Monday, July 28, 2014

Tough lessons learned by Team Sky and the language of the innocent. An interview with Fran Millar.

Photo: Team Sky

Fran Millar's history within the sport is an interesting one. Known dismissively by some as "David's sister", Millar has been a central figure in British cycling for nearly fifteen years. During that time, she's worked as an event promoter, rider agent, and has held several positions at Sky, having been there since the team's inception. My initial goal was to talk about the realities that come with being a visible and accessible member of Team Sky, particularly within the current climate in the sport. In the end however, we ended up talking about many other things, like representing riders, the difficult lessons that Team Sky has learned, the validity of doubt among fans, and yes, her brother. 

One other note: this interview was conducted right before the news about Jonathan Tiernan-Locke were released, so that topic is not covered. Nevertheless, I think the subjects we did touch upon are, in a broader sense, more telling and interesting. At least to me. Thanks to Fran for her time.



At what point were you introduced to cycling, and how?
I was about fifteen years old, and it was through my brother. By that point, he was racing on a domestic team when he was home, so I would watch the Tour with him on TV when he was home from Hong Kong.

Wisden Almanack

Before entering the world of cycling, you worked for the Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack [a cricket reference book published annually in the UK, and often referred as “the Bible of cricket”] Did that that job entice you to pursue a career in sport?
After school, I had a temporary position in a really generic business, and I realized it wasn’t for me. I wanted to move to London, and I wanted to work in sports. The opportunity at Wisden came up, and I loved it. In part because of David, I had always loved sports anyway, and it’s certainly more exciting than a standard office job, isn’t it?

I was working at Wisden when David won the yellow jersey at the Tour, and my boss at the time had been business partners with Björn Borg’s manager. I mentioned that IMG wasn’t doing a very good job, and he didn’t have a very high of opinion of IMG, so he mentioned that maybe I should represent my brother. I had never thought about something like that as a job, but with him giving me the nudge, I thought perhaps I could do it.


So that was in 2000, your brother is considered a promising rider at a very high level, and you decide you want to represent him. Do you present this idea to your brother with a full business plan, in an attempt to be as professional as possible, or is it as simple as a conversation between siblings?
It was pretty informal. At the time, I was living with a guy who was a web designer, and we thought we could build a fan site for David. Today, people in the UK enjoy and understand cycling, but back then, people here didn’t really understand the sport, and there was only a small hardcore group of fans that we thought we could tap into through a site. You know, maybe we were a little ahead of our time, because we thought we could build a pay wall, and let people have all this access, all kinds of stupid stuff. 

But in the end, it wasn’t a really serious conversation, it was more of us just dicking around. David and I have always gotten along really well, so it was more about, “we can build this website for you, we can do some PR for you.” So it was more of a fun thing. Over the course of the next few years, the guy who I built that site with for David did write up a business plan, which included getting other clients beyond David. I have that business plan somewhere, and I’ve read it back since, and it’s absolutely hilarious, particularly the kind of money we thought we would be making. In the end, none of it happened, because we ended up going more into event management than into athlete representation.

But you did end up managing other athletes, correct?
We did, simply because I had a real affinity to some of them, and I just loved the sport. But we never charged them any money. And in those days, it wasn’t a big money proposition anyway.

At the company’s peak, how many athletes did you manage, and were they all cyclists?
The company is still going today, and it’s one of the biggest cycling management companies in the UK, mostly doing events. But at its peak, around the Beijing Olympics, we had around 15 athletes. But we weren’t very good at it, and we openly admitted to that, but I was personally very attached to some of the riders.

Photo: Team Sky

Like who?
Mark Cavendish. I worked with him from before he turned professional, to right before he left Team Sky. Now, looking back on it, I think we were in the wrong sport to do athlete representation in, but the right one to do event promotion and building a brand in. Plus, representing cyclists back then was not a moneymaking business. Now it is, but I also see just how much it takes to do that now. The contacts, the experience, and the willingness to sell your soul too. We didn’t have any of those things.

