, except for some mud, and it is quite positively the worst cycling accessory I have ever purchased in my life. I shan’t miss it. With a sort of gypsy’s curse, I hope it brings as much misery to the thief as it did to me.

The bag never really served any purpose for me. It was too small to fit anything in, other than perhaps a small bunch of keys or some energy bars – certainly nothing that wouldn’t fit in a typical jersey or jacket pocket anyway. It hung awkwardly beneath the saddle and all it really did was block my rear reflector and invite people to unzip it to see if there was anything inside worth stealing. It was an impulse purchase back from when I first got into cycling and I thought it looked like the kind of thing I “might” need, “just in case”. Well, I never did, and I don’t care, so there.

Enjoy your mud-filled worthless accessory, Mr Tea-Leaf.

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Snuffles

While it hasn’t yet got to traditional freezing temperatures just yet, my riding lately has taken a dent owing to a cold I caught last weekend. I know it’s not impossible to ride with a little dose of the flu, but I feel so drained, bunged up and sorry for myself, for once I just can’t bring myself to go out on my bike. Day Nurse is just about the only thing making me feel human at the moment.

Edit: I managed to get out on my bike for a short ride to the station this evening after posting this, just as the heavens opened. Now I’m soaking wet and snuffling. Cycling isn’t always good for your health!!

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Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

As I write this, there is still no news on the Jonathan Tiernan-Locke blood irregularity story that has been in the mainstream cycling press. Some have argued that Tiernan-Locke has been given a raw deal by the press and that JTL is effectively “tainted” now for the rest of his career, no matter what he does in future. This is the reason why doping investigations remain confidential, but questions were always going to be asked about why JTL pulled out of the GB Road Race team when he did back on 26th September 2013. “Lack of form” wouldn’t have cut it for long; much lesser riders than JTL were in that squad and he wasn’t representing the higher echelon of Team Sky at the time. His form had been poor since making the jump up from Continental level, but perhaps that was to be expected.

I’m not going to speculate wildly about whether JTL’s blood readings are representative of an illness or doping; I haven’t got any more facts than anybody else, yet I do feel that stories like this deserve to be in the press. Professional sportsmen / women manage to exist because they are a form of public entertainment, no matter what the sport. If people aren’t riding clean, then people deserve to know what they’re watching. If JTL’s blood readings are “clean”, then I expect the processes around that to be well-explained by the UCI so that we can all have confidence in the procedure, and I’m sure they will be very thorough procedures indeed. It shouldn’t taint him in the long-term, so long as there is transparency. Unfortunately, the UCI is a masterful institution at remaining silent on important issues within cycling, and nobody seems to know what is happening with the case at the moment.

On a personal note, I hope that JTL is clean. I saw him win the Tour of Britain at the first ever cycling event I attended in person, standing out on Guildford High St for about 4 hours just to catch a 15-second glimpse of him as he cycled past in the gold jersey. I saw him crunch his way up Porlock Hill in Devon the day before, knowing that my car had barely once made it up that climb. For me, he was one of the outstanding riders of 2012 and a deserved addition to the Team Sky line-up. I hope my faith in him isn’t misplaced.

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Winter is Coming

It’s that time of year again where it’s now getting decidedly freezing every time I step out of the house, and motivation to cycle goes down accordingly. Evans Cycles have been pushing their indoor turbo trainers hard and I have to say that I’m sorely tempted – not just to maintain fitness in the winter months, but also to give me an opportunity to hit the pedals in an evening when I’m at home and can’t be bothered to go out.

I’ve never used a Turbo Trainer before, but they look quite straightforward. Maybe Mrs Tubby will let me have one for Christmas?

Update, 02/12/2013:

Mrs T: You use it indoors???

I think that’s a “no”, then…

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Cyclist Casualties: The Police Response

This is an article where I definitely have a foot in both camps. Following the recent high number of fatal collisions involving cyclists in London, the Met has launched Operation Safeway – a massive deployment of uniformed officers across several high-risk junctions, aimed at kerbing both poor driving and poor cycling. Today, there are 650 of them out and about. If all 32 boroughs are taking part, that’s a significant amount of their deployable officers on any one shift. There will be supplements of traffic officers, I expect, but they’re a fairly small branch themselves.

The trouble with these operations is that they’re short term – a reaction to a headline. Unless the Met can keep 650 officers on this operation every day, forever, then it won’t do a great deal. It is, in itself, another headline to react to the headline. I agree that “something must be done”, but there is only so much that the police can actually do. With all the million-and-one other responsibilities that officers have, there is little time to devote to traffic matters. A penalty notice for a traffic offence can take as long to issue and deal with (especially if it’s contested) as a Burglary. Unfortunately, both are priorities – and there aren’t enough staff to go around dealing with it all as much as we’d like.

I hope some good comes from Op Safeway; maybe the advice given out will save a few lives, and maybe a few dangerous vehicles and drivers will be taken off the road. But in order to be successful in the long-term, the Mayor’s office are going to have to come up with a better solution – segregated lanes, dedicated cycle expressways, restrictions on HGVs – whatever it may be. Hoping that drivers and cyclists will all suddenly get “better” at driving or riding won’t do.

Paying for an extra 650 police officers to do this permanently would cost about £25m in wages alone each year, so I doubt MOPAC are up for that, either.

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