The Secret Pro | The Off-season
In my first instalment of “The Secret Pro” I talk about the off-season, pro contracts, Katusha’s license, and what it’s like to do my job with the sport under a cloud of doping suspicion…
For me, I bang my head against the wall out on the road all season long so I really enjoy the off-season. This year for me has been a long one too, with Grand Tours and all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and what I do, but when you ride your bike all day every day, it’s going to get a bit stale at some point and you need some time off.
I took all of October off and didn’t touch the bike for close to four weeks and had a bit of a holiday away from it all. I was ready for a break at the end of the season. It’s a good nine month long season and the kilometers build up. By the time you get to October most of the guys in the Pro peloton are well and truly over it.
It doesn’t take long though, when you’re not riding for a while you begin to really miss it. For me it’s a time where I can catch up with my longtime friends and have a few beers which I really enjoy. But there are a lot of people who didn’t seem to care for me so much before who now want to be my best mate. Its hard to say no and comes across as rude, but this time is short and precious to me. The only thing I want to is spend time with my close friends and family who I haven’t seen all year.
I’m basically still on a break and since it’s windy and cold outside I tend to jump on the mountain bike and enjoy the singletrack. Just riding, no intervals, no structure. I just get out there and there’s a smile on my face for the whole time. It’s so much more enjoyable. The Tour Down Under isn’t a priority of mine so I don’t need to be on form and be super lean. I’ll get around ok.
It depends what team you’re on, but sometimes you turn up to the team training camp in December and alarm bells are suddenly ringing for all the coaches and gurus. Sometimes these specialists who have now come into the sport get a bit excited, think they know everything and have ergo tests in December. But at the end of the day why do I need to be lean and fit in December? Why should they be worried about skinfolds in December when the season doesn’t start for such a long time after? Some of these gurus forget that at the end of the day we are human as well. It doesn’t stress me out, I’ve been doing this long enough to know what I have to do and when I have to do it, but it certainly seems to stress these guys out. At the moment I’m not all that committed to be on top form.
The off-season can be tough time for any Pro who doesn’t have a contract yet. It means they’re probably going to have to step back to Conti or Pro-Conti level. It wouldn’t be a very nice place to be and would certainly be hard for any pro cyclist to do. Linus Gerdemann (RSNT) is an example of a good rider who doesn’t have a contract for next year. He’ll probably have to take a step back and prove himself all over again.
Usually neo-pros know what they’re doing for a team by September. They always say that the Tour de France is when it all happens contract-wise, but most guys would have a good idea what they’re doing by then. I think I’d like to know what I’m doing by August, but it can still be a little bit early since teams don’t like racing guys who they know are leaving. You’ve got to play by the rules and sometimes you have a good team who understands, but in pro cycling it’s often hard to leave a team on good terms. Some DS’s really take it personally when team members leave, but that’s the nature of the beast.
Quite often at Tour time, one team will show a lot of interest in you and then next week they’ve moved onto someone else. It’s a fickle little world.
Some riders end up buying their contract on a team by bringing on board personal sponsors who effectively pay their wage. It’s a win/win for a team if the rider can go to a small race and win some stages or whatever. They don’t need to pay them and doesn’t cost them anything. Gianni Savio’s whole team Androni Giocattoli (“dicks and vaginas” we call them) is basically built on that model. They pride themselves on how many sponsors they have, (there’s over twenty on their jersey) but the truth is that those sponsors have been brought to him by riders who get their wages paid for by doing so.
Even teams as big as Saxo Bank do this. I know of one rider who bought his contract on Saxo in 2012, but full credit to him because that’s what got his foot in the door, he did very well, and from what I understand next season he’s getting paid.
There’s ‘linked-rider’ contracts as well. That’s where a big name rider can bring across his domestique or lead-out man to another team with his contract. I know a couple of Aussies who spent their careers that way and I could name plenty of Spanish and Italian riders who have made careers out of being “roommates.” But to be fair, there’s nobody riding the ProTour who’s had it easy, but it certainly helps being friends with guys like the Schlecks or Contador.
The UCI points structure for team licences is often talked about and how it can affect contract and team dynamics. It’s talked about and blown out of proportion, but there’s a flip side to it. I honestly think there are some DS’s who use this to their advantage so they have a excuse to flick guys who have ridden their guts out for the team. The UCI points structure allow teams sometimes hold riders to ransom to pay them less, or to make them expendable. It’s not always fair that a trusty domestique could get flicked, but really if you’re a good enough domestique they’ll hold onto you, because the team will have enough points anyway.
On the topic of the UCI points structure, Katusha is obviously pretty upset that they didn’t get their World Tour license approved. I don’t know any more than anyone else, but honestly, how the hell did they ever expect get a license? A lot of their riders are under investigation and the peloton talk is that they’re not exactly the most trustworthy team. They’re not the only team that has the finger pointed at them either. In cycling, where there’s smoke there’s fire.
You might think I sound like a fool, but it just does not happen on my team.
It’s only been about six years since Lance won his last Tour and doping was clearly rife then, but I truly believe it’s cleaned up a lot. If you look at the last few Grand Tour winners you’ll see that there’s a definite shift in the way the sport is going. When you look at the big teams now who are the better performing ones like BMC, GreenEDGE, SKY, Garmin. But seriously, who the hell is this one DS in particular to be pointing fingers? But at the same time, I trust the guy. He’s a dickhead, but you gotta like what he’s doing.
Plus it seems like these old-school do-gooder journalists, some weren’t very good riders when they rode anyway. They don’t see all the training we do now and all the support we have, and can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that things have changed, and maybe don’t want to believe things have changed. Maybe it’s not possible in their own heads that change is possible, so they choose not to see or believe it. They’re not in the inner sanctum and don’t know the insides of a team, or how it really works. They might have stayed on a team camp or something, but they seem to come across quite bitter.
That’s not really fair on this generation of Pro’s, and I really think some of the journalists in the sport just don’t get it. They’re embarrassed by how they performed by the Lance Armstrong days and now they’ve just decided they’ll do a good job. It’s gonna take them a while to live that one down.
It’s disappointing too that people get on Twitter and speak their mind when they just don’t know. I use to room with a high profile rider and we were messing around one day by Googling his name. The first thing that came up with “*name of rider* doping”. That’s absolutely horrible for him because he’s never ever had anything against him, and he’s a top guy, but that’s just how it is.
We still get randomly tested in the off season and always need to fill out our whereabouts. The testers came to my home just the other day. It’s good to see they’re on top of things, but people who have never had a doping test don’t know how it is. You get blood taken out of your arm and they’ll sometimes miss the vein or stick the needle right through the vein. Then there’s someone standing in your toilet watching you piss in a cup.
I know that it comes with the territory of being a professional bike rider, but it’s still quite intrusive. I don’t think all people would appreciate that. Maybe the people throwing stones should sit back and thing about that. But we get used to it and it’s part of what we have to do.
Thanks for reading my first post and I’m looking forward to writing lots more in 2013. Have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays. Ride safe.