If I have the timeline correct, that means you were representing Mark Cavendish, and you were working with Sky at the same time. How was that conflict of interests dealt with?
Right. I was working for Sky, and I had to declare that I had an interest in Mark, and that even though I was no longer directly representing him, he still asked for my advice on these matters. I had never taken money from Mark, I never got a percentage of his contracts, ever, but I did do his first book deal and got a percentage of that. So it was technically representation, but it was more like I was a big sister to him in that sense. 

So when he was coming to Sky, I asked him how he’d like it to be handled. Did he want me to be involved in negotiations? I also spoke to the team’s board, and it was determined that if Mark and Dave Brailsford was comfortable with it, I could be involved since I knew the team and Mark. So I was involved in the conversations, but it was completely open that I had an interest in both sides.


Fran Millar, Martin Ayers, Dan Buillemette, and Tim Kerrison (Photo: Scott Mitchell/Team Sky)

Cavendish aside, I was wondering, did you charge your brother a fee, or was there some financial arrangement to get your business going?
No, we just took a percentage of sales from the website, which probably added up to 100 Pounds (laughs). But no, I don’t remember him every giving me money. The thing that actually got the company off the ground was an event called the Good Friday Meeting. We asked David if he would ride it, he agreed, but mentioned that maybe we should ask about promoting it, doing PR for it, and getting paid for that. So that was a great opportunity, and we would ask David to ride these events. We never paid him a fee, so I guess it was an exchange of favors really. But he demands a fee now (laughs)!

That speaks to how close you and your brother are. Which brings up a question: did you know about your brother’s doping as it was happening? Did you suspect it?
I suspected it, yeah. There was never a direct conversation that we ever sat down and had, but I think it was definitely…I knew what the sport was like, and I suppose I turned a blind eye.


David Millar speaks to the press at the 2007 Tour after Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion



You’ve had several jobs within Sky since the team’s inception, but many still think of you as being the press officer, which you are not.
I project managed the setup of the team through 2008 and 2009 and then once we were racing there was a natural lead towards the marketing side for me—in part because I don’t have a performance background; I know nothing about training or equipment. 

Then when Brian Nygaard, out head of communications, left Sky [Nygaard went to Leopard-Trek, and subsequently Orica-GreenEDGE] I was asked to take on that role for the 2010 Tour de France, which I did. And it was fucking awful (laughs)! Because of that, many think that I’m the communications person for Team Sky, which I’m not. So people will call me out on Twitter, and tell me I should be doing my job for the team in communications, and I have to tell them, “I’m not the fucking press officer!” (laughs)

I think I know why it was a nightmare, but I might be wrong. Can you tell me why?
To be honest, it was a nightmare because we did this massive hoo-ha, about how we were going to win the Tour de France, how we were going to be amazing and we had this great, big shiny bus, we had all this money, and we were the new kids on the block. And we tanked. There’s no other way to put it. We tanked. Bradley had come in fourth with Garmin, and there had been this massive transfer negotiation and press about him leaving Garmin and coming to Sky. So Bradley comes to us, and we tank. 

And at that point, everyone smells blood.
Right, everyone was on us like a rash. And rightly so, because at the end of that season we all sat down and realized we had learned quite a few lessons about our approach and we had to do a wholesale review of our organization, to look at our mistakes, what we could improve on. The result was that much of how the team operates now comes from that review after 2010. So it wasn’t the work before 2010, but it was the failure that helped us put things in place to make us better.

And your job title now at Sky is…
Head of Winning Behaviors.

What does that mean?
Basically, when we first started the team, we had a really clear vision of what we wanted to achieve. Win the Tour de France with a clean British riders within five years, and to inspire a million people within the UK to ride more regularly. And we used that vision as a rallying cry, a north star to guide us, which made making decisions and communicating within the team much easier. At the end of 2012, we met as a team to realign the goals, and to look forward toward the next year, realizing that we’d achieved two of the goals we’d set out to achieve, winning the Tour and inspiring a million people to ride bikes.  

