We, the childless Froomes

July 3, 2018 § 20 Comments

You could see the glimmer of hope, first when Hinault said that the riders should refuse to start with Froome on the line, and then, blossoming into a rather stronger beam, when the Turdy France organizers invoked Article 28 to ban Froome from the race.

Of course the glimmer was plunged into eternal night a few hours later when the UCI, taking a nod from WADA, threw the whole thing into the dumpster. As the protesters howled, WADA shrugged and said that it wasn’t practical to design a test to catch a guy who was doping, even though he’d already been caught, and even though past salbutamol cases had been easily, handily, and quickly processed.

As usual, the dead sport of cycling turned to doper, dope peddler, fraudster, and convicted felon Floyd Landis for insight, with suspected-but-unproven doper Chris Horner chiming in. This, then, is the state of things: The only people who have anything meaningful to say are people who have left the sport in disgrace, or under a dumping tropical storm of suspicion.

Trump and Froome

Everything, of course, comes back to Trump. Not because he is a cause, but because he is a symptom of the disease, just like the horrible tandem of Froome and Brailsford. Facts, truth, rules, and the moral spirit of fairness are completely dispensed with as the juggernaut of entertainment squashes everything in its path.

Politics, with its shouting, ignorant, unread participants on all sides, and cycling, with its shouting, less ignorant but still unread participants on all sides, have been co-opted by the corporatist state whose single-minded goal is returns to the shareholders no matter the social, environmental, or human costs. It isn’t capitalism run wild, it is human greed.

How did we get here?

The baby boom

The Greatest Generation in the U.S. was followed by the baby boom, which has now been followed by the baby bust. It is easy to see the boomers as the most despicable generation in the history of the species. They have taken everything, destroyed everything, given nothing. They have presided over the death of the environment, the veritable melting of the earth itself. And what have we given in return for all that we have taken? Trump, the last lobsterman.

I say lobsterman because many years ago, when the Maine fisheries were on the brink of collapse and regulators were trying to keep it alive, a reporter asked a crusty old lobsterman why he so bitterly opposed the fishing limits even though it would mean that in the long term his occupation would survive. “I’m a lobsterman,” he said. “And if the fishery is gonna die, I’m gonna catch the last damn one.”

That is Trump, that is Frooomesford, that is every local crit that keeps raping its dwindling loyal racers for a dollar a minute, or less, to ride around in circles. “The sport may die, but I’m gonna get the last fucking entry fee from the last damned rider.”

The boomers never seriously asked why the fishery has to die, or why the sport had to collapse. Why the hell is that?

The baby bust

The developed world is staring down the maw of its own cultural and human extinction. The replacement rate for a human population is 2.1 live births per woman. The most recent data for the U.S. pegged the 2017 fertility rate at 1.75, far below what is needed to maintain growth, joining Western Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and China as nations whose populations are swirling the drain.

Some people think that’s a bad thing because without a stable base of young people, there will be no one to do the work, pay the taxes, and be generally fucked around by the old folks. Other people think that a declining population, at least in the short term, is a good thing. Automation, robot dogs, algorithms that think for you, Viagra, and not having to pay for grandbaby college tuition is pretty much nirvana, they say.

Regardless of who’s right, the baby busters have some ugly facts in their corner. The first is that even countries like Finland, where maternity is supported at all levels by the state, have been no more successful in boosting fertility rates than places like Japan, where women are actively punished for making full natural use of their vaginas. Pregnant? You’re fired.

The numbers aren’t lying, and how could they? Childbearing sucks, even when you get a check from the government, generous maternity leave, free childcare, and you have a husband who really does share the housework.

You may be able to convince a few women to have a kid, a bunch less to have two kids, but it is a dead letter trying to get women to have three. They have birth control, thank you very much, and no matter how illegal you make abortion, the might and main of women on earth have figured out how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. People point to economic factors, social factors, and factor-factors, but I point to the obvious: Pregnancy and childbirth suck.

