Friday, January 30, 2009

Tour of California to have the "greatest" line-up ever

Tour of California organiser AEG Sports believes it has the "greatest field ever assembled" in the USA for the running of the fourth edition of its stage race, February 14 to 22.

"It is clear that this year's Amgen Tour of California has the greatest field ever assembled in our country," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. "We have legendary champions like Lance Armstrong, ... the best professional cyclists riding today and many of the most talented young riders in the world."

Armstrong will race with Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer, who is the 2008 and 2007 winner. Other participants include Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, 2006 Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso, Olympic gold medallist Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, 2006 winner Floyd Landis and best young rider at the Tour de France Andy Schleck.

"The level of competition, the challenge of the course and the highly professional atmosphere makes it the ideal situation for me to continue my training," said Armstrong. "I have also chosen the Amgen Tour of California because of the race's record of supporting cancer awareness and research ... and its commitment to partner with our Lance Armstrong Foundation."

There are 17 teams that will compete in the 2009 races. The teams announced to participate are AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, Garmin-Slipstream, Liquigas, Quick Step, Rabobank, Columbia-High Road, Saxo Bank, BMC Racing Team, Cervélo Test Team, Bissell, Colavita - Sutter Home, Fly V Australia, Jelly Belly, Ouch-Maxxis, Rock Racing and Team Type 1.

The nine-day race consists of 750 miles. It starts with a prologue time trial in Sacramento in northern California. It ends with a stage to Escondido.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Join Bob Roll and David Zabriskie

Join Amgen Cycling Club for an evening of excitement with Bob Roll and Garmin-Chipotle Pro Cyclist and Tour de France Yellow Jersey wearer David Zabriskie to benefit Breakaway from Cancer™. The event will be held at the Amgen Conference Center Auditorium in Thousand Oaks on Saturday, February 7.  

The evening will consist of a 2008 Amgen Tour of California summary, a Grand Tour overview from DZ’s perspective, as well as a detailed look at the 2009 Amgen Tour of California and Slipstream-Garmin's team goals for the upcoming season.The evening festivities start at 6:00 pm and include a reception, silent auction and raffle for ALL guests.

Tickets will NOT be sold at the door. Bob Roll and David Zabriskie all alone in one room – what an experience!  Don’t wait.  Seating is limited.  Get your tickets today. 

Tickets are $30 and are only available online. Click on the title link to buy your tickets.

Recover From the Stress of Training and Competition

By Brad Kearns

Competitive athletes must honor the concept of "peak" performance by carefully planning periods throughout the year in which they reduce training to recover and rejuvenate for more intensive training and competitive periods. When I was a professional triathlete, I learned that recovery meant not only physical rest, but also forgetting about the sport at regular intervals. This "amnesia" is necessary at the end of the day, on your regular days off each week or month and during periods of the year (typically winter) when you hang up your tools of the trade and relax, or at least pursue alternate, less structured forms of exercise.

If you are sitting around on your "off" day agonizing over a missed workout, your sore knee, diet indiscretions or you're chatting on the Internet about whether Lance Armstrong is ever going to race the Hawaii Ironman, you are compromising your mental and emotional recovery. Many fitness enthusiasts go so far as to design their social lives around their avocations. While this is cool, it also can create an all-consuming lifestyle in which one can easily get out of balance. I was laughed knowlingly when I read a "Triathlete Magazine" interview in which Greg and Laura Bennett (a married couple who are both Olympic triathletes) said they "make an effort to socialize with people who know nothing about triathlon."

Here are five life balancing tips to help you to recover from the stress of training and competing:

1. Pursue Non-Athletic Hobbies: Read, watch movies, paint, garden, landscape, golf (no offense, Tiger, you know what I'm getting at...) or do anything else that stimulates a different element of your personality as long as it doesn't involve your sport. Cross-country skiing is often mentioned as great "cross training" for endurance athletes, but it might be more productive and nurturing to your athletic career to buy a downhill ticket, shred some slopes, chat on the lift, chow down in the chalet at lunch and Jacuzzi at night without feeling like you have to "squeeze in a workout" to get your heart beating into the aerobic zone every day.

2. Make Time Off Really Off: Unplug physically and mentally by committing to a departure from "routine" training behavior. Enjoy foods that you normally might avoid, stay up late and watch a movie without doing any stretches. Sleep in, wear clothes that don't mention endurance events and steer conversation away from athletics at social gatherings. Finally, make a conscious effort to relax into your alternative behavior by challenging and reframing feelings of guilt or anxiety you may experience when you're not training.

3. Address Weaknesses: Away from the training grind and compelling goals of the racing season, take time to reflect upon your physical and mental shortcomings. Physically, this might involve seeing a professional at a physical therapy clinic to develop a routine that addresses anatomical weaknesses. I know a competitive runner who was beset by injuries. She purchased a book called "Pain Free" and developed a stretching and strengthening routine to manage or eliminate her injuries quickly.

4. Challenge Self-Limiting Beliefs: Physical weaknesses are one thing, but many athletes suffer more from attitude and belief flaws that translate into poor performances. For example, as a runner turned triathlete, I developed a self-limiting belief about my ability to compete against experienced swimmers in the aquatic phase of the event. After repeated whuppings on the race course, I became intimidated and passive in the water, and my performances suffered accordingly. After enough complaining and self-pity stories at the finish line, I decided to change my attitude. I made swimming a training priority and relished the challenge of improving my worst event. On the starting line, I pretended I was there only for a swim race, and devoted 100% effort and focus on that event without worrying about what came next. My performances improved dramatically.

When you realize that athletic success goes far beyond the single dimension of "hard work" and can devote energy to these peripheral elements of peak performance, you are on the path to reaching your true athletic potential.

Click on the title link to learn more about Brad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol, known as the regulator of immune response, is a hormone controlled by the adrenal cortex. This powerful hormone is also known as an adrenalcorticol hormone, a glucocorticoid and hydrocortisone or simply cortisone. Cortisol has a catabolic (muscle breakdown) effect on tissue and is associated with a decrease in anabolic (muscle growth) hormones like IGF-1 and GH. Thus reducing levels of cortisol is ideal for an athlete to achieve tissue growth and positive adaptations to exercise training. Playing many different roles in your body, cortisol can have a negative impact on sleep, mood, sex drive, bone health, ligament health, cardiovascular health and athletic performance, potentially causing fatigue and inflammation. Its primary functions are to increase protein breakdown, inhibit glucose uptake and increase lipolysis (the breakdown of fats). While these effects are undesirable for endurance athletes, they do serve to elevate serum glucose so the brain has fuel to operate during times of physical and emotional stress.

What does an increase cortisol level mean to me?

While cortisol in normal amounts is necessary for proper metabolic function, a chronic elevated cortisol level has adverse effects on your health, mood, body composition and performance. Here's the cycle: elevated cortisol secretion from physical or mental stress causes fat, protein and carbohydrates to be rapidly mobilized in order for you to take action against the stressor. This is sometimes referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. The mobilization of these nutrients in addition to epinephrine and a number of other endocrine hormones allows you to take quick action when presented with stress. During this mobilization, cortisol and adrenaline increase while DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) and testosterone decrease. A chronic elevated cortisol level causes your body to enter a state of constant muscle breakdown and suppressed immune function, increasing your risk of illness and injury while reducing muscle.

How do I know if my cortisol levels are high?

Mood swings, lack of motivation to train, loss of muscle and loss of appetite are all symptoms of an elevated cortisol level. Sound familiar? That's right, overtraining syndrome. If you are not taking steps to modulate your cortisol, you are breaking down your muscle, storing fat and getting sick, all of which don't make for a fast racing season. A more scientific approach is to have your testosterone/cortisol or IGF-1/cortisol levels tested. A suppressed ratio of either IGF or testosterone over cortisol is a sure sign of decreased exercise capacity and overtraining. There is also strong evidence that athletes exercising in a carbohydrate-depleted state experience greater increases in cortisol. Decreased frequency of menstrual periods in women (amenorrhea) has been linked to insufficient energy availability which triggers a stress hormone response and suppresses estrogen and progesterone.

What affects cortisol secretion?

Stress, which includes trauma, infection, disease and exercise, is the primary factor that dramatically raises cortisol levels. Wait a minute, exercise is a stressor? High intensity exercise and prolonged exercise both increase cortisol levels, which remain elevated for about 2 hours following the exercise bout. Repeated exercise without appropriate rest results in chronic elevated cortisol. Additionally, poor diet, inadequate supplementation and lack of rest also play key roles in cortisol secretion.

