The Secret Pro: the late-season lull
In this instalment of The Secret Pro, our inside man gives us various insights into how hard this time of season can be, the positive steps that cycling has taken to clean itself up, as well as some of the ongoing problems in this effort. He also shares his views on the need for a new UCI president, and his thoughts on the Vuelta.
This time of the year is a bit quiet for me. I’ve been going all year and the period after the Tour de France was the first break I’ve had … and I really needed it. It’s been great spending some time being normal, eating real food, and having a bottle of red with dinner. This is exactly what I needed to do to kick off this later part of the season and keep energised.
That said we’re back to racing and training extremely hard as everyone wants to get selected for the worlds and finish the season strong. I’m still extremely motivated even though there’s not much left this season. I arrived in Canada a few days ago to do a few races in preparation for the World Championships in case I get selected.
I’ve been in talks with my national cycling association and still don’t know if I’ll be riding the worlds but it’s everyone’s hope. Even if I don’t get a spot at the worlds, this time of the season always seems to be the easiest time to get results.
You might think that the Vuelta is all about preparation for the World Champs or riders racing for scraps. When I first rode the Vuelta I heard tales of there being an organised grupetto and all this, but the race features the hardest climbs that I’ve ever experienced, in heat like I’ve never felt before. That’s how the race tries to make its mark — by making it ridiculously hard. It’s far from being a parade around Spain. Put it this way: I’m glad I’m not racing the Vuelta this year.
But the vibe of the Vuelta is different than other Tours. This year there are still a lot of guys without contracts and some uncertainty around teams. It’s still not too late for riders to find contracts at this time though. It’s not really over until November.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to guys like Andreas Kloden. Now he’s a fantastic guy. I love it how he cruises around with the European Union flag on his helmet instead of the German one. He’s quite an individual and makes his subtle stance on the way he’s been treated by his home country.
“Contract year” is always a running joke. For one reason or another, riders will often have a smashing year when they’re motivated by needing a contract in the next 12 months. Those BMC guys have it good though. We call it “the BMC virus” – they often sign their riders for three years, which allows the riders to put their legs up, have a two year vacation, then come out in their contract year and smash it.
As you’ll have seen in the papers Euskatel was just saved by Fernando Alonso. This isn’t the first time he’s talked about doing so, and it’s great that he’s saved one of the most iconic teams in cycling – even if they do crash all the time.
Will Contador go to Euskatel? Fernando is a keen rider and he’s good friends with Contador and they ride together a lot. I’m guessing that’s where this rumour comes from. As we’ve seen a thousand times, nothing is certain in cycling – even when things seem to be certain.
A few weeks back the news came out that there were no positive tests from the Tour de France. There were over 600 tests carried out and I can tell you, we all had our fair share of early morning visits. I think it’s encouraging. Cycling is light-years ahead of all other sports when it comes to testing.
I’m all for consistency of testing throughout cycling, but what’s really frustrating is seeing the inconsistency between sports. Even a guy like Chris Horner is coming under more fire from his Vuelta performances for the mere suspicion of doping than the Jamaican sprinters did for testing positive for doping! That’s disturbing. I was probably tested more times at our pre-season training camp than Novak Djokovic was the entire year. Seriously.
The amount of tests at the TdF (and no positives) is a good sign of the cultural shift in cycling. The “no-needle” policy has been massive, the biological passport has been a game changer, the scrutiny that cycling has been under by the media has been good (albeit, annoying at times), the collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry is very positive (i.e. if they develop a drug that has potential to be performance enhancing, they need to bring that to WADA’s attention and help develop tests for that). There’s much more at stake now with the sport getting so big.
The new drugs
There have been a few guys who have tested positive for GW1516 in the past year, but WADA took the unusual step of warning everyone about the risks associated with this drug and the fact it’s been practically causing instant tumours. WADA don’t typically issue these warnings, so it must be serious.
It’s probably something that WADA should do more of to make athletes aware of the dangers. I think the likelihood of riders using GW1516 is quite small, but it’s been proven before that athletes will take extreme risks to improve performance.
The anti-doping authorities test for AICAR but it’s a naturally occurring substance in the body and there aren’t guidelines from WADA as to what the cut-off value is. I’m not aware of any positive tests for AICAR yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if some riders have used it – especially since it hasn’t carried the same warning that GW1516 has. But with the new WADA code being implemented soon, samples will be kept for 10 years instead of 8, so hopefully that scares people just that little bit more.