Hope is the future, the future is hope

Every morning I listen to Falter Radio, a magnificent broadcast from Vienna that tackles all of the hard questions. Much of its analysis focuses on the upending of liberal social democracy in Europe, and tries to make sense out of why countries that have so profoundly benefited from it are now turning hard right and harvesting radical right wing racism in the process. The shuddering is at its most intense when they talk about America. If America is abandoning its democratic ideals, what hope is there for the rest of the world? China, where there’s a video surveillance camera every 200 feet, and where people are scored on a social reliability index that allows or prohibits access to things like buses and subways?

The folks at Falter can’t figure it out, but I can, and I have.

Our complete reversal away from fairness, law, democracy, and liberty is simply one — maybe the most important — manifestation of our collapsing birth rate. Every country in Europe that has turned hard right has a plunging fertility rate. Poland, 1.32%. Hungary, 1.44%. Austria, 1.47%. Germany, 1.50%. Italy, 1.37%.

World leaders with developed economies who are also in the throes of demographic collapse happen to correlate well with repressive, anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, corporatist states. China, 1.57%, South Korea, 1.24%, Japan, 1.45%, and Russia, 1.75%.

Why should this be, and what does it have to do with Froomesford?

Well, the simplest explanation is that developed countries with a lot of kids have historically found a lot of common ground on social, economic, and political issues because the polity understands the concept of future as something that extends beyond their own lives. When a society is awash in kids, most people take an active stake in the future for the purely selfish reason that they don’t want their children to live in misery.

Even my racist, alcoholic, mean-spirited, tax-hating Republican grandfather believed in public education and health care because he had a kid.

If you think about it, that belief in the future is a big leap. The future is an imaginary construct that never really comes, whereas the present and the past are demonstrable moments in time. When a society comes together to make policy about the future, it is making policy about an imaginary time, and how far out you imagine that point has everything to do with the policies you commit to. People talk about a divided America and about the collapse of dialogue, but that’s horseshit. My grandfather hated liberals in 1963 just as violently as the average white, 60-ish Texas voter does today. The difference is that my grandfather knew that without education and some basic access to rights, his daughter wasn’t going to have much of a life.

What’s changed isn’t the political divide, but the fact that there aren’t enough kids to force people to find common ground. If the only future timeline that matters is my own life, it makes sense to tighten things up and make sure that less wealth is distributed, less opportunities are provided to others, and that more resources and rights are devoted to fewer (and older) people. Fuck the youth, and especially the immigrant ones.

Nowhere is this forfeiture of the future more apparent than in school shootings. Here we have a wholly preventable social phenomenon that preys on children in the most violent way. But on a political level, who cares? Children are not the future, they are a vestigial reminder of our own past and a nagging critique of our impending mortality, but they are not a precious resource to be treasured, grown, loved, educated, valued. Another group of children got shot up in school? Well, I got my problems, too. And what has any kid ever done for me?


You see this phenomenon of hopelessness play out in cycling as well. Even lower than the national fertility rate, few cyclists have 1.75 children, and most have less. Every now and again some cycling nut dad will get his kid into the sport and make a big deal about how the sport is collapsing and about how we have to do more for juniors and where are all the junior races and blah blah blah, but nothing ever happens, and not only because the kid hits puberty and discovers that bike racing is not nearly as much fun as ________ (fill in the blank with pretty much anything).

The main reason that nothing ever happens is because cycling, like Trumpist America, is dominated by aging, greedy, white men who do not give two broken fucks about junior racing. What they want is a prize list, a 45-minute crit, and a safe, unchallenging race that ends in time for them to prop up and watch the Big Game. And they don’t even represent the majority: The sport as a whole doesn’t even want racing on that pitiful level, it wants no racing at all.

As a whole, cycling is comprised of old white men who don’t want to race, unless you consider the Donut Ride, Strava, grand fondues, and grumpy grinders “racing.”

