Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A COWARDLY ATTACK ON WIGGINS AND TEAM SKY



The department for culture, media and sport select committee (DCMS) have this week, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, issued a damning indictment of Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins, by suggesting they used performance enhancing drugs under the guise of treating a legitimate medical condition in order to win the 2012 Tour de France.

Wiggins immediately described the findings as “malicious” and claims he was 100 per cent clean.

This is the latest development in the long running government investigation begun in 2016 looking into how Team Sky - who professed not to use forbidden drugs - came to allow Wiggins the use of the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone to treat his allergies.

Clearly, no matter badly things are stacking up against Wiggins and Team Sky, this latest and most serious allegation sprung on us by the Select Committee begs the question, have they overstepped the mark?

Except no news report I have seen is asking.

To criticise the team’s ethics over the sanctioned use of a known performance enhancing drug to treat an allergy while competing is one thing.

To now accuse them – on the basis of  “evidence from an anonymous source” -of using this medication for the “express purpose of allowing Wiggins, and possibly support riders, to take powerful corticosteroids to prepare for the Tour de France,”   is different, far more serious, matter entirely.

It is clear that Sky have dug themselves into a deep hole over their handling of this investigation, claiming, for instance, that riders’ medical records were lost. Team boss Sir Dave Brailsford’s holier than thou attitude got up a lot of noses.

As for Shane Sutton, Wiggins coach at the time, by admitting on television they would consider a TUE if it provided a marginal gain did their case no good at all.

It is perfectly understandable to think the worst of them.

But surely, until that anonymous person is revealed and the evidence they provided the Select Committee is presented for the “defence” to respond to, it cannot be right for the select committee to go public with such serious accusations?

I sought the opinion of  a legal acquaintance, a respected  cycling official, and he described the DCMS as: “amateurs passing judgement on a professional sport where the rules and practice are alien to them.”

He reminds us that Wiggins and Sky were acting within the rules of the sport and although those rules may be ethically dubious, they applied equally to Wiggins' fellow competitors in the TdF peloton who may have been competing on the same basis, that is, some of them perhaps, also on TUEs.  



He suggests that the DCMS slant on the facts is intended to create controversy - since it is quite clear that morally the UCI’s rules are almost impossible to morally justify.  



However they are the rules under which the sport is governed and therefore legally define the correct practice, he told me.  

“In over 50 years of legal experience I have found countless examples of the law being contrary to ethics or morals. However the law always prevails no matter how morally unjustifiable it may be.”



He makes the point that the DCMS are powerless to intervene as the law relating to the UCI and the Grand Tours is that of the country where the events take place and not within their jurisdiction.  

“In those circumstances,” he says, “it seems to me downright cowardly to use their parliamentary privilege to libel people when they are otherwise powerless to intervene.”



How did we get here?

In case you missed it, this is the Team Sky TUES story which came to light in 2016 when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian.

TUES (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take. 

I share the view, as do a number of professional riders,  that anyone who needs a powerful drug to treat allergies in order to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting. But the rules allow it.

In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance.  Wiggins use of this drug while racing was sanctioned by all the relevant sports authorities.  So his use of it was unquestionably legal. The question then became was it ethical to use a powerful drug in a team boasting they ride clean?  

That’s what kick-started this sorry saga which has besmirched reputations.

Clearly, Team Sky’s whiter than white image was now tinged grey.

When asked if by taking this drug for his breathing allergies could Wiggin’s performance also have been enhanced when he won the 2012 Tour, Brailsford said he couldn’t know if it was or it wasn’t.   So that was the first great unknown. And with it came the doubt.

And then along came the second unknown, a tip off to the Daily Mail about a jiffy bag containing something or other being flown out to France for Team Sky at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011. What did it contain? No one was saying.  So more suspicion. More doubt.

And then, under pressure from the MPs, Brailsford claims it contained a harmless medicine.

But there was no way to verify this since the team doctor’s lap top containing medical records had been stolen…..

And then…just when you think it can’t get any worse, another story breaks late in 2017, this time concerning Sky’s four times Tour de France champion Chris Froome who had an “adverse analytical finding” during that year’s Tour of Spain which he won.

Now he is under investigation following a test which recorded twice the legal level of the asthma medication, Salbutamol.










Sunday, 4 March 2018

Highways England ban on cycling - still time to protest


FOLLOWING a huge outcry at Highways England’s controversial and ludicrous plan to ban cyclists from using the A63 at Hull – one of the fastest time trial courses in England (see previous blog)  - the government agency has extended the consultation period to March 12.