How does cortisol affect my endurance performance?

It is only with chronic elevated cortisol levels that your performance will suffer, but the effect is dramatic. Excess cortisol suppresses your immune system, producing a greater risk of upper respiratory infections. On top of that, your body will be in a catabolic state -- breaking down muscle and storing fat. In addition to reducing your muscle and getting sick, suppressed testosterone means suppressed recovery. Aerobic and anaerobic muscle fibers need time to repair and recover from hard workouts to improve their capacity to exercise. Elevated cortisol and suppressed testosterone do not allow you to maximize your recovery, leading to slower performance gains. A Swiss study of elite male cyclists suggested that ratios of anabolic to catabolic hormones (ie. testosterone/cortisol or IGF-1/cortisol) may be useful markers for the detection of overtraining. In fact, scientists use this Free Testosterone/Cortisol ratio to evaluate an athlete's training state. They showed a strong relationship between elevated cortisol and decreased testosterone that was most dramatic 30 minutes after endurance exercise to exhaustion. A ratio where cortisol is elevated indicates overtraining, so the modulation of this ratio can be key for those athletes who are susceptible to overtraining. Additionally, amenorrhea in women and low testosterone in men may increase risk for stress fractures.

To find out more how to control your cortisol levels click on the title link.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cipollini Looks Forward To 2009 Season

By: Road Bike Action

Just as the 2009 cycling season kicks off in the southern hemisphere, Mario Cipollini shared his vision with La Gazetta dello Sport's Claudio Ghisalberti. 41 year old Mario Cipollini told Ghisalberti "I think the 2009 season will be incredible. Last year, the doping earthquake brought everything down, kind of to 'ground zero'. Now we have to rebuild cycling. Commenting on the two major comebacks of Armstrong and Basso, Cipollini said "Armstrong is already really strong. Lance never fools around; he has a special internal motivation that helps him succeed. Basso is one of the few riders who had paid for his sins and has already comeback well on a difficult road. He wants to show that he is the number one rider and Ivan has a big social responsibility and Basso has the mental fortitude to succeed.

Regarding the possible comeback of his fellow Tuscan Michele Bartoli, Cipollini explained "If Michele decides to comeback it's because he feels good and can do well. I made the same choice to make a comeback. I understand his motivation and to comeback is a little like a rebirth. And the competitive level is not that good these days." La Gazetta then queried Cipo, asking "so if a 37 year old Armstrong comes back after three seasons off and wins, that shows that there is not a lot of quality in the peloton?" Cipo replied "It might be the case, but I think Contador and Andy Schleck are both great riders so we are covered for the future with them. As for sprinters, Cavendish it the most explosive, but inside the race, that is not the only thing that counts. To win Sanremo, for exmple, one needs other talents like endurance, tactics, climbing ability...Bennati, when he comes to the sprint fresh, is the more complete rider which guaranteed more results. But Cavendish is still young and hasn't raced that much on the road." What about the debut of track sprinter Theo Bos on the road with Rabobank, who has the track world record over 200 meters (9"772). Does he have any chance?, asked La Gazzetta. Cipo said "Bos, who is coming from the track is a real big bet. Cycling needs these kinds of challenges and it will be interesting to see where it goes, how well Bos can do".

La Gazzetta asked Cipo about Lampre duo Ballan and Cunego, and the long, lean Tuscan didn't spare his words, saying "Ballan has to understand quickly if he's taken the step forward and had the strong mentality to support the responsibility of wearing the World Champion's jersey. And I hope that Cunego has made the right choice to concentrate on the classics instead of the grand tours. I think that his win in the 2004 Giro d’Italia was an isolated incident. does not have a huge motor but he knows how to move in the group like a predator. If I were him, I would focus on the classics." As for Cunego's long-time rival Filippo Pozzato , Cipollini said "Everyone says that he is a champion that should explode but will he? But I think he's chosen the right team." As for Cipollini's new job as technical consultant for the Isd team, Mario told La Gazzetta "There are a lot of good young riders on the team. The Isd project revolves around (Giovanni) Visconti. He has excellent tactical sense and the mentality of a winner. He reminds me of Paolo Bettini. And there is also (Oscar) Gatto, who I would like to teach something to because I think he can find his place among the sprinters."

Monday, January 26, 2009

ROAD Magazine Cover March 2009

Team Astana (Lance Armstrong) will meet Floyd Landis in the Tour of California. Make sure to check out the best publication in the cycling world.

In this issue ROAD spends the day with Chris Horner in his new home of San Diego, California. Gearing up for the Tour of California, Neil Browne goes on a training ride with Chris, talks about the importance of the Tour of California, his Tour de France hopes and much more! Levi Leipheimer and Tomas Vaitkus fill the back page with their answers to ROAD’s famous 20 questions, Insight! And you’ll also find a great interview with Giro challenger, Danilo DiLuca, as well as fan-favorites Tony Cruz and Neil Shirley.

Click on the title link for more information.

Ivan Basso - Racing in Argentina

I'm writing my latest diary entry from Argentina - where I'm racing in the Tour de San Luis. It's my first race of the year and it's great to finally get the season going. You maybe wondering how I'm doing in the race but to be honest I'm here to help improve my winter form and build on the base training I did back in Italy. You'll see me going harder and faster (hopefully) at the Tour of California and Tirreno-Adriatico in February.

"Now that he's back in the saddle he is taking a lot of the media pressure off me, but for me the pressure is not a problem."

- Basso on Armstrong's return

Despite being in Argentina I still managed to follow the Tour Down Under and Lance Armstrong. He'll be a big rival of mine when it comes to the Giro, but at this point in the season it is really hard to get an idea on his condition. He's probably thinking the same about me but I'm looking forward to crossing swords with him at the Tour of California.

Liquigas will go to there with a good team and we will try to be protagonists in the race. When you are not in top form it is possible to have bad days. You need to keep improving slowly towards the goals, and not force yourself in the lead up races, like California. I don't want to arrive dead at the finish line in those stages.

I raced in Japan last October 28 and I was on maximum form that day. However, I can't be in form at the end of October, the beginning of January, May, September... it's impossible. I understand that as a professional there is always pressure to be on form – from sponsors, fans and of course personal expectations - but it is not possible to show yourself in every race. So for now the plan is to remain patient, build my strength up and in the races where there is a big objective, perform to my capabilities.

Armstrong's comeback and testing

Lance Armstrong's comeback is still big news but now that the dust has settled and we've had time to pause and reflect I can say that there are two aspects that are important to me. Firstly I have great admiration for him as an athlete. He was on of my greatest rivals and made me suffer the most and we had some great battles when he was riding in the Tour de France. The other aspect is that he is a good friend of mine after what he did for my mother. He didn't have to go out of his way but he extended his help and it really meant a lot to me. Not many people would have done that.

Now that he's back in the saddle he is taking a lot of the media pressure off me, but for me the pressure is not a problem. I am used to it and I suffered a lot from it in the last two years. I had a lot more pressure in that time period than I will face in these months leading to the Giro d'Italia. My time off the bike hardened me to pressure and criticism but now that I'm back I have found a new confidence in my team, my abilities and my surroundings. I'm not trying to kid anyone; there's always going to be pressure but I've learnt how to deal with it and how channel it properly.

Armstrong recently announced that he will be using Don Catlin for personalised tests. This is similar to what Aldo Sassi does for me at the Mapei Sport Service. Don't forget that my team, who has the help of Doctor Roberto Corsetti, also tests me. Then there are the random controls from the UCI, WADA and CONI. I visited Sassi before Argentina, on January 8. I know that I am feeling good, but he can explain the technical aspects of my training and my testing.

You will be interested to know that Aldo also works with Cadel Evans. He is open to everyone, he is a professional and he gives personalised programmes to athletes based on their needs. Any type of athlete can seek his advice and he's professional enough to handle athletes who are rivals. He always says that he never interfere with racing, so as soon as an event starts he steps back. His job is to help get me to the start line in the best physical shape possible. I trust in his professionalism and there is not a conflict of interests with him guiding different top-level cyclists.

The last thing that I will mention is something that you may have read about. When I visited my friend Michele Bartoli over the New Year we rode past Ivano Fanini's place in Pisa and stopped in for a visit.