So we got everyone together in London to discuss the end of the year, and that’s when the USADA decision about Lance came out. So rather than talking about goals for the next year, we began to talk about the importance of reaffirming our anti-doping position. That meant re-interviewing people about their past, and having people leave the team as a result, and all the chaos that came from that. That meant that we went through the following season without really resetting anyone, or having really talked about who we are, and what we stand for. We felt that there had been a bit of a cultural drift, and it became clear that what had gotten us to that point was not going to keep us there. We needed to keep moving forward, and pushing on. So we decided that we needed a way to let our riders know what being in Team Sky means, what being a part of the team means, what’s expected of them, how they can get better. These are all things that you would do in a corporation, but doing it within the context of a sports team. So we call it “winning behaviors” since it’s about sustaining the behaviors that can keep us winning. So I’ve been building that program over the course of the last 6 to 8 months as the head of it.

Fran and her brother David in 2009

Even though you are not the press officer for the team, as you mentioned, many think you are. Additionally, you are a public person because of who your brother is and your presence on social media. That means that you can be attacked and questioned in a very public and direct way. How do you deal with that, and did you ever imagine that this would be part of your job?
To be honest, it doesn’t really get to me. Having been with David with what he went through, and having seen what happened to him, I think it gives you a thick skin, and makes you realize that it’s not the end of the world. When everything was happening to David, I realized that some people had a point. They were angry that he had cheated, and lied. But I know that Team Sky riders are clean, I know that our lads are not doing anything wrong, so people can throw all the crazy in the world at me, and I don’t find it to be that bad. And if I can, I’ll corrected them, but you can’t try to correct every person on the internet, because you’ll go mad. But if people ask me legitimate questions, or if I feel that something hasn’t been communicated properly, and I can try to correct that in 140 characters, then I will. 

But when I get called out by the more…challenging people, whose mind you will never change, I tend to disengage because you can’t win. But that doesn’t upset me. In fact, I understand it. This sport has had a long history of lying and cheating and all sorts of negativity. So it’s unrealistic for anyone to expect that after the biggest icon of the sport was brought down, everything will suddenly be perfect, nice as pie and questions won’t be asked anymore. It’s just unrealistic.

I feel that doubt can be healthy, and that questions must be asked. But I wrote something about this before, the fact that despite its value, doubt can sometimes come from the very same place that blind belief did earlier. This is not to say that it's bad, but perhaps to point out that it can be just as blind, if it’s merely an inversion in logic.
There are a variety of things going on. You’ve got something like Twitter, which didn’t exist twenty years ago. Some people on Twitter think that they are agents of change, because they are asking questions. During the height of Change Cycling Now, there was a false sense that Twitter was governing the editorial decisions of major newspapers, which was insane. In the UK, only 27% of the population is on Twitter. And of those, only 3% tweet regularly. So we are talking a tiny majority who had an impact on editorial decisions of newspapers, which is an interesting evolution of news coverage and interaction. Had Twitter existed in the days of Lance, he too would have been bombarded with questions, but people didn’t have a way to do that.

But there are two things here. We as a team are dominant. We won the Tour de France twice, we were number one and then number two in the world, and we race in a dominant way. We say things like, “the days of attacking in the mountains are gone”, but then do it. To some people, it’s like, “the only time I saw this before was with Lance, and I believed that, so I won’t be fooled again.” So I totally get that, and if I was a fan, and not as close to Team Sky as I am, and didn’t know the riders, I don’t know.




When did you think about that in particular?
I remember watching the Dauphine in 2012, on the Col De Joux Plan, Richie and the guys just absolutely battered everyone. And I remember thinking, “whoa, if I didn’t know this team, I would be asking questions.” It’s understandable. The other thing I want to mention is this. I work a lot with the Head of Comms at Sky Sports and he said to me a few years ago—If you look at how Lance dealt with accusations, he stole the language of the innocent.