But in what appears to be a bid to discourage protests, they say they will only accept comments by post, not by email. It seems they have figured out that in this electronic age people no longer put pen to paper, nor do they necessarily know how to stick stamps on envelopes, still less what post boxes look like.

So to get around this Cycling UK, the national cyclists’ charity, is inviting people to comment via their website and they will forward the lot in writing to Highways England by snail mail, as required.

You may recall Highways England’s reasoning for their proposed ban on cycling on the A63 at Hull. It is they say, because “cyclists cannot keep pace with 65mph traffic!” and are therefore in danger. Doh!

Not even Sir Bradley Wiggins can do 65mph on the A63. And if he can’t no one can.

So it seems the blame is to be pinned on time triallists for simply not riding fast enough.

The extension to the consultation period probably won’t change anything.  According to the Devils Dictionary, the meaning of the word consult is “To seek another’s approval of a course already decided on”.

In which case history will record… “The glorious age of cycling, the first and oldest mechanical means of transport invented in the 19th century,  came to an inglorious end after 150 years  when  in 2018 the A63 at Hull was closed to cycling by the car lobby .  The idea rapidly caught on across the country as cycling was banned from thousands of miles of the trunk road network.” 

Or maybe not.

Cycling UK is riding to the rescue and is prepared to mount a robust legal case in defence of cyclists' rights if Highways England proceed with their daft ban. Because the issue here is not so much about protecting the right to time trial on this road, but the dangerous precedent a ban will set for ordinary cycling on any road.

The following is a statement on Cycling  UK’s website:

“It’s nonsensical to ban bikes from a road because they can’t keep up with the motor traffic,” said Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore, “Where does it stop if that’s accepted as a valid argument?

 “This is one of the main reasons Cycling UK is objecting to Highways England’s proposed ban of cycling on the A63,” continued Mr Dollimore “But also because it contravenes their own strategy and guidance.”

Cycling UK is encouraging everyone who cycles or intends to cycle in England to register their objections with Highways England. However, as the public body will only accept objections submitted as paper copies sent through the post, Cycling UK is urging people to register their complaints at www.cyclinguk.org/a63, which the charity will then deliver in time for the March deadline.








Tuesday, 6 February 2018

THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION IF CYCLISTS BANNED FROM A63






Every cyclist in the land will now surely have heard of the plan to ban cyclists from using a 15-mile stretch of the A63 dual-carriageway at Hull, which forms part of the V718 time trial course, one of the fastest courses in the land.

Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins recorded a 17-58 “10” here in May 2015.

Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, have called the proposed ban “ludicrous” and demanded it be scrapped. They threaten legal action. Cycling Time Trials (CTT) is also strongly opposed, as you might imagine. 

This is Highways England’s idea - the company appointed by the government to manage the trunk and A-road network and, would you believe, promote cycling!

They want a Traffic Restriction Order (TR0) banning cyclists from using the section of the A63 Trunk Road between North Cave Interchange and Daltry Street Interchange. 

They cite six accidents – including one fatal - to cyclists in five years on this road as reason for their concern. Not all were in CTT events.

Opponents of the ban say this is not evidence based and the accident

rate to cyclists simply do not merit such drastic action.

They point out there have been nearly 300 accidents involving motor vehicles and yet no talk of banning the motor menace, or slowing it down.

They use the generic term “cyclists”, not time trialling specifically. But it seems likely that time trialling on this stretch of road is the target.

According to a local radio source, the police have long considered it unsafe to organise competitive events on this stretch of road.

The irony is, of course, die hard testers benefit from traffic flow and like racing on these roads. It has been a debatable point for decades now, time trialling on busy fast dual-carriageways which have become motorways in all but name. Well, it seems Highways England may force the issue!

I felt uncomfortable time trialling on such big roads a long time ago, when the A3 in Surrey had a makeover and was transformed into super-fast wide “motorway” style dual carriageway way, with slip roads as wide as airport runways!

Traffic was still relatively light in the event I rode, but I felt at risk and never went there again. But that was my perception of risk!

I felt happier on smaller country roads, but it has been argued that smaller roads may be no safer!

What we do know for certain is that cycling is not in itself dangerous; the danger comes from others. And that is not being addressed.

However, the main concern here is not that time trialling may be banned from a road even some local time triallists consider too dangerous to race on, but the dangerous precedent such a ban will set for other roads deemed “dangerous” for cyclists.

