Last year the hot story was Fabian Cancellara and his motorized doping. This year it’s the extra gear controversy.
Several journalists — most notably Twisted Spoke — came to this shocking conclusion after examining the stories about the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Chris Horner (Radio Shack) appeared to be sharing an “extra gear.”
After the Spaniard crushed his rivals on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, Vincenzo Nibali explained his defeat by saying that, “Contador showed he’s got an extra gear when he went.”
A simple quote about domination until you travel thousands of miles across the ocean to the Tour of California. That’s where the shocking controversy begins.
In an interview with cyclingnews, GC contender Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthCare) said that Chris Horner was on another level — only he didn’t exactly say it that way.
“He definitely had an extra gear than what the other guys had,” said Sutherland of Horner’s astonishing climbing prowess.
The implications sent shockwaves through the sport of cycling. The UCI is now investigating whether or not the leaders of the Giro and the Tour of California are in fact sharing that “extra gear.”
“There’s a red flag there,” said UCI spokesman Gert Toothsven. “We have moved them both up on the suspicion list. Everyone knows there is only one extra gear. It raises obvious questions.”
The mythic “extra gear” has come under increased scrutiny since both Contador and Horner are dominating their respective tours. The question many fans, bike mechanics and physiologist are asking is, what exactly is the extra gear? Is it a simple figure of speech, a metaphor for superior athletic performance or a disturbing and possibly illegal breach of rules?
“It’s like the clenbuterol case — we don’t really know what’s truth and what’s fantasy,” says Toothsven. If it is an actual physical gear, then we must investigate, If rather, it is simply a literary device to dramatize a difference in performance, well, that’s not against the the sporting code.”
Setting aside the question of the actual existence of an “extra gear,” what intrigues some experts is how the two riders are sharing the extra gear. “The Giro and Tour of California run concurrently. That is to say they exist in the same time frame,” said physiologist Andres Pulley, a noted sports physiologist. “The question becomes, how are the sharing the gear, what are the logistics, how can we prevent the sharing of an extra gear?”
Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Cervelo questioned the validity of the extra gear sharing controversy. “At the end of the day, cycling metaphor or not, you have to ask, how is Contador using the gear, then shipping it immediately to California so Horner is ready for his race. It’s just not feasible.”
Both the Spaniard and the popular American stage racer have denied having an “extra gear.” “The accusations never stop and they are unfounded. First, the traces of clenbuterol and now the claims of an extra gear from my rivals,” said Contador. “Check my body, check my bike, there is nothing but hard work and sacrifice.”
Reached for comment after stage 6 in the Tour of California, Horner laughed off any accusation of an extra gear. “Did one of those young guys say that? Tejay, Ben King? I’m 39 and I could sure use an extra gear but I don’t have one,” said Horner.
Unconfirmed sources indicate that Jeff Novitzky, currently investigating doping allegations of Lance Armstrong, will take time off from that case to resolve the extra gear controversy. Reached for comment, Giro Impresario Angelo Zomegnan refused to rule out intervention by the Italian authorities. “Will the police search their hotel for an extra extra gear? I cannot say. The integrity and passion of the Giro must be respected. I have asked the riders to turn over the extra gear if in fact it exists,” said Zomegnan.
That’s the findemental question: does the “extra gear” even exist and if so, how can it be detected?