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Is Contador’s doping suspension much ado about (almost) nothing?

Alberto Contador

Following the news of his provisional suspension after tests on a urine sample taken at July’s Tour de France had revealed minuscule traces of the banned drug clenbuterol, three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador has presented his side of the story in a press conference in his home town of Pinto this afternoon, claiming the positive test – which carries a potential suspension of up to two years – came as a result of eating contaminated meat before providing the sample.

Contador lays out his defence

The Spaniard, who was informed of the test result by the UCI late last month, referred to the decision to suspend him as an error and called for changes to the testing system, claiming:

The UCI itself affirmed in front of me that it was a case of food contamination.

This is a genuine mistake. I think it will be resolved in a clear way, with the truth up front. [The UCI] understands that is a special case, which has to be examined.

I’ve spent a month and half keeping this inside, without sleeping. My family didn’t find out until last night.

This is a real error. The system is very questionable and it has to be changed. I cannot tolerate the idea of a possible sanction.

Contador explained that he must have inadvertently consumed a tiny amount of clenbuterol in meat he had eaten both the day before and the day of the control. Fellow Astana teammates who had also eaten the meat were not tested along with Contador; Alexandre Vinokourov was, but had not eaten the alleged contaminated meat.

He went on to suggest that the infinitesimal amount of clenbuterol found in his sample could not have been injected deliberately, and that such a small dose could not have affected his performance anyway:

It’s actually impossible to take such a small amount. The administration of it is just not possible. So this points again to food contamination. Moreover, regarding performance, this amount is totally insufficient and doesn’t serve anything.

Millar backs Contador

British rider David Millar, who earlier today finished as runner-up to Fabian Cancellara in the men’s time trial race at the World Championships, leapt to Contador’s support. Millar understands the situation better than most, having previously been banned for using the blood booster EPO and subsequently returned to the sport as one of the most vocal proponents of the anti-doping movement. He said:

I think there’s a very strong chance that this is being blown way out of proportion because it’s a microdose and it was on a rest day and it makes no sense. It makes no sense because it would have come up in other controls.

He also questioned the wisdom of the UCI going public at this point with an as yet unresolved case:

It’s a shame that it’s been released when it hasn’t been resolved. I think it’s something that should be resolved behind closed doors and done the way it should be done properly.

There are strict rules and I think unfortunately in cycling for the right reasons we always jump to the worst-case scenario and because of the history we have in the sport unfortunately maybe Alberto’s just maybe been kind of thrown to the sharks.

I think it will get resolved and I hope so for Alberto’s benefit and I hope so for the sport’s benefit.

Previous clenbuterol cases – and the ‘Gasquet defence’

Contador’s food contamination defence is a plausible one with a number of historical precedents. Chinese cyclist Fuyu Li was provisionally suspended in April after testing positive for a similarly minute level of clenbuterol. Dutch anti-doping expert Douwe de Boer subsequently stated that the amount found in his body points “clearly in the direction of a contamination” and that such a low dose would not help his performance.

American swimmer Jessica Hardy was given a one-year suspension after a positive clenbuterol test in July 2008, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport later accepted her claim that she had ingested it in a contaminated food supplement. And French tennis player Richard Gasquet escaped sanction after successfully – and uniquely – claiming that a positive test for cocaine came as a result of a kiss in a nightclub.

Are the UCI too trigger-happy?

The issue facing cycling and the UCI is how to strike the right balance between transparency and hysteria. The authorities are keen to display their openness and vigour in pursuing doping cheats, but in cases such as these there is a danger of throwing the innocent on to the less than tender mercies of an eager media who will happily trumpet – in the most black-and-white terms – the latest scandal to engulf the sport, without considering the validity of a rider’s defence or the incomplete nature of any scientific analysis.