I know he said some bad things about me in the past, but he said them a during time when it was justified. It was a friendly meeting without any hidden objectives.

I know a lot of people were disappointed in me – fans, press – but I hope that I hope that they can appreciate the hard work that I have done in my return to the sport. Fanini confirmed to me that he appreciated my hard work and how I made my return.

Thanks for reading. I will write again before racing in the Tour of California.


Doctor Aldo Sassi on Ivan Basso's Test

Ivan Basso took the 'endurance' test at Mapei Sport Lab. The test consists on a 10-minute sub-maximal (410W) constant power protocol to estimate the time to exhaustion at the concerned power. The predicted time to exhaustion was 11 minutes at the beginning of the winter training, November 26, 2008, and he showed an increase up to 17 minutes. The 2008 best predicted time to exhaustion was 25 minutes.

His heart rate at the 10th minute of the constant power test dropped from 204 beats per minute to 188.

Roughly, Ivan is now at two-thirds of his 2008 best condition. The test showed that the fitness level is increasing as expected, despite the cold and snow forced Ivan to perform some training sessions on home trainer or on mountain bike.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Floyd Landis - Ouch Cycling Team Training Camp

U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis rides with his new team while out training in Temecula, California January 25, 2009. Landis is returning to professional cycling after a two years. His first race back will be the 2009 Tour of California.

Lance Armstrong - Done And Determined

From: Road Bike Action

Home and tired, Lance Armstrong finished Sunday’s circuit race in downtown Adelaide safely in the pack, his 71st place the same time as stage winner Francesco Chicchi of Liquigas.

But with two laps remaining, Armstrong had a dig on the climb of Montefiore Hill, where he attacked the peloton, bridged to the lead group of six riders, and set his sights on coming away with a stage win. It wasn’t to be however, his companions having been out since the opening lap when a group of 13 escaped, their efforts taking their toll late in the race.

Nonetheless, it provided another positive sign that the 37-year-old Texan is slowly but surely coming back to where he needs to be, finishing 29th overall behind 2009 Tour Down Under champion Allan Davis of Quick Step.

“I felt pretty good today. [I] gave it a little go in the last laps, but I needed to be with some more guys; I think they [the other riders in the break] were cooked from being out there. You needed four, five guys really turning [to stay away],” said Armstrong.

“It helps when you have good legs. I actually felt the best today out of the entire week,” he said – yet another indication that Armstrong’s done the preparation to allow his gifted physique to recover day after day.

Summing up the Tour Down Under, Armstrong was full of praise for the largest cycling event in the Southern Hemisphere: “Especially for the guys that focus on the Spring Classics, this race is almost a must.

“It was harder than I expected, and I think harder than most of us expected. But then also you throw in the conditions – the wind, the heat, the aggressiveness of the field, guys wanting to get an early result. And if you look at the average speed, if you look at the gaps, it was not easy racing,” he said.

So, has this week been a confidence-booster for the seven-time Tour winner?

“I wouldn’t say it’s given me too much confidence. It’s given me a reassurance that I can still race at the highest level,” Armstrong enthused, though he’s yet to test himself in a time trial or long hill climb situation – two areas that will require training and finessing over the coming weeks, before his next appointment at the Tour of California.

“There’s long, extended efforts [in the Tour of California] – the TT in California will be 30-plus minutes, so that’s a real effort as well as the prologue which is a short effort, which is something I haven’t done in a long time, so… we’ll just have to wait and see.

“I think it’s healthier for me mentally to go in there as a domestique and not put too much pressure on myself, and work for Levi,” Armstrong said.

Omega-3: How to Properly Increase Intake of Omega-3 with Fish Oil to Protect Against Disease

You want to increase your overall health and energy level. You want to prevent heart disease, cancer, depression and Alzheimer's. Perhaps you also want to treat rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Raynaud's disease and a host of other diseases. One of the most important things you can do for all of these is increase your intake of the omega-3 fats found in fish oil and cod liver oil, and reduce your intake of omega-6 fats.

These two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6, are both essential for human health. However, the typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Our ancestors evolved over millions of years on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1! That spells serious danger for you, and as is now (finally!) being reported throughout even the mainstream health media, lack of omega-3 from fish oil is one of the most serious health issues plaguing contemporary society.

The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil; these oils are overabundant in the typical diet, which explains our excess omega-6 levels. Avoid or limit these oils. Omega-3, meanwhile, is typically found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and fish.

By far, the best type of omega-3 fats are those found in that last category, fish. That's because the omega-3 in fish is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA - low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children.

Sadly, though, eating most fresh fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, is no longer recommended. Mercury levels in almost all fish have now hit dangerously high levels across the world, and the risk of this mercury to your health now outweighs the fish's omega-3 benefits. However, because fish would otherwise be immensely healthy, I had been searching for a safe source of fish for some time. I have found a great one with Primal Nutrition's Vital Omegas. You can go to to find out more about their great products.

Routine consumption of fish oil is another highly recommended method of increasing your omega-3 intake and improving your health, and is also the most convenient for today's busy lifestyles. Fish oil contains high levels of the best omega-3 fats - those with the EPA and DHA fatty acids - and, as it is in pure form, does not pose the mercury risk of fresh fish.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Armstrong Welcomes Landis Return

The 2009 season is looking like it will be a flashback to the earlier part of the decade, and Lance Armstrong is happy to see his compatriot Floyd Landis joining him in making a return to the peloton. Landis' two-year suspension for doping ends next Friday, freeing him to join his new team, OUCH Pro Cycling, on the roads at the Tour of California next month.

But Landis' comeback is hardly the same as the fairy-tale return of the seven-time Tour champion. Landis left the sport in disgrace as the Tour winner who had his title stripped when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone, and while he faced a long and expensive defence of his good name, Landis failed on every appeal to the anti-doping authorities.

Armstrong appealed to fans to respect that Landis has been punished for his offense and should be allowed to ride. "People serve their time, just like anybody else. Once their time is up, they get to go back to work," Armstrong said Thursday.

"Sometimes I get frustrated with people who criticize his return, and then what, they're going to sign up and cheer when David Millar returns? It's the same thing. You've served your suspension, let's get back on the bike and race," he said, using the EPO-confession of the British star as evidence of the fans' hypocrisy.

"There's no point in criticising Basso, criticising Landis, or criticising anyone… if you've paid your penalty, this is normally how society works. Let's forgive and forget and get on down the road.

"Obviously Floyd's a friend of mine, he's a former teammate and he has a lot of fans. In that sense, you've got to remember that Floyd might have been found guilty but at the end of the trial if you polled the people, 50 percent thought he was innocent – in regard to that it's good that he's back."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Floyd Landis Is Back In Business

By Emily Furia

The last time we talked to you was after Leadville 2007--we thought you were going to end up a mountain biker. What happened?

I did a few mountain bike races. I think my heart's in road racing, but I wasn't sure at that point if I'd ever get back to that. Since I decided I was going to come back on the road, I haven't done a lot of mountain bike racing. But Leadville was a lot of fun.

Fun in a hard sort of way, huh?

Well, it was fun when it was over. The end was good.

How's the hip?

Outstanding I can do the same amount of miles I did before I broke my hip without any pain at all. I don't really think about it when I'm training. I couldn't be happier.

What about off the bike?

It did take a few months of rehab to get it back. But it's been more than two years since I had it done and at this point it's good as new.

Your teammate Bobby Lea came to a few 'cross races here in PA; he told us you're ready to rip everyone's legs off. You trying to win this thing?

Whatever races we do we're going to try to win. It doesn't necessarily have to be me. We have a couple guys who are sprinters and could go for stage wins.

Okay, that's the nice guy answer. In the back of your mind, are you thinking, "this is my chance to stick it to USADA?"

I don't think that there's any kind of motivation, any vendetta or grudge. I'm racing my bike against guys I respect, who obviously didn't do anything to harm me. I'm for everybody racing fair. In the end someone has to win and if it's us, that's great. I'm not out to prove anything to anybody.

What's your team's plan for the race? Are you focusing on the time trial?

In the past, the Tour of California has always been determined by time trials. This year, there are a few hard mountain stages. We don't have any plan of trying to control the race with our team; we'll let the other teams' tactics dictate our tactics.

How close does this year's course pass by your home?

I'm in Riverside County. In past years, the race has gone only as far south as Long Beach, but this time it goes over a mountain I've been training on for the past 10 years-Mount Palomar. I'm excited about that. Probably whoever has the lead at that point will have to keep the race together.