“Dangerous” for no other reason than for the past 70-80 years, the needs of cyclists have been neglected and designed out of the road system.

It is further evidence of successive government’s laisse faire approach to transport ever since car ownership began to grow back in the early 20th century.

For the dream fostered then and reinforced by marketing ever since is that drivers must be able to go where they like, when they like, quickly and with the least inconvenience.

CLEAR CYCLISTS OUT OF THE WAY!

Highways England’s twisted logic is that because cyclists can’t keep up the 65mph flow of traffic they are therefore in “danger”. So they’ll clear them out of the way.

Bollocks. Cyclists can’t keep up with traffic on the rest of the 200,000-odd miles of the national road network either, which they have every right to ride.

Expect other stretches of road to be banned to cyclists, too - you can bet on it - if Highways England is allowed to get away with this.

Meanwhile I know of no major  initiative by the police to collar  the millions of thickheads illegally using mobile phones while driving, many of them texting which means they aren’t even looking! 

CTT urge cyclists to object

Cycling Time Trials National Secretary Stewart Smith is urging all cycling club members to lodge a complaint with Highways England.  But he advises don’t mention time trialling! For fear, I suppose, of adding wood to the fire!

I wonder if he realises his desire to keep quiet about time trialling harks back to the sport’s clandestine Victorian origins.

Back in the 19th century there was widespread opposition to road racing on the highway which led to a ban on an early form of massed start road racing. (Read Peter Whitfield’s absorbing account in his book “Time, Speed and Truth. A history of Time Trialling 1890 – 2010”.

This ban led to the formation of time trialling in 1895 – riders separated by minute intervals and not so noticeable! This was the brain child of  F.T. Bidlake, the “Father of time trialling”.

Races were called “events” and held in secret on roads identified only by a course number, just like today, and all to escape the notice of the police!

In 2018, perhaps it’s time for CTT to cast off this cloak of secrecy and brazen it out.

CYCLING UK PLAN LEGAL ACTION

Meanwhile, Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, and point out that such a ban runs contrary to Government and Highways England policies and agree it will set a dangerous precedent which could lead to more restrictions.

https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/highways-england-a63-cycle-ban-labelled-ludicrous-cycling-uk



Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

“Highways England’s approach to the A63 is entirely unreasonable and lacks both evidence and analysis. It’s hardly surprising cyclists can’t keep up with motor vehicles on an A-road, but it is ludicrous to use that as one of the reasons for banning them.”

He adds that no evidence was provided on the numbers of cyclists on the A63 which would allow for an injury rate to be ascertained. 

 “Cycling UK would urge Highways England to re-consider their plans and stop going against both their own and the Government’s cycling policies.”

I asked Roger Geffen, Policy Director at UK Cycling, could Highways

England legally enforce this ban?

Geffen told me: “We shall see.  Our objection has been crafted in the hope that it will either dissuade Highways England (HE) from adopting this TRO or, failing that, that it will enable us to bring a legal challenge through the Cyclists’ Defence Fund, if they were to proceed with it. 

“I’d prefer to dissuade HE from adopting this TRO to start with, so that we don’t need to threaten legal action in the first place!”

 Objections to the proposed ban should be made in writing not later than Monday, February 19, 2018, and posted to:

The Office of the Director, Operations Directorate (Yorkshire & North East), Highways England, 3rd Floor South, Lateral, 8 City Walk, Leeds, LS11 9AT.   The objection should quote the reference 'The A63 Trunk Road (North Cave Interchange to Daltry Street Interchange) (Prohibition of Cyclists Order)'.

For details of Peter Whitfield’s fine book: “Time Speed and Truth – a history of time trialling 1890-2010”, email him at: PWWHITFIELD1@GMAIL.COM


Saturday, 13 January 2018

ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD




Interest in bike racing has surged in the UK these past 10 years thanks to the unprecedented success of British riders in the Olympics and the Tour de France.

But has this come at a cost?  According to well-known cycling author and publisher Peter Whitfield it has. Below is his damning indictment of how professionalism is being allowed to poison sport. 

It struck a chord with me and I’m sure it will with others but certainly not everyone, all dewy eyed and dazzled by the gleaming horde of medals. 

And it is right that we applaud the positives that have come with this success. The last decade has seen the greatest most successful period for cycling in the UK, now the top UK Olympic sport, not to mention the five historic victories in the Tour de France (the first to Wiggins, four to Froome).

