- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 12:30
- Laura Weislo
Cancer patient advocacy a focus for EPO maker
When Amgen was first announced as the title sponsor for the Tour of California in 2006, the irony wasn't lost on cycling's hardened cynics. After all, the biotech giant is one of the original companies to market EPO, the blood-booster that is a life saver for critically ill patients, but whose abuse in the sport has seriously harmed cycling's reputation.
So why would Amgen drop so much money into a bike race? The answer lies partly in the fact that the company is located in the heart of America's cycling hotbed and hundreds of its employees are avid bicycle enthusiasts, and partly with the company's mission to serve its main customers - people with serious illnesses like cancer.
Cyclingnews met with Dr. Steve Elliott, Amgen's scientific director, to learn a little more about the reasoning behind the company's sponsorship of the Tour of California and get his answer to the criticisms of the EPO-maker's partnership with cycling.
Dr. Elliott explained that the idea that anyone would use the drugs they were developing and producing in order to cheat at sports was not something that showed up on the company's radar early on.
"It's such an alien concept - we show up to work every day and try to find these medicines to treat this disease your friends, family and neighbours might have, and you're so consumed with that that it never occurs to you that somebody is going to go out and abuse this medicine," said Elliott. "It's so disturbing when that happens."
That naiveté ended nine years after EPO was first released when, during the 1998 Tour de France, the Festina scandal erupted. It had long been rumoured, but then became public that Epogen, Amgen's EPO drug, had made its way into the professional peloton and provided a performance advantage thanks to its ability to boost production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body.
Dr. Elliott has since been frequently involved with helping the anti-doping authorities uncover illicit use of Amgen's therapeutics, including during the lead-up to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in 2002, when he worked with UCLA's Dr. Don Catlin to develop a test for the company's newer drug, Aranesp. The brand new test nabbed three athletes during the Games.
Since then he's also travelled to Europe and Canada to collaborate with anti-doping authorities, and Amgen has given grants to anti-doping education and testing programs around the world.
While the main reason the company began its Tour of California sponsorship was to help further its corporate mission to serve the cancer community through their Breakaway from Cancer events at the race, another aspect is the platform the race provides to help educate the sporting world about the dangers of doping.
"Ever since we've been asked to collaborate with the anti-doping authorities, we stepped it up a little bit with the Amgen Tour of California sponsorship. When we made the decision to sponsor, we thought this is an opportunity to get everyone's attention, we'll have a platform to educate everyone about the dangers of doping."
Dr. Elliott addressed the criticism of Amgen's sponsorship of the Tour of California through his unique position to help effect change in the sport by working with the authorities to help curb doping, and hopes cynics can place the blame where he thinks it belongs.
"I think if there's any one message, it is that we should get angry - not at the sport, not at Amgen, but at the person that cheated, and do something about it. Encourage the agencies to make tougher laws, give more sanctions. We shouldn't let people who cheat get away with it. We shouldn't hate the sport because there's someone who cheated in it, we should get them out."
"[Critics] tainted the way people thought about our sponsorship - [made it seem as if] we're promoting doping. It's a sad state of how we're thinking that a company that makes medicines and loves cycling would somehow be viewed as promoting doping because we make a medicine that someone is abusing. It's unfortunate that people think this way.
"We think about it in terms of our love for cycling, it's a fun sport, we want to encourage the sport to be clean, so we add our voice to this notion that you shouldn't be doping with our medicine. Who better to say that than the company that actually makes the medicine? I think our voice is one of the strongest ones, and yet there are some people who think this is an inappropriate thing to do."
Amgen is not the only drug maker who has cooperated with the anti-doping effort, and is part of an industry-wide push to help stop doping. In 2008, Roche, makers of Mircera (CERA) worked together with the anti-doping authorities to get a test in place in time to catch several riders using the new form of EPO during the Tour de France that year.
The anti-doping efforts at the Amgen Tour of California have also been stepped up this year. Last month, Tour of California organiser AEG and the United States Anti-doping Administration (USADA) announced a programme of pre-race profiling for domestic teams, as well as blood controls prior to the race for all riders, a push Amgen has supported.
And in the future, Amgen and the rest of the pharmaceutical industry have woken up to the reality that as new drugs enter clinical trials, they have to plan to help prevent them from being abused by athletes.
"Part of our responsibility is to think about possible abuse and be ready," Elliott said.
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 13:15
- James Huang
Details released of new ultralight, tubeless-compatible wheelsets
Tubeless innovators Stan's NoTubes is set to soon start shipping its first dedicated road rims and wheelsets, which look to deliver the same performance advantages as its off-road products but in an impressively lightweight package that will still retain the company's typically good value, too.