We haven't heard much about you in the past months. Where have you been?

[Laughs.] Ever since I decided I was going to come back I've been kind of checked out, training at home. I've been getting used to training during the day, sleeping at night, training again. It took a little while to get back in the groove, but now I feel good.

Still eating In-and-Out burgers?

I haven't changed that.

Who's a racer to watch this year?

Obviously there's Lance and Levi...
Those guys are going to get a lot of the attention. New guys come along each year; I don't know who's going to be the focus for this year. Lance is getting a lot of the attention and that's fine. I wouldn't mind if we can kind of go in under the radar.

You recently dropped your lawsuit against USADA. Was that a factor in your team getting invited to the race?

I don't really know if those are connected. I don't know that anything USADA does or anything the Tour of California does are contingent on each other.

What are you most looking forward to about being back?

I'm looking forward to the excitement of being around the races, being part of it. I've watched the Tour de France on TV the past couple years, but there's nothing like being there. Ultimately, I'm a cycling fan. I'm excited that I've got a team going to fight for each other and I'm excited for the fans to be able to watch Lance and me and everyone else. It's great for bicycling.

Final team selections for Tour of California

Joining the previously announced eight ProTour teams, nine additional Pro Continental and Continental teams have been confirmed for the 2009 Amgen Tour of California by AEG, presenter of the professional cycling race. The nine-day stage race will feature 17 of the world’s top professional teams, including world-renowned riders Lance Armstrong, two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, three-time World Champion Oscar Freire and 2008 Olympic gold medal winner and world champion Fabian Cancellara, racing more than 750-miles from the state’s capitol, Sacramento, to San Diego County.

The complete 2009 Amgen Tour of California roster will feature the following 17 professional cycling teams:

· Ag2r-La Mondiale (FRA)

· Astana (KAZ)

· Bissell Pro Cycling Team (USA)*

· BMC Racing Team (USA)*

· Cervelo Test Team (SUI)*

· Colavita/Sutter Home Presented by Cooking Light (USA)*

· Fly V Australia presented by Successful Living Foundation Team (AUS)*

· Garmin-Chipotle (USA)

· Jelly Belly Cycling Team (USA)*

· Liquigas (ITA)

· Ouch Presented by Maxxis (USA)*

· Quick Step (BEL)

· Rabobank (Netherlands)

· Rock Racing (USA)*

· Saxo Bank (DEN)

· Team Columbia (USA)

· Team Type 1 (USA)*

*Newly announced

"These 17 teams represent the strongest field we have had at the Amgen Tour of California. We are delighted to have some of the world’s best and most established teams and we welcome the new teams who will be racing with us for the first time,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. “The level of competition and talent for the fourth-annual Amgen Tour of California rivals the top races in the world and demonstrates the importance of the United States to professional cycling.”

Ivan Basso Pleased With His First Time Trial

Italian Ivan Basso was by far the race favourite. The San Luis fans waited for hours in the scorching heat to catch a glimpse of the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner in action. While his ninth place performance might have disappointed some, Basso was more than pleased to have the first time trial of the year under his belt.

"I think I did a great time trial," said Basso after his 24:22 ride. "I did the first half with the second fastest time of the day. I think in the final five kilometres there was a strong head wind and my condition was not ready 100%. I know on paper it is nothing special but it is still January and a test of my performance. I paid a little today but I am still really happy."

Basso congratulated the top three for their impressive performances. The Tour of San Luis was considered the most important race of the season for South American riders. "I think the two Argentineans who were on the podium are in top form for this race," Basso said. "They were very strong. You can't compare my performance to theirs because I just arrived from a lot of snow in my city."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Get Your Mellow Johnny's Gear Now

Tyler Phinney from the Trek Livestrong Team sports the white Capoforma Mellow Johnny's kit.

If you are looking for some great gear for the upcoming season make sure to check out Mellow Johnny's. They have some cool hats and shirts for kicking back after your ride as well. Make sure to be the first in your group ride to be sporting the new fashion statement for the 2009 season.

Check them out by clicking on the title link.

Basso In Argentina While Lance Is Down Under

By Kirsten Robbins

As the world awaits the return of Lance Armstrong at the upcoming Tour Down Under in Australia, Italian Ivan Basso is preparing for his own 2009 comeback in Argentina at the fourth annual Tour de San Luis held January 19-25. It's no wonder the world-class rival GC contenders, who will go head to head for the first time since 2005 at the Tour of California in February, have chosen to visit the Southern Hemisphere for the early season races.

Both countries are prime proving grounds because of the warm summer climate, but Argentina boasts bigger and higher mountains than those in Adelaide.

In it's second year with UCI status, the Tour de San Luis has upped its ranking to 2.1, and as a result has drawn 22 teams from around the world, thanks in part to race co-ordinator Giovanni Lombardi. Of the 22 teams, three are ProTour including Liquigas led by Basso, Saxo Bank led by American Jason McCartney and Fuji Servetto led by Spaniard David de la Fuente.

There are also three professional continental teams, six continental teams and ten national amateur teams. The event has grown in length and stature with the addition of two stages and three hill top finishes, changes that cater to a climber compared to last year's sprint-heavy finishes.

On paper Basso may be considered the strongest GC contender present, a 2004 and 2005 Tour de France podium finisher and winner of the 2006 Giro d' Italia, he returns to the sport after the completion of a two-year suspension for his admitted involvement with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, the man at the center of the Operación Puerto scanda, in 2007. He and his team-mate Vincenzo Nibali will lead Liquigas against a peloton hungry for an early season victory.

Click on title link for race coverage.

Lance Armstrong: doping test results could be misinterpreted


Armstrong began his comeback at this week's Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Lance Armstrong said on Wednesday that he doubted if his results from independent anti-doping tests would be given a fair hearing.

However, the American said he would push ahead and publish data through independent anti-doping expert Don Catlin that proves he’s racing clean at this week’s Tour Down Under, where he's begun his comeback after a three-and-a-half year hiatus.

Armstrong said on Wednesday that he would depend fully on Catlin to decide which information would be made available.

"I would rely a lot on what Don Catlin wants to publish, but we will definitely be publishing data and information," Armstrong added.

He added that he had fears some of the data could be misunderstood because of its complexity.

Armstrong said he’s concerned that his haematocrit (red blood cell count) level – a biological parameter than can indicate, but not necessarily prove, blood doping – could be misinterpreted.

Haematocrit levels are generally in a bracket of 40-45, although the legal haematocrit level in cycling is 50.

The use of banned blood products that enhance performance usually raises the haematocrit level towards that permitted threshold, prompting suspicion of cheating.

However, haematocrit levels are also known to fluctuate naturally.

Armstrong said: "Say, for example, hypothetically, it (haematocrit) is 43, 42, 41 and you then go to altitude for a month and it goes to 46.

"Not everyone in this room is going to say that that means I must have cheated. But a few of you would say it was suspicious."

Armstrong, who revealed he could continue his comeback for a full two years, said he has been tested a total of 13 times since August, with tests being carried out by his Astana team and the various anti-doping bodies.

After initially saying he would only ride for one year, Armstrong said he could consider going on for two years -- but no further.

"This comeback is at least a year. It's not three or four, I don't think. It could be two years," he said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hincapie On Lance's Return To Racing

For all of Lance Armstrong’s seven glorious Tour de France victories, one man and one man only rode beside him on every stretch of road – George Hincapie.

Besides confidant and team manager Johan Bruyneel, the 35-year-old resident of Greenville, South Carolina was very likely one of the first people Armstrong called when he announced his return to racing. Thing is though, for the very first time, they’re riding on different teams – Lance on Astana, George for Columbia-High Road.

Being the great friends they are, they warmed up together before Sunday night’s evening criterium, the Cancer Council Classic, which acted as a prelude to the six-stage Tour Down Under that commences Tuesday.

Still, it must have felt just a touch odd.

“You know, it’s really part of any sport; you have to be able to move on and go to other teams,” reflected Hincapie, “and relationships don’t really get affected from that. That’s just part of our jobs, and we have to accept that and move on and do our jobs.

“Yeah, it’s a little odd, but we’ve been friends for 20 years now and that’s not going to change. The most important thing is that we have a lot of history together, and being on different teams won’t affect that at all,” he said.

Lance in Astana colors – now that will take some getting used to?

