The Secret Pro: Post-Tour crits, Worlds and the farce that is the IAAF

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I’ve not written here since just after the Giro d’Italia, but I’ve been busy racing. Finding time and energy to knock one of these posts out has been tough. Now that things are in a building phase for me I have a few moments to let you know my thoughts on the Tour de France, the whole doping situation in athletics, rider transfers and why we as riders need comfy aeroplane seats with bags of leg room.

The Tour de France

This year’s Tour de France seemed a lot slower than the Giro d’Italia, which was certainly welcome. Chris Froome and Team Sky did a great job — you can’t knock them for how they won the race. Seeing Froome looking weak in the last week was refreshing though. Sky is very much the cold and calculating team of the sport — every rider that has left the team says that unless you’re a robot and you don’t adhere to their protocols you just won’t fit in.

From the outside, there seems to be very little passion within the team — it’s just a bike racing machine. This whole thing of Team Sky being secretive with their data is interesting to see. Of course it’s their choice but I feel the media are well within their rights to be asking questions with what’s gone on in the past.

The whole Tour was pretty exciting. Peter Sagan was by far the strongest guy in the peloton but there was one team that I felt stood out and made itself known. MTN-Qhubeka not only stole the hearts of the public but impressed most of the peloton. They also managed to show how dumb some riders can race.

Steve Cummings’ win showed how bad Romain Bardet’s and Thibaut Pinot’s bike-handling skills and race tactics were. They lost stage 14 themselves. Steve took advantage of their inability to get round corners fast and of their national rivalry. Pinot especially needs to get out on a ‘cross or a mountain bike this off-season and learn some skills.

Post-Tour de France crits

With the Tour de France done and dusted you’d think the first thing we riders would want to do is get home and put our feet up, recover from three weeks of slaughtering ourselves around France and see our loved ones. This is all true, but on the flip-side when someone wants to give you good money for a few hours of “racing” at evening criteriums after the Tour, it seems a bit rude not to take them up on their offer.

If you don’t know much about the post-Tour crits, let me explain. For the week or two after the Tour towns and cities across Europe all organise invitational criteriums, showcasing many of the guys that have competed in the Grand Boucle. The bunch at these events isn’t just made up of professionals though; strong amateurs are invited from local clubs to race with us. There are also local pros that may not have raced the Tour.

The result is almost always fixed before we roll out. For instance, you’ll see guys like Chris Froome outsprinting Peter Sagan for a win — something that would never happen in real life. But as the organisers want a spectacle and it’s their cash paying for the big names to attend, that is what you will often see. The thing is, the amateurs can often make it tough for us to accomplish the result we’re supposed to.

What usually happens is that the organisers gather everyone together and explain how they want it to pan out. I’m sure the amateurs instantly forget this or just aren’t told as the races are full-gas from the gun. In the excitement the amateurs will turn the heat up which is understandable — it’s their chance to shine alongside the guys they look up to.

I can admit I did it twice myself when I raced a couple of post-Tour crits as an amateur, back in the days when I raced for a French development team. It makes for solid work for those of us who have three weeks in the legs … that and usually a skin full of beer. Doing this day after day for up to a week is a perfect way to earn really good money but also ruin yourself.

You’ll get guys who’ll spend Sunday night after the Tour out on the town getting seriously drunk, before heading to a post-Tour crit the next day with a hangover. It’s then a case of rinse and repeat for a week.

What you want to know though is how much we make. A few years ago I knew of guys who were able to get €20,000 to start a race if they managed to take a jersey at the Tour. Those prices have gone up though — Peter Sagan was asking for around €30,000 this year and Chris Froome was getting as much as €50,000. Not bad for turning up, turning over the legs and signing some autographs.

Even for those of us that can’t ask for nearly that much, it all helps. It tops up the annual income by quite a nice amount.

Doping and other drugs

The Luca Paolini cocaine incident at the start of the Tour was a joke. The guy must be an absolute fool if he has taken recreational drugs so close to the Tour that he tested positive. It looks like it’s been brushed under the carpet though — we are yet to hear anything on his B sample. The same goes for Cannondale-Garmin rider Tom Danielson.

Personally, I feel Danielson is a hypocrite. He was with Lance and all those guys back in “the good old days” and now he’s saying he doesn’t know where the synthetic testosterone come from. Please.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of the B sample, when the results eventually turn up. His team boss Jonathan Vaughters has definitely taken a back-seat this year by the looks of things. He doesn’t seem to have the same media presence he used to and he’s said very little on the matter.