That’s interesting.
I think it's true. You cannot say anything today that Lance didn’t say. He’s used all the lines, and the language of the innocent. So what can we say. We train harder, we use the best equipment, and we eat better. He took it all. He used all the lines…not “lines”, he took the truth, and used it for his purpose.

And Sky has been mocked for us saying those lines.
Yes, people tease us on Twitter, saying that Sky is what it is because of "the pillows", or "the pineapple juice". It’s not the pillows or the pineapple juice. They are part of what we do, but it’s the work that our athletes do, day in day out, at camps and up on Mount Teide [in Tenerife], is unprecedented. That’s why other teams go there now, because it has a huge impact. So as a team, we have to go through a period of recognizing that anything we say, whether is where we train, sleep, pillows, training harder, we are going to sound like Lance. And we may look like Lance, but we have to know that we are not. So we can’t expect everyone to believe that, but time will prove us right. I really hope that some of those more vitriolic people on Twitter will recognize that. I doubt they will, but we can hope.


"The pillows", as featured on Bike Radar

If I could give you a magic wand, I don't know why I’d be trusted to be the keeper of this magic wand, but let’s pretend. With this wand, you could make one thing about cycling change. What would that be?
Wow, that’s a massive question. I would like to get to a point where our fans can trust the authorities are doing their utmost to manage and run a clean sport. And that our fans could compete at the top of their game, winning, and have absolute faith and knowledge that they are doing so clean. That’s not in place now because people don’t trust the system. I don’t generally think that people don’t trust Chris Froome, I think they don’t trust WADA, or the UCI. So if I could make fans feel like they know that the testing works, and that the system is working, it would be game changing for the whole sport, and things would fall into place. It would be more commercially viable for sponsors, it would have a huge impact across the board.

I mean, I would love the change the financial stability of teams, and their reliance on sponsors, but ultimately, that would come with having a sport that people can trust. ■


In part two of this interview (which will be posted on Thursday), I speak with Fran about Colombian riders within Team Sky, cultural assimilation, Sergio Henao being removed from competition, and biological passport testing in South America. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pantani, Uran Uran and Serpa

1.
Pantani is often portrayed as either a saint or a demon. My take on him is (I think) different. I was asked to write about this, which you can read here.

2.
Speaking of Pantani, sorry to repeat myself by posting the photo above again...but I still can't get over the similarity.



 3.
Did you miss out on the last order of black Cycling Inquisition jerseys? Remember that you can still buy one here.


4.
Yup, you want one, and you can order one here.

5.
By the time this post goes up, this might be old news, but I couldn't pass it up since Serpa was included (via Ciclismo Espresso)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Moving a couch while you're naked, and riding your bike in circles. My latest visit to London.

In my post two weeks ago, I let you (the Cycling Inquisition reader), into my world, that of a fourth rate blogger who goes to races and hops fences to avoid having to enjoy the festivities with the hoi polloi. Today, I find myself back in the United States, and memories of seeing the Tour and hopping fences are but faint memories. Luckily, I was able to ride my bike and do other things during my trip, and while I'm far too lazy to write appropriate prose on the matter, I'm able to write a few almost-cohesive bullet points, so allow me to do so. In no particular order, here are a few observations of my stay in the UK, not unlike those I made some years ago when I was (pleasantly) trapped in London due to an Icelandic volcano overlord.



- London, I love you, you're great and all that, and I realize you being the way you are is what makes you great. But lord almighty, having a slight grid system to your streets would be really helpful when I ride my bike. Similarly, cycling announcers on TV talk about "road furniture" in the context of continental Europe, but I wonder if they're aware of the fact that London is more or less the aftermath of eight thousand Ikea delivery trucks dumping their contents on the roads for several decades. It's Billy bookcases and Malm beds for miles.

- Also London, why do things like this (image blow) exist in your streets? I'm certain that one of your citizens will tell me, but for the life of me, I fail to see why you are the only city in the world with pygmy streets that go nowhere.


- These gripes aside, London is very entertaining. Its citizens certainly are. Consider this man, who I saw three days in a row while riding my bike, always in the same spot, always doing more or less the same thing (semi-nude, urban Tai Chi I think), with only slight variations.