This has spawned several indoor velodromes and closed road racing circuits around the country, drawing huge crowds to the roadsides for the men’s and women’s national tours.

British Cycling’s membership has gone through the roof, has soared from around 16,000 to over 130,000.  A stream of talented youngsters (many of them rising up the ranks thanks the Dave Rayner Fund) continue to make the grade internationally on the road, on track and in cyclo-cross.

Many thousands of people have taken up riding challenge rides and the sportives. A new cycling club in my town now has over 250 members.

And all the major classics and Grand Tours and a great many other international stage races are shown on television.

It’s fantastic, right? Well, yes it is. I love this aspect of it, how my once little known sport in the UK is has blossomed

But over the last two years the dream has turned sour.

My previous blog pondered the controversy surrounding Team Sky whose strong arm tactics, impressive though they are in stifling the life out of the racing until near the finish, is killing my interest in Le Tour. 

Worse than that.  Bradley Wiggins’s historic first Tour win for Britain has become tainted by his legally approved use of an otherwise banned and powerful steroid to treat his allergies. Its use was signed off by all the relevant authorities so he hasn’t broken any rules. But morally it was wrong, for Sky came into this sport proclaiming they will do it clean, they will be transparent.  But in the search for marginal gains, they proved they are not transparent, as they moved into the grey area with a doctor’s note to permit the use of a banned stimulant. 

So they’ve only themselves to blame.

To compound matters, Sky’s current hero, Chris Froome, winner of five Grand Tours, is under investigation after an “adverse analytical finding” for the asthma drug Salbutamol – measuring twice the legal limit - taken during last year’s Tour of Spain which he famously won.  

That story is destined run and run for as long as Froome - who has protested he did not exceed the legal dosage - takes to come with an explanation.  To make matters worse for Froome, a few days ago Belgian star Tim Wellens revealed he had quit last year’s Tour de France rather than use the very same medication to treat his breathing difficulties. His reason?  Because he is against using inhalers. He was unhappy about depending upon asthma medication which he was told would improve his breathing by between seven and eight per cent, and he believes the practice is widespread in cycling. Not just in cycling. Cross-country skiers in Norway sit in their team bus breathing in asthma medication through face masks before competition!

Whitfield’s words should give us pause for thought.

NEW YEAR, OLD QUESTION: THE PRICE OF SUCCESS


The cycling year was approaching its end and everyone was happily thinking about the highlights of 2017 and wondering what 2018 holds, when a bombshell in the form of another drug scandal engulfed us, and this time it's a British scandal involving the biggest names in our sport. Once again we start to pick through the intricate technical details of what happened, who’s guilty and who’s innocent, who knew what and when, why it has taken three months for this to become public, and all the while wondering when our sport will ever get out of this labyrinth of technical jargon, half-truths and lies, and finally get to the simple truth - if there is such a thing. Everyone is shocked as the great British cycling renaissance seems to be crumbling from glory into deceit.

As I pedal quietly on my own through the damp and leafy Oxfordshire lanes I find myself looking for an answer, and suddenly there it is staring me in the face in one word: professionalism. Look around at our top-level sport and you see a world corrupted by money, drugs, technology, politics and media hype – in other words, professionalism. Where money rules, values go out of the window. It's a funny thing, but back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, we all used to moan about British cycling, asking what was wrong with it, why couldn't we win world championships and Olympic medals, and the answer then seemed to be that it was amateur: the riders were amateurs and the sport was run by amateurs. We didn’t have the knowledge and we didn’t have the money, so we couldn't compete with the French, the Italians, the Dutch, then the Eastern bloc, then later the Australians the Americans, who were all investing money and expertise in the sport that we just couldn't match. 

Well now things have turned round completely and we have gone into the professional big-time, and what do we see? That we have a poisoned sport that is more akin to show-business with its star system and its deceits, its faith that everything can be planned and everything can be bought with cash. Modern cycling is a business and a career, and this is what lies behind the whole Sky strategy of control, control, control, that has ruined the racing itself. Looking at it historically, I think it was the aftermath of Chris Boardman’s brilliant success that was the great turning point. Peter Keen, Boardman’s coach, produced his World Class Performance Plan in 1999 which secured multi-million pound funding for British Cycling, which then set out on its quest for international success, creating the so-called medal factory. Unfortunately this produced in the public mind the formula: money + science + meticulous planning = sporting glory. We have been living with the consequences of this for fifteen years and more, and one of its worst side-effects is the idea that only this top-level professional cycling, on road or track, is real cycling, everything else is just playing about, it’s insignificant; in other words we have seen the death of the old amateur ideals.