It is a major problem for the sport which periodically threatens to tear it asunder. The UCI knows that cycling has a bad reputation among the wider sporting public and is desperate to be perceived as taking a hard line on cheats. But at the same time, if the UCI adopts a premature, trigger-happy approach which makes much ado about the tiniest of test results – which is what, to my eye, appears to be happening here – they run the risk of shooting themselves in the foot. If they consistently choose to light the blue touch paper, they cannot complain when ultimately innocent cases explode in their faces.

As Lance Armstrong will attest, throw enough mud often enough and some of it will inevitably stick. There are enough people out there already willing to do just that without the UCI offering them further ammunition.

Ezequiel Mosquera

UCI confirms positive tests for Mosquera and David Garcia Da Peña

As reported on Spanish radio this morning, the UCI have now confirmed that Vuelta a España runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera and David Garcia Da Peña, both of the Xacobeo Galicia team, tested positive during the Vuelta for hydroxyethyl starch, which increases blood volume, allowing red blood cells to deliver oxygen more efficiently. Both riders have requested testing of their B samples.

The 34-year old Mosquera signed a lucrative two-year deal with the Dutch Vacansoleil team earlier this month. His performance at the Vuelta was a huge publicity boost for the Xacobeo team, which is desperately trying to raise sufficient funds to continue next year. Today’s news will be a terrible blow to the team’s future prospects, although the convenient – deliberate? – timing of its release in the aftermath of the Contador suspension will likely minimise the collateral PR damage the team will suffer.

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Conta-dope suspension adds another chapter to Tour’s tale of woe

Alberto Contador in action at July's Tour de France (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The cycling world was rocked to its core this morning by the announcement that the UCI, the sport’s governing body, has suspended – albeit only provisionally – three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador after a sample taken at the Tour in July was shown to contain small traces of the banned medication clenbuterol.

Contador’s positive test came from a sample taken on July 21st, the second and final rest day of this year’s Tour. The Spaniard claimed his third yellow jersey, ahead of Andy Schleck, by just 39 seconds.

Clenbuterol is commonly prescribed to people with breathing problems such as asthma as it boosts oxygen flow, but it can also aid the shedding of excess body fat – both of which are of considerable benefit to cyclists.

A UCI press release communicating Contador’s ‘adverse analytical finding’ – what a wonderful euphemism that is! – states:

The UCI confirmed today that Spanish rider Alberto Contador returned an adverse analytical finding for clenbuterol following the analysis of urine sample taken during an in competition test on 21st July 2010 on the second rest day of the Tour de France.

This result was reported by the WADA accredited laboratory in Cologne to UCI and WADA simultaneously.

The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms (or 0.00000000005 grams per ml).

In view of this very small concentration and in consultation with WADA, the UCI immediately had the proper results management proceedings conducted including the analysis of  B sample that confirmed the first result.  The rider, who had already put an end to his cycling season before the result was known, was nevertheless formally and provisionally suspended as is prescribed by the World Anti-Doping Code.

This case required further scientific investigation before any conclusion could be drawn.

The UCI continues working with the scientific support of WADA to analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case.  This further investigation may take some more time.

In order to protect the integrity of the proceedings and in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code, the UCI will refrain from making any further comments until the management of this adverse analytical finding has been completed.

The news is the last thing cycling needs right now. For more than a decade, the sport has been at the forefront of anti-doping investment and technology but unfortunately it – and in particular its premier event, the Tour de France – has suffered considerable collateral damage in its attempts to clean itself up, causing untold damage to its reputation.

Contador’s provisional suspension means that each of the last 15 editions of the Tour is tainted in some way by a doping scandal, varying from the merely very serious to the catastrophic. I have not included every single case in the timeline below, but even a potted summary of the headlines makes for depressing reading:

2010 – Winner Alberto Contador provisionally suspended.

2009 – Winner Alberto Contador provisionally suspended.

2008Riccardo Riccò, Stefan Schumacher, Leonardo Piepoli and Alejandro Valverde – winners of six stages between them – tested positive either during or after the race, as did King of the Mountains winner Bernhard Kohl.