- If it's nudity you want to see while in the UK, I highly recommend going to the Rapha Cycle Club near Picadilly Circus. While the quantity and quality of the nudity afforded to visitors is not on par with that of the Standard Hotel in New York City, it's certainly memorable. Consider this guy in a building across the street, who I noticed while watching a bit of the Tour there. While I can't say for sure that he was having a bit of sexy time, it certainly looked that way. Either that, or he was naked and trying to move a couch that simply wouldn't budge for an epic amount of time.


If you can't see him, let me use the "enhance" feature in my computer to give you a closer look. Here he is.



But let me get back to addressing the city of London directly.

- London, towel warmers in your hotels make clean towels smell like naan from an Indian restaurant. I love you for this reason.

- London, you have solutions for problems I didn't even know existed.


- London, you have memorials on the trees where people who I forgot even existed died.


- London, where I live I've heard that people will scoff if you suggest an out-and-back cycling route, since big loops are always preferred, and "flow" must be optimal. But for your citizens, going around in circles in a park is not only OK, it's considered part of daily life (due to necessity). I know that people who live in New York City and other places do this sometimes, but your citizens have really made this into an art form, which is oddly admirable.


- London, I would never say that your citizens drive on the "wrong" side of the street. I'm not that dumb. I do, however, have trouble figuring out what side of the sidewalk, hallway, train platform, staircase or escalator I should be in. After several visits, I still assume that it should be the left (in keeping with driving convention), but it turns out that I'm always wrong, since the correct way to traverse changes faster than Cavendish leaves the Tour. London, please make up your mind.



_______________________________________________________________
Marginalia



1.
If you want to impress your friends with knowledge about up and coming riders, and enjoy telling people that you knew about so-and-so years before they found out about them, pay attention to 4-72—Colombia. The team just won the overall at the Giro Valle d´Aosta in Italy with Bernardo Suaza, after having held the race lead with Diego Ochoa earlier. Keep an eye on Suaza, as a few European teams are likely doing so already. Remember that this is the team where Nairo Quintana, Sergio Henao, Jarlinson Pantano  and Darwin Atapuma came up. Their batting average is ridiculous.

2.
Sometimes I think I folklorize the fact that some Colombian cyclists have (or continue to) drink agaupanela and eat bocadillo during their rides. It's certainly true that the importance of these things was greatly overblown by the Colombian media in the 1980s, but the fact remains that nutrition bars and drinks remain pricy there, and many enjoy these flavors, which we Colombians have known since our youth. But take the image below as an example, and as proof that I'm not making this up. It was tweeted out by Victor Hugo Peña, with the following caption:

"Time for some Agapanela-torade and some native Colombian Powergel: bocadillo."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Six questions with Jamis-Hagens Berman's Daniel Jaramillo Diez


Daniel Jaramillo at Redlands, sporting green Crocs (photo: Jamis-Hagens Berman)

Daniel Jaramillo more or less won everything there was to win as a U23 in Colombia. He took the overall in countless regional races, was national road and TT champion, and won the U23 Vuelta a Colombia. Daniel is now 23, and this is his first year racing in the United States. He took the spot left vacant by Janier Acevedo on Jamis-Hagens Berman, after Acevedo himself recommended him to the team. 

 
First poster you hung up in your room as a kid
It was of Lance Armstrong. I was 12 years old. 


Foods you can't live without

 
Beans, arroz con pollo as my mom makes it, not the kind you buy at a restaurant. Also sancocho.



Favorite movie
 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the original one.

First CD you ever bought with your own money
 
CD that I bought? Uhm...well, I actually remember buying a burned CD with like a thousand reggaeton mp3s on it once, I guess it would be that one.*


Favorite training route

 
From my house in La Ceja to Sonson. 140 kilometers total. When I'm home, I do that ride with Sergio and Sebastian Henao, or sometimes with Janier Acevedo. 

