Saturday, October 26, 2013

Slaying the Badger: Book Review

Slaying the Badger, Richard Moore, Velo Press, 2012

Superbly written, organized, and researched.  Richard Moore is a child prodigy of the eighties cycling scene, he writes with passion.  As to the question posed by the book title, was the 1986 Tour de France the very best of all time?  The answer probably depends; were the epic battles between Jacques Antiquel and Raymond Poulidor "the eternal second" inferior in quality?  How about the legendary struggles between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich?  After all, the Armstrong era glued millions of entranced fanatics to the Tour de France, not only in the United States, but all over the world, and a simple decree cannot erase seven years of cycling history.  Let us say that the 1986 Tour de France was captivating, but no more captivating than the 1985 Tour de France.  The 1986 Tour de France would have never existed with such drama without the unusual circumstances of the 1985 Tour de France. Query, when given the opportunity, why did Greg LeMond refuse to work with Stephen Roche and attack Bernard Hinault who was three minutes behind suffering from the side effects of a broken nose - caused when Bernard Hinault went over the handlebars and landed on his face when his front wheel collided with Phil Anderson's back wheel?  Was Greg LeMond really the loyal domestique who was willing to sacrifice his probable Tour de France victory and follow orders to protect the malliot jaune?  After the stage Greg LeMond wanted to quit the 1985 Tour de France feeling that he had been cheated.  Did Bernard Tapie, Bernard Hinault, and Greg LeMond really strike a grand bargain in a secret meeting, where Bernard Hinault assured Greg LeMond that he would work as domestique for LeMond?  Could Bernard Hinault relinquish his role as patron to a frail, paranoid, weak man, who was afraid of his own shadow?  In the 1986 Tour de France Bernard Hinault could not resist a suicide attack that failed even though he had an insurmountable lead of over five minutes on Greg LeMond, and with conservative riding he could have easily won the 1986 Tour de France.  Was this insane attack nothing more than a bold move to destroy the pack and sort out the pretenders, while testing the meddle of his main rival Greg LeMond?  Was Bernard Hinault merely having fun, mixing things up, honoring the terms of his agreement with Greg LeMond?  Or did Bernard Hinault suffer from "Merckxissimo!" trying to stay away from the chase, therefore cementing his legendary status in the annuals of cycling forever?  Nevertheless! Greg LeMond given the opportunity to bury Bernard Hinault on L'AlpeD'Huez, except for a bravado of bluster from both gladiators years after the event: nothing happened! except for a few chants of "Hinault!" and a few affectionate pats on Greg LeMond's backside by appreciative fans.  Greg LeMond claims that he was afraid of being punched in the kidneys by some disgruntled fan like Eddy Merckx in the 1975 Tour de France.  Bernard Hinault claims he told Greg LeMond to stay on his wheel for the entire climb to deter such attacks, to protect him from harm.  Again was Bernard Hinault testing Greg LeMond's meddle and did Greg LeMond again refuse an opportunity to attack Bernard Hinault?  After the hand in hand grateful teammate theatrics at the summit of L'AlpeD'Huez; Bernard Hinault assured the public that the race was not over; there was an upcoming individual time trial left to consider!  More of Bernard Hinault's psychological intimidation aimed to encourage Greg LeMond's paranoia?  Indeed, one has to agree with Shelley Verses, soigneur, La Vie Claire: "Hinault was a man among boys, he ruled in every country." One might also agree with Shelley Verses when she tearfully complained that Bernard Hinault tortured Greg LeMond during the 1986 Tour de France; Bernard Hinault was still patron even though Greg LeMond wore the golden fleece.

Did La Vie Claire Ride Clean?

Greg LeMond has long maintained that the 1980's era of cycling was dope free and that he was the only "clean" champion.  The hiatus from doping in cycling during the LeMond era, and even on LeMond's own La Vie Claire team are certainly distortions of the truth.  LeMond knew there was doping going on in the peloton during his reign and so did the UCI who provided control de dopage during the Tour de France and the other grand tours. LeMond was tested himself on numerous occasions and even feared that his 1986 Tour de France samples could be sabotaged with contamination to ensure a Bernard Hinault victory.

Let us consider the incredible results of La Vie Claire during the 1986 Tour de France, as Richard Moore describes in his most excellent book.

"For Paul Kochli, the 1986 Tour represented his greatest achievement as a directeur sportif. In fact, there is a strong case for arguing that the La Vie Claire performance that year stands as the greatest team performance the Tour has ever seen, the roll call of honors included six stage wins; first overall with LeMond second with Hinault, fourth with Andy Hampsten; seventh with Nikki Ruttiman; and twelfth with Jean-Francois Bernard; the team prize; the combined competition (LeMond); the king of the mountains, (Hinault) and the white jersey for best young rider (Andy Hampsten)." P.267
Very impressive!  These results are better than anything U.S. Postal produced and better than English speaking, British based Team Sky!  Of course, there were four great riders on this team, Bernard Hinault, five Tour de France victories; Greg LeMond, three Tour de France victories; Andy Hampsten, one Giro d' Italia victory; and Jean-Francois Bernard, French national champion; that could explain such results sans dope. However, in earlier Tours, when Bernard Hinault rode for  Cyrille Guimard and Team Renault, Bernard Hinault had margins of victory of over ten minutes! suggesting possible use of performance enhancing drugs.  But as everyone knows speculation is not proof, and without further information nothing will ever be proven.