“I’ve really only seen him in the Livestrong stuff; obviously he’s racing in the Astana stuff but I only have the image of him in Livestrong [clothing], so I guess I haven’t really got used to seeing him in the Astana stuff,” he laughed.

Hincapie said not once during the hour-long criterium in Adelaide’s eastern parklands did he see Armstrong in the bunch, so if anything, the lack of conspicuousness will surely do wonders if the Texan decides to stretch his legs over the coming days.

The fact Hincapie and Lance are separated by no more than 22 months probably has a bearing on their rock-solid friendship, and like his former leader, he feels too much fuss is been made about riders in their “upper 30s”, as Armstrong phrased it the other day.

Challenged Hincapie, “I put myself up to any young riders any day. And I wouldn’t trade my position now to be a young rider, either.

“I feel strong as ever and this is my sixteenth year pro; it’s just a matter of how motivated you are. Age has nothing to do with it,” he said, believing he has at least two prime years left before even contemplating retirement.

For now, it’s a matter of keeping in good shape till the Spring Classics, before another appointment with the race that has consumed him for the best part of a decade: Paris-Roubaix.

“I think about the race all the time, and I’m sure it’s [to win] still possible. It’s a race that I was born to race – it’s in my blood, and I think I’m one of the strongest riders for that race. [I] need a little luck and hopefully it will happen this year,” he said, hoping his dream will evolve to reality sooner rather than later.

Cyclist completes Obama-inspired cross-country trek


Ryan Bowen was just an ordinary man who, like millions of other people, commuted to work on his bike from his home in Los Angeles, California.

But Barack Obama's historic election as President of the USA inspired him to trek across the country on two wheels to attend the inauguration ceremony, which will be held on Tuesday 19 January 2009.

Bowen, 22, arrived at his destination at midday on Sunday after pedalling over 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) over the past six weeks from Los Angeles to Washington DC.

Before he set off on the epic journey on 2 December 2008, photographer and massage therapist Bowen had never travelled more than 20 miles in a day, but he managed to average 85 miles a day on his trip, with a peak of 151 miles per day when travelling through Florida. "I was inspired by the Obama campaign's message of change," Bowen told AFP.

But the journey was not as easy one, with more than 40 flat tires, many nights spent camping out in a tent and even being hit by a Jeep. The sheer physical challenge of riding such distances for the first time was also a big shock to his system. "Early on, my knees felt like they were going to explode," he remarked.

Adopted into a white family in Portland, Oregon, Bowen comes from a mixed-race background with African-American, Native American and white roots and feels a strong connection to the first African-American president, who famously celebrated securing the Democratic presidential nomination by going on a bike ride.

"When you see somebody with his ideals, as well as the racial thing, it gives me hope that we can do better things in this country," said Bowen. "For the first time, I feel like it wouldn't be a shame for me to be patriotic, to be proud of my country and take ownership of my country."

But Bowen was not alone during his “crazy idea that worked”. Filmmaker Albert Velazquez documented portions of the journey and Bowen was joined by fellow cyclist Joshua Atteberry in Austin, Texas. In all, 20 other riders joined Bowen on different legs of the tour and he received support and encouragement wherever he was.

“At the times when things were their darkest, in Arizona and West Texas, there'd be just random positive things that would happen," Bowen said. "Either it would be the gorgeous countryside that I would pass that would just uplift my spirit, or somebody sending me a text message or an email, being surrounded by positive energy is really why this whole trip was a success."

After finally climbing off the saddle in the US capital, Bowen was rewarded with one of the highly sought-after tickets to the inauguration ceremony.

Handing him the ticket Congressman Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, said the trip was "an example of what anybody can do to make the country better. It's people burning calories instead of burning fossil fuels."

Lance Armstrong's Comeback Race

Lance Armstrong's True Mission Begins

Lance Armstrong speaks with Dot Dempsey, a patient at the Royal Adelaide hospital, following an event at the hospital where the Lance Armstrong Foundation premiered its LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign, an initiative to address the worldwide cancer burden on January 19, 2009 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alberto Contador Wins Second Velo d’Or

Alberto Contador was in Paris yesterday, at the invitation of l’Equipe, with his brother and PR man Francisco, and his director sportif Alain Gallopin.

The winner of the Tour de France 2007, and the Giro and Vuelta 2008 was at the editorial meeting of the paper and received his second Velo d’Or prize from Velo magazine.

“I’ve already had the pleasure of riding past the front of your newspaper (headquarters) wearing yellow, and now I have the chance to see it from close up,” smiled the Madrid native, 26.

He talks about what the Tour brought him, and his hopes for the 2009 edition. He also discusses his new teammate, a certain Lance Armstrong, with whom he will likely not race till the departure at Monaco on July 4th.

Click on the title link to read the interview.

Lance Armstrong Is Back!

By Greg Johnson

Astana's Lance Armstrong has enjoyed his return to professional racing, four months after announcing his return, after three and a half years on the sideline. The much-hyped event came at Tour Down Under's Cancer Council Classic, a criterium race on Sunday evening.

"That was fast. I think the last time I did that style of racing, that fast, was probably in 1990," he said. "It's fun to get back in there."

Armstrong had a good sniff at the front of the peloton early in the race. The American soon retreated well back into the peloton, before eventually finishing the Cancer Council Classic in 64th spot.

"I found it a little safer and a little easier in the back. In the first 50-60, there was a little bit of positioning," he said. "At that tempo, it would take a while [to rediscover my race legs] - the race stages, I would say it will slow down significantly, with more hills and using more power."

The seven-time Tour de France winner spent the entire race flanked by his Astana teammates. Whether at the head of the pack, or floating towards the rear - where he spent much of the race - Armstrong always had at least two Astana riders by his side.

"I was a little nervous in the corners. Honestly, the weirdest thing was the sun - the sun was going down here (points to a corner) you had the sun really in your eyes," he said. "But after that, it was fine."

The rider's preparation for the event has started to pay dividends. Armstrong spent some time in Hawaii adjusting to a warmer climate and training prior to arriving in Australia last week.

"I felt good, I've trained a lot for this comeback, I've trained a lot for this race," he said. "I'm glad the first day is over and now we can get into the race and maybe relax a little bit more. There was a lot of anxiety before today.

"It's a dry heat, so it's not so miserable, but on a hard effort for one hour at hot temperatures, it's good for a first day," he added.

Armstrong said the classic isn't his style of racing, but he still enjoyed it. He wouldn't predict how he might feel after the race's next leg, the first stage of Tour Down Under's ProTour event.

"I don't know, ask me after the second stage," he said.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Armstrong's first attack countered by Hernández

Lance Armstrong is still a few days away from his comeback in the Tour Down Under, but in training he already put on the back burner. During a five-hour ride, Armstrong stormed up Willunga Hill, but one man was able to match the Texan: Jesús Hernández. Hernández is the regular training partner of Alberto Contador and Armstrong was full of praise of Hernández's climbing abilities, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"He is really strong," Armstrong said about his Astana teammate. The young Hernández has already turned heads at the training camp in Tenerife, when Johan Bruyneel gave the green light on the difficult climb of Masca. Hernández dropped everyone, including Armstrong and Leipheimer.

Hernández will be tasked with domestique work in Autralia, but he could well be the surprise of the year in the Kazakh team.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Armstrong To Confirm His Ironman Status

ONCE Lance Armstrong has finished his cycling comeback, his sporting career will turn full circle.

Armstrong has confirmed widely held speculation that he will eventually compete in an ironman triathlon.

As a teenager, the record seven-time Tour de France champion was a top-class triathlete on shorter courses in the late 1980s.

But he switched to road cycling, where he has become one of the sport's greatest competitors.

"Whenever I'm done with this (comeback). I can unequivocally say yes to that," Armstrong has told the American magazine Outside about entering an ironman.

"That's a fact and I get asked that question every day. I don't know when it was, less than a year ago, that I got some of these ironman DVDs - I said 'let's see what that's all about'."

Armstrong also wants to be competitive when he tries the gruelling event.

An ironman consists of a swim of 3.8 kilometres, cycle of 180 kilometres and a run of 42.2 kilometres.

The winner finishes in around eight hours and the cut-off time for the late finishers is 15 to 17 hours. "I'm definitely motivated to do an ironman," he said. "We'll go back and I'll be close to 40, but I've swum more in the last three years than before that.

"And I don't want to just do an ironman. I don't want to approach it like I approached the marathons. I want to do it as fast as I can."