 
Dream car 
Oh man, I love Camaros and Mustangs, the new ones. I really like Hummers too, I love the H2

 
* I thought this question was a good one, until I realized that I couldn't use the Spanish word for "album" as generic term for a record or CD, since Daniel likely wouldn't know what I was talking about due to his youth (or my old age). I opted for "CD" only to realize that Daniel was born in 1991, and by the time he was 10 years old, mp3s were winning the battle of music formats. But also, the concept of an "album" as I knew it growing up (a grouping of songs chosen by an artist and sold as one) is itself a bit dated, as is the notion of going to a store and buying music like that. Yes, this is me coming to terms with my age. 



PS: This is Serpa's facial hair at the Tour right now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Tour, jumping barriers and the Golden Peacock™ award

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

I'm not trying to be an iconoclast, and I don't merely say this to be contrarian, but the Tour de France can be a real pain in the ass. The Tour takes everything that is annoying and/or troublesome about a race and multiplies it times a million. Some may say that this is all worth it because the good aspects of a race are also multiplied by a million, but they are not. Those are only multiplied by about .3, and that's about it. In my opinion, what the Tour has going for it is that it's the Tour. In that sense, the race is some kind of postmodern, self-referential loop that is more or less like when a monkey drinks its own pee. But with bikes. And less pee.

With all this in mind, I offer up the following list of observations about the Tour in no particular order, along with these pictures I took. 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

- A train leaves a London station at 8am bound for Cambridge. As it goes along, it starts to fill up with bike racing nerds, all of whom are wearing funny caps and colorful shirts with pockets on them. Thirty minutes later, the train reaches a station packed with metal fans leaving the Sonisphere festival who smell funny and are wearing black shirts with logos on them. What happens as a result of these two groups meeting on the train? More or less a volcanic eruption of social awkwardness that spews nerd magma and cannot be contained. This happened.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

- When you are a Colombian citizen, but live in the United States, no one will give you an ID card saying you are some sort of low level/pseudo sports journalist. The US people won't because you are Colombian, the Colombians wont because you live in the US. I've mentioned this before on the blog, but it had never been a real problem until now. The ASO does not take kindly to this, and will not give you credentials if you are like me (I'm referring to my lack of ID, not to my well-known charm and boyish good looks).


- Having a Het Niuwsblad lanyard (from actual credentials obtained at the Tour of Flanders) casually poking out of your shirt, as though it's being used to hold actual Tour credentials helps. I speak from experience. 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

- Not having credentials is not the end of the world. Much in the same way that defensive schemes in (American) football have a strong side and a weak one, so too do the barriers that they put up at bike races. Tip: no one is watching the barriers that go behind the team buses. This is usually the weak side. 

- Speaking of tips, here's one: You know the professional bike riding guy who is about to start riding a stage at the Tour de France in about eight minutes? He probably doesn't remember meeting your sister at a race in another country three years ago. I know that seems weird, but he really doesn't. 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

- Have you ever seen Chris Horner speak Spanish? I applaud his attempts, and his respect of the country's where he's racing, but that doesn't change how amazing it is to see him do it. I've now learned that his Italian is similarly entertaining, and watching him speak to Scarponi in Italian, while Scarponi tries to answer in English was a linguistic/comedic feast for the eyes and ears. Say what you will about Horner, but the guy almost made me do a literal spit take by just being himself. Bravo.


Photo: Cycling Inquisition

- Before a race starts, riders are sometimes by themselves in quiet surroundings, with fans very close by. If there was anything you ever wanted to say to a professional to their face (from behind the perceived safety that is afforded by a metal barrier), this is the time to do it. The best one I overheard, which was nice and loud was, "Your past is crystal clear, you are a huge doper." There was no one else around who rides a bike for a living, and the guy was looking directly at the rider. They exchanged awkward glances, the rider clearly heard him. It was weird.

