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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sports news: Cancellara's "motor" and Nadal's title

"Fabian's motor" and Nadal back to number 1

I have two very short comments on some sports news for today.  First, on cycling, the big story was again cheating, but this time it was not doping, but rather an allegation made against Fabian Cancellara for using an electric motor during his wins earlier this year in Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.

Cycling:  Cancellara and the electric motor allegation

For those who haven't yet heard of this, a brief account can be read here.  And the YouTube video which then went around showing how it could work can be viewed below.



I have been in transit, traveling between the UK and SA, and generally catching up on work missed while away, so I'm going to sit out this debate and rather provide you with the following links, for those who have followed the story but who haven't delved into it more deeply.

These are posts from the blog Cosy Beehive (I have no idea where the name comes from), which is a really good read for those interested in the technical side of the sport of cycling.  The writer, Ron, is a mechanical engineer, and also is a regular reader and poster here, and he has done some in-depth analysis of the allegations and the attack in question.  Here are the links:
The second post in particular is interesting.  Ron calculates that Cancellara's power output during the decisive move of the race is about 1200 Watts, which is not unreasonable.  There may be some error in the methods, but overall, it seems sound to me and I'll agree with Ron on this one.

I'm not saying that this kind of electric motor couldn't be used, and certainly, now that the awareness has been raised, it should stay elevated, but overall, I think Ron deals with the issue well...(for now!)

Tennis:  Rafael Nadal wins in Paris and ascends to number 1

On the tennis courts of Paris, Rafael Nadal did what many expected, given that all year, he has been untouchable on the clay, and won his fifth French Open title.  Last year's shock exit to Robin Soderling in the 4th round was the sub-plot of a men's final that many would have expected to bring Nadal face-to-face with Roger Federer.

However, for the second year in a row, Soderling played the pantomime villian and denied that final when he produced an amazing, uninhibited display of tennis against Federer in the quarter-final.  The Swede tried to produce the same aggressive play in the final, but was too erratic and found Nadal a much more resilient "defender".  Nadal's depth of shot, particularly when defending, prevented Soderling from closing out points and in the end, it produced another pretty lop-sided result, Nadal winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Speaking of lopsided matches, it's been a while since a men's final at Roland Garros went to even four sets - 2007 was the last time, and since then, we had Nadal's crushing win over Federer in 2008, then Federer over Soderling last year, and now this result.  The actual contest was relatively tight until about mid-way through the second set.  Soderling had a fair share of break points, and while Nadal was already in control, Soderling's failure to convert a break point early in Set 2 was the point where the match went away.  It was the manner in which Nadal defended that break point that defined the match - side to side, on the defensive, playing full-stretch squash shots, before Soderling eventually hit a smash straight at Nadal, and three shots later, Nadal won the point at the net.  Defence turned into attack, and Soderling simply couldn't stay good enough for long enough to win important points.

The end result of it is that Nadal won every clay-court tournament he played in this season.  If memory serves me, he dropped only 3 sets in the four tournaments he won, and none at all in the French Open.  Amazing dominance, and considering that coming into the clay-court season he had not won a tournament in a year, Nadal is most definitely a revitalized force.

He also assumes the top spot in the World Rankings with the win, jumping Federer for his second stint at the top.  If he can continue to build on the  aggressive style of play, then the grass-court and hard-court seasons will be doubly intriguing, because Nadal barely featured in them last year, and given that the rankings rely on "defending" points earned in previous years, Nadal may stay at the pinnacle for a while longer.

A final point on the French Open - the coverage was superb, particularly the commentary.  Our feed in South Africa had Wally Masur, Fred Stolle and Mark Woodbridge covering the men's final today, and listening to them is a pleasure and an educational experience, for a number of reasons.  They're professional, and work well off one another.  They're knowledgeable - I actually feel like I'm learning about tennis when they're on.  They're humorous, but they know when to keep quiet and when to add insight.  And most of all, they don't commentate like fans, telling us over and over that "these men are amazing" and "what a great player" (We know - that's why they're in the final of one of the biggest, most competitive tennis tournaments in the world....)

Oh, and just on the Women's tournament - Schiavone of Italy produced a major shock by winning the tournament, defeating another major shock in Samatha Stosur, in the final of the debutants.  Stosur had beaten some massive names to reach the final - Henin, Serena Williams and Jankovic, but fell short in a competitive final.  I didn't watch any of the women's tournament, so my analysis is, well, non-existent.  All I know is that on the occasion I tried to watch, the screaming was so loud (Serena Williams, Sharapova stand out as prominent) that I opted to watch something else instead.  Grunting I can accept as part of the effort and release when hitting big shots.  But screaming - not needed and definitely not appealing.  Women's tennis might be enjoyable, but when players are screaming as though shot every time they hit a ball, I'll find another sport.  In the words of Martina Navratilova:  "[It] has reached an unacceptable level. It is cheating, pure and simple. It is time for something to be done."
Bring on Wimbledon.

And the Football World Cup (though it's unlikely the commentary will be as high quality).  The Science of Soccer series starts this week!

Ross

11 Comments:

Gene said...

Re "Cancellara's motor," the video shows that the motor is quite audible, giving off a whirring sound that one would expect from such a motor. That would be hard for fellow competitors to miss.

I see two issues with grunting/screaming in tennis. First, it's been shown, at least on an American sports science program, that grunting does allow for greater exertion impulse, more force. Has that been discussed here previously? It's something I don't recall seeing in other sports, except lifting and maybe wrestling and occasionally basketball.

