Friday, June 4, 2010

Lance Armstrong Drinking Game Equals Certain Death; an historical perspective.

There's no getting around it, Lance Armstrong is ubiquitous in this sport. His media profile borders on omnipresence; check out Fat Cyclists' " LA drinking game equals certain death" and remember while you are reading, Fatty is a bit of an LA fan-boy.

For a while it used to be said, in some circles, one should not buy a cycling magazine with LA on the cover. Naturally, with LA's omnipresence, this was hard to do. Of course, after the retirement, you couldn't buy a running magazine without LA on the cover either as he prepared for the New York and Boston marathons. I remember being tickled by the "how fast can he go" story one of the running mags ran. Most of the estimates were conservative and surprisingly prescient, in the 2:45 to 3:00 range, which is where he marathons (is marathon a verb?). One estimate, incredibly, said 2:04, matching the world's best. Wow, I didn't realize Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were moonlighting as running commentators.

Anyway, I had an occasion recently to retrospectively examine the basis for the "never buy a magazine...." myth when I cleared out some old back-copies of Cycle Sport. CS was my cycling mag of choice back in Blighty, but I was gradually weaned off it over here due to the price, the fact it was outdated when it finally became available (thanks to the internet and that we were always an issue or two behind) and that it seemed every story was eventually overhauled by a doping allegation.

So, I found 22 copies of CS spanning from Aug 03 to Oct 07, there were 22 copies out of a possible 62 (assuming one a month) or 35% of the total. The issues were mostly from '03, '04 and '05 for the reasons stated; even the ardent fan-boy I was had become jaded to the whole thing by 2005 and I'd finally bookmarked (the nice thing about these free content websites is that one doesn't have to invest actual money in stories that eventually turn out to be tainted). The covers featured the following cyclists; Lance Armstrong (9), Jan Ulrich (3), Marco Pantani (2), Miguel Indurain, Damiano Cunego, Mark Cavendish, Davide Rebellin, Tyler Hamilton, Fabian Cancellara, Robbie McEwan and Tom Boonen (1 each).

What a list eh? Rebellin, Pantani, Ulrich, Hamilton all PED positive and banned, Boonen and Ulrich's (hey, he made the list twice, what a git) recreational drug tests, Cunego - one good Giro and pouf, nothing since. Anyone remember Evgeni Berzin? The rest, whilst clean as far as the UCI are concerned, have all fielded allegations at some point. Even the big guy, that's Miguel Indurain for those of you who started following pro-cycling in 1999, tested positive for salbutomol at one point. Remember the good old days when it seemed that every pro cyclist was an asmathic? Even AleJet tested positive for it a couple of years back, guess he couldn't afford Micera! Speaking of the good old days; remember when Steven Roche and Eddy Merckx collapsed at a mountaintop finish and needed to be revived by O2? Funny how that doesn't happen any more, yet they are all climbing so much faster. Must be a corollary to global warming, this increase in PO2 in the mountains. I think the only people not to have had the grubby syringe of doubt pointed at them are the two sprinters; McEwen and Cav. We should leave these guys alone, they have their own problems; we all thought McEwen was mouthy, but what about Cav? The only guy in the list to get DQ'd after winning a sprint legally!

So, how do those numbers look graphically?

So, using a representative sample of magazine covers that covered five years, LA appeared on the cover just over 40% of the time. Ullrich (our generation's Poulidor) got 12% of the covers, Pantani 8% (and one of those was the ciao Marco edition). Everyone else, 4.5%. I may not be the world's most statistically inclined individual, but 9 times out of 22 when the next highest is 3 out of 22 and the rest 1 out of 22, well that has to be statistically significant (p < 0.05).

The cynic in me wants to say this percentage could have been bigger except that the editor, ardent Lanceophile Phil Liggett, well even he couldn't find a reason to make LA the cover-art in the Sprinters Special, Belgian Special, British Special Australian Special or Spanish Special issues. The non-cynic? Moi, a non-cynic? Never going to happen!

I'll leave it to you to decide if cycling should be so identified with one man, if it's a good thing and what it means for the sport in general. To be honest, with the UCI now fending off stories that Fabian Cancellara (also on the cover-art list) had a fricking motor secreted in his down tube during Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde, then perhaps who appears on the front of a cycling magazine is really not that important anyway.


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