Tour de of Britain, Stage 7. Hemel Hempstead to Cheltenham.

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Carlton Kirby, in a world of pain.

Today was probably the hilliest of this years route. I managed to get the Strava KOM on the final climb of the day, The Winchcombe, known as the Col de la Coix de Fer of the Cotswolds. Unfortunately this created quite a storm on Twitters. The previous holder of the record time was a Mr Bob Pilchard and unbeknownst to me he has openly talked about taking pot and LSD on the 60’s. As soon as my KOM was confirmed accusations of drug taking came flying in my direction. How, folk were saying, was I able to beat the time of a known doper. The conclusion they all drew was simple. I must have been taking drugs myself! Things didn’t end there though. It soon emerged that Mr Pilchard once voted Tory and sometimes spits food on people he talks to. My reputation is in tatters but I’m sure I will be allowed to plead my case by my Twitter accusers.

Our United Kingdoms of Great Britain team car was broken today, I’m not sure of the exact problem but someone from British Cycling HQ mentioned something about women drivers. Luckily, because our team and Team Skye are pretty much the same thing we were able to get our bottles and bidons from their car. On my first visit to the vehicle to get supplies for my teammates to “take aboard some sustenance” I was met with the now familiar sight of David Brailsford-Sir who was glaring at me through the window. He told me as he was handing me the bottles that one good turn deserves another so I had to first replenish his team before coming back to get fereshments for the UKofGB boys. “Fine” I said, “I’ll be back in a Jiffy”. I heard him screaming something at me, probably words of encouragement, as I headed up the road. When I returned the car window was rolled up, and it was ruddy well tinted so I couldn’t see Mr David to get his attention. I always thought windows were meant to be transparent but never mind.

I’m glad the race finishes tomorrow, a week of cycling is just about as much as I can take. I can’t imagine what riding a Grand Tour would be like, it’s tiring enough watching the likes of the Giro. Though seeing it on TV you do have to contend with the three week lecture on glacial features and types of aggregate from Carlton Kirby.

Dylan Groenewegen won the stage and Lars Boom still leads the Tour de of Britain sprint cup.

 

Tour de of Britain, Stage 2. Kielder Water & Forest Park to Blyth.

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David Brailsford-Sir and Shane Sutton met up today to test out Team Skye’s new bikes.

Blimey! The name of the start town is a bit of a mouthful! And that’s exactly what I got from a fellow who turned out to be a, David Brailsford-Sir of Team Skye!

On the way to sign in this morning I tripped over a pile of rowing oars piled lazily next to a lake. Wanting to tidy them away properly so nobody came to any harm I approached a gentleman resembling Harry Hill and asked him where I should stick them. I won’t embarrass you by revealing his answer. It was only as he was walking away that I noticed the word SKYE emblazoned on the back of his jacket and realised it was the mythical Brailsford-Sir who often only comes out of his motor home when the moon is full.

It was a bad start to a tough day and I struggled over the first climb of the stage, Winter’s Gibbet, known as the ‘Giant of Northumberland’. Once we reached the coast things got easier though and I ‘coasted’ down the finish in Blyth! Seriously though, Blyth is the hometown of the famous Mr Mark Knopfler of the Heavy Metal band Dire Straits. The singer is a keen cyclist and he has recently revealed that his band are going to become co-sponsors of Team Skye.

During the run home I thought I would ask Tony Martin about his nickname. “What are Panzer Wagons Tony?”, I said. He said to me in his gruff German accent “Tanks”. His English obviously isn’t that great so I slowly told him “You’re welcome” and rode on. Later on I asked his brother Dan if he could explain Tony’s name de plum but I couldn’t understand what he was saying either.

Edvald Hagen-Boss did win the stage and did take over the lead of the Oxo Tour de of Britain from the Austrian Caleb Ewan. 

Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been almost three months since the Fancy Bears international hack team leaked the medical documents which showed Bradley Wiggins had received three highly questionable medical treatments during his days as a Grand Tour contender. It has been two months since the revelation of a potentially sinister package being transported across Europe by Team Sky employees. It seemed for a while that Wiggins and Sky’s worlds could come crashing down. The one man who could have helped the situation, David Brailsford, has remained fairly quiet, possibly wanting the whole thing to blow over. After a period of relative respite that tactic may have been working but things will start hotting up again as on Monday the 19th of December Brailsford will need to appear in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in Parliament.

With the story being quite a mess and so many unanswered questions I sent my undercover reporter, the well known historian and cyclist, Giles Ripwell on the case to summarise what has been going on and try to answer the what everyone wants to know.

Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been over a year since I last rubbed shoulders with the fellow going by the name of Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir. I was riding for his side TEAM wiggins in the Tour de of Britain and remember having jolly good chats with him during the stages. Since then I hadn’t heard much from him. Apparently the British weather had finally got to much for him in his old age and he would only cycle on the indoors roads doing Olympic Pursuits. I thought he had forgotten his old pal Giles until he called me in July. He was very emotional and explained to me through sobs that the dastardly Mr Chris Froomes had won another yellow jersey. A couple of months later I heard from him again but this time he was in much better spirits. Jingos! He had won another Olympic gold medal and told me it was now Wiggo-Sir 5 FroomesDog 0. Since then, as you might have heard, he has been involved in a touch of controversy and I was sent on the case to find out was has been happening. I tried contacting him to see if he could give me any information but I was told that he’s only talking to his new best friend, some fellow going by the name of Mr Andrew Marr. So with Mr Wiggins-Sir gone quiet I had to figure out what has been happening myself.

The whole situation started in September when some Russian computer buffs started a fancy new website where you can go and look at medical files of athletes that have been in the Olympics. It caused quite a stir to begin with until everyone realised that most of the athletes medical information was stuff we already knew or contained information on drugs and medical practices which everyone has agreed for a while should be more tightly monitored. Unfortunately for Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir his information was among that of a small group of people who’s information raised some alarm bells. Three of Wiggins-Sir’s courses of drugs looked highly suspicious and one of those was just before the Tour de France which he won against Mr Chris Froomes. I have complete faith in my good friend though and firmly believe that those drugs were taken for genuine medical reasons and not to enhance his performance. There would be no need for him to dishonestly take any drugs to win the race as I’ve been told of an unsavoury character calling himself Mr Sean Yaytes who would have brought harm to anyone trying to beat Mr Wiggins-Sir, including his team mate the scoundrel Mr Froomes.

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Digger and the Twitter Doperati.

Following any sport closely can be an emotional business for its fans. There can be highs but at times feelings of disappointment and anger will rise out of nowhere as you watch your football team lose a penalty shootout or you see an umpire makes a bad call against your favourite table tennis player. For fans of professional cycling things are slightly different. We get the same emotions but they often come a good time after the action has finished. There’s the disappointment that our favourite riders and their feats we’ve enjoyed have been aided by banned (and legal) substances and anger at the UCI, cycling’s governing body, for their inability to introduce the reforms that could help ensure fairer and safer competition. Although we encounter these feelings time and again we continue to follow the sport because it’s so entertaining. Because of this murky and frustrating history and the regular promises that things will change for the better three groups of cycling fan have emerged.

The largest of these combines are the ‘Optimistic Pessimists’. They still love the sport but watch things with a heavy dose of scepticism. They have been fooled in the past by cheating and don’t want it to happen again. Instead of celebrating an incredible performance the reaction is now “Mmm, not sure about that”. The UCI are still infuriating but in terms of racing things do seem to be changing ever so slightly. A few riders are now willing to speak out against doping instead of being part of the omerta which protects dopers and their feelings are that much of what they see during races seems to be credible. They watch racing in a different way now. As well getting immersed in the tactics and team dynamics, at the back of their minds they are analysing things to work out if what’s happening is believable and clean. It is obvious that doping still goes on at some level but they’re thankful that the eyebrow doesn’t get raised as often as before.

The eyebrows of are the two other sets of fans don’t move at all and they are very much at opposing sides of the “Who is doping and how much of it is going on” debate.