Claimed weight on the new ZTR Alpha 340 aluminum rim is just 350g, complete with a modest 22.6mm U-shaped profile, 20/17mm external/internal rim width, sleeved joints, machined sidewalls, and NoTubes' trademark short bead hooks. When paired with two layers of NoTubes' rim tape and the dedicated 44mm Alpha valve (plus a bit of latex-based sealant), NoTubes' Mike Bush says the ZTR Alpha 340 will be compatible with appropriate tubeless tires, too – thus making for a very light but likely also a very sweet-riding and reliable combination.
NoTubes will offer the bare ZTR Alpha 340 rims in both 28h and 32h drillings for US$120 each but also a trio of complete hand built wheelsets, too.
The top-end ZTR Alpha 340 Pro will use American Classic hubs, including a Micro 18h front hub and a special 24h rear hub with high-low flanges and 2:1 drilling for more even spoke tension. DT Swiss Aerolite spokes will be used throughout (radial front, radial/three-cross rear). Claimed weight is just 1,200g and suggested retail price is a refreshingly reasonable US$1,100 with an included padded double wheel bag.
The mid-range ZTR Alpha 340 Team swaps in a standard American Classic rear hub, increases spoke counts to 24 front/28 rear, and does without the wheel bag. Claimed weight is a still very light 1,310g for the pair and pricing is set at US$900.
The undisputed bargain of the trio will be the ZTR Alpha 340 Comp, which will use NoTubes' own ZTR sealed-bearing alloy hubs and standard 28/32h front/rear spoke counts. Claimed weight is an impressive 1,415g but retail price is a very attainable US$615.
Bare rims and complete ZTR Alpha 340 Pro wheelsets are available from NoTubes right now with Team and Comp models to follow in July.
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 17:58
- Susan Westemeyer
Euskaltel-Euskadi rider continues to maintain innocence
Mikel Astarloza has been handed a two-year ban from competition by the Spanish Cycling Federation for the use of Erythropoietin (EPO). The Spaniard, who tested positive for the illegal blood booster in a control conducted 25 days before he won a stage at the 2009 Tour de France, said he will appeal the decision.
“I keep reaffirming my innocence and therefore I strongly disagree with the penalty imposed, and will appeal this sanction to the proper authorities,” he said on his website. “I hope that my innocence will finally be recognised and I have the hope of returning to racing as soon as possible.”
Astaloza was provisionally suspended by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on July 31, 2009. He had tested positive for EPO in a control conducted on June 26, 2009. A subsequent analysis of his B sample also returned a positive result last September. Throughout the case, 30 year-old Astarloza has continued to has maintain his innocence.
Even after the official suspension was handed out, his team, Euskaltel-Euskadi, has continued to support its rider. The Basque squad said they will respect the penalty imposed and comply with relevant UCI and Anti-doping regulations, however, they expect Astarloza to return to the team in the future.
Calling the resolution of the case “not definite”, given Astarloza's staunch assertion of his innocence, the team said: “We hope that the rider can prove his innocence. After the period of the penalty (…) we expect the rider to return to competition.”
Astarloza won the 16th stage to Bourg-Saint-Maurice at the 2009 Tour de France. He finished the race in 11th position overall.
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 18:20
- Stephen Farrand
Liquigas duo refuse to give up fight for overall success
Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso tried to limit the time they lost to Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) on the dirt roads near Montalcino during stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia, but when they reached the finish they had lost more than they had gained in the team time trial and on the stage to Middelburg in the Netherlands. In an instant, a crash had turned the Giro upside down yet again, meaning Nibali lost he maglia rosa to Vinokourov.
Nibali finished exactly two minutes behind Evans, while Basso lost 2:05. Nibali slipped to fifth overall, 1:33 behind Vinokourov, while Basso ended up in eighth overall at 1:51. They are both much closer to Evans, at 21 and 39 seconds respectively, but it is difficult to see how they regain time and get the pink jersey back from Vinokourov.
Nibali and Basso crashed on a sweeping curve, 30km from the finish and just 10km from the start of the dirt roads. Teammates Valerio Agnoli and Alessandro Vanotti also crashed, as did other overall contenders Carlos Sastre (Cervelo TestTeam) and Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli).
Nibali seemed stronger than Basso as they chased, but he was a late replacement for Franco Pellizotti and is not confident of surviving in the final week of mountains of the Giro. Despite being battered and bruised, though not hurt, Nibali refused to give up hope of overall success and more time in the pink jersey.
"Losing the pink jersey because of a crash is hard to take. Until then, we were in control of the race and I felt good. I was watching my rivals and was ready to respond if they attacked. The crash ruined everything," he said.
