Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's All Downhill From Here

The Denver Post is reporting  on a case of Sporting/Bicycling fraud, well, to be precise mountain bike racing fraud.

Cyclistas are very precise about terminology, and "bicycling" is something you do on a bicycle you can pick up at Wal-Mart, while someone who spends more than let's say $800 on something you pedal, is probably a little more dedicated to a particular cycling-pursuit.  With the expensive 2-wheeler, there is a specific style to be adopted and appropriate language to be used.  Someone riding a mountain bicycle is a "mountain biker," some riding a road bicycle is a "cyclist."  There are endless permutations and you risk humiliation and sarcastic contempt if for instance, you wear a mountain bike helmet with it faux brim while rockin' a Pinarello.  Doubt me, read BikeSnob for the lowdown on all the cultural implications of the "curated culture" of all-things-bicycle, better yet buy his new book.  You can also always get the straight story on cycling from the definitive, VeloNews.

One of the more interesting domestic bicycle races is the Leadville 100.  A documentary of this 2009 mountain bike race is easily located somewhere on the internets, I'm sure at YouTube you can look at excerpts from it.  Lance Armstrong won last year's edition on tires that were almost flat, as I recall.  Lance Armstrong, needs no introduction, perhaps the greatest male American road cyclist of modern times, although there is a legitimate argument for oft-litigant, Greg LeMond.  Armstrong is one of the few pros to race mountain bikes and pursue European professional racing.

So back to the case in Leadville.  With the involvement of Armstrong, the profile and the participation in the Leadville race reached a level not previously experienced.  Race organizers had to go to a lottery system to limit participation.  The dedicated female racer Wendy Lyall could not get into the race so she arranged to race under the registration of a mountain biker who did obtain a registration number:  Here's a brief summary of what happened, from the Denver Post:

"It probably would have gone unnoticed except the [Lyall] came in second in her age group, and in front of a thousand people, one . . .[ and] went up and stood on the podium and accepted the award and accepted the trophy and the prizes that went with it," race founder and organizer Ken Chlouber said.  Lyall has been charged with criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony. [Katie] Brazelton, 40, [who let Lyall use her registration] will face the same charge, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. Class 6 is the lowest felony charge.
That's right, folks you can become a felon for using some one's identity (and letting someone use your identity), for the sole purpose of racing 100 miles across a mountain top,  and win a prize. 

Cycling, and by this I mean professional road racing, primarily professional European cycling is both beautiful and utterly corrupt.  Cycling is fantastic, superhuman, the world's most beautiful landscapes, and cheating like nobody's business.  I love the sport, but it breaks your heart.  I was a big fan or Marco Pantani (pic, right) a brilliant rival of Armstrongs, dubbed, Il Pirata, the Pirate for his bald pate and gold earrings. Pantani won both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France only to be discovered to be a doper.  After his disgrace he died of a drug overdose. 

I love cycling less, now. 

Even the bicycles have evolved into a technology that I find hard to relate to:  carbon fiber with prices no mortal can reasonably be expected to pay.  A fully equipped professional-level bicycle can easily run $15,000 or more.  There are wheel sets, that's right bicycles on this level are assembled from components like high-end audiophile equipment--as I was saying, wheel sets that run $6,000, don't ask if the tires are included, they aren't.  Bike Snob has had fun with the marketing metaphors, one manufacturer says his bike frames are "lighter than milk."  Professional bicycles became so light that the governing body of cycling, has been imposing rules requiring that bicycles weigh at least a certain amount to be "legal." 


  1. The trouble with mass participation bicycle races is that they fill up so quickly. Some races allow transfer of entries, some do not. The disadvantage of allowing transfer is that an aftermarket in entries develops and this aftermarket means that people enter with the aim of re-selling their entry - this can shut out dedicated racers. The advantage of allowing transfer is that you can give your entry to a cycling buddy if, for some reason, you cannot make the race.

    There are two main ways of dealing with a shortage of entries: using a lottery, or having qualification races. I prefer having qualification races - this means that riders who have "earned it" get to ride. It also has the side effect of increasing the number of competitors in the minor races that are used for qualification. I also think that there should be reserved places for "elite" riders - riders who are on the circuit and have shown they are likely to place highly.

    I'm pretty sure that Wendy Lyall faked her entry because she wanted to race, not for financial gain. Since she came second it's clear she is a very good rider, I think it's fairly clear that she would have pre-qualified as an elite rider, had the Leadville 100 had pre-qualification.

    What's a real pity is that the law was involved. Lyall clearly broke the rules, but she should have been punished within the sport. She got a lifetime ban from racing at Leadville, she could also have got, say, a two-year ban from all mountain bike races. But the law should not have been called in - she showed bad judgement, but she is not a felon. I don't think people should be criminalized for what amounts to very poor judgement. She's not ever going to make this same mistake again.

    In professional cycling, I'm a fan of Alexander Vinokourov. I like his attacking style. I also admire him for the way he honored the death of his friend Andrei Kivilev in the Paris Nice race - he dedicated himself to winning that race and gave all the prize money to Kivilev's wife.

    Vinokourov was caught cheating in the 2007 Tour de France and was banned from cycling for a year. He had had an illegal homologous blood transfusion. Vinokourov made a big mistake, but he's done his time. I don't think that people should have to live under a shadow of a big mistake for the rest of their lives - I think they should be allowed to redeem themselves (be they lawyers or cyclists). Vinokourov is a flawed man (aren't we all), but I don't think he's a bad man. Likewise Pantani. It was great to see Vinokourov win Liège–Bastogne–Liège this year. It was great that he wore the pink jersey after stage 3 in the Giro this year. I'd be happy if he wins the Giro.

  2. 'Great to hear from you, Martin. Another great comment.
    Yeah, I find the criminalization of sport a pretty disturbing development, although it's ever present since the Festina scandal. For sponsors, it must be a nightmare--I hadn't heard of Festina watches until the Festina scandal, and now when I see an advert for them it's what comes to mind.
    I loved Pantani, and I personally grieved his premature passing.

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