Spin Cycle: Opening a can of worms

PSA: never reach into Brailsford's toilet

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 20.11.2023 Photography by
Rod Hooper, Simona Kuchyňková, Cor Vos
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Spin Cycle is Escape Collective’s news digest, published every Monday and Friday. You can read it on this website (obviously) or have it delivered straight to your inbox. You can sign up here.


Welcome back to Spin Cycle, Escape Collective’s news digest.

What a delectable tasting menu we have today … well, actually, on the face of it you wouldn’t want most of it anywhere near your dinner plate.

Sure, we have Peter Sagan taking a toddler-esque tumble as he reacquaints himself with mountain biking, but then we have chatter of worm blood doping and Jonathan Vaughters postulating on what Dave Brailsford gets up to behind toilet doors. Bon appétit!

Did you get that on camera?

Peter Sagan is in Finale Ligure, Italy for an Enduro race, as he gets back into mountain biking while harbouring hopes of Olympic participation at Paris 2024.

On the recon, however, the 33-year-old got his front wheel caught on a rock and took a slow motion tumble that is in equal parts mesmerising and okay to enjoy watching as he emerged unscathed.

Sagan seemed to enjoy it too, as he immediately asked fellow Slovak athlete, Simona Kuchyňková, who was following behind, whether she managed to capture the moment on her camera.

A can of worms

The past few months have been a tough one for the “this is a new generation” gang, and it’s only getting tougher to take the conjecture that the current WorldTour is cleaner than clean following a humdinger of a story in L’Équipe that revealed a potential new frontier in blood doping: worms!

That’s right, haemoglobin produced by lugworms – also known as sandworms – which are commonly used as fishing bait, live both above water and underwater, and have incredible oxygen-transporting qualities.

Lugworm haemoglobin can transport 40 times more oxygen than human haemoglobin, is a universal blood substitute, and is 250 times smaller than other red blood cells, which also helps circulation. It also doesn’t increase blood hematocrit or cause high blood pressure and can be stored at room temperature. Blimey.

Dr. Franck Zal discovered this trait in the worms, and has created and patented lugworm extracellular haemoglobin for medical use, such as preserving organs that are being used for transplants and cell growth activation.

“I understood very early on that it could be diverted,” Dr. Zal told L’Equipe of his discovery’s potential use for blood doping. “We had several direct requests from athletes or gyms, who wanted to know how to obtain the substance. I also learned of its possible administration to racehorses.”

Not only that, but Dr. Zal says a prominent cyclist contacted him in July 2020 about potentially getting hold of the product. Dr. Zal promptly told the French police.

“I asked them what to do, they replied: ‘Make him talk, we want to see if there is a network.’ We had around ten email exchanges but at some point, I told myself that it’s their job, not mine,” Dr. Zal said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) told L’Equipe it hasn’t detected any cases of lugworm haemoglobin doping but it is concerned about the potential for its use. Lugworm haemoglobin can be detected by anti-doping blood tests but its short half life makes it undetectable after a few hours.

Whether or not the use of lugworm haemoglobin is widespread, the fact that there is at least one instance of recorded interest from the peloton should put anyone who cares about the fight for clean sport on alert. I guess all we can hope at this stage is that people are not mad enough to be injecting themselves with worm blood in order to win bike races … but you never know.

Feed Zone ?

? The UCI has followed up the strong words of President David Lappartient that maybe riders’ participation in World Cup rounds should be mandatory if they want to contest the World Championships with an official communiqué that they are actively considering bringing the idea to reality.

? It’s that time of year again, as Lappartient has also told DirectVélo he’s considering moving Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders to October.

? Israel-Premier Tech boss Sylvan Adams has finally weighed in on Chris Froome’s claim that his bike position has been wrong and that’s what has held him back from performing at his peak. “Does what he says sound credible?” Adams told the RadioCycling podcast. “Does that sound credible for someone who is not even dropped on the last climb, but on one of the first climbs?”

? Mike Teunissen has had a successful operation on his fractured collarbone, which he broke during training recently. The exact events that led to his broken collarbone are not known.

? Soudal Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere says he has found an eventual successor. The person – who hasn’t been named – will begin as Chief Operating Officer soon.

? Ineos Grenadiers have confirmed to CyclingNews that Rod Ellingworth will indeed be departing the British team, as will the Head of Racing, Roger Hammond.

? 37-year-old Thomas De Gendt has announced he will retire at the end of the 2024 season. He wants to take stage victories at the Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta a España in his final year.

? Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado won her third Superprestige in a row at Merksplas, with Lucinda Brand second, before Alvarado was then also victorious at the cyclocross World Cup round in Troyes ahead of Puck Pieterse in Pieterse’s return to competition. Check out our gallery here.

? In the men’s cyclocross races this weekend, Joris Nieuwenhuis won the Merksplas Superprestige while Eli Iserbyt took the victory at Troyes.

? Remco Evenepoel’s pre-TT meal consists of a jam (specifically raspberry), honey, and banana sandwich; some slices of chicken fillet; and half a litre of Fanta. “It turns out to be a good meal to prepare for a time trial, because since I eat it, I almost never miss the podium,” he said in the latest video on his YouTube channel.

? EF Education-EasyPost will not be renewing the contracts of Jonathan Caicedo and Diego Andrés Camargo for next season.

?️ Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and her partner Dylan van Baarle won the Kärcher Duo Xtreme mountain bike race while on holiday in Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island.

? More news from the beach, Tim Merlier was victorious at the De Panne Beach Race, while Tim Declerq was also third.

?? 23-year-old American Riley Sheehan, who won Paris-Tours as a stagiaire with Israel Premier-Tech, has signed a three-year professional contract with the squad.

Cycling on TV ?

Tuesday November 21st – Friday November 24th

No live racing 🙁

? Disgusting yet funny quote of the week

As Ineos Grenadiers owner Jim Ratcliffe closes in on the purchase of a significant stake in Manchester United Football Club, Dave Brailsford is receiving renewed attention, as the man who presided over the success and doping scandals of the British cycling team is primed to be installed in a management position at the ailing football club.

Cue an all-time quote from EF Education-EasyPost boss Jonathan Vaughters being dredged up, as the wider British press and people look to become better acquainted with who Brailsford is.

“He has an impressive ability to reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate,” is the quote from Vaughters at the time Brailsford announced Sky would be departing as headline sponsor of his cycling team, and Vaughters correctly predicted that Brailsford would find someone to plug the gap: namely one of the wealthiest people in Britain.

Sharing the Daily Mail article in which the quote was regurgitated, Vaughters wrote: “I feel my opening quote in this article will be remembered along with the greatest quotes in human history. Like those of Churchill and Kennedy. Or maybe more like Aristotle? Gandhi perhaps?”

Then, in vintage Vaughters style, he responded to the multiple people informing him the Daily Mail is maybe not the rag that one would normally be proud to be quoted in with: “Had no idea this publication was so contentious. I’m out in the mountains of Colorado.” Just great stuff.

And finally …

While this screenshot from Sky News in the UK may have left cycling fans reeling, under the impression that British politics had plumbed new depths in appointing multiple Olympic champion Laura Trott to a government position (no disrespect to Trott, of course), it turns out that there’s another Laura Trott who is an actual MP. Phew … maybe?

A screenshot of a Sky News report that Laura Trott has been appointed to Chief Secretary of the Treasury.
Sorry to whoever first spotted this, we saved this photo off and forgot to record where we found it.

? Corrections corner

We incorrectly stated Tom Pidcock was the defending cyclocross world champion, when it’s actually Mathieu van der Poel, and after Pidcock and Wout van Aert have declared they wont be at the upcoming Worlds, it will probably still be Van der Poel for another year.

As Roger De Vlaeminck recently put it to Het Nieuwsblad, one of the biggest races of the next few months risks being a bit of a damp squib.

“Does it still make sense to watch?” De Vlaeminck asks. “I’ll still be sitting in front of my TV, especially because Van der Poel is my favourite rider, but that won’t be of any use to people, right?”

? Send us yer laundry pics

“A little tough to get a decent picture because of the narrow room, but what do you expect from a 500-year-old building,” writes Rod Hooper, attaching today’s laundromat photo.

“Just a humble little laundry that happens to be in Girona, Spain. If you’ve been then you need no explanation. If not, Girona is a mind-boggling cycling Garden of Eden. Within a 10-minute walk of this laundromat are at least 10 bike shops, any one of which could anchor the custom-build scene of a major city. Plus coffee shops, cycling kit shops, bike tour companies … even the local apartment rental agency has bikes in the window. And of course all this is here because of the great riding.”

It also seems like this laundromat’s proprietor is absolutely poppy-pilled (poppies are the emblem of Remembrance Day in many countries). Let’s hope these are good poppies, rather than your weird uncle’s politics poppies.

As always, we are accepting your laundry photos (especially ones with the doors open so we can Photoshop riders inside the drum) to star in Spin Cycle. Either send them via the Discord or shoot me an email: [email protected]

Until next time …

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