- I've mentioned this before, but at races this size, you quickly realize that some of the riders seem to love the pageantry around them, not just the racing. At the Giro last year, it was Pozzato who was riding around fans in circles on his mountain bike, wanting to be noticed, and delighting them with his presence. So who wins the coveted Golden Peacock™ award for the Tour this year? For the first time ever, we have a tie. The winners are: Rui Costa and John Gadret. Gadret in particular was out of the bus nearly half an hour before any other rider. He did press, took a six thousand selfies with fans, let several people take close up pictures of his earrings and tattoos (?) and just walked around seemingly waiting for someone to talk to him. Rui Costa went to sign in and back eighteen times, then rode his bike around in circles by the barriers, but still played it off like he was a tiny bit surprised when people stopped him for pictures ("Who, me? Really? Okay, fine, I'll come over")

To be clear, the Golden Peacock™ award is in no way a negative distinction. These guys like their jobs, and like interaction with fans and the press that come with it. The award is given to the highest achievers in this criteria, and all of us here at Cycling Inquisition welcome the new winners with open arms.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The world cup, cycling, and the charm of irrationality

Lucho Herrera, Bogota, 1985

Having won two stages and the mountains classification at the Tour de France in July of 1985, Lucho Herrera was an ideal candidate to perform a ceremonial kick-off at a Millonarios game, the soccer team he'd followed as a kid from nearby Fusagasuga. Once asked, Herrera agreed to the honor, and traveled into Bogota's El Campín stadium to partake in the festivities.

1985 was a good year for fans of Millonarios, like it was for those who followed Herrera and cycling in Colombia. The team had nearly won the national championship the previous season (which would have been the club's 12th), and things were shaping up nicely in 1985, as Argentine Marcelo Trobbiani continued to show why he'd been one of the most promising players in Boca Juniors before coming to the Colombian club. Despite all this, Colombian soccer at large, on the world stage, was in a deplorable state.

How things change. Today, as Colombia's national team continues to impress at the World Cup, many cycling fans in Colombia have grown resentful of the attention and sponsorship money that the sport garners in comparison to cycling. In doing so, they pin one sport against the other, often siting those days in the mid-1980s, when a game in Bogota's El Campín stadium was well attended, not because of the teams playing, but because of the slight man from Fusagasuga who would be performing the ceremonial kick off.

Not all cycling fans or cyclists in Colombia are resentful of football, not by a long shot. Nairo Quintana, Miguel Angel Rubiano and many other professionals have expressed their excitement and support of the national team. Rigoberto Uran, a huge fan of the sport is even selling his own cycling version of the team's jersey in his online store.

Resentment of "the other sport" by some cycling fans is not unique to Colombia. In our case, it largely began to take shape in the lead-up to the 1990 world cup, when the national team qualified for the first time in twenty eight years, a huge accomplishment that received an equal response by the masses. Marketing budgets within large Colombian companies (the life blood of cycling) shifted accordingly, bringing an end to the Postobon and Pony Malta teams in Europe, as well as sponsorship to domestic races. All this happened as the International Coffee Pact ended, taking with it the Cafe De Colombia team, along with a sizable chunk of the country's economy. With that, those who chose to see sport fandom as a binary affair no doubt noticed that in 1990 (the first time that cycling and soccer in Colombia were at their peak, and faced off) cycling was dealt a devastating blow.

Today, in Colombia, both sports are riding high, and are facing off again as the world cup continues to grab both headlines and the hearts of fans (along with the advertising revenue that comes with them). This leaves cycling fans in Colombia (and elsewhere) to once again wonder what can be done by the organizers, teams and the federations in cycling to perhaps garner a tiny portion of the advertising dollars that go to sports like soccer. In doing so, the issues within cycling are simplified, and it's soccer or some other sport or entity that is to blame.