The first lot, the ‘Deniers’, are either gentle souls, who perhaps only follow a few races a year and are just not interested in whether doping happens, or diehards who will always defend their favourite rider or team against allegations of cheating no matter what actual evidence of malpractice is shown to them.

The last bunch of cycling fans are the Deniers sworn adversaries, though they actually make themselves enemies of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. This restless gang of ‘Truthers’ believe that everyone is on the juice and are very vocal about it. Instead of saying “Mmm’ not sure about that” their mantra is “Yep that’s dirty”. They spend plenty of time proselytising and will end up frustrated then angry if you’re not brought round to their way of thinking. Their arguments to back up their beliefs range from sarcastic coughs to elaborately formed concepts which contain ‘secret inside information’. Some say they resemble conspiracy theorists and I’ve even heard people call them a cult. If you use Twitter and follow cycling you will have seen them pop up on your feed from time to time. They are the Doperati and their illustrious leader is @Digger_forum.

Who is Digger?

My introduction to Digger came in 2011. It was the time of the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong which proved to be the prologue for the big mans fall from grace. Floyd Landis was the main witness in the case but was at that time still coming to terms with his own downfall as well being in the process of being investigated for computer hacking. There was also the question of the nearly $1 million raised for the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, money that I believed was donated by people being sold a lie. I decided to hit twitter to see what my 20 or so followers made of my opinion by suggesting that Landis perhaps wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. Not long after I got a reply from someone who, if I remember right, was calling himself Big Tex Is Going To Jail or @Digger_forum for short. I was quite excited because he wasn’t one of my followers. “Wow” I thought, someone must really value my opinion. They’ve taken time to ‘engage’ with me. Dreams of commenting on pro cycling for a living flashed through my mind. Then I actually read the tweet:

“Charming” I thought. I tried to clarify my point but after becoming aware that my new acquaintance was arguing against a point which was different to the one I was trying to make I decided to finish things as it was becoming a waste of time.

As I became more familiar with twitter and started using it to follow professional cycling I set up a new cycling specific account (@JamesRannoch), mainly so my friends wouldn’t get annoyed by me adding pictures of men in Lycra to their timelines. I saw Digger get mentioned now and again and I occasionally dropped in on his profile and followed some of his ‘conversations’. He seemed to have some pretty extreme theories but to me it looked like were built out of suspicions which he was taking as fact. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, he raised and highlighted some important issues, but I held back from engaging with him when I did. It was obvious that there was no point in arguing with him because his mind wouldn’t be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. But the older I got, the grumpier I became and the less I was able to suffer him gladly. His infuriating debating style should have been scarring me away but it was drawing me into his world of accusations and innuendo. I started to become a little obsessed with disproving some of his more ridiculous theories. I felt that it was morally wrong throwing out proclamations about peoples integrity with flimsy evidence and cowardly to do so from behind an anonymous twitter handle. This would be fine if he was just prattling away in the corner of a pub somewhere because we could just nod or tut at the right moments but he was stating, as fact, things which could effect innocent people on public forums. There is also a fair amount of anger and venom whipped up among his followers and that anger and venom has been joined by spit and whatever else and is now getting directed at the condemned riders from the roadsides of the world. I’d had enough and ended up doing something I am not very proud of. I became a twitter troll. I was going to satirise this so called Digger and my shield of anonymity would be @Borer_forum.

First I tried to find out who this faceless keyboard warrior was, to see exactly what I was up against. There are many theories about his identity and background but after extensive research I could only find one reliable description of him and a photo which surfaced online a few years back.

Next I would employ my arguing skills to take apart all his theories. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for him to block me. There would be no late night debates about hidden motors as we smoked cigars. I wouldn’t receive scented jiffy bags containing long agonising letters about the differences between intramuscular and intravenous. I tried wooing him back with poetry…

….but alas, to no avail.

So I was reduced to taking incessant screen-grabs, much like the great man himself, of his more ridiculous tweets and posting them to the Borer account. Very quickly I found that following him so closely wasn’t good for my blood pressure and general happiness so I decided I would write a blog about Digger, put Borer into retirement and enjoy my life again. This has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped for thanks to the Fancy Bears but here’s what I found:

(Some of the screen grabs are straight off his time line so read from the bottom to the top.)

