It's that time of year, when riders go shopping for special gifts for their family, in places like Calpe, Spain, where -- hardship of hardships! -- their teams require them to spend some time on a bike. Similarly inconvenienced are journalists from throughout the cycling world, who have to make the same dreary trek to some sun-bleached Spanish coast for a day of talking to sweaty athletes. I tell ya, some guys just can't get a break.
Now, where's my rock salt bucket?
Anyway, with the disclaimer that I am not actually Santa Claus, I think it is time to catch up on the news in the cycling industry, through the binary holiday prism of "naughty" and "nice." Call it Base-N. Because right now, it's the only metric that matters.
Clenbuterol: very, very naughty
Granted, Clenbuterol could not have reasonably expected a visit from Santa in the first place, but it is in fact a very naughty substance, and so too are the people responsible for putting it in the urine streams of Mick Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo-Tinkoff) and Jonathan Breyne (Crelan-Euphony). Whether that person includes Rogers, Breyne, the chef at Najia Xiaoguan, or the directors at some cattle processing plant in Xinjiang, is difficult to say just yet.
Rogers has been provisionally yanked by the UCI and his team, pending a B-sample, which if confirmed would get him a longer vacation while presumably he seeks an appeal. He's already indicated to Tinkoff-Saxo that contaminated food is the culprit. Both he and Breyne raced in China this fall, shortly before their positive tests, so China continues to get scapegoated as the contaminated meat capital of the world. Lesson to riders? Either score UCI points early enough to get yourself excused from the desperate Tour of Beijing scramble, or pack yourselves a few jars of marmite. Or take a lesson from my favorite cannibal joke:
Cannibal 1: "You know, I really hate my mother."
Cannibal 2: "Just eat the noodles."
CN's Daniel Benson: Nice!
I have crossed paths with Daniel a couple times, and can assure you, he seems quite nice. But this year's designation goes for his prickly sessions with both Lance Armstrong (easy target) and Jens Voigt, after the latter got his back up in an interview last week with Benson for hinting about doping on Voigt's past teams. Voigt is universally seen as one of the friendly faces in the sport, at least by casual fans, and his frank and sometimes silly demeanor make for a great Youtube clip. And in all, I don't think he's a bad guy... but when he got "mad and angry" at Benson for probing his association with teams whose record (ahem!) speaks for itself, all Jens! did was remind us that he is from the era before Puerto.
Now, to be clear, that's really all I'm saying. He raced at a time when you were more or less required to maintain a program to be truly competitive. But Voigt's record is clean, and he maintains he never crossed that line. I say it's possible he raced clean, but beyond that I have no idea. Anyway, kudos to Benson for asking the tough questions and taking shit for it. This is the template for cycling journalism going forward. I'm sure it's hard; it's more fun to be on friendly terms and get a ride in the team car, but that system has failed us repeatedly.
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke's blood values: also very naughty
It's been a curiously big week for UCI testers and sanctioners (as opposed to the more ubiquitous national federation enforcers), having previously informed Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke that his blood values as documented in his biological passport from 2012 warranted a suspension. The tests date back to his time with Endura, and Sky have exited the responsibility stage left. JTL will get a chance to fight back, and maybe this will blow over, but for now he's in the UCI's time-out corner.
Peter Sagan's sense of responsibility: Nice!
What do you do when you've won too many races to count, handle the bike like a demon, and possess adequate size and power for cycling's most demanding parcourses? Well, you get your ass to Compiegne for the second Sunday in April, and ride Paris-Roubaix, damn the torpedoes. Peter Sagan, world's #1 rider, will be doing just that -- for a change. Sagan skipped the Queen of the Classics the last two years, in part because his team had him cue'd up for the Ardennes and Brabantse Pijl after Flanders, and somewhere in there even Sagan needs a day off. But at training in Tuscany Sagan told the media this week that he intends to prioritize quality over quantity in 2014, and that begins with chasing a result on the pave. Or ends, who knows. For the record, he finished second in the U23 version a while back (though it's worth noting he's just now 23), and took the start twice on the senior circuit, with one finish (86th).
Ursula: dreadfully naughty
Sorry. That's all I can say. But hey, you can't make FSA Directeur Sportif Omelettes of Awesome without breaking some eggs.
Niels Albert: slightly naughty
What was that grown man, a former cyclocross world champion, doing stealing victory from that little kid the other day? Isn't he old enough to be Mathieu van der Poel's dad? OK, maybe not, he's a mere 27 himself. (Sven is old enough to call MvdP "son" but of course vdP is just enjoying his opportunities while Thibault Nys is too young to get a license.) Anyway, Albert stole away a win in Sint-Niklaas this week from the Dutch wunderkind. I guess he should take these victories from van der Poel while he still can. But it was a tad naughty.
Lotto Belisol kits: nice!
Really, they speak for themselves. Very old school. And a tad bright. But for years the Lotto kit has done its best to meld into a Belgian industrial landscape on a grey spring day. So yeah, win.
Fabian Cancellara: nice*
[*Caveat: unless you have to ride against him. Then naughty.]
Fabian Cancellara says that the Koppenberg's new position in the Ronde van Vlaanderen means it will see the explosion of the race. This is tantamount to Fabian Cancellara saying he's going to crush a lot of people's dreams on the Koppenberg. Really, if there could be any saving grace from the exclusion of the Muur, it would come in the form of the Koppenberg (which, by the way, is an exceptionally naughty hill) actually affecting the race. It's usually way too early, and the guys walking up are doing so because it can't be fluidly ascended in a massive group. But in smaller groups, late in the race? Well, we shall see, but I look forward to finding out.
Oh, and he interviewed with the Podium Cafe. So extra nice. More on that next week.