2007 – Winner Alberto Contador provisionally suspended. Michael Rasmussen thrown out of the race while in the yellow jersey and subsequently banned. Among others, double stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov ejected and banned for blood doping.

2006 – Winner Floyd Landis banned after test revealed abnormal levels of testosterone/epitestosterone. Pre-race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso among those refused entry after being implicated in the Operación Puerto doping investigation. (Basso subsequently serves a two-year ban.)

1999-2005 – Winner Lance Armstrong has been dogged by accusations of doping and covering up positive test results throughout his career. Nothing has ever been proven, although he is currently the subject of a federal investigation following fresh allegations by former teammate Landis.

1998 – Winner Marco Pantani failed a blood test at the 1999 Giro d’Italia and was banned. Later evidence revealed he had also had hematocrit levels far in excess of permitted levels as far back as 1995. Pantani died of a cocaine overdose in 2004. The 1998 Tour also saw the ‘Festina affair‘, when a large stash of EPO and other doping products was found in the car of a soigneur on the Festina team. Festina were thrown out of the Tour, and several riders including Richard Virenque and Christophe Moreau, admitted to doping. At the time, Virenque was a four-time winner of the King of the Mountains competition; he would later add a further three polka dot jerseys.

1997 – Winner Jan Ullrich was implicated in the 2006 Operación Puerto scandal, but continues to deny having ever doped.

1996 – Winner Bjarne Riis later admitted that he had used banned substances such as EPO during his career.

The 50 picogram concentration found in Contador’s samples is apparently 400 times less than what the anti-doping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect. Chinese cyclist Fuyu Li of RadioShack also tested positive for a similar level of clenbuterol in March and was provisionally suspended by the UCI, although it is not known whether the Chinese federation has handed him a ban, which could be for as long as two years.

It should be stressed that the level of clenbuterol found in both Contador and Li’s tests are extremely low, and traces can often be found in meat and other food supplements, so the provisional suspension should only be viewed as a procedurally correct action on behalf of the UCI, rather than any firm suggestion of guilt – at least for now.

No doubt many of the mainstream media outlets will talk up the more sensationalist ‘failed drugs test’ angle and bring up the fact that Contador’s name also featured in the initial Puerto investigations. (He was quickly cleared by a Spanish court.) Given the trace concentrations found in this test, it would be unwise for sensible heads to jump to any immediate conclusions on this one. I doubt that will stop people doing so anyway.

Contador is holding a press conference this afternoon. I will follow up on the reaction to this later this evening.

Addendum: There are as yet unconfirmed rumours in the Spanish media this morning that two riders tested positive at this month’s Vuelta a España, including Ezequiel Mosquera, who finished as runner-up behind Vincenzo Nibali. If true, this is potentially a far more damning story than the Contador one, but you can be sure it will be largely ignored as the world’s media swarms around the three-time Tour champion instead. Either way, it is a dark day for a sport whose own vigilance – which should be applauded – continues to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, courtesy of those who choose to shoot themselves in the arm.

Fantasy football round 7: Following and bucking trends

Ask yourself a question. Are you the kind of fantasy football manager who follows trends, or the type who sets them? Are you a sheep who follows the wisdom of crowds or a pioneering explorer striking out in search of untrodden territory? In short, are you Shaun the Sheep or Dora the Explorer?

It’s an important question which says a lot about what type of squad selection strategy you should employ, and what kind of research you should be doing to improve your team over time. Both are equally valid approaches, and either is better than a haphazard non-strategy which veers violently between the two. Much depends on what your overall ambitions for the game are, your existing knowledge and confidence, and your current ranking within the game. The higher each of these are, the more you should be looking to use what I call the Dora strategy. But there is still a lot to be said for the alternative, as this alone can lead to a marked improvement with a minimum of targeted research. Let’s start with this one.