Without kids in the mix, there’s no reason to care about anything. That’s why even the angriest liberals look at what’s happening today and mostly shrug. By the time the true devastation of Trumpism blossoms, we will be dead or so close to it that it will have been worth it, or so we think. This is the only thing that explains the casual acceptance of the Froomesford scandal. Let ’em cheat. They’re only cheating themselves, I can choose not to watch it, and anyway, my kid’s not trying to make it in pro cycling, so what do I care?

I hate to break the news to you. You may not care. You may think that it’s okay to whore off the future to the slothful, insatiable, rapine greed of the present. But inside, the only thing that can ever make anyone feel good about life is the conviction that there is a future, and the knowledge that you’re doing something positive for it.

Froomesford is wrong. Trump is wrong. Xi is wrong. Kurz is wrong. Orban is wrong. Abe is wrong.

The little kids in the morgue are right.



Tom Petty wouldn’t, either

February 5, 2018 § 3 Comments

Chris Froome’s dope-em-up continues to whip the tifosi into an ever finer souffle, with silly pronouncements following ridiculous demands and culminating in today’s CyclingNews fanboy plea, “Froome should suspend himself for the good of the sport.”

I would like to direct your attention to a popular song written by the recently-departed Tom Petty: “I Won’t Back Down,” and imagine that it is being sung by “Puffer” Froome. Because he’s not backing down.

The gist of the CyclingNews fanboy piece is that Froome has a moral obligation to suspend himself for the good of the sport. Fanboy Whittle, author of this deep piece, urges Puffer to suspend himself so that he can be “on the right side of history,” presumably because 300 years from now when people are looking at the pivotal moments that decided the course of human events, all eyes will be turned on how Puffer behaved at this moment, like Sir Neville Chamberlain and “peace in our time,” or something like that. Heady stuff, that underpants-bicycling fake sport thing.

The Whittler concludes by making clear what the stakes are should Puffer not do the right thing: “If Froome competes and wins a Grand Tour only to be later sanctioned, then he and his team will forever be seen under the same dark cloud as those that came before them.”

Wow. I think if I were Chris Froome reading that I would dash out to the nearest UCI firing squad, pin myself against a wall, and take my medicine.

Just kidding, no I wouldn’t.

If I were Chris Froome I’d be doing what Chris Froome is already doing: Training like a MoFo and getting ready to win the Giro and his fifth Tour. “Being under the same dark cloud as those that came before them?” I think Fanboy Whittle means “doping,” and here’s why his entire argument is a floofy frumpum of whompynoddle.

Let’s start with rules and due process. Froome hasn’t suspended himself because he hasn’t committed a doping infraction, yet. Who set up the rules allowing Froome to use up to 1,000 mL of Salbutamol despite knowing that it is a proven doping agent, and has been used as such for over twenty years? Why, that would be the UCI.

Who set up the rules saying that testing positive for too much salbutamol didn’t require an automatic suspension? Why, that would be the UCI.

And now we’re supposed to believe that a guy who makes 4.5 million euros a year riding his bicycle is going to toss into the can the very protections created by the organizing body that is now going to have to give him due process? And his reason for that would be what, exactly?

Fanboy Whittle says it’s ethics and morals and the good of the sport and the stakeholders, a stinking smorgasbord of sweet-sounding piffle if ever there was one.

“Ethics and morals”? Most people would say that following rules put in place to give an athlete the chance to prove his innocence is both ethical and moral, and, as everyone knows but glosses over, legal as well. (Oh. Yeah. Right.) Froome may be guilty but he still gets to put on his case; stripping him of those rights or demanding that he forego them is the very antithesis of ethical and moral.

“The good of the sport”? What does that even mean? That Froome somehow sees cycling as a noble and divine endeavor whose integrity all good cyclists have a sworn duty to defend? The sport of professional European cycling has proven itself at every turn to be a mean, exploitative, drug-ridden, mafia-like cult that puts a few at the pinnacle, grinds up the rest and tosses them on the trash heap. Pro cycling was and is a doper shitshow, and even if there were something pure and beautiful about it, why would anyone expect Froome to know or care? He rides for Team Skye and David Brailsford. His job is to win races without getting busted, not to honor some silly ideal.