Then there is the case of Pascal Simon.  In the 1983 Tour de France Laurent Fignon won "by default" when Pascal Simon crashed and broke his shoulder blade during a Pyrenees stage. But as Richard Moore points out:
"LeMond had also won a main race by default, also at the expense of Pascal Simon, when the Frenchman was stripped of his victory at the pre-tour Dauphine Libere after testing positive [for performance enhancing drugs]. "When you win a race that way, it's a victory clear and simple because the guy who beat you probably wouldn't have been able to do it if he hadn't been using illegal substances," said LeMond at the time. But, it says everything about the lenient attitude toward doping at the time that Pascal Simon was permitted to return and start the following month's Tour, a tour he would certainly have won had he not crashed." P.92; italics added.
So from Greg LeMond's own statement not only did he know about the existence of performance enhancing drug use within the peloton, he benefited "by default."

 Then there was the issue of the post-Tour criteriums that the riders appeared in that Paul Kochli allegedly hated because these races were saturated with amphetamine abuse and no control de dopage.  To circumvent this problem Paul Kochli decided to forgo the European criteriums, he obtained a sponsorship with Red Zinger and La Vie Claire appeared in the Coors Classic.  This would indicate an effort to maintain clean riding within the team.

Then there was the acetaminophen throwing incident with Shelley Verses where Paul Kochli screamed "there will be no doping on this team!"

But, then there was Dane Kim Anderson, who rode for La Vie Claire and tested positive no less than four times.  As Richard Moore accurately states in Slaying the Badger:
"And the picture painted by the soccer player Tony Cascarino is hardly encouraging. Cascarino recounts one occasion where "[Bernard] Tapie had summoned his personal physican from Paris, and after dinner we lined up in one of the rooms and rolled up our sleeves for a "booster" injection. I hadn't a clue what exactly the boost was, [but they] weren't the only injections at the club. Before games we were offered shots: twenty tiny pinpricks, injected into the lower back by what looked like a stapling gun. I asked one of the physics what it was and if it was legal. 'Of course it's legal' he replied. And then he smiled. 'And anyway, our doctor does all of the tests at the club.'" P.137.
But then again Shelley Verses claims in Slaying the Badger that she never saw or knew of any performance substance drug abuse on La Vie Claire. However, in an interview with John Wilcockson, where the Emma O' Reilly allegations against Lance Armstrong are discussed in L.A. Confidential: the drug running, disposal of syringes, applying cosmetics to hide bruising or needle marks, Shelley Verses makes this revealing statement:
"It is part of a soigneur's job to dispose of syringes.  And I used to drive all over the Continent getting drugs, legal drugs.  And I often lent guys makeup to hide bruises.  Riders are so vascular because they have no body fat, and they bruise easily."  Source: 23 Days In July, John Wilcockson, Da Capo Press, 2004. P. 143; italics original text.
As has been mentioned in several publications, what was once considered a legal drug in 1986, is now on the WADA prohibited list, and is forbidden as performance enhancing.  Although Shelley Verses does not mention La Vie Claire specifically, (she also worked for the 7-11 Team); the implications are obvious.  Professional cycling teams were injecting supplements in order to gain a competitive advantage in the middle nineteen-eighties; a fact that was only briefly alluded to in Slaying the Badger.  Amphetamines were used in post Tour de France criterium races.  This candid admission by Shelley Verses is the first direct link to the possible use of drugs by the La Vie Claire team; Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond!   And this admission explodes the Greg LeMond myth that the professional peloton was riding dope free in the nineteen-eighties!

Then there are the "miracle" cures.  On Stage 17 Gap to Col du Granon Bernard Hinault suffered from a thigh hematoma on the Col d' Izoard.  As Robert Moore recounts:
"Hinault began to suffer, earlier in the stage, he dropped back to the doctor's car for medical attention: apparently for his knee: and he would later, while negotiating a twisting descent, be seen fiddling with a hex key, adjusting his saddle height searching for a more comfortable position." P.232.
But next day, like magic, everything is cured with no side effects!