Armstrong has competed in several marathons, posting a string of finishes under three hours.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Definition Of VO2 Max

VO2 is a term that describes our body's ability to deliver and utilize oxygen. It is a term that is thrown around amongst athletes and doctors alike. To doctors, VO2 can serve as a predictor of mortality in cystic fibrosis or in patients with heart failure. To an athlete, the maximum VO2 uptake is important as a predictor of performance and a measure of the efficacy and progression of training.

Elements of VO2:

Our VO2 at any given time is dependent on three elements controlled by our body: heart rate, stroke volume per beat, and extraction of oxygen from the blood. Our body has the amazing capacity to increase our VO2 from 3 ml/kg/min at rest to over 80 ml/kg/min in athletes at peak exercise.

Mechanisms of Increase:

Our body used both central (heart) and peripheral (muscle, blood) mechanisms to increase our VO2 on demand. Here is how:
Heart Rate:

Our heart has the amazing capacity to beat on its own without any outside input from our heard that right. If our heart were left to beat at its own rate with no input, it would typically beat much faster than it does at rest, but our body slows it down. Thus, the first step in increasing heart rate is removal of the input that slows the heart, and the heart rate increases. This is especially important early in exercise and is almost instantaneous.

The second component to increasing heart rate is epinephrine (adrenaline) released by our adrenal gland as our muscles' oxygen demand continues to increase with higher intensity exercise. This typically takes a little bit longer, and is important in the completion of all-out efforts.

Our body also extracts more oxygen from the blood during exercise. At rest we extract 25% of this oxygen content in our blood, but during exercise this can increase to 85%.

This happens because our red blood cells release more oxygen as the temperature increases and as lactic acid builds up. Also, our blood vessels dilate and more blood is delivered to the area of work under the influence of metabolites produced in the muscle.

Stroke Volume:
This is probably the element most influenced by training over time. Our heart becomes more efficient as it becomes trained, and it can pump more blood with each beat. This is also the explanation for the decreased heart rates you see in athletes. If our heart pumps more with each beat, it doesn't have to pump as many times to meet our demands.

This decreased heart rate in a trained athlete continues into the first stages of exercise, and it stays below that of an untrained person at most exercise intensities. Only near maximum effort does the heart rate finally rise to levels that would meet that of an untrained person, and when it does, that athlete's cardiac output is much higher (equal rates with more volume per beat = higher cardiac output).

This is the protein in our red blood cells that actually caries oxygen. It is also highly affected by training and takes time to change. With increased hemoglobin, our blood can carry more oxygen.

Considering that the usual limitation in reaching VO2 max is oxygen delivery, not oxygen utilization by our muscles, one can see the importance of increasing our blood's capacity to deliver, all in addition to our heart's ability to increase delivery.

Associations with VO2 Max:
Here are some markers that correlate well, either positively or negatively, with one's VO2 max:

HDL cholesterol - this is our "good" cholesterol, and it has a positive association with VO2 max. That is, as HDL cholesterol goes up, VO2 max goes up.

LDL cholesterol, Body Mass Index (BMI), Smoking, and long-term Blood Glucose Levels - quite a long list, no doubt, and all of these factors, from "bad" cholesterol to BMI have a negative impact on VO2 max. As they go up, VO2 max goes down.

A beneficial off season activity is to go to your doctor and have all of those markers checked. As the season goes on and you get them checked again, you have a virtual window into how your VO2 max is coming progressing.

Obviously, these markers are players in much more important things than VO2 max, so it is a good idea to get them checked anyway. This way, you can use them to monitor your training to boot.

How to Measure:
Measuring VO2 is a rather difficult process that requires a great deal of sophisticated instrumentation, in addition to time and effort. This is just another reason why utilizing the aforementioned markers may be a more realistic practice.

In a laboratory, the test can be performed while running, cycling, or rowing; the more muscle mass utilized, the better. The athlete breathes through a machine that senses the difference in oxygen between inspired and expired air, and it measures the volume of expired air. This information, plus a little math, and voila, you've got your calculation.

The test is carried out with increasing intensity over 6 to 12 minutes. This time frame is necessary to let the cardiac response reach a maximum (remember that adrenaline takes some time). The athlete stops the test when at maximum exertion, or it is stopped when VO2 levels out with increasing intensity, and you've got your number.

Another predictor that requires no equipment is the Cooper test. In this test you run 12 minutes all out, and you take the distance you ran (in meters) and subtract 505, then divide that number by 45, and you have a predicted value in ml/kg/min. Again, this is a gross estimation and not as personal as even tracking the progress of your markers.

Get those marker numbers now from your doctor and watch them improve throughout the year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Win a ride with Floyd Landis, Rory Sutherland and the rest of the OUCH Presented by Maxxis crew!

One lucky person and their grateful friend will win a ride with the OUCH Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis on Saturday, January 24th, during the first weekend of the team’s upcoming training camp in Temecula, California. As a subscriber to our team news email list, you are automatically entered. Tell your friends about this contest so that you have a chance to be their guest should they emerge the lucky winner!

The winner and their guest will join the full team and team sponsors for a two-hour VIP ride, during which they’ll have the opportunity to chat with team leaders Floyd Landis, Rory Sutherland and Tim Johnson, as well as the rest of the OUCH Presented by Maxxis squad. The winner will also receive an official Team OUCH race kit, as well as two Team OUCH t-shirts and an experience they'll never forget.

Entering is easy: go to and enter your email address to join the team's news email list. One entry per email address only. The deadline for entries is 9:00 PM (U.S. Pacific) on Friday, January 16, and one winner will be selected at random the day after. Click here for other contest details.

Enter today for your shot at a ride with the top professional team in America.

Click on the title link to enter.

Lance Armstrong tells Australians he's never been in such good shape in January

By Agence France Presse

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said Monday it would be unrealistic to expect him to win his first race in three years in next week's Tour Down Under.

The American cycling great declared he was in the best shape of his life at the start of a season as he prepared to return to professional racing at the age of 37.

Armstrong's appearance in the Adelaide tour has generated huge international interest, enough for organisers to take extra security measures to protect him during the event.

The first evidence of that was when he was escorted to a press conference here Monday by police.

Armstrong said he was excited and looked forward to racing again.

"I think it would be unrealistic to expect a victory," he said. "The race has gotten harder and harder over the years.

"I hope to be in the mix, I could be completely wrong. I might be the first guy dropped."

Armstrong said he was as serious as ever about the competition.

"I've prepared much harder this series of months than I ever would have in the past," he said.

"The tests that we do on the bike, or on the road, or in the lab indicate that my January fitness is much better than it ever was the years when I was winning the Tour (de France).

"But that doesn't mean anything until you get into the race."

Armstrong said his decision to return to competitive cycling was influenced by his campaigning efforts for cancer awareness.

"For me, it's not so much a sporting challenge, and it's not a financial challenge, it's not any of those things," he said.

"I came back as a volunteer and so I'm here for the love of the bike and the passion of the cause."

Armstrong has dedicated the Tour Down Under not only to his comeback but his anti-cancer fight through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was formed in 1997, one year after Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He successfully battled the cancer in 1996, retired from riding in 2005, but has dedicated his comeback to his "Livestrong" cancer prevention campaign.

Armstrong will race with his Astana teammates for the first time on Sunday in the Down Under Classic criterium warm-up in Adelaide, and said he wanted to use the tour to re-adapt to racing after coming out of retirement.

"I just don't want to get clobbered too bad. That is my main motivation for training hard," he said.

"I don't have any illusions of grandeur. I hope I get in the race and get re-acclimatised to the tempo and the speed and what it is like to be around 200 guys in a fast-moving group, and we will see."

Armstrong's arrival in Australia ended days of speculation as to his travel plans, which organisers had tried to keep secret.

Lance Training yesterday for next weeks Tour Down Under.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Lance Armstrong Is Clean

By: Brad Kearns

In the early drafts of my recently released book, How Lance Does It, I wrote extensively about the doping controversy as it relates to Lance and compelling arguments why he raced clean. It didn't make the final version, since this stuff is obviously not relevant to the reasons Lance is successful and how you can apply his lessons to your own peak performance goals. Even in retirement, Lance continues to deal with this "did he or didn't he" soap opera, thanks in large part to the major 2006 cycling doping scandals. First, a raid of a Spanish doctor's facility revealed a massive doping operation that fingered Tour de France favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, banning them from this year's event. Then, American Floyd Landis achieved a remarkable victory, only to fail a testosterone test, tainting his victory and plunging the entire sport into disgrace.