Success was supposed to justify this process, this historic shift, but over the years the hidden costs of success have become clearer, and they add up to the disappearance of cycle-sport as we used to know it. I and many other people have now reached the point of total disillusionment, and personally I no longer care who wins the Tour de France, and I wouldn't mind if they shut it down and we just forget all about it. I am scarcely more interested in who wins Olympic track medals either, because these competitions have nothing to do with true cycling in our own lives. What does it take before people finally lose faith in the Tour de France and the over-hyped pro-cycling scene? Isn't there the least whisper of a chance that we could learn from this mess and get back to the old amateur days, when you took part in a sport, any sport not just cycling, for its own sake, for the pleasure and the satisfaction and the sense of achievement which it gave you, not for money and fame? Modern pro cycling is a corporate business: it defines its aims, puts in the necessary investment to realise those aims, and it demands results, and the only result that matters is winning. Money is thrown at buying every conceivable technical aid and at building racing teams and strategies that ensure results, no matter how tedious and robotic that racing becomes. Sporting success has become a management task, it’s been absorbed into the business model, the career model.

Compare this with the days when the cyclist was a pure athlete, a loner who built his own strength and skill for himself. Without science, without money, without support and without fame, he rode for himself against ordinary people like himself, with nothing to gain but his own satisfaction and the plaudits of those like-minded people who shared his ideals and who knew what his achievements meant. Sport was an enrichment of his life, not of his bank balance or his image. Sport was supposed to be a way out of the world of money, pressure, targets, tricks, secrets, and corporate plans, a way into a freer, cleaner world of honesty, integrity, dedication and sportsmanship. Amateur bike racing used to be a personal adventure, and it still can be. It does not have to be tied up with money, team strategies, and media hype, which are the trappings of business, especially show-business. We need more sport in our own lives, not star-studded millionaire entertainers to worship. We admired the champions of the past because we knew they were people like us, not remote superstars. Why make everything bigger, richer and more complex, in the belief that it must therefore be better? Have we forgotten that small is beautiful? Can’t we understand that success alone is not everything, because it’s not just what we do in life that is important, it’s how we do it? I would guess that Lance Armstrong has now learned that lesson, and that he would give anything to have won a single Tour de France honestly rather than seven dishonestly.       

Sport changes as the society around it changes, so what all this says about the money-mad, technology-addicted, media-hyped society that we have created I’ll leave you to figure out. How did we get into this mess? It seems we have a unique talent for spoiling things, for poisoning things while we think we are making them bigger and better. The same shadows have gathered over the Olympics and all but ruined them; and then there is football and Formula One – are they even sports now?  I suppose all this is not surprising really, coming from a species that has been busy for the last hundred years poisoning the earth, poisoning the air, poisoning the oceans and poisoning ourselves. In comparison with all that, poisoning a little bit of sport should be child's play after all.   

Peter Whitfield’s most recent book is entitled: "Time, Speed and Truth: a History of Time-Trialling".


Saturday, 23 December 2017

An ode for troubled Team Sky




THEY came from outer space, in their armada of expensive jaguars and huge posh shiny black buses

It was Team Sky, a British species racing clean, new kids on the block

They raised hackles by daring to lay bare their victory aims for Le Tour

At Agincourt, Henry’s long bow archers routed the French

At Le Tour, Team Sky boss Brailsford fired his dreaded marginal gains to achieve same

Armed with their science, their riders with alacrity overcame allergy,

To undo valour and

Control the peloton by stifling the romance of the escape until the last

Then with precisely timed attacks, carried off the prize

Championed first by Wiggins and four times by Froome

Who for good measure, repeated his feat in the Vuelta

And their crime?

To be smarter than the rest



          That was back then.  Now what?
      With the news this month that Disney is buying up chunks of Murdoch's empire, including Sky TV channels, there comes speculation about the future of Team Sky.   Are their days numbered? For no other reason than the new owners might have other uses for the £31m annual budget of a team whose success is now tainted by controversy.