What concerns me is what could be next on the horizon — gene doping.
It’s up to the governing bodies to have processes and procedures in place so that everyone has faith in riders and so we’re not constantly questioning performances. I’d like to see things get to the point where if we’re questioning performances, it’s because we don’t believe in the system, not necessarily the athlete.
I’m not sure I understand this story on CyclingNews about Nibali being advised by the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) not to take a cortisone injection because of a wasp sting. Why would there even have been a recommendation by the MPCC anyway? Taking a cortisone injection is against the rules – no ifs or buts. You take it and you get sidelined for eight days. There is no conversation to be had. It’s in the WADA code – it’s not up to the MPCC to decide. If you can’t ride your bike, you pull out of the race. Everybody knows that. I think this shows that this MPCC thing has a lot to do with nothing.
Just look at Astana signing Franco Pellizotti for next season which goes against MPCC rules. Why would a team in the MPCC (or anyone) sign a guy like that?
The MPCC was created with good intentions. The problem with them is that they’re made up with many teams which fall into the category of being untrustworthy. Within the peloton, Europcar has a reputation for having bent the rules for quite some time. Katusha has recently added a doctor on their books who served time in jail for doping-related offences. I can’t see Katusha having a strong stance on anti-doping and are likely only on the MPCC for PR reasons.
Back in the business. Really?
Why are these dopers who come back into the sport getting paid exactly where they left off? Alberto Contador is a different rider now, but he’s still getting paid €4.5M (plus the whole team sponsorship contribution that Specialized kicks in goes to him) and he’s not the rider he was before his suspension.
Bjarne Riis isn’t happy with Contador, and vice versa. Apparently both are control freaks and if you hadn’t heard, they had a massive public argument on top of Alpe d’Huez in the dinner hall over the tactics of the day.
Oleg Tinkoff came into pro cycling again thinking that they were going to clean up and dominate everything. They didn’t and he pulls his sponsorship. And what kind of message does it send when he says things on twitter like:
His salary doesn’t match his performance. Too rich and isn’t hungry, that’s my opinion, and I deserve it. He must work harder
— Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) July 22, 2013
Conta performance wasn’t good. He need to change many things in his preparation and be more PRO. Will he do that? That’s the question…
— Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) July 22, 2013
That doesn’t help anyone. It’s a shame that Bjarne needs his money to keep running.
I’ve read the reports that Santambrogio might get off for his positive sample at the Giro. In theory, I’m not worried about it. Who would touch the guy? But then again, Pellizotti isn’t having much trouble coming back to a World Tour team. Then you look at Patrik Sinkewitz (who just won Ciclista Lombarda) and Rebellin right behind him … I’m losing confidence as I write. Now that I think of it, I wonder if BMC is still paying Santa’s salary?
Then there’s a fantastic guy like Tyler Farrar who is squeaky clean, honest, and won a stage of the Tour and yet he’s still left without a contract. Hopefully he’s not thrown to the scrapheap for having a couple bad seasons. Not much incentive for someone who is desperate for a contract, is it?
McQuaid vs Cookson
In my day-to-day life as a pro cyclist, is the UCI president really going to make a difference? The fans have lost so much confidence in the riders and the sport and if a new president can restore that, then I’m all for it.
A lot of this has happened under McQuaid’s watch. I think he’s come under a lot of unfair criticism. That said, purely from a symbolic gesture to the rest of the sporting world and public, I think there needs to be a change of leadership.
Under any governing body, there should be a rule that doesn’t allow a president to run for a third term. Change is always good and for somebody to be in a position to run an organisation for 12 years is wrong. The UCI itself needs to have this changed.
Has McQuaid done a good job? The problem is that he oversaw the sport when it was in a very dark place. There’s no doubt though that he’s addressed that and cycling has gone from a sport with a dodgy past to a sport which has led the charge in how it tackles doping. They had to – they had no other choice. To be fair to McQuaid, cycling has gone from a not-so-good place to a particularly good place.
I think it would be better from a democratic point of view, if we had more candidates running for president. If there were another representative in there, it would be a Brian Cookson versus somebody else battle, and that would be a good thing.
Cookson has demonstrated leadership in the sport. He took British Cycling from a nearly bankrupt body to a sporting powerhouse. I’m not sure exactly what his involvement was with that, but you have to give him credit for overseeing that.
That’s all from me for the moment but I’ll write again just before the world champs later this month. Oh, and my tip for the Vuelta? Alejandro Valverde.