"I'm disappointed and sorry to have lost the jersey because I could have defended it. I'm hurting after the crash but I want to look ahead to the rest of the Giro. I've lost the jersey but I'm not giving up just yet. I still want to fight and surprise people at this Giro."
Basso reminded everyone that the Giro has yet to hit the first mountain stage. That will happen on Sunday with the stage to Terminillo and with a 16km climb to the finish. "It's a pity to have lost time on Evans and Vinokourov. It was an unlucky and difficult day even if my legs felt good," he said.
"I got going again pretty quickly after the crash, but it would have been hard to catch the leaders on my own, so I waited for my teammates. We chased together but the dirt road sections didn't help us and the leaders were going hard."
"I'm honestly not too bothered by the time that I've lost, just like I didn't get carried way when he gained time. There's still a long way to go in this Giro."
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 18:30
- Jean-François Quénet
Astana captain promises to defend pink jersey
After taking the Giro d'Italia's pink jersey in the Netherlands thanks to the peloton-splitting effects of crosswinds, Alexandre Vinokourov once again put the hammer down on the gravelled roads of Tuscany to assume the race lead from Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo).
“It’s been a really hard day,” the Astana captain repeated a few times after the podium ceremony. “We started the stage flat out, that’s what made it difficult all the way. It was really a surprise for me when we hit the Strade bianche. It was like Paris-Roubaix but without the pavés. It was even harder than Paris-Roubaix, I think.”
Vinokourov finished third on the stage, behind stage winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini). “It’s been a hard day for everyone," Vinokourov added. "In the hills I tried to attack, but Evans was so strong.”
He admitted he had been going for the stage win, but was instead rewarded with a return to the race lead. He described himself as being “satisfied” with the outcome of the most feared stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
He also clarified his position over his behaviour in the race after Nibali’s crash, 32km from the finish, and five kilometres prior to the start of the Strade bianche. “I heard the noise of a crash,” he said, “but I couldn’t know who it was. I got the information later that Nibali was at the back. We’ve spoken a bit in the bunch and we decided to wait a little bit, but that was just before the Strade bianche with 30km-to-go. Some riders from Milram started to accelerate and then the race was on.”
Vinokourov acknowledged the difficult conditions of the race played in his favour. “For me, it’s an advantage to have a difficult race,” he said. “It might have been an even harder battle than in the mountains. In the last 30km, I couldn’t see anything. In these conditions, you have to be careful: if you try to close your eyes, you might never be able to re-open them.
“For the spectators, for sure, it was a great spectacle, but not for us,” he added. “I’m favourable to such a course for a one-day race, but in a Grand Tour?”
Vinokourov now holds a 1:12 advantage over Evans, and a lead of 1:29 over third placed David Millar (Garmin-Transitions). After wearing pink for just one stage last week, he is determined to extend his tenure in the jersey this time around.
“We’re going to defend this pink jersey,” he stated. “There is another hard stage tomorrow. It’s probably better for me to have a climb like the Terminillo at this point in the race than the very steep climbs. Maybe in the third week the climbs will be a bit too steep for me. It will come down to how good the legs are. What’s certain is that you can’t win a Grand Tour without a team. Yesterday we lost Paolo Tiralongo, who was a climber we'd hoped would be with me during the last week. It’s a pity, but this is how the race goes. We’ll defend our position day-by-day.”
When he lost the lead after the team time trial in Cuneo, Vinokourov was a little bit frustrated that he had secured only one pink jersey because his twin sons had asked him to bring home one for each of them. The Vinokourov boys could have more than one apiece in two weeks time.
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 19:01
- Jean-François Quénet
Tour de France winner lost five minutes on dirt roads
With a deficit more than seven minutes to race leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) appears to have lost his chance to win the 2010 Giro d'Italia. The Spaniard, who is now in 24th place overall, was involved in the same crash as maglia rosa wearer Vincenzo Nibali during stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia.
It was Sastre's second crash at the Giro; his other was during stage 1. Today, he crossed the line in Montalcino looking like a zombie. And while the Nibali finished two minutes behind stage winner Cadel Evans (BMC), the Spaniard finished five minutes and 20 seconds behind.
Saturday's stage was wet and featured sections of gravel roads, which had turned into mud due to the conditions.
"Today's stage was action-packed," said an extremely tired Sastre. "Frankly, it has been a tough and very difficult stage. In theory, it seemed as though everything was going pretty well, but the crash I had at the start of the stretch of dirt roads made all the difference and affected the stage results."
"I hurt myself quite badly in the crash and then changing my bike didn't work out well," he said. "I was having problems shifting up and down through the rear gears. Until the car caught up with me from behind, at the end of the first dirt stretch, I couldn't change bikes. We had to drop back to the group."