The punch line of Lance’s popular Nike commercial a few years back went, “Everyone wants to know what I’m on. I’m on my bike six hours a day. What are you on?” Marketing glitz to be sure, but in light of the huge doping mess in modern sports and the suspicions Lance had to endure, it’s a deeply revealing statement that demands sincere reflection.

We have no proof of Lance doping, not even reasonable circumstantial evidence to suspect him despite all the jabber from the media and our familiar cast of characters. Greg LeMond makes extremely informed and valid points about the massive escalation in performance of the professional cycling pack as a whole when EPO came to prominence in the early 90’s, then makes the flawed connection that the best cyclist must be doped by virtue of his superior performances. Frankie Andreu’s chicken-shit confession of his own doping means little six years after his retirement, except for the guilt by association effect it had, obviously by design (reference my post, How Can These Nice Guys Cheat? ) on Lance.

We do have conclusive proof of this: Lance trained harder than any other professional cyclist in the history of the sport and has extraordinary genetic gifts. Here is an excerpt from a seven-year study on Lance conducted by the University of Texas (Austin) Human Performance Laboratory’s Dr. Edward Coyle (“Improved Muscular Efficiency Displayed as Tour de France Champion Matures,” printed in the Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2005): “During the months leading up to each of his Tour de France victories, he reduced body weight and body fat by 4-7 kg (i.e.; approximately 7%). Therefore, over the seven-year period, an improvement in muscular efficiency and reduced body fat contributed equally to a remarkable 18% improvement in his steady state power per kg body weight when cycling at a given VO2. It appears that [even] in the detrained state, this individual’s VO2max is in the range of the highest values that normal men can achieve with training.”

In Daniel Coyle’s book, Lance Armstrong’s War, he discusses a common performance test where riders measure their wattage output at lactate threshold, then factor in their bodyweight to obtain a fitness quotient that predicts performance accurate for a three-week grand tour. Ferrari mentioned that many cyclists, when challenged by maximum effort, can see blood lactate levels (amount of the offensive ‘lactic acid’ causing the familiar ‘burn’ in the bloodstream) skyrocket to 22 mmol/ml, while Lance’s peaked at only 6mmol/ml. The same dynamic was associated with legendary distance swimmer Janet Evans, who set numerous world records and won three gold medals at the 1988 Olympics. Lance’s, and Janet’s, muscles simply burn less with hard effort than the next competitor, allowing them to go harder, longer!

Bart Knaggs, a longtime friend of Lance's who manages his business affairs at Capital Sports and Entertainment and serves as President of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, laments that the broad audience misses the most profound and complex insights about the magical performances of Lance. “Everybody wants to just take this stuff at face value. Maybe they don’t have the depth of understanding of the work that an athlete does or understand how complicated the Tour de France is.” Our ESPN Sports Center culture favors slam dunks, touchdown catches, overtime game winning goals, hockey fights and sound bites packaged neatly into a 60-minute program with boisterous hosts making up words like, “ginormous” to describe top performances.

How can we have much understanding or appreciation for Lance pedaling his bike three to eight hours a day year-round when we prefer to cut to the chase - a quick highlight of him tearing away from the pack up a mountain on Sports Center? And when we look to solve our own problems and achieve our dreams (to feel happy, lose weight, go to sleep, sport wood, or get stronger and faster athletically) by popping a magic pill?

“People want to have all the answers,” says Knaggs. “We think we understand what human performance potential is, and then Lance delivers a performance that is beyond their experience,” explains Knaggs. So, as with the dominant African runners, we struggle for explanation and rationalization. We point fingers at athletes who perform extraordinarily, labeling them with inaccurate racial stereotypes, doping accusations or character attacks in our perverse desire to bring big shot athletes and celebrities down from their pedestal.

When Carl Lewis achieved his unprecedented four track and field gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he endured the boos of 85,000 spectators on the day he won the long jump gold medal. Why? He only took two jumps to record a magnificent mark of 28 feet. Thereby clinching the gold, he passed on his remaining four jumps to save energy for his future 200 meter races – disappointing the myopic, unappreciative fans who “paid good money” to see him take his full allotment of six jumps. Every week, we buy millions of copies of tabloid trash, reveling in the lurid details of Brad dumping Jen and hooking up with Angelina.

Lance is a victim of participating in a sport that has been infested with drugs for decades, as are those who get caught, like Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. The perpetrators of this crime are the organizers who have let the problem flounder by not committing sufficient resources to stay ahead of the game with more sophisticated testing or by offering more severe penalties. Under the circumstances of a dirty sport, Lance cannot conclusively prove his innocence by emphatically denying doping or even pointing to his clean testing record (many athletes found or admitted to doping tested clean for years prior). We also can’t blindly believe an athlete who claims to be wrongly accused, as nearly every athlete who tests positive initially states.

Irish journalist David Walsh and French journalist Pierre Ballester wrote two books (LA Confidentiel, printed in French and a recently announced sequel) advancing their own opinions that point to Lance’s guilt. These included his guilt by association relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari (noted performance physician accused of dispensing EPO) and other gems like Walsh’s comment on the that fact that the 1999 Tour de France field completed the course at a faster average speed than in 1998, a year in which the event was tainted by a huge rider drug bust. “How can clean racers ride faster than those known to be on dope?” Huh? Perhaps the same way honest businesspeople can make more money that crooked ones?

In Outside magazine’s comprehensive December 2005 edition article “J’Accuse”, this conclusion about LA Confidentiel was offered: “The end result is a sprawling collection of interviews, statistics, timelines, and newspaper accounts, but no proof against Armstrong. …On the whole, because Walsh and Ballester’s evidence in the book is circumstantial, no single piece of it has the power of truth.” My account of Lance hammering his mountain bike up a mountain in October in the introduction of How Lance Does It is just as compelling and credible as David Walsh’s crap about average racing speeds of the Tour pack.

What then, should we think and believe? We have to use our brains and examine the evidence. In the OJ Simpson murder trial, DNA forensic evidence showed that his blood was found at the crime scene and the victims’ blood was found in his Ford, leaving most everyone (except, notably, the people on the jury!) with a strong conviction of his guilt. I believe that there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that speaks far more powerfully to Lance’s innocence than the contrary evidence.

First is the fact that Lance is a genetically superior athlete who competed at an elite professional level for nearly 20 years, beginning with his teenage triathlon career. In 1993 (before drugs like EPO rose to prominence in cycling), at the age of 21, on the rainy roads of Oslo, Norway, he blasted away from the cycling’s greatest star – 5-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain – and the rest of the sport’s top athletes to win the world championships. In a literal sense, dopers are trying to obtain Lance’s natural body chemistry that he revealed to the world at the age of 16 when he raced the world’s top triathletes, at 21 when he ascended to the highest level of cycling and into his 30’s as he won the Tour year after year.

There is no question that doping provides a dramatic improvement in performance, but it’s also true that it compromises an athlete’s long term well-being and ability to perform at a high level for a long time. This is so because doping accelerates the natural metabolic and other systematic functions of the body. The laws of nature say that what goes around comes around. The kid who gets wired on cake and ice cream at a wild birthday party will crash out a few hours later. A drug-induced acceleration of the body’s chemical function will come with long-term health and performance consequences. World champion Kelli White, one of the disgraced athletes in the BALCO scandal, suffered from weight loss and deteriorated cartilage in her knee in the aftermath of her superhuman performances. A more extreme example is Marco Pantani, the 1998 Tour de France champion and one of Lance’s main rivals early in his reign. After being disgraced with a doping bust while leading the 1999 Tour of Italy, his career went into a tailspin. After retirement, he was treated for depression and drug addiction, and then succumbed to a cocaine overdose, dying at age 34.

Spin The Story
Mark Sisson can be considered an expert on doping in endurance sports. He served as a founding member and Chairman of the International Triathlon Union’s Anti-Doping Commission for 13 years and coached elite endurance athletes for many years prior to that. He believes there is compelling physical evidence to explain Lance’s awesome performances aside from doping. He cites the cancer-induced change in physique, saying “imagine possessing one of the world’s most impressive cardiovascular engines, competing with that engine for 10 years and then losing 17 pounds of extraneous bodyweight. It’s like racing at a world class level with a backpack on and then one day taking the backpack off forever.”