“The stakeholders”? Who in the world could this possibly be, except for the owners of the Giro and the Tour? These are the very two entities, especially the Tour, who have done so much to keep pro cycling a provincial, corrupt, balkanized fake-sport, preventing its growth, keeping the cost of entry out of reach, and ensuring that the racers are impoverished and desperate from year to year. Froome is supposed to care about them?

Whittle does make mention of the fans but wisely doesn’t go too far in their defense because everyone who follows pro cycling even casually and doesn’t know that the pro peloton dopes is an imbecile. Fanboy Whittle needs to reflect that he is writing thinly disguised ad copy for a sport where they just busted fourteen racers for EPO in a single race, more than a decade after the EPO era supposedly ended.

Consider his options: Give away a few million euros, lose the chance to race, and by sitting out admit to what everyone is saying anyway–that he’s a cheat. Or, stay in the game, collect a few more million euros, win the big races, run the risk that he’s retroactively stripped, and have people say what they are saying anyway–that he’s a cheat.

Contador faced this same choice and said “Thank you, I’ll take your money and my chances.” He lost the titles but kept the cash.

Froome will, too.



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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The truth about Chris Froome’s doping, Part 2

December 20, 2017 Comments Off on The truth about Chris Froome’s doping, Part 2

To recap: Salbutamol, when injected or taken orally, allows you to retain muscle and lose weight. It is banned by WADA for this reason, but allowed up to certain levels when taken through an inhaler for asthmatics, because inhaled Salbutamol does not enhance performance.

Chris Froome’s urine after Stage 18 in the Vuelta had double the allowed amount of Salbutamol, 2,000 ng/mL. This indicates cheating, i.e. oral or injected use for doping, not for use as an inhalant for asthma.

What is Froome’s defense? Well, he’s already telegraphed it pretty clearly, and it’s the only move he really has if he’s to avoid a doping ban. The idea is that it was his doctor’s fault. According to Team Sky, Froome upped his dose of asthma medication during the Vuelta on the advice of one of the team’s medical staff. Froome explained that his symptoms worsened during the Vuelta, and that he sought medical advice from the team doctor in order to increase his Salbutamol dosage. So the defense is, “The doctor doped me.”

Team Sky is already building on this defense, claiming that Froome also used Salbutamol after the stage to reduce his coughing so that he could conduct television interviews. Obviously, the implication is that even if he went over the limit, it wasn’t for a performance advantage but rather simply so that he could talk to the press. This is a move I’ll discuss more below, prepping the inquisitors for the idea that even if he doped, it wasn’t intentional performance-enhancement. The difference between negligent and intentional doping is irrelevant for purposes of guilt, but huge for purposes of determining the length of the sanction.

Strangely enough, this developing defense contradicts Froome’s initial statement to the press when his positive test was sniffed out by the media and he said “You have to remember I’ve been racing with asthma for 10 years now. I know what those limits are. I’ve never gone over those limits.” So on one hand he has never gone over the limits, and on the other hand he went over the limits, but it wasn’t his fault.

Before dealing with the difficulties of proving his case, let’s review WADA’s rules for riders who exceed the 1000 ng/mL dosage. The rule is that in order to not be considered doping, a/k/a an Adverse Analytical Finding, the athlete has to prove through a controlled pharmacokinetic study that the abnormal result was the consequence of the use of the therapeutic dose (by inhalation) up to the maximum allowable dose. In other words, the rider has to show that he inhaled the allowable dose but that something in his physiology caused the false positive. No jokes about Floyd Landis’s book, “Positively False,” please.

What exactly is a pharmacokinetic study? It’s pretty simple, actually. The athlete inhales the amount that he claims he inhaled, and then, in laboratory conditions with full monitoring, his urine gets re-tested. If his urine shows that he took more of the drug than he actually did, the rider is off the hook because he’s proved that he followed all the rules but that something about his body produced a false positive. But ominously, if his urine reflects the actual amount inhaled, then he is presumed to have taken the amount shown in the positive test on race day, which in Froome’s case was twice the allowed limit. Talk about going all in.

