The Secret Pro: Team Bonding, Astana, Unions, and the season…

by CyclingTips


It’s been a while since we’ve published The Secret Pro’s column and we’re happy to announce that it’s back. With the 2015 season only a few weeks away and pre-season training camps in full swing, he talks about team bonding, his feelings about Astana, the shortening of Grand Tours, and other idle chit chat.

Pre-Season Training Camp

The season hasn’t officially started yet but all the riders are attending their team training camps across the globe. Our team has been doing the same and we’ve already spent time getting in big training miles, though we’ve managed to squeeze in a few sneaky beers too.

The days at pre-season training camp are crammed pretty full. We’ll get up and start with core training, then breakfast, followed by cranking out four, five and six hour rides. We’ll get back, have a late lunch and a massage, then do core and stretching work.

Dinner tops the day off and then before we crash out, some of us may cram in a drink at the bar. You’re never just lying in your bed in the hotel room wishing you were at home.

Guys don’t turn up to training camps unfit these days. With tools such as SRMs and Garmins, your coaches and managers are always keeping an eye on your winter training. There’s no hiding. That, plus the fact that the level in the peloton is constantly improving and there are fewer teams now, means that you have to keep on top of your game.

I’ve been on many team-bonding camps and they’ve become more extravagant in the past few years. More thought has been put in to them by the team managers. You have teams like Tinkoff-Saxo taking a week to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and Team Sky taking to the high seas, floating around in sail boats. There have even been teams left to fend for themselves in the woods overnight.

All this is expected to get riders to become closer for the oncoming season. The problem is though that the new guys are still shy, anxious, and may be scared to talk with the leaders and older guys of the squad.

Some may enjoy the challenge or experience but there are easier ways to bond a team. I personally think that the best team bonding is when you organise for a team to meet up for three or four days and get out on the piss. Having a few drinks breaks down the barriers and gets people interacting better. Get a few beers down the neo-pros and that’s when the funny stuff happens. You wake up the next morning and you have a laugh about it.

Team bonding goes on all the way into the season though.

Initiation for the new riders is just a case of messing with them. I’ve not been on a team where we do anything too cruel to the guys. You just wind them up, joke with them. It’ll continue into the season but then you’ll start taking the piss out of the stagiare riders when they come along. For instance, you’ll be in a race, you’ll head back to the team car, fill your jersey up with bidons and then hand them out. You offer all the seasoned guys the bottles and then tell the new guy to go back and get his own!

But there are always new riders with little or no respect for the guys on other teams.

When I was neo-pro you had to do what you are told or you’d get punched in the face. You had respect for the stars of the sport, older guys in the peloton. That resect has gone now, the young guys coming through the ranks now think they are it. They may win a few races, get talked up by the press and managers, earn good money and quickly develop zero respect for guys who have done the hard yards and have been winning races while these guys were still a amateurs. They think they’re top dog already.

I know of some Belgian riders who turn pro, get a two year contract and are just content to live the pro life. But all they’ve achieved is being and looking pro. They rest on their laurels. It’s a shame. They don’t get in any moves or if they do, it’s because the DS forces them to.

The Astana question

Just like with you, the whole situation with the current Astana affair is what the peloton is talking about at the moment.

Personally I think it’s shit. I have no clue as to what is actually going on but I feel they are taking the piss. It can’t be a coincidence to have five positives in the past couple of months. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Continental team, let’s just say where there is smoke there is bound to be fire.

Rules may be rules but it’s a shame when a team like Europcar gets denied a World Tour licence yet Astana gets one. A harder stance against teams like Astana need to be taken.

Its no surprise that people only talk about the doping within the sport when nothing gets done about it. Even the MPCC rules seem too lenient. I know it doesn’t affect me a load but the GC guys must really get angry about it all.

I know the races that I focus on I can win clean. That’s where I plough all my energy, but enough is enough. What does a team have to do for the UCI to pull the pin on them?

There’s not even a union in pro cycling, we need to stand up and say this is enough.

To me, if a rider dopes once they’re likely going to do it again. But there are guys who have come back and changed some for the better. There are some who can’t even hang in on in the gruppetto, but then there are guys who take their two year ban then come back and win their first race.

Bans need to be harsher than what is currently dealt out. There are the odd situations when guys may have eaten contaminated food in China or something like that, but if you’re blatantly caught with EPO and all that stuff then you should be banned for life. That should be the punishment. And don’t get me started about ex-dopers being allowed to run a team. I’m not naming names, but you can figure it out. I don’t want the Mafia heading my way.

It’s not just the UCI to deal with though. There needs to be a union; there’s no proper pro cycling union where people can stick together and say we’ve had enough of this shit. But riders are currently too scared to do this as individuals. They want to get paid at the end of the month.

Shortening of Grand Tours?

I’ve not really heard any other guys discuss what Brian Cookson said about shortening the Grand Tours to two weeks, but personally I’d welcome it. Three weeks of racing is pure hell. Even after two or three days you’re asking yourself why you’re there. Of course the team leaders see it differently, but they have a totally different motivation.

There are definitely plenty of guys who think the same as me. No matter who you are as a professional racer, everyone wants to go to the Tour de France. But when you get there there is so much stress. Everyone’s fighting in the peloton and everyone’s riding so hard that after only three days you’re body is absolutely screwed.

The Tour is a different beast than it used to be. There’s the whole media coverage, there’s pressure on the teams, and also the way the peloton rides. You used to have guys like Cipollini who would get his team on the front and control the race. He was the boss, what he said went. Again, it came back to respect. Now, even if someone like Contador and his team got on the front and tried to control the race, everyone would just laugh at him.

In other news…

Sagan has clearly gone to Tinkoff-Saxo for the money. It’s impossible to say if it’s a good move or if it’ll backfire on him and the team. He had still had a good year in 2014, won the green jersey and all that, but he was nowhere near the Sagan he was in the previous year.

One piece of news I did catch via twitter was about Steele Von Hoff’s situation and getting left high and dry. It isn’t anything new, and especially for the guys on that team. They’re renowned for doing stuff like this, I could name many different professionals who’ve been left hanging like this. Hell, Dekker found out that he wasn’t getting his contract renewed via twitter! But it’s not a unique situation. Other teams treat their riders like this too.

As for my team, the setup for 2015 is solid. I’m really happy with the squad we have and I’m happy with how I’m feeling. I’ve got some early races to aim for and then I’ll rest up for the Classics and then aim for a Grand Tour and the Worlds. All in all it should be a season of fireworks!

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