Second, altho I've never grunting, and as a competitor would find it distracting, at least initially, I don't know on what basis governing bodies could create limits. Enforcing some kind of code would likely get arbitrary very quickly, short of having a decibel meter positioned nearby and using readings above a certain level. But then, how do you adjust for different pitch voices? In any case, I watched much of the Williams-Sharapova match on ESPN - also very good announcers - and I do recall some "screaming," but don't remember it as constant, and I think I would have.

Beyond that, calling it "cheating" seems a stretch, unless it can be established that it's intentional for that purpose. I would think trying to cheat by screaming would distract the player doing it.

Edla said...

As you wrote about tennis I recalled that one American tennisplayer, Wayne Odesnik, was caught in Australian Customs with a bundle of HGH as he arrived to AO. It goes without saying that he surely is not the only tennisplayer cheating with HGH and other stuff. Epo tests in tennis are too rare. This comes just as a reminder that you promised a closer look to an Australian HGH study. Please do it.

Phil said...

Good post. Unless someone comes forth with real evidence the Cancellara thing seems like a non-story... a bit of gossip that has - thanks to the internet - gotten out of hand. What it shows though is how low the reputation of professional cyclists has fallen - I doubt a mere rumor of such blatant cheating in another sport would have gotten an airing in the New York Times.

aluchko said...

I too am sceptical about Cancellara, the evidence is pretty slim (some impressive performances combined with heavy extrapolations of grainy video of hand gestures).

Besides, doping is one thing, but this is completely another, it completely voids the sport, you might as well jump on a motorbike.

As mentioned the team mechanics (at a minimum) would have to be in on it, and I can't imagine him having that many co-conspirators for cheating of that nature.

Farid said...

Because my knowledge of cycling is quite minimal, I'd just like to bring up a few points about Cancellara and see what everyone thinks:
1 - in both clips where they show him creating a gap, his cadence doesn't seem to change. Granted, a change of gears could accomplish this, but the rate at which he pulls away is phenomenal.
2 - increases in cadence or in force applied (to compensate for changing gears) would result in increased exertion which usually results in some sort of side to side movement. None seems apparent.
3 - although I watch cycling occasionally, many passes usually occur in the standing position. He doesn't stand once. In the second clip, his opponent is struggling while standing and he makes it look effortless going up a hill.

These more than hand motions are what at least make me suspicious.

Ray said...

Combining the two stories -- has anyone checked Nadal's racket for a motor? I searched YouTube for "nadal's top-spin assisted by motorized racket", but found nothing -- yet.

Ray said...

Regarding the Cancellara "rumor", I simply find it unbelievable -- no way it can be true.

Doping is at least credible, given the history of cycling, the culture of athletes, and the prevalence of doping in all sports.

Although the videos show a seemingly remarkable acceleration, as if there were an invisible elastic pulling him forward, and it seems strange he doesn't stand up to attack, I simply can not imagine that a proven top-cyclist would have the cajones to install a motor in a bicycle, and not think other cyclists would hear the noise, or otherwise become suspicious, to think he could get away with it.

In any case, with all the publicity, no way it could possibly continue.

Ron said...

Ross,

Thank you for referring to my blog. I'm indeed privileged. I actually just want to say due to nature of my video measurements, it is very likely that there's 5-10% difference in the values I computed for acceleration in the conservative direction... which means the power output to accelerate would, in my belief, be more like 900W or so. On top of that, there's the component of power needed to ride against the wind. A 2 mph headwind on a 0.5m^2 cyclist traveling at 13-14 mps at normal air density and 0.5 of drag co-efficient would take roughly 300 watts or so!! Which is huge. That added to about 800-900 makes it roughly 1200 watts which isnt any different than what I calculated out. More or less, Fabian was expending 1000 watts+ for the decisive attack. There's nothing very ordinary about it and I bet any world class cyclist would be able to achieve that for 10-20 seconds.


@Farid : You're wrong there. Fabian's cadence does change from 100 to about 110-114 RPM during the attack at Paris Roubaix.

Ray said...

Jonathon,

Of course, I realize when I say "I simply cannot believe ...", or "I find it unbelievable", I don't mean to rule out that it's because I'm a regular schmuck with a normal paradigm, who can't fully understand what these guys are thinking and going through. I mean it as a genuine expression of my perception of incredibility.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note the non-cyclists view of the accelerations being really suspicious. As to most riders I think they were seen as impressive but not totally unlikely. Especially as Cancellara has done similar ones many times before.

The average pace in a bike race is one that is maintained for many hours, with most riders sitting in a very effective slipstream for most of that time at a power output that's quite comfortable to maintain (though of course tiring overtime). Those factors combined with the mechanically advantage of the bike and gears means that short lived accelerations that happen in attacks are pretty dramatic, compared say to running, or xc skiing.

The really amazing aspect of the FC attack at roubaix that got the cycling community abuzz was more the tactical errors of the other teams.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note the non-cyclists view of the accelerations being really suspicious. As to most riders I think they were seen as impressive but not totally unlikely. Especially as Cancellara has done similar ones many times before.

The average pace in a bike race is one that is maintained for many hours, with most riders sitting in a very effective slipstream for most of that time at a power output that's quite comfortable to maintain (though of course tiring overtime). Those factors combined with the mechanically advantage of the bike and gears means that short lived accelerations that happen in attacks are pretty dramatic, compared say to running, or xc skiing.

The really amazing aspect of the FC attack at roubaix that got the cycling community abuzz was more the tactical errors of the other teams.