As 2018 approaches and the team prepares for new and exciting challenges, the current  crisis surrounding their champion, five times grand tour winner Chris Froome look to rumble on.
This concerns Froome’s adverse analytical finding (AAF) from the 18th stage of the Tour of Spain three months ago which has added to Team Sky’s woes.
What now?  Will his first victory in the Tour of Spain be taken away from him? It came only a few weeks after his fourth Tour de France victory, a rare double setting him among the greats.
The test showed that Froome had twice the permitted level of the asthma medication Salbutamol.
He insists he only took the permitted dose.
According to David Walsh in The Sunday Times (December 17) anti-doping and pharmacology experts he has spoken to had “struggled to come up with any legitimate explanation for Froome’s elevated Salbutamol level.”
It is now up to Froome to explain how this occurred. Could the test have exaggerated the result, due to him not being fully hydrated? Are there other mitigating factors?  His team think so.
Whatever, this is more negative stuff heaped upon the Team Sky.
Personally, I don’t think the Murdoch family will be too concerned, unless it starts to affect the value of shares. They are well used to courting bother, seem to thrive on it.
They probably subscribe to the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. “There is only one thing worse than being talked about that is not being talked about.”
Disney may have a different ethical stance.  
I reckon - and I won't be alone in thinking this - Team Sky has unwittingly brought all this bother on themselves.
Murdoch has always courted controversy in his business dealings.  I mean his Fox News outfit is said to be purely a political front for the Republican Party in the US.
He seems to want to tinker with global affairs – he gets a kick out of it - and he makes big money while about it.
So he’s smart and so is Sky and it winds up his media rivals.  Just look at their sports coverage. It knocks the BBC and ITV's coverage into a cocked hat.
And Brailsford is smart. They are made for each other, Brailsford and Sky.
They both say they are going to do big things and they do them.  
This ethos seems to run through all levels of the company. 
I’ve found Sky's marketing people very quick on the uptake.
I’d once took a call from a travel consultant telling me that South West Trains had heard of a Sky family cycle ride bringing tens of thousands of people to west London.   SW Trains wanted a slice of the action - they would provide trains in and out of London. He asked who at Sky they should speak to.
I rang the Sky people organising the ride and informed them of SW Trains interest. They were immediately interested. So I gave them the contact. Within 10 minutes they had set the whole deal up, trains would be provided!
My telephone line at home, together with my broadband and of course the television satellite channels are all provided by Sky. I’d had Eurosport for years because I wanted the cycling coverage. I switched the rest after getting pissed off by BT when we lost our telephone and broadband. Not just us, all the houses in the road. They didn’t answer calls and when they did it took them eight days before the problem was fixed.
Sky has always been quick to respond to any problem and to fix it.  
I remember a TV aerial contractor telling me that health and safety rules meant ladders were last century and now we need to put up scaffolding so he could get to the chimney to affix a satellite dish.
The scaffolding would cost £1000!
Well, I didn’t have a thousand quid.  
I called Sky. Perhaps they had their own scaffolding!
Scaffolding? No need, they said.
Sky sent one man. He was smartly kitted out in dark blue and black overalls and looked like a climber about to tackle the North Face of the Eiger.  He only had the west face of our two storey cottage to scale.
He surveyed the roof from the ground, then methodically went through a check list of all his gear, his safety harnesses and hooks.  He donned a helmet and then climbed the ladder – secured to the wall - up to the roof, hoisting a second, roof ladder, up with him. He laid that over the tiles to the ridge by the chimney. 
He came back for the dish, strapped a small rucksack full of tools to his back and went back up, with a line securing him to each ladder in turn, then finally to a harness around the chimney, where he set about attaching the dish. There was no cost to me.