The Shaun strategy

Shaun the Sheep

The Shaun the Sheep strategy relies on the ‘two brains are better than one’ principle, harnessing the collective brain power of hundreds of thousands of fellow fantasy managers.

In other words: follow the herd. Find out what other people are doing that works, and copy shamelessly.

I have already provided one concrete example of this in a previous post, where some simple analysis shows that the majority of ‘average’ teams employ at least four defenders, whereas three-quarters of the top 25 managers only use three. If you’re regularly fielding a four or five-man defence and are struggling to keep up with your rivals, then it’s time to change.

Changing your formation is one thing, but which players should you be putting in to your side? One option is to look at the make-up of a successful team and imitate them, but the reality is you could look at three different teams and find they have totally different line-ups, as there is a multitude of ways to succeed in the game.

For me, the easiest way to start is not to examine individual squads but to take a step back and look for high-scoring players who feature heavily in lots of other teams. All the information you need to do this is contained within the game – you just need to familiarise yourself with the ‘Transfers’ screen in a bit more detail. Here is what I suggest you do for starters:

  1. Let’s say you are looking for a better, low-cost goalkeeper for your squad. Start in the Transfers screen and select ‘Goalkeepers’ from the top drop-down box. This brings up the list of shot-stoppers ranked by total score. Make a note of anyone who interests you.
  2. From the second drop-down box, select the option ‘Teams selected by (%)’. This shows you who the most popular goalkeepers in the game are – as you can see from the graphic to the right, Manchester City‘s Joe Hart is the most popular keeper by a distance, featuring in 27% of teams. (The most selected player overall is Tottenham‘s Gareth Bale, who has been included by an incredible 50% of managers.)
  3. Finally, change the option in the second drop-down box to either ‘Transfers in’ or ‘Transfers in (Gameweek)’. This will show you which players have been transferred in the most often by fellow players, either since the beginning of the season or in the most recent round. This gives you a quick sense of who is currently the flavour of the month.

Of course, there are lots of other useful filtering options available on this screen alone which allow you to explore the entire game without having to research players one at a time, but this should be sufficient for starters. Within 2-3 minutes, you will have some ideas for players who tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of other managers have validated collectively, allowing you to track current trends in the game without having to resort to hours of painstaking research. If that many people have come to the same conclusion, the odds are they’re not wrong.

The Shaun strategy can be extremely effective, up to a certain point. It provides some easy pointers to help you improve your team by latching on to trends in the game, and to make changes in a low-risk way.

But, of course, it is a purely reactive strategy. You will always be a week or more behind the leading edge of the wave, which means that other players will have already derived any initial benefit, and you will probably be paying slightly more for your new player than others have, which can cause budget management issues down the line.

Also, the ultimate endpoint of the Shaun strategy is that you end up with a squad which can only ever be as good as everyone else’s – better than average, top 10% even – but probably never quite good enough to be a winning one.

If your aim is to be top of your private league, or to achieve a position in, say, the top 5% overall, you will need to take more risks in the hope of being at the forefront of trends. And that’s where the Dora strategy comes into play.

The Dora strategy

Dora the Explorer

The Dora the Explorer strategy builds on the basic principles of the Shaun the Sheep strategy, but involves a greater degree of knowledge and research – and requires the aspiring top manager to roll the dice every now and then in the hope of hitting the jackpot.

The Holy Grail that every fantasy manager is looking for is that magical moment – which may only happen once or twice in the entire season – where you sign a player just as they hit a rich vein of form, weeks before the vast majority notice and start to follow the trend. You benefit from an early rush of points, and you can watch with satisfaction as others rush to sign your new star player, but have to pay several hundred thousand pounds more for him, compromising their ability to make further signings. The small but significant advantage that creates can produce a virtuous circle, allowing you to transfer in better players who might have been just beyond your budget, which generates more points and more money, and so on.