Then there is a magical Greg LeMond.  Robert Moore includes this incredible statement from LeMond:
"I suffered on the Col du Granon" says LeMond. "I ran out of fuel." [LeMond] managed to avoid the dreaded fringale [bonk!] but having run his reserves so low, he was concerned about the following day's stage, in Briancon, and tackling the Col du Lautaret, the Col du Galibier, and Col de la Croix de Fer before finishing with the fabled ascent of Alpe d' Huez." P.232.
Nevertheless, quoting Jean-Paul Vespini, The Tour is Won on the Alpe, Velo Press, 2008. Greg LeMond told French Journalist Henri Haget.
"Bernard Hinault is not the man I knew at the start of my career. He's obsessed with winning his sixth tour, as if he's forgotten that, without me he never would have won his fifth. I gave him the 1985 Tour. He should remember that, but instead he's forgotten that, but instead he's created a terrible environment. The worst was the finish at L'AlpeD'Huez, when we crossed hand in hand. It was all a big show. I let myself get played like a novice. I had the yellow jersey and at the foot of the climb, Hinault swore to me that it was all over, that he wouldn't attack me again on the way to Paris. He knew I could drop him at the first turn but he asked me to let him lead on the climb to win the stage. I could have taken five minutes out of him by the top. I shouldn't have had any qualms about doing so." [Source: L'Express Sport, February 1988.] P.76; italics added.
So how did a man who had run out of glucose magically recover to the extent that he could have dropped the Badger on the first turn of L'AlpeD'Huez? Certainly not from eating Mexican food? If that was the case Greg LeMond would have been asking Bernard Hinault to use his hat!

Nevertheless, the phantom injury that Bernard Hinault suffered also seems to have a speedy recovery with no effect on his performance.  Quoting Jean-Paul Vespini, The Tour is Won on the Alpe:
"The embittered Badger responded much later, in his memoirs. He wrote, "It wasn't my fault if LeMond didn't understand how I was conducting my race. I did what I did to benefit him, and him alone. I had told him that I would help him, give him a hand in winning the race. At L'AlpeD'Huez, I could have buried him. I think I could have put a lot of time on him that day, if I had thrown down the gauntlet. At no point was I trying to beat him. After L'AlpeD'Huez, I only waged a small psychological war to see exactly what he was made of."  [Source: Memories of the Peloton, Bernard Hinault, Noel Henderson (Translator), Vitesse Press, 1989.] P.76; italics added.

Conclusion:

Even an injured Badger was a man among boys, and he ruled in every country; even though his recovery time is incredibly short! So many mixed messages from the 1985 and 1986 Tours de France. The truth if one exists may never be parceled out.  But the beauty of Taming the Badger besides the incredibly accurate research and the stupendous writing, is the heuristic value of the book that makes you think and ponder what happened, and what could have happened if fate and karma had not intervened. For example, if Laurent Fignon had not had a freak Achilles tendon injury would any of this history have existed? If Bernard Hinault had not suffered a knee injury during the 1983 Tour of Spain would he have been dumped by Cyrille Guimard and team Renault? What would have happened if Bernard Tapie had not decided to lure away Greg LeMond with false promises of royalties on the Look clipless pedal that Tapie was developing at the time? The pondering is endless, what ifs abound. But the biggest question of all is without Hinualt's senseless attack, with a five minute twenty five second lead, would Greg LeMond have won the 1986 Tour de France, and was Greg LeMond really the strongest rider that year? Have fun figuring that one out for yourselves!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

UCI Joins WADA to Investigate Past Corruption

Well, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has finally discarded the garbage and has vowed to reform the system, which we fans all agree is necessary, but to establish an "independent" commission with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate the past culpability of Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, who allegedly suppressed positive doping tests in return for bribes from Lance Armstrong, tests that were measured in WADA accredited laboratories, and the knowledge of which must have also been suppressed by the individual laboratory directors who were aware of this confidential information seems a bit odd.  It is logical to conclude that if information relating to the suppression of test results did occur that WADA would should have been aware of the situation and should also be "independently" investigated as to who was aware of these allegations, where the document packages were routed, why further action was not taken by the sanctioning body, and why the laboratory employees were ordered to maintain omerta.

Of course, trying to reconstruct who was involved after the lapse of may years may not be so easy to establish because many of the actors have moved on to other professions, quit or retired.  Also it is quite well known that after a period of time lapses in memory recall do occur and facts become confused with recollection.  Then, naturally people lie, deny, and cover up hard to trace points of contention that cannot be conclusively proved without eye witness accounts, or to protect their own interests.  Point of fact, WADA must have been involved in this scandal, the extent of WADA involvement cannot be placed on a back burner while the committee is investigating the role of the UCI.  This UCI, WADA partnership seems so suspicious and to a credulous person reeks of the old proverb, "one hand washes another," and at face value seems a ridiculous, preposterous proposition.  But who knows, the new regime may have more sense than to repeat the same blunders of the old regime and actually appoint a committee that is independent of both the UCI and WADA, with absolute power to subpoena pertinent information without interference from the agencies being investigated.

Then again this formulation of a partnership between the UCI and WADA may be nothing more than window dressing to save face, a device to divert the ongoing cascade of criticism that the UCI and WADA are not doing enough to address the continuing allegations of doping in cycling.  Merely announcing impending meetings to address the issue of past corruption by the UCI and the possible complicity by WADA will accomplish nothing.  Action speaks louder than words, it is not enough to simply formulate a plan, the plan must be acted upon, disease must be rooted out at the source.  Those guilty must be punished and banned from ever participating or having any future contact with the sport of cycling.  Those who are guilty of violations of national or international laws should be fined and imprisoned.

We shall see.  But for now, the formulation of the "independent" committee is nothing more than a laughable myth.  Let us hope that it does not remain that way.