Here endeth an  interesting aside into my experiences of the workings of Sky.   
Back to the Team Sky enigma.
The press response to Team Sky’s issues has almost been as heavy as it was for Armstrong, the sporting cheat of the century who was running a clever doping programme for all of his seven Tour victories through to 2005.
All we know about Sky is that they’ve slipped into the grey area by providing Wiggins with a TUE (Theraputic Use Exemption) to allow him to take, legally, an otherwise banned steroid to treat his allergies.  And then there is the unresolved jiffy bag saga. What was in the jiffy bag?
A harmless medication, it was eventually claimed. But no record of this has been provided.  Brailsford and Shane Sutton were less than convincing in trying to explain this away. The laptop containing medical records stolen?
Suspicion remains. But there is no evidence, the trail has gone cold.  There can be no case to answer.
The Wiggins business was different. His TUE was for steroids to treat his allergies. It was said this drug would be like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It was known to enhance performance. Wiggins really should have been rested while taking this drug, say critics.  
So that’s a stain that won’t easily wash out. Now Froome, who suffers from asthma, like many athletes apparently, is also in the dog house for his higher than legal dosage of asthma puffs after a bad day on the Vuelta. He could face being banned and stripped of his title.   
It’s right the team be pulled up over these issues, but do they really merit pages and pages of reporting and speculation such as that which followed the Armstrong story - a major fraud involving not just the Texan, but teammates, too?
You have to conclude there wouldn’t have been half the fuss had Brailsford not continually boasted Sky race clean. On the other hand, he felt he had to keep repeating himself because cycling’s doping history was always being brought up by the media whose insinuation was clear.
So at the first sign of slippage, those TUEs for Wiggins, reporters jump on Team Sky.
The press, still wounded from being taken in by Armstrong for years think they’ve been had and so they have gone for Brailsford like wild dogs.
Brailsford is a brilliant operator – but when this Tour novice brought his new team to the world’s biggest stage race declaring he could win it, that upset many of the Tour regulars. Who did he think he was?
Such confidence came across as being cocky.
The master of marginal gains said he had no idea if the drug permitted Wiggins, courtesy of the TUEs, enhanced his performance when he won that historic Tour de France in 2012.
And then along comes Shane Sutton to muddy the waters by admitting on TV they moved into the grey areas to seek any gain they could.  
Too smart for their own good.
Here’s another gripe. The Team’s method in control racing shows their great strength, but it is getting boring because they hold everything back until the last.  In stage races it’s all become too clever and clinical. It was great when Team Sky first took a grip with that great victory by Wiggins in 2012. 
But I’ve got fed up watching this steam roller.
Froome, he’s a real talent and he’s risen to become a grand tour master, a relentless presence always there while his team set about weakening the rest …until the moment he chooses is right to attack.  Then the entertainment begins, as he takes off in that spectacular if ungainly way of his to put his rivals on the rack and take a few more seconds. Impressive. More marginal gains.  
It’s just that all this action now only ever comes in the closing kilometres, the last 30 minutes maybe, of a five-six hour stage.
We seldom get GC racing until near the end, save for the usual breakaway of non-GC guys doing their best. When they sometimes stay clear to the end I cheer. Otherwise, I groan.  
Thank God for Contador in the Tour of Spain, where his many gallant, lone brave escapes forced Sky to react.  Froome won, but it was Contador’s exploits which made the race.
For the best-ever analogy of the Sky method – albeit a horrible one - I refer you to Richard Abraham’s excellent piece in Procycling’s Review of 2017.
In his story about the Froome effect, he describes how Sky, the richest ever team in pro cycling, buys up the best talent, paying them enough to set aside personal ambition…. “and take the job of riding grand tours by shoving a pillow on the face of any opposition and holding it down until the struggling stops”.