Last season my Holy Grail was Darren Bent. Having not selected the Sunderland striker initially, I transferred him in early in the season when his value was at its lowest, just as he embarked on his hot goalscoring streak and his cost sky-rocketed. Later, as his form cooled, I was lucky enough to sense just the right time to offload him, selling him at his peak value and netting me the best part of a million pounds which was subsequently reinvested in players I would not have been able to afford otherwise, setting up a late season run which ended with a position comfortably inside the top 10,000.

It would not be exaggerating the point to state that one well-timed double move – buying and selling Bent – ultimately made the difference between a top-10,000 and a top-100,000 placing.

Obviously, there is no substitute for that magical combination of gut instinct and a sprinkling of good fortune, but a little knowledge and some focussed research can certainly improve your chances when it comes to taking measured risks which will hopefully pay off spectacularly.

Yes, that means watching games, reading match reports and paying attention to team sheets, injury reports and expert opinions wherever you can. But there are also a variety of ways you can use the data available within the Fantasy Premier League website to short-cut and support your decision-making and find those little nuggets. There is no one ‘right’ method, but here is an example you might like to consider.

Let’s go back to my hypothetical search for a new goalkeeper that I started above.

My overall squad philosophy is to have two cheap goalkeepers to maximise the amount of cash I have available to spend on my midfield and strikers. So I’m in the market for a sub-£5m goalkeeper who I intend to rotate in and out of my starting line-up depending on that week’s fixtures. So, here is my train of thought:

  1. Following the three steps outlined above, I’m initially pleased to note that my two current goalkeepers, Paul Robinson (Blackburn) and Matt Gilks (Blackpool) are joint-fifth and seventh respectively. But Wigan‘s Ali Al-Habsi and West Brom‘s Scott Carson are joint-eighth – and both are significantly cheaper than Robinson.
  2. Carson is already fairly popular, appearing in 11% of squads. Al-Habsi, however, has been selected by just 1.3% of managers, presumably because he started the season as a little-known back-up to Chris Kirkland. Now I’m getting interested.
  3. Al-Habsi has only been transferred in by about 9,000 managers (less than 0.5%) in total, and just 1,400 in the last week. So hardly anyone has noticed him yet (or, at least, done anything about it). I’m definitely interested now.
  4. I now sort the goalkeepers by ‘Form’ (see graphic right). This shows the average points scored in matches played in the last 30 days. This filter becomes increasingly useful as the game goes on for spotting players who have a low points total but have shown good form after a long injury or another’s injury or demotion. Al-Habsi jumps to second overall on this basis – he sat on the bench while Kirkland conceded ten goals in Wigan’s two opening games, but has come in and done well since despite only playing four games.
  5. A look at Al-Habsi’s player profile tells me his value has remained constant at £4.0m, suggesting a strong possibility of an increase with continued good performances.
  6. A quick check of Wigan’s upcoming fixtures tells me that two of their next three games are at home to Wolves and Bolton – both very attractive games from a defensive point of view.

Ali Al-Habsi - a potential nugget?

At this point, I’m positively rubbing my hands together with glee. Three minutes of digging has presented the opportunity of a dirt cheap, in-form goalkeeper who has been largely ignored by fellow fantasy managers, with a couple of relatively easy games coming up.

Is Al-Habsi worth signing? He’s certainly worth considering – swapping him for Robinson could yield both points and reinvestable profit in the medium-term, and would free up £0.5m to spend immediately. It would be a risk, yes, but a measured one rather than a punt in the dark.

Look hard enough, and you will find many such opportunities to pick up lesser-known, middle and lower-ranked players who could transform your team. (And, yes, such decisions can easily back-fire too.) Whether you want to take a chance on them is purely up to you, but it is moments like this that make fantasy football such an interesting game to play and sort out the sheep from the explorers.

So, again, I ask you: who do you want to be? Shaun or Dora? There is no right or wrong answer, but whatever you choose to do: good luck!

