As the season gets further underway more pro cycling fodder becomes available to talk about. In this edition of The Secret Pro, our anonymous insider gives us some insights on the Spring Classics, his favorite race commentator, the new prototype gear that’s not working out so well, “black contracts”, a Grand Tour winner who might be suspended, and much more.
After the Spring Classics I took a little time off the bike. It wasn’t a long break but it was long enough for me to put on a few kilos and to drink more booze than I really should have.
It was also good to put the Classics behind me. I prefer the stage races and it’s hard to come to the Classics without being anything but unprepared. I remember watching these races on TV and thinking they look easy, but in fact they’re bloody hard. If you aren’t near the front in the neutral zone you’re pretty much guaranteed to be hanging off the back all day. I don’t know how guys like Rodriguez manage to float all around the peloton from the front to the back and up front again so easily.
You would have seen many riders on TV jumping up onto the sidewalk to try and move their way up the peloton. Apparently it’s going to be a new UCI regulation that riders will not be allowed to go off the pavement or they’ll be disqualified. You might have even seen me try a few dodgy manoeuvres on the footpath a few times this Classics season. More than once it didn’t go so well.
One time I hopped onto the footpath and made it all the way from the back of the field to the front, but then I saw a massive barricade in front of me. Myself and another rider had to get off, jump over the barricade, and join back in at the back of the field. We went from being almost at the front of the field to the back in about ten seconds. My teammates spent days taking the piss out of me!
When the Classics reach the Netherlands, the traffic furniture makes things even worse. In the Amstel Gold Race it seemed like there was a roundabout every few hundred meters and if you picked the wrong way around you could go from the front to the back of the field in the space of 100m. You always think you can take a sneaky shortcut and move up in the field, but 99% of the time you jump right back into where you left off.
The Classics that I didn’t race I was able to watch on TV via the English Eurosport coverage. I have to say, the commentary is atrocious. Brian Smith, Magnus Backstedt, David Harmon…I’m not a fan. Maybe it’s because they’re so opinionated (which is probably what they’re paid to do). Sometimes I’ll see an English race feed where Matt Keenan is commentating. They should just put him in every bike race and be done with it. He does his research, he’s not opinionated, he’s just brilliant.
I’ve spent a bit of time in the wind tunnel working on my TT position and testing out a new rig. It’s been going well and my setup is much better than last year now that we have the equipment changes I’ve pleaded for. And speaking of new gear, some of our sponsors have been playing with prototypes and new product releases lately.
Unfortunately some of the new stuff is absolute crap. I can’t say exactly what the equipment is for fear of revealing my identity (and upsetting my sponsors – to their credit, they’re being very good about addressing the problems) but let’s just say that my team is thinking about going back to the equipment we had before until they get it right. We can’t afford to take any chances when we’re racing and so much is on the line – especially at the Tour.
The Giro is underway and while I won’t say if I’m currently racing it or not, nobody in the peloton is looking forward to the long hilly stages without many flat days to recover, and those ridiculously long transfers. Some days the riders don’t eat dinner until 11pm and don’t get into bed until 1am. Fortunately there aren’t many of the long transfers this year, but it’s a hell of a tough race. It’s just as hectic as the Tour and just as much pressure.
I noticed that Cadel Evans came second on stage 3 of the Giro. Good on him — it’s always good to see him doing well. As I wrote this I thought Cadel’s best days were behind him, but now I see he’s absolutely flying. He’s seemed quite bitter in the bunch lately and has been going around grumbling in Italian and moaning about other teams. He’s always had a chip on his shoulder, but this time it’s much more than a chip, it’s a whole bag of Doritos!
While I’m on the topic of Grand Tours, there’s talk going around the peloton that a former Grand Tour winner who’s about to be taken down for a biological passport irregularity. I can’t say who it is but when the news breaks you’ll know who I’m talking about. If it’s true, it’s a good thing that he’s been found out; it shows that the biological passport is doing its job.
There’s been some suggestion in the media that the guy who won the Tour of Turkey, Mustafa Sayar, has been “getting some assistance”. He certainly turned a few heads on stage 6 of the race when he danced away from the rest of us like we were a bunch of juniors. Now, I’ve got no idea whether Sayar’s been doping or not (and I’m not suggesting he has), but I do know that the organisers of the Tour of Turkey are very worried about the race being tarnished by doping and made an offer to him to abandon the race. There’s chatter that if there’s another positive test from a winner of the race (like there was last year, with Sayar’s teammate Ivailo Gabrovski), the race’s future could be in jeopardy.
And while I’m on the subject of shady dealings, you might not have heard of so-called “black contracts” in the pro peloton. It’s quite common for the Italian teams to have two contracts with their riders; one that the Italian tax agency knows about, and another, offshore “black money” contract.
So a rider might be collecting his regular, above-board paycheck, but he might also be taking an extra under-the-table payment, in cash. There’s a saying in Italian that goes something like, “Only fools pay” …taxes. Italy is no stranger to tax evasion and there are some quibbles in the pro peloton about certain big-name riders not getting their “black money”.
And speaking of money management issues, what about this whole Paul Kimmage Defence Fund debacle? The guy who’s apparently behind looking after the money is the same guy who tweets as UCI Overlord. He’s a guy that spends his time on Twitter preaching about transparency, taking the moral high ground, and here he is, apparently transferring cash out of the fund to his own personal account, for reasons that aren’t really clear. Cycling has become a parody of itself.
It seems that it’s only the bloggers, journalists and twittersphere who go on about Pat McQuaid and the UCI being corrupt. Verbruggen, well that’s a different story. Is there even an “honorary president” in the UCI charter? How did that ever happen? Even though you might think the pros spend a lot of time thinking about UCI politics, most of us don’t waste too much energy. We just want to race our bikes.
Of course I’ve had to soften some of what I’m saying because the guys at CyclingTips can’t afford to be sued. But all of this is more than I can normally tell you. We don’t get much media training in this line of business – which is strange considering how many media commitments we have. When you win a big race, that’s when the media officer gets involved.
But all of that business is really just a distraction. I’ve got a team training camp on the horizon and after that it’s all about the lead-up to the Tour de France. I can’t wait – it’s coming up quick!