In a nutshell, here’s why Chris Froome can most likely look forward to a doping ban:

  1. He will fail the pharmacokinetic test, which will show that there is nothing weird or freakish about his physiology that causes Salbutamol to register abnormally. He probably knows this, because he’s been taking Salbutamol for years and this has never happened before. Why would he suddenly be returning false positives in massive amounts for a drug he admits to taking all the time?
  2. “The doctor doped me” is not a valid excuse for having excessive levels of Salbutamol in your urine. The relevant rule is Article 15 (1.1) of the UCI and WADA’s Anti-Doping Regulations, which reads in part: “It is each Rider’s personal duty to ensure that no Prohibited Substance enters his body. Riders are responsible for any Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers found to be present in their bodily Specimens. Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing Use on the Rider’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an anti-doping violation under Article 15.1.” Also, no doctor has stepped forward to take responsibility for doping up Chris. If this were a horrible case of mistaken dosage, the first person to come forward would have been the doctor, and if he hesitated, Froome would have named him immediately. There can’t have been more than one or two people at Team Sky on Stage 18 with authority to administer drugs to the team’s star rider and four-time winner of the TdF. Why hasn’t the doctor come forward? Because everyone knows he didn’t dope anyone, Froome and Team Sky most of all.
  3. The nutty defense that the positive test resulted from a post-race inhalation to talk to the press, if true, makes it certain that he will be sanctioned because taking excessive amounts of the drug is precisely what the rules forbid. Whether you take them before, during, or after the race is irrelevant if the amount exceeds the allowed limit. Moreover, no amount of puffing would result in such high levels; a standard puff is 100 mcg, and various estimates rate a 2,000 ng/mL reading to require 19+ inhalations.

The record for successful defenses of Salbutamol positives isn’t going to be a source of much encouragement for Chris Froome. Most recently, Diego Ulissi of Lampre-Merida was banned for nine months after testing positive for 1,900 ng/mL of Salbutamol after the 11th Stage of the Giro in 2014. Like Froome, he tested positive for this massive amount after exceptional performances, in this case winning stages 5 and 8. Like Froome, he claimed that there was no way he could have gotten such a high reading from mere inhalations. I would argue that he was right; he returned the high levels due to oral or injected use of the drug.

Worryingly for Froome, Ulissi went through the WADA protocol for a pharmacokinetic study in Switzerland only to find out that the readings were accurate, that he didn’t have freaky physiology, and that the elevated levels were sanctionable. Also like Froome, Ulissi was a long-time user/abuser of Salbutamol, and was in fact using it under a TUE. One silver lining for Froome in the Ulissi case is that Ulissi was only banned for nine months instead of two years, as the disciplinary committee bought the argument championed by his team that his violation was negligent, not intentional. This fits perfectly with the story being developed by Team Sky and Froome, that even if he did dope, it was a) because of someone else and/or b) done negligently to allow him to conduct interviews. What’s also fun to note is that Ulissi’s apologists took some of the same ridiculous tacts that Team Sky is now attempting, and of course it was written up in 2014 … here.

Another 2014 Salbutamol doping case involves Moldovan rider Alexandr Pliuschin, who tested positive at a stage race in Dubai where he won two stages. Don’t worry if you couldn’t find Moldova on a map after being spotted the Ukraine and Romania. Like Froome and Ulissi, the use of Salbutamol doping positives correlates with great results during the race in which they are positive. Distinct from Froome and Ulissi, Pliuschin’s team completely abandoned him when the tests came out, pointing out that it happened when he was with another team. This underscores the difference in treatment between World Tour stage and grand tour winners, and low-level pros trying to make it in the big time. Also distinct from Froome, and not in a good way, is Pliuschin’s reading: He tested for 1,600 ng/mL, far less than Froome or Ulissi, and received a nine-month ban for his efforts, marking the end of his career.