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Arsenal earn battling win in Belgrade despite Denilson’s helping hand

Partizan Belgrade 1 Arsenal 3

Cléo 33 pen; Arshavin 15, Chamakh 71, Squillaci 82

Arsenal maintained their 100% start to this season’s Champions League campaign, grinding out a workmanlike 3-1 win against Partizan Belgrade in a game which was not without its share of worrying moments, several of them self-inflicted.

Arsène Wenger rang the changes after Saturday’s disappointing loss to West Brom, bringing Lukasz Fabianski, Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Denilson, Tomáš Rosický and Jack Wilshere into the starting line-up.

The match in the Stadion FK Partizan kicked off with only three of the four floodlights operational, and early on Arsenal often looked like they were groping around blindly in the dark. Last-ditch interventions by Denilson, with a brilliant but desperate sliding tackle, and Fabianksi, saving with his legs after a soft back header from Sébastien Squillaci, prevented the hosts from taking the lead inside the first ten minutes.

Lukasz Fabianski saved a penalty in a confidence-building performance (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The opening goal came very much against the run of play, but it was a beauty. Arshavin and Wilshere drove at the heart of the Partizan defence, with the young Englishman flicking a cheeky back-heel for the Russian to pounce on with a firm drive from 12 yards.

There then followed a sustained period of Arsenal dominance. Partizan keeper Vladimir Stojković, a loanee with Wigan last season, rushed off his line to smother one-on-ones with both Arshavin and Rosický, and even when Arshavin managed to beat him with a delicate chip Marko Jovanović raced back to clear off the line.

Arsenal appeared to be in total command until Denilson inexplicably handled Radosav Petrović‘s innocuous pass. Brazilian striker Cléo coolly slotted home the resultant penalty after sending Fabianski the wrong way. Rocked back by the equaliser, Arsenal’s dominance evaporated and the game drifted into stalemate until half-time.

However, the visitors set out for the second period with renewed ambition, as Partizan appeared content to sit back and forage on the counter-attack. It is always a dangerous tactic to employ against the Gunners, and Partizan paid the price when Jovanović clipped Marouane Chamakh as the Moroccan striker raced onto Arshavin’s defence-splitting pass. It was a soft penalty but a spot-kick nonetheless, and as the last man the defender was rightly dismissed. However, Arshavin’s attempt was blasted straight down the middle – his one lowlight in an effervescent performance – and Stojković saved with his legs to maintain parity.

Nonetheless, Arsenal gradually began to make their numerical advantage tell, dominating the ball to an even greater extent than they had before – they would finish with 64% of total possession – and pulling Partizan’s ten men all over the field. The hosts responded as best they could, throwing themselves into a series of physical challenges; Wilshere in particular will have woken up this morning knowing he had been in a battle.

Just when we were starting to wonder whether this might be one of those nights, as Arshavin’s deflected 70th-minute strike brought the finest save of the night from Stojković, Arsenal retook the lead. Rosický fizzed in a precise cross, and although Stojković tipped Chamakh’s initial header on to the crossbar, he could do nothing about the follow-up.

Sébastien Squillaci scored his first Arsenal goal with a late header (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Squillaci headed in from substitute Samir Nasri‘s corner eight minutes from time, and although Partizan immediately won a penalty after a careless tackle by Gibbs which appeared to take place outside the area, Fabianski rendered it irrelevant with a fine save. On a night when he was relatively unoccupied, the Polish keeper had the kind of game which will silence his many doubters, at least temporarily, looking secure on crosses and producing a fine late reflex save to deny Ivica Iliev.

Although still a little shaky at the back – given Partizan’s limited attacking ambitions, the defensive screen provided by Denilson and Alex Song was breached too regularly for my liking – Arsenal battled hard, attacked with purpose and will feel suitably encouraged ahead of the trip to Chelsea. Arshavin, so often a source of frustration for fans with his economy of effort, was at the heart of much of Arsenal’s attacking work, and linked up well with Wilshere, who again impressed with his vision and awareness playing in the advanced role normally occupied by the injured Cesc Fàbregas. Chamakh put in a good shift and deserved his goal, and although Rosický was some way from his best, he worked hard all night and his cross for Chamakh’s goal underlined his class.