Sisson also notes the evolution of very primal motivation levels prompted by Lance’s near-death experience and particularly his trademark high-cadence pedaling style. “Lance developing the ability to pedal at high RPM’s and sustain it for hours at a time is probably the single greatest application of the cardinal cycling rule ‘learn to spin’ that I’ve ever seen,” Sisson exclaims. “When you pedal an easier gear at higher RPM’s, leg muscles don’t fatigue as quickly as they would pushing a harder gear at a lower RPM (anyone can discover this pedaling around the block: harder gear = harder on the muscles). Of course for the average rider, spinning an easier gear means less wattage is produced (slower speed).” Note: energy or power production by a cyclist is best measured in watts. It would be the ultimate indicator of performance except you also have to factor in bodyweight (especially for climbing) and aerodynamics (on flat road).

“Lance methodically developed the ability to sustain massive watts at a high cadence,” continues Sisson. “He had more wattage efficiency than any other rider. At a similar heart rate/effort level, his competitors would have to push a bigger gear to sustain the same number of watts as Lance pedaling at a higher RPM. And, he did it all at a relatively lower body weight than his competitors (the vaunted Ferrari equation).” If you are confused, try this: On a flat road, achieve a certain speed on your bike, say 15mph. Now shift into an easier gear and see what happens. You will feel less strain on your legs and you will also slow down. Try to sustain 15mph again in this easier gear. It’s not easy on your legs nor your heart! This is the wattage efficiency concept in practice.

Sisson continued, “The combination of these factors was devastating to his competition. This was a learned skill that required years of strict application in order to develop efficient neuro-muscular patterns. The explanation is simplified, because optimum pedaling cadence is different for every rider. However, if you train a rider to develop the ability to spin faster without sacrificing watts, you can realize a huge performance improvement. This is particularly true in a three-week Tour, where accumulated muscle fatigue is a critical factor.

“Lance’s advantage in wattage efficiency is something that was plainly apparent watching him on TV as he climbed mountains or time trialed against his rivals. It is in this direction that our minds should go when we attempt to explain his amazing performances. As ITU Anti-doping Commissioner, I certainly saw my fair share of doping abuses in endurance sports, but I will defend Lance Armstrong as a clean athlete against all that I know to be sacred about sport. Winning the Tour requires a broad array of strategic and physical skills. If you add these factors up - the incredible focus and support of a team devoted to risk management (for example, chasing down breaks or minimizing the chance of a rival rider breakaway by pushing the pace day after day), the unprecedented commitment to preparation, the significant advantage gained from his wattage efficiency and so on, there is simply no reason for Lance to consider doping or for us to suspect him of doping,” concludes Sisson.

Crying Sick Kids and Zillion Dollar Fines
Perhaps the most compelling factor that to me suggests Lance’s innocence is a disincentive to cheat that dwarfed that of anyone else in cycling, or any other sport. As Steven Levittt and Stephen Dubner explain in their best-seller Freakonomics, “Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. An understanding of them is the key to solving just about any riddle, from violent crime to sports cheating to online dating.”

Lance transcended cycling to become a cultural icon and earned perhaps ten times that of the next best paid cycling superstar. Bill Stapleton reminds us that Lance’s team contracts and endorsement contracts have always had clauses in them that state a positive drug test is grounds for termination. Lance’s hypothetical dilemma is a little different than the journeyman pro who faces a life of milking cows and picking up horse poop on the farm if he can’t measure up. The threat of a two-year doping suspension is a stiff penalty to be sure, but moderate in terms of the risk/reward for an average athlete to become outstanding or a marginal athlete to secure employment.

If Lance had been caught for doping, a two year suspension would have been the least of his worries. For starters, it would have been the greatest cheating scandal in the history of sports. He would have pissed away (literally) tens of millions of dollars from American Century Investments, Subaru, Nike, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Trek, 24 Hour Fitness, Coca Cola and other corporate partners. He would have decimated the large enterprises like Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team and Capital Sports and Entertainment (which together employ nearly 100 people), along with the Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity. He would have kids (and grown ups) in cancer wards crying and confused about their hero being a cheater. He would have been economically, socially and morally destroyed (“the three basic flavors of incentives,” says Freakonomics – or disincentives in this case) as an athlete and as a person.

It’s easy to imagine Floyd Landis, sitting in his hotel room the night he blew the Tour by bonking and losing eight minutes in a single stage, with a different model of incentives and disincentives. Perhaps armed with the knowledge that behind many, if not most, rider hotel room doors, they were rubbing or injecting this and that to help them bounce back, he grabbed a little cream – a little too much cream - from the cookie jar, rubbed it onto his abdomen and went to sleep, allowing his “organism” to rest, repair and rejuvenate with the benefit of some extra testosterone. Or perhaps he was framed, we’ll see…

You may not agree with everything written here, but it’s important to think critically and resist the attraction of salacious gossip and character destruction when it comes to issues like whether Lance doped or Brad was unfaithful to Jen. Remember that behind the celebrity mystique are real people with real names (well, at least legal names…), who are trying to live a happy, fulfilling life, make a positive impact on others around them, raise children and all the rest. Even idle chit chat with your fellow riders on the Saturday loop or with your buddies at work can contribute to the destruction of someone’s reputation and further cultivate the harmful mentality towards sports and doping in general.

We must collectively look beyond the basic symptoms of a problem as complex as doping and reflect deeper, measuring our thoughts and words carefully. Fans, administrators and athletes must all draw a hard line against doping in sports, but at the same time take care not to cross the line and taint clean performances with flawed accusations. The fundamentals of critical thinking can easily reveal the numerous flaws in a conjecture like, “how can a clean pack average a faster speed than a doped pack?” For one, there are a many other variables involved in 200 people racing for 2,000+ miles from one year to the next, on a different route! It’s a world different from Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus improving a preposterous half-second over 100 meters in one year to win the 2004 Olympic 100-meter gold medal, or some guy driving a blood-stained Bronco down a freeway with a gun to his own head, only to plead not guilty later.

The great British middle distance runner and twice Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe said, “you’ve got to be careful pointing fingers at people making big breakthroughs, because only in public terms is it a big breakthrough. In reality, the athlete has been slogging away, mile after mile, weight after weight, for ten years at a time.” Paul Tergat, the great Kenyan distance runner who holds the world marathon record of 2:04.55, described the depth of preparation for his re-match with Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics (Gebrselassie won gold in Atlanta in 1996 to Tergat’s silver; the result was repeated in Sydney): “I would be on the track, running hard, collapsing, getting up, and running hard again. And when I was done I couldn’t stand. I was so tired. I couldn’t eat. I felt sick. I had no energy to do anything other than take a drink of water and lie down. Then I’d think of Haile and know that he was training even harder.”

Think of that image the next time you see the “natural” ability of an African distance runner on display. Not many people demonstrate that level of commitment, even among the world’s top professional athletes. Consider classic NBA overachiever Steve Nash, a 6’2” white point guard not especially quick or strong who ascended to the pinnacle of a sport dominated by genetic freaks, thanks to a phenomenal competitive spirit and work ethic. He won two consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards and offered this quote to Sports Illustrated in 2006: "Most guys somewhere along the line will meet an obstacle they aren't willing to clear--whether it's shooting or dribbling or something off the court, like girls or partying. They will not keep on going. I kept on going."

A final note to the more cynically minded readers or those not entirely “with me” up to this point: What is my premise is wrong and the truth is that Lance Armstrong slipped himself a Mickey now and then during his career? Would he have gained an unfair advantage that would make him, as Greg LeMond speculated, “the greatest fraud?” Think about it: if Lance – the most frequently drug tested athlete in history – could have souped himself up and avoided detection for seven or more years, it follows that his competition could have done the same.

Unless you believe that in the multi-million dollar game of professional cycling there are a bunch of high moral character athletes racing their brains out while idly lamenting their repeated victimization by a cheater. Sorry, there is no chance in hell of that; my apologies to a friend who points to Lance’s endorsement partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb as fodder for the argument that Lance is getting super powerful, undetectable drugs while his competitors are forced to shop retail and occasionally suffer the penal consequences. Now that would be the greatest sporting fraud!

The bottom line is that we can all sleep well at night, even if we are not certain or convinced of the truth. And whatever direction your own opinion leans, you must admit that we are watching great athletes perform great feats, on a level playing field, in sports that all have some measure of impurity and controversy.

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