Uran watching the world cup

But cycling's issues have little to do with soccer, baseball or any other sport. Cycling's wounds are almost entirely self inflicted (and no, I'm not just talking about doping issues here), and even if there were no wounds to speak of, there's the simple issue of taste. One sport may attract audiences in one culture or another at a certain point in time, while another doesn't...and there's little that can be done about it. This is because trying to analyze sports too deeply can quickly send you down the path of trying to rationalize the irrational. Umberto Eco did so in his essay The World Cup Is For Pomps in 1978, going as far as to say,
In a certain sense I could agree with the Futurists, that war is the only hygiene of the world, except for one little correction: It would be, if only volunteers were allowed to wage it. Unfortunately war also involves the reluctant, and therefore it is morally inferior to spectator sports.
For those keeping score, that's an Italian Postmodernist referencing Italian Futurists, as he compared sport to  war in a less-than-flattering way. Ecco further commented on sports fans in particular, saying that the majority act like,
...sex maniacs regularly going to see (not once in their lifetime in Amsterdam but every Sunday and instead of) couples making love, or pretending to (something like the very poor children of my childhood, who were promised they would be taken to watch the rich eating ice cream).

You could also take the Ann Coulter route, and believe that soccer is a virus brought to the US by dirty foreigners like me, and that those who play are perhaps subhuman since they partake in a sport that does not use the hands (a key differentiator between man and less evolved animals, in her eyes).

In either scenario, I'm left to think that its probably best to not question certain aspects of our lives, so long as  they are kept within safe and unobtrusive levels. Is this willfully obtuse on my part? Perhaps. But it also makes me realize that sports in general make little sense, and neither does our passion or distaste for them.

Aerial shot of the crowd that gathered in Bogota to welcome back Colombia's team from the world cup

Soccer and cycling, as well as jai alai and curling will all go through their struggles to garner and sustain audiences at different times and in different places. "There's no accounting for taste" they say, and in sports, I find that to be true. So could it be that the thing that is holding cycling back is not merely the UCI, doping scandals, bad management, race organizers, bad race schedules or the many other things we as fans discuss? Could it be that today, in most countries, the sport simply doesn't appeal to people because it doesn't suit their taste at this time? After all, the topics most of us mention as problems in cycling are never readily apparent even to a casual fan. But you know, perhaps it's best if I stop there, because in dissecting such matters (healthy as introspection may be), we can all loose sight of the best aspect about this and every other sport. Its irrationality. And that, I would argue, is part of its charm.


Players from Colombia's national team wish Rigoberto Uran good luck during the Giro


_______________________________________________________________
Marginalia

1.
I'll be traveling for the next week and a half, so the blog may slow down as a result. Additionally, there are sizable changes coming to the blog itself, which are taking some time and effort to implement, but will be well worth it.

2.
Are you looking for a Cycling Inquisition jersey? Remember that Gage and Desoto has some. If you are looking for a size Large in black, this guy has one for sale. Feel free to contact him.

3.
Remember the insanely long and thorough interview I did with Ted King for Manual For Speed? David Millar is next in line, and I'm basically making him write another book as a result.


4. 
I've written many times about the difficulty that we Colombians have obtaining visas, and what this means for professional cyclists. Today, as the Tour is about start, there are reports that Darwin Atapuma is having problems with his visa, and may miss the Tour's start as a result. As with other Colombians in the Giro, the issue may be the UK, but France is also a possible culprit. Victor Hugo Peña famously considered sneaking across the Spanish border into France for the Tour start the year he wore yellow while riding with US Postal.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Far from perfect

This video is far from being perfect, but has several interesting bits which I thought readers of the blog might enjoy, including profiles of your cyclists in Boyaca, and a bit of history about Colombian cycling. To that end, I tried editing it down, and adding subtitles. Sadly, YouTube pointed out that the video I was trying to upload matched "third party content", and it does.

So since I was unable to cut it down, Spanish speakers will have to make their way through some idiotic banter, and English speakers will have to fast forward a bit to see some nice old black and white footage of Colombian racing in the 1950s. Sorry, I tried.

Some nice profiles of your cyclists start at around 7:40.




Lastly, did you miss on the very last order of the Cycling Inquisition black jerseys? If you did, don't despair. Gage and Desoto has some. There are also a couple of readers looking to sell their size L jerseys, due to them needing an XL instead. So if you're in the market for one, email me and I'll put you in touch with those readers.