Most worrying of all for Chris Froome, the cycling world has plenty of examples of riders busted for Salbutamol who were sanctioned, as well as those who got the wink-wink-nod-nod. Given the drug’s proven effective used in combination with steroids, its users read like a who’s who of cycling greats. Alex Zülle  tested positive in 1993 as did Bo Hamburger; no sanction was imposed.  Laurent Madouas tested positive in 1994, was disqualified and suspended for a month. Two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Franco Ballerini tested positive and wasn’t sanctioned even though the result came in the ’94 edition of Roubaix where he placed third. Hour record holder Tony Rominger also tested positive in the same year and was excused for therapeutic use; his test result came after the prologue of the Tour.

The same thing happened to five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, popped in 1994 at the Tour de L’Oise for Salbutamol that was in a nasal inhaler. The drug was banned by the IOC and UCI at the time, except for athletes with asthma. In France, where he tested positive, it was banned outright, but he was still exonerated, with the IOC/UCI accepting his excuse that his use was legitimate. The bigger the star, apparently, the lighter the touch.

Matt White crossed the line in 1998 and was suspended for two months. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano tested positive in 2002 and skated under the therapeutic use exception. Eric Berthou, busted in 2002, got off with a warning and a disqualification. Mederic Clain was busted and exempted in 2006, as was Tour runner-up Óscar Pereiro, later known as Tour Winner After Floyd Was Stripped. Continuing in a long line of obfuscation and outright lies about Salbutamol and its effects, UCI deposed president and Lance Armstrong flunky Pat McQuaid defended Pereiro with this bold-faced lie: “He was not positive. He uses Ventolin to treat asthma, as many people do. It is not a doping product or anything like that.” To suggest that Salbutamol isn’t a doping product is to ignore science in general and the WADA code of banned substances in particular.

David Garbelli was warned and DQ’d, also in 2006, as was Christoph Girschweller in 2007. Then a big fish wound up in the net, when Alessandro Petacchi, one of the greatest sprinters of all time, was nailed in 2007, excused by his federation, but later sanctioned by the UCI. His level of Salubotamol was 1,320 ng/mL, and came in an edition of the Giro where he had won five stages. This is a bad precedent for Froome, who has tested positive with far bigger numbers. What was most interesting about the Petacchi case is that the Barcelona lab which retested his sample concluded that the Salbutamol had not been inhaled. This comports exactly with my contention, that inhaling the drug is a cover for oral or injected use to lose weight and retain muscle mass. Nonetheless, CAS ignored the Barcelona lab’s finding, and although it sanctioned Petacchi, it bought his utterly unfounded claim that the Salbutamol had been inhaled. I doubt that this kind of chicanery would pass scrutiny today, and Froome should be worried. A kind of silverish-lining for Froome is the fact that although CAS did in fact sanction Petacchi, and they accepted the argument that Froome now advances, i.e. his levels were caused by a “post race” inhalation, he was therefore banned for a year rather than two. Yet unlike Petacchi, who was at the end of his spectacular career (and racking up five stage wins in the Giro, uh, okay), a one-year doping ban for Froome would be catastrophic for him and for Team Sky.

Leonardo Piepoli  got by after testing positive in 2007 in the same Giro as Petacchi, with therapeutic use, whereas Gerg Soeperberg was disqualified and warned in the same year. Matteo Trentin got a two-month sanction in 2007, as did Mariusz Olesek. Eric Berthou tested positive but was exempted in 2008. If none of these names mean anything to you, the name of Salbutamol should: It is an incredibly effective and popular doping agent and has been recognized as such since at least 1992, and probably before.

Whatever you want to say about Salbutamol, Froome has got to be considering the reality that if he can’t reproduce a massive 2,000 ng/mL test result with a few measly puffs from an inhaler, he’s looking at a minimum suspension of nine months, the loss of his Vuelta title, and the potential destruction of Team Sky, a cycling team already stinking of dope to high heaven. Worst case scenario is two years sitting on the bench, wondering where it all went wrong.




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