"Then at the end. With eight kilometres to go, I had a really bad time. If it wasn't for Xavi Tondo riding with me - he did such an amazing job and stayed with me every second - it would have been a lot worse."
Sastre came to the Giro with the overall win in his mind. His status as a Tour de France winner and his reputation as a great climber who won two mountain stages in this race last year made him a favourite even though he'd taken an extended break from racing after his disappointment in the 2009 Tour de France. Prior to the start of the corsa rosa, he had just eight days of racing in his legs.
However, the Spaniard thinks the Giro is not over for him. "Well, we've gone through another day in this Giro," he said. "The most important thing now is to recover from the crash, and although it's still tricky, the race is far from over," he said, wiping the dried mud from his face.
Stage 8 will give Sastre the opportunity to make up some time as it contains the first mountaintop finish at the top of the Terminillo.
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 19:10
- Stephen Farrand
Matt Lloyd not happy but race director Zomegnan happy to make history
The Giro d'Italia stage to Montalcino will be remembered as one of the legendary days of racing. It recreated the heroic days of pre-war racing when most roads in Italy were dirt rather than asphalt. The 220km was designated the Gino Bartali stage and the former Giro winner and pugnacious fighter on all terrains would surely have loved to race on his home roads south of Florence.
However, not everyone shared the same opinion. Most riders were just happy to have survived in the terrible conditions and to have made it to the finish.
Friday's stage winner Matt Lloyd was a rider who was not so happy. He made huge effort to win in Marina di Carrara and finished in the gruppetto, 24:10 behind fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC).
"I can understand that they want a spectacular stage, but something like what we've just done is ridicoulous if you ask me," he told Cyclingnews after pulling on the green climber's jersey again.
Lloyd is a featherweight pure climber and is hoping for better weather later in the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm still on top of the world after my stage win and I still feel good. I've got great form. I'm just waiting for some reasonable weather and maybe some sun to go on the attack again."
Most of the riders were probably quietly cursing race director Angelo Zomegnan for including the dirt roads in the finale of the stage. He carefully played down comparisons with the epic stage over the Passo Gavia in 1988 when riders battled through the snow and Andy Hampsten set up overall victory. But he knows that today's stage was spectacular enough to earn a place in Giro d'Italia history.
"Today was just a day of rain. The riders had to ride through the snow over the Gavia," Zomegnan told Cyclingnews.
"It's right to race on the dirt roads. The memory on my mobile phone is full of messages from people saying that it was a great stage. The riders took it well and so this stage will become part of the history of the Giro d'Italia."
- Article published:
- May 15, 2010, 19:28
- Stephen Farrand
Garmin-Transitions rider moves up to third overall at the Giro
David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) was one of the few riders to find some kind of sadistic pleasure from racing in the terrible conditions on the dirt roads at the Giro d'Italia on Saturday.
Like everyone who made it to the finish, he was soaked to the skin and covered with mud from the Strade bianche but fought hard in the terrible conditions to finish 11th, 1:11 behind Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team). With so many of the overall race contenders losing time behind him, Millar moved up from seventh to third in the general classification standings. He is now 1:29 behind new race leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and only 17 seconds behind Evans.
"Wow, what a day. It's one I'll never forget. I don't think anyone who rode will either," Millar told Cyclingnews after washing off the mud on the Garmin team bus.
"I actually enjoy it when it's like this. I think this is what racing is all about. In a way, the worse the conditions, the better I seem to go. In the end it was just mano-a-mano and it was actually a lot of fun."
"The roads round here are called strade bianche but they weren't white today. After just two kilometres of racing on them I looked at the guy next and thought' 'Is that what I look like?' We were like mud men."
Tip-toe on the last descent
Millar was in the front group that formed on the first section of dirt roads. He lost contact when Vinokourov and Evans surged clear on the dirt road climb but managed to finish ahead of Liquigas-Doimo pair Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso, despite taking it steady on the descent towards Montalcino.
"I'm two or three kilograms over my ideal climbing weight. That is usually a handicap but I think it helped me in the cold and wet conditions," he told Cyclingnews.
"When everyone cracked on the last climb, I was still okay but then I bottled it on the last descent. After all I'd got through I was scared of crashing. I told myself there was no way I was going to crash and throw it all away in the last few kilometres so I tip-toed it on the last descent."
"It wasn't actually that bad riding on the dirt roads, it wasn't dangerous. The problem was the amount of dirt and water coming up into your eyes. There were moments when I was just blinded. When it happened going into a corner that was the worst. You couldn't see which line to take."
"I saw the crash on a sweeping corner, but I didn’t know that it was Nibali. We had no idea of what was going on but that's racing. It's a pity for Liquigas because they've ridden well so far. That's the just way it goes sometimes."