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Tour de Past, Stage 7. 2011, Britain Not Ready For A Tour Win Yet. 

 

Team Sky came into the 2011 Tour with a lot of hope and expectation. A difficult race the previous year, where their top GC rider Bradley Wiggins only finished 24th, was put down, in part, to the fact that it was the teams debut year and mistakes were bound to be made. Now though they thought they were ready to mount a serious challenge at the Tour de France. Bradley Wiggins had been going well so far in the season and won in the recent Criterium du Dauphine, beating rival Cadel Evans, and followed that up with a win in the National Championships. Sky fanboys all over the UK were being driven into a state of frenzy. They knew when the team launched they stated that their main aim was to “create the first British winner of the Tour de France within 5 years” but they could achieve it in 2!

Team Sky and their fans confidence had taken a further boost the previous day after Edvald Boasson Hagen had won their first ever Tour de France stage. Geraint Thomas was in the white jersey as best young rider and they occupied 6th, 7th and 8th in the overall. However all these positive points weren’t hiding a couple of truths. Out on the road the Sky riders still had a lot to learn about riding as a team and the tactics given to them by the DS’s were very limited.

In the nervous first week of Grand Tours there are plenty of sudden crashes in the peloton. The top riders will therefore stay at the front of the pack as this reduces the chance of being involved in a situation, there won’t be a mass of riders suddenly falling down infront of you at high speed. To further help them stay out of trouble he’ll have a couple of riders around him for protection. However during the first week you would often see Sky’s GC man Bradley Wiggins, easy to spot in his British Champions jersey, in the middle of the bunch with no teammates around him. The more this happened the more Sky were tempting fate.

With 40km of the stage from Le Mans to Chateauroux left it happened. There was a smaller crash almost 10km before as a warning but this one was massive. Dozens of riders were involved. Amazingly after most of the riders had untangled their bikes and started riding again there were only three left seriously injured. Remi Pauriol was sitting down cradling his arm, Chris Horner was in a ditch somewhere and Bradley Wiggins was wondering around in a daze. The doctor arrived fairly quickly though it was clear what was the problem as Wiggins like Pauriol was now holding his arm in the classic “I’ve broken my collarbone” fashion. The dream was over for Wiggins. He had paid the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but what was most disappointing was that he should have been in the wrong place.

Not being able to keep their main rider out of trouble wasn’t thethe end of Sky’s tactical woes though. As Wiggins was being assessed by the doctor three of his team mates (Edvald Boasson Hagen, Xavier Zandio and Juan Antonio Flecha) were waiting for him. Fine, this is standard practice. If Wiggins was good to continue they could try and pace him back up to the peloton, though the longer they waited the harder it would be, and it wouldn’t matter if they lost time as they weren’t GC riders. At least the white jersey leader Thomas whos time was precious wasn’t one of them? Well no but he was waiting further up the road along with Rigoberto Uran the exciting young Columbian. Why had Sky sacrificed their whole team to protect Wiggins now it was too late. Was it necessary? All of the eight remaining Sky riders rolled in 3 minutes 6 seconds behind the leaders. Their leader had crashed out and due to some strange tactics Uran’s GC and young riders chances were over along with Thomas’ in the young rider competition. At the start of the day they had three riders in the top 10 and now their best placed man was 38th. Sky didn’t just put all their  eggs in one basket they dropped the basket too.

Does Britain need a new Pro Tour team?

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April 23rd 2013.

 

Another Spring Classics season is over and while Fabian Cancellara reigned again in Roubaix and Flanders there were more left-field winners in terms of both teams and riders in San Remo and Liege. For Team Sky however it was business as usual which meant another big fail. While this has been the first year they have targeted these one day races seriously following from their great success in stage races last year it seems that they may never find the formula to get anything out of these unpredictable races. This may not prove to be a problem to them and their sponsors if they do well in any of the grand tours but there could be a terrible effect on the development of British cyclists.

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