Wednesday, 8 November 2017

BRITISH CYCLING AGM: what next in their box of tricks?



British Cycling, famous as the UK’s top Olympic sport this Millennium, is desperate to restore its reputation tarnished by allegations of bullying and sexism which came to light 18 months ago.
In just over a week’s time, four months after springing that Extraordinary General Meeting on a sleeping membership on the final weekend of the Tour de France(!), they will take another step towards redemption when a new board of directors are elected at the agm at Crewe, Cheshire, on November 18.
But doubts remain that this will truly be a clean break with the past. A reliable source tells me there is the prospect that the “new” Board will remain under the control of a majority of previous Board members who were obliged to step down after their failure to manage the whole sorry episode which landed BC in the dog house in the first place.
Delegates are additionally concerned at the prospect that four new independent board members may bring undue government influence to bear on British Cycling at a cost to grass roots development as they establish policies to safeguard the welfare of elite riders and staff. 
For it was UK Sport who demanded these changes.
It is now four months since the controversial, hurriedly organised EGM in July sought National Council’s approval to make changes to the constitution, under threat of losing the £43 million Olympic funding if they did not bend the knee to their pay masters.
British Cycling was desperate to do as bid and after a lot of strife they got what they wanted and the vote was won.
But the orchestration of their campaign was breathless stuff. At the thought of possibly losing the vote, at the last minute they roped in Olympic hero Chris Hoy to make an emotive plea on their behalf.  It was masterful trick and it seemed to work.
But there was good news for the 10 England Regions when perhaps the most contentious issue of all was settled and National Council retained its democratic right to hold the balance of power.   The EGM granted an amendment, tabled by South East Region, to allow the England Regions a place on the new board.
The fact that the England Regions, comprising the largest membership of British Cycling, were not originally granted that place speaks volumes.  Scotland and Wales were represented. Why not England?
There had been a huge concern that without England having a place on the board, National Council, the voice of the grass roots, would effectively be silenced.
British Cycling without National Council would become like government without Parliament – Theresa May’s preference when taking decisions over Brexit - authoritarian.
Notwithstanding that the balance has been addressed, for some delegates British Cycling still needs to demonstrate the sport can continue to prosper, across all disciplines, for all members, and not just for the elite pursuing Olympic medals.
But in the light of a 37-page annual report which I understand makes scant reference to regional development, National Council may need more reassurance.
The new board is intended to form the basis of the new-look management structure demanded of all Olympic sports. They are all obliged to adopt UK Sport and Sport England’s new Code of Governance on condition of continuing to receive Olympic funding.
This code is to safeguard the health and welfare of athletes and staff, to nip in the bud any behavioural problems. Ours is not the only sport with a problem. Swimming is another.   In cycling’s case the new code has particular relevance to the allegations in the 2012 King report which revealed sexism and bullying allegations.
It made matters worse that the full contents of that report were kept from the board for some time and known only to two or three individuals at British Cycling, an issue which still remains to be cleared up.  
BC kept the whole thing quiet until compromised by a whistle-blower, Olympian Jane Varnish some 18 months ago, over her questionable dismissal from the Olympic squad.  It prompted other riders to come out in support, with their own issues.
It led to the Parliamentary Committee who looked into this affair to declare British Cycling unfit to govern. And while that may have vindicated, quite rightly, all who have been damaged by this affair, it was a hard blow to the morale of an organisation which has truly taken the sport to new heights these past two decades.
How to get back on track?
BC insist they have since addressed all of these issues!
It is to the make sure they do that UK Sport called for the changes in BC’s management structure that have caused such unrest. Many felt the changes called for went too far, too fast, and this is what drove Peter King and others, including former president and double world champion Tony Doyle to take a stand at the EGM in July.
King says of course all members want to see the Olympic success of British Cycling continue, but he is worried at what he sees is a huge disconnect between BC and the members. He is especially concerned that grass roots will be neglected as a consequence of the direction UK Sport is insisting upon.
For  it was King  - who coincidentally stepped in to rebuild the Federation in a big shake up 20 years ago, setting cycling on its revolutionary  medal winning course –  who argued for South East Region’s amendment to permit an England Region representative on the board.  
Subsequently, King has been nominated to become the England Regions board member and he hopes to influence others on the board to address the issues dearest to his heart.
This whole affair had witnessed heated exchanges both at the EGM and during the evening before, when in a move which disturbed many, British Cycling executives led by President Bob Howden, put delegates - already mandated by their Regions - under pressure to vote for the proposals because if they didn’t, BC would losing £43m funding and 225 jobs.  
No wonder that Doyle says he took a dim view of an email BC sent to National Councillors recently, warning against collusion… “To intentionally restrict the number of votes for other candidates and to gain a clear advantage in the voting process.”

The email pointed out … “such collusion is contrary to the spirit and intent of an election process ….”

Doyle wondered at the brass neck of this declaring that it is all very well to speak of  “spirit and intent” when BC employed questionable methods to  promote their agenda this year, both on the lead up to and on the eve of the EGM itself.

“Integrity and honesty was being ignored by BC and they forced their decision on the membership,” says Doyle.

Peter King for all his concerns remains optimistic, saying he is relieved that National Council will continue to hold management to account. 
“Yes, the ‘cycling family’ retains control,” he says.  “Of all the amendments I proposed this was the key one.  Out of a total of 12 on the board we will now have three directors nominated by the home countries and four elected by National Council.  There will be four independent appointed directors, one of whom will be the Chair, and the 12th director will be the CEO.” (Julie Harrington). 
The nominees are:
President: Rob Howden (seeking re-election, unopposed).
Chair: Jonathan Browning could be re-appointed.
Four non-executive directors (from the five nominated) –
Wendy Cull North West Region.

Graham  Elliott Eastern Region.

George Gilbert Eastern Region.

Dan Harris Central Region.

Richard Lodge West Midlands Region.



Marion Lauder – On-going appointment.
Alex Russell – On-going appointment.





Additionally, the following three nominations have been approved as non-executive directors:

Peter King, England Regions; Alasdair MacLennan Scottish Cyclists’ Union;

Nicholas Smith Welsh Cycling Union.