From the outside the team seems a bit of an odd one this year with two squads merging to make one. Word on the grapevine is that the team has been pretty shitty with certain riders after the Tour, but that’s nothing new. One of their riders who failed to finish the Tour didn’t get invited to the after-Tour team dinner in Paris, something I’ve never heard of. Usually if you’ve been in the race you get to attend and have some sort of celebration.

Back on the subject of doping, what about this whole farce surrounding athletics and the IAAF? Looking at other sports — including athletics, swimming, football, tennis and so on — it’s crazy and infuriating to see how their respective governing bodies don’t take doping as seriously as cycling does. The IAAF seem to be relatively laid back about the whole situation.

Claiming that suspiciously abnormal results aren’t proof of doping? Come on. When practically every seventh blood sample is abnormal or in some cases so abnormal that it’s dangerous to the athlete’s health, it makes me angry that they just say rubbish like “we showed this info four years ago, it’s not as if we are hiding it”.

That’s not the point; the point is it’s abnormal, and being abnormal usually means one thing. If this happened in cycling the media would have a field day with this news. We get a bad reputation even though we are a sport that, I feel, is on the cutting edge of testing. It pisses me off that we spend so much time and effort on the whereabouts, random testing, bio-passport etc. and we still have such a bad reputation.

Transfer season

It’s that time of year where transfer news is starting to be released. The biggest news is that Richie Porte is jumping ship to Team BMC which is a good move I think. It’s a chance for him to finally step it up. Sometimes you can see that he’s been stronger than Froome, but the question still remains for all of us: can he last a full three weeks as a GC contender?

Everyone’s been wondering how he will share his role at BMC with Tejay. He wouldn’t have moved to BMC if he wasn’t the sole leader. If the gossip is to be believed, Tejay may very well be on the move to another team. Word in the peloton is that it could very well be Trek. It makes perfect sense — a US rider backed by a US team and brand. That plus Fabian Cancellara is in his twilight years now. They’re going to either need to find another Classics specialist (how about Taylor Phinney — another perfect US match?) or forge on with a Tour de France team to keep up their high profile.

One rider that I was reminded of recently is Sylvain Chavanel. The guy has been around the sport a while now — at 36 years old he is one of the old guard. It’s amazing to see IAM let him go as he still races like he is a junior. Always attacking and getting in the moves — it’s great to watch him race. It would be sad to see him not get a contract next year.

With Europcar still apparently without a title sponsor for 2016 it could be a bad year for French cycling. It seems very odd that there has been no news on this front at all. I know the guys on the team are being quite loyal but there comes a time where you have to think for yourself and grab what offers there are on the table for you.

As a rider in a pro team you’d think we’d be the first to know who has been brought on to strengthen our roster. During the build-up to the transfer period you do hear a few names thrown about by the directors but generally we don’t find out the news until the same time you do — when we read it in the press.

Getting sent home

One thing I noticed in the news the other day was the fact that Marc Madiot of Equipe FDJ has been his usual adorable self and sent David Boucher home from the Eneco Tour because he didn’t fully listen to team orders and got himself in a break for the day.

Madiot’s been a bit harsh really. Sure it’s the guys last year with the team and from what I know he hasn’t got a team for next year. Boucher should know how volatile and how much of a prat Madiot can be — he’s been with the team for five years. The view of the team from most people in the peloton is that it’s a pretty shitty set up.

It’s a shame as it could be Boucher’s last race this season or even as a pro, so it’s a sour note to leave on.

What’s next

For me the Grand Tours are now done for the year and it’s time to build toward the next big aim: the World Championships. I’ve got a a few single-day races coming up, like GP Ouest France-Plouay, and then the ever-popular route to the Worlds via the Tour of Britain. Then it’s the long flight to the US.

I, like most people, don’t really enjoy the long flights and just like everybody else we’re often flown in cattle class. There are a few races in the Middle East and Saitama Criterium in Japan where we are flown business class. It sounds a bit like I’m being a prima-donna but you don’t get huge amounts of time after landing to unwind and stretch the legs, so it can be tough flying in economy when we’re expected to perform quickly after we land.

Even with the long flight coming up I always enjoy racing in the States. With events like the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge underway and then the one-day WorldTour races in Canada, cycling is definitely going strong again in North America. It would be awesome to see the San Fransisco GP return too — that was a crazy race with one steep climb.

The World Championships host city of Richmond, Viginia will bring the sport to the Yanks more so than any of the other races. The World Champs are a whole other level and if someone like Phinney takes the title (that would be some comeback) on home soil it would help the sport regain some of it’s lost US love.

In my next post I’ll have some single-day races in my legs and more of an idea of which riders are going where in 2016. Thanks for reading.

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