Wenger was pleased with the way his side had bounced back after last weekend’s dismal performance:

We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of chances. However, we could not kill the game off and then we were always under threat. They came back with the penalty – afterwards we needed to keep the pace high and when we got the second goal I thought we looked comfortable.

For us it was important to win straight away after a big disappointment against West Brom. It puts us in a good position confidence-wise. Sunday is a big, big game for us. I believe we will go there with a desire to do extremely well.

And he had this to say about the under-fire Fabianski:

Fabianski had a good game. We have seen the player tonight who we see in training. He had a faultless game. I know it is in him. He got it out in the game tonight and hopefully that will give him the needed belief and confidence. I am confident he will come out as a great keeper, I have always said that. We have to keep confidence in him and he needs to gain experience from games like this.

After last night’s win, Arsenal should secure early qualification for the knockout phase if they can gain four points from the upcoming double-header against Shakhtar Donetsk (on October 19th and November 3rd). But for now their focus returns to the Premier League. Improved though this performance was, the team will need another big step forward if they are to leave Chelsea with a similar result. Didier Drogba and friends will undoubtedly be more ruthless about capitalising on any defensive frailty than Partizan were last night. But it was a job well done, and we move on to Stamford Bridge on Sunday with our heads held high once again.

Pooley on top of the world after Dowsett is grounded

Emma Pooley (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Britian’s Emma Pooley has won the women’s time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Melbourne, completing the 22.9 kilometre course in 32:48, 15 seconds faster than Judith Arndt of Germany, with New Zealand’s Linda Melanie Villumsen claiming the final podium position.

Winning the world champion’s rainbow jersey caps a brilliant season for the 27-year old Cervélo rider, who has also won Flèche Wallonne, the Tour de l’Aude and the Giro del Trentino in a breakout year which has finally seen her emerge from the shadow of compatriot Nicole Cooke, for whom she played a vital support role in winning her road race gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Pooley was delighted afterwards, explaining that she had targeted this race specifically in training:

The Olympic Games is pretty special, but in a way, that was easier for me because I had no expectations and no pressure. This time it was different. I trained specifically for this, doing a lot of hill training and intervals on my time trial bike. Now I get to wear the world champion’s jersey with the stripes for a whole year.

The day had started with disappointment for Britain’s Alex Dowsett in the under-23 time trial. His podium chances were ruined when he grounded a pedal and he was forced to switch to a road bike. The race was won by Dowsett’s American Trek-Livestrong teammate, Taylor Phinney.

Having achieved the time trial and road race double at this year’s British National Championships, Pooley has a realistic opportunity to achieve the same in Saturday’s 127 km women’s road race on a hilly course which should suit her well.

However, having done a recce of the men’s road race course, Mark Cavendish has effectively written off his chances of  hopes of becoming Britain’s first world road race champion since Tom Simpson in 1965:

According to what people had been telling me beforehand the  rainbow jersey was a possibility, but now that I’ve been able to check it out for myself, I’ll have to revise my ambitions.

The circuit, which the riders will have to negotiate eleven times, features two steep climbs and a long, steady uphill finish which should negate the pure sprinters and favour Classics specialists such as Philippe Gilbert or Fabian Cancellara.

Women’s time trial result

1. Emma Pooley (Great Britain) 32:48.44

2. Judith Arndt (Germany) +0:15.17

3. Linda Melanie Villumsen (New Zealand) +0:15.80

4. Amber Neben (USA) +0:37.66

5. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France) +0:43.94

6. Evelyn Stevens (USA) +1:00.08

7. Tara Whitten (Canada) +1:05.91

8. Shara Gillow (Australia) +1:13.18

9. Emilia Fahlin (Sweden) +1:22.20

10. Tatiana Guderzo (Italy) at 1-25.5

5

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