Those who grew tired of Team Sky's 'marginal gains' mantra will have read with a certain degree of irony as leaks from the Fancy Bears cyber-hacking group spread over the internet. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, two of the most successful riders in recent years, were revealed as recipients of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), and while they did not break any rules, the leak posed several important questions for Team Sky.
Basically, Wiggins, an ostensible asthmatic (like much of the pro peloton conveniently and hilariously claims to be), has said he never took any injections apart from vaccinations:
Well before Fancy Bears' disclosure Wiggins had gone on record in his 2012 Autobiography 'My Time' stating that his only ever injections were for "my vaccinations" and "drips." More important for Team Sky was the fact that it had said that it would pull any rider from a race if he was suffering from allergies, rather than apply for a TUE. That was in 2013, when Dr. Steve Peters had told David Walsh, "We agreed as a team that if a rider, suffering from asthma, got into trouble with pollen we would pull him out of the race rather than apply for a therapeutic use exemption on his behalf."
When in reality he was getting corticoid steroid shots right before the Grand Tours:
The timing of the application for the second set of TUEs has also raised eyebrows within the cycling community, with two leading experts and one of Wiggins' previous team doctors, Prentice Steffen, questioning the necessity of needing the steroid in the build-up to major races. The TUEs were applied for and administered by Team Sky just days before Wiggins' Grand Tour challenges at the Tour in 2011, 2012 and the Giro d'Italia in 2013. He went on to win the Tour in 2012, but crashed out of the 2011 Tour and abandoned in Italy.
Further to this, Bradley Wiggins took to the airwaves this past weekend to explain to the BBC that somehow he received no undue benefits from taking a powerful performance enhancer on the eve of a three-week Grand Tour he then went on to win:
("Would you excuse me for a moment? It would appear that my trousers have caught fire.")
And this is the current state of pro cycling drug excuses:
"When you win the race three weeks out from the Tour de France, as I did, you're the favourite for the Tour.
"(And) you have the medical team and coaches checking everything's OK - 'Bradley, you're on track here, you're the favourite to win this race, now we need to make sure the next three weeks... is there anything we can help with at the moment?'
"(I say) 'Well, I'm still struggling with this breathing, I know it didn't look like it but is there anything else you can do just to make sure that I don't, this doesn't become an issue into a three-week race at the height of the season?'
"And, in turn, I took that medical advice (to take triamcinolone)."
So in other words, Wiggins and his team worked out a way to game the system in order to keep his performance consistent over the course of a three-week bicycle race, which is pretty much the equivalent of this:
"OK, Bradley, you're on track to remaining very rich for a long time. Is there anything we can help you with at the moment?"
"Well, I'm still having to pay taxes. Is there a way the amount of money in my bank account could stay the same come tax time?"
And, in turn, I took their advice to open a shell corporation on the Caribbean island of Nevis.
Sure, technically speaking neither of these things may be 100% illegal, but they're certainly deceitful and underhanded. Plus, he even evokes the old "level playing field" explanation while simultaneously denying the injections enhanced his performance:
When asked about the possible performance enhancing qualities of triamcinolone, Wiggins avoided giving a direct answer, instead pointing out the abuse of the drug by Millar and Rasmussen, who have criticised his use of the drug via a TUE in recent days.
“They were abusing that drug in that era,” Wiggins claimed. “[They were taking] more of it, and abusing it, and – and this was to cure a medical condition. And the governing body, the World Anti Doping Agency, everyone said this wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage, this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.”
The "level playing field" analogy really needs to be retired at this point. The whole point of bike racing is that it's not a level playing field. You've got mountains, bumpy roads, and a whole bunch of asthmatics with completely different abilities. If you're a wheezy suck-ass with a penchant for Fred Perry shirts and you've got to "level the playing field" with someone who climbs better than you by taking a known performance enhancer then you may need to confront the fact that you're a cheater--which obviously he knows because he's only admitting to it now that the editors of "Bear Fancy" have called him on it.
So let's take a moment to consider the real victims here--no, not the fans, you'd have to be an idiot to be a fan of pro cycling in 2016. No, the real victims are the cycling journalists. Imagine having to cover the exploits of these riders year after year and craft these heroic narratives for them, and on top of that to have to write excitedly about the debut of some new plastic bike or new component as though it were the key to their performance. It must be like writing for "Catholic Digest" and having to pretend the whole religion isn't a front for child molestation.
Anyway, given that there's absolutely nothing inspirational, life-affirming or even remotely plausible to be gleaned from pro cycling (or indeed any sport), I'm now only following cycling-as-political-statement:
Five hundred nuns from the Buddhist sect known as the Drukpa Order, on Saturday complete a 4,000-km (2,485 mile) bicycle trek from Nepal's Kathmandu to the northern city of Leh in India to raise awareness about human trafficking in the remote region.
"When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore," 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it's okay to sell them," she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows "women have power and strength like men."
Firstly, that's an amazing picture, and let's look at it again:
They look like they should be portaging R2-D2:
Secondly, just imagine how much more powerful their statement would have been had they had access to state-of-the-art gravel bikes like the ones shown recently at Interbike:
I have to admit didn't really watch this because if I hear the phrase "gravel bike" one more time I'm gonna puke. We should just start calling bikes with decent tire clearance and braze-ons "bikes" and those skinny-tired things that the dopers ride should simply be retired.
Anyway, in addition to gravel bike mania, it seems that the automatic transmission has finally come to bicycles:
The ProShift from Baron Controls will auto-shift any electronic drivetrain on the market, whether connecting to it with a wire or Bluetooth.
Horrified, I went to their website to learn more, and if your first thought upon seeing a system that shifts for you is "It's gotta be for triathletes" then of course you are correct:
The only group of people in the world who seem more averse to riding bicycles than triathletes are people who freak out over Citi Bike at community board meetings.
In case you were wondering, this thing costs $799. I mean, if you hate shifting so much, just buy a cheap fixie off Bikesdirect and pocket the rest.
And of course we're not done sticking gratuitous electronic devices on stuff that doesn't need them, either. Smart helmets, smart locks, and now, thanks to these little sensors, every single component and accessory has the ability to tell you that you suck:
The collected data is quite extensive, capturing not just how the rider pedals but even how much time they spend rocking the bike side to side:
It will also tell you how many cats you'll have and how long it will take your neighbors to find your body when you die alone.
The exception of course are pro cyclists, who live lives of glamor (until their inevitable fall from grace) and who get to sit next to movie stars:
You have to feel bad for Uma Thurman, who was no doubt rather unnerved to be seated next to a creature who is more hair product than man:What a pleasure to be meet you and having dinner next to you.— Fabian cancellara (@f_cancellara) September 25, 2016
nice talk's #life #family's #UmaThurman @IWC #ZFF2016 pic.twitter.com/zwFGwfvFSZ
Though I suppose it could have been worse:
That's the stuff of nightmares.