The Secret Pro: the off-season, the Abu Dhabi Tour and the ‘bullsh*t’ Doha Worlds

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It’s been a few months since we last heard from The Secret Pro. But now that the season is over, our anonymous insider has found some time to share the latest chatter from within the bunch, to give his perspective on the heat of the Abu Dhabi Tour and to look forward to how 2016 is shaping up.

That’s it. Another season done and dusted. For the next few weeks it’s time to put my feet up, see family and friends and slowly press the reset button ahead of the coming season. Even after just a few weeks off the bike the 2015 season seems a distant memory but one that lurks in the back of my mind.

Looking back it’s hard to recall all the highlights, lowlights and specifics of the year. As a professional, once you hang the bike up you try and turn the cycling brain off too. You need to completely switch off to fully recover. But I’ve fired up the computer, browsed my Instagram pics and looked back on my tweets to jog my memories. Yep, the brain and body have definitely powered down for the off-season.

One of the major talking points in the latter weeks of the season was the fact Bjarne Riis may be making a comeback. The rumour mill is definitely spinning on this one — chat with any of the guys on the Tinkoff-Saxo team and word is that Riis is indeed in talks with Oleg about buying the team back off him. The deal could also be closed sooner than many expect.

Mr Money Bags (or Oleg as he’s known) hasn’t exactly hid the fact he’s prepared to sell the team to the highest bidder. As he’s said in a few interviews “he’s a business man” and money is his number one objective. If he gets back what he has outlaid for the team he’ll step away from the cycling world.

He came into the sport thinking he’d be able to push people about, turn it into a money-making machine and convert the sport into a something akin to Formula One. I think he sees himself as a bit of a Bernie Ecclestone type character for the cycling world. But Tinkov has quickly realised that changing the face of cycling isn’t as easy as he initially thought it would be. It’s changing in many regards but he clearly wants it to change quicker than it currently is.

Still if he does step back, sell up and ride off into the sunset he won’t be missed by many. But on the flip side, having Riis back brings its own problems. As I’ve said before it’d be nice to have a clear out of all ex-dopers. Let’s have some new blood (no pun intended) in the managerial roles of the sport.

Velon is a company I’m surprised Mr Tinkov didn’t jump on board with more. They seem to be doing some interesting things within the sport. The recent live video footage at the Abu Dhabi Tour was a nice touch to a race that was clearly run for the UCI to make some money.

I think the on-bike footage adds something for the fans, and should shut down any comments from the local hero on the club ride who reckons they’d be able to sit in on a pro peloton finish at a Grand Tour. Even us pros enjoy watching the footage.

Re-watching those videos myself reminds me how close we race to one another. At any given moment one slight slip of a gear or misjudged corner could cause a massive pile-up. If live on-bike footage can work out on the open roads as opposed to just on a circuit (like in Abu Dhabi stage four) this will add a new dimension to the viewing experience. I welcome it.

The two big transfer stories of the late season are that of Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. As Cav moves on from Etixx-Quick-Step to MTN-Qhubeka (or Dimension Data as it’s going to be known) Kittel moves in to replace Cav at the Belgian squad. It’s an interesting move on both fronts.

Cavendish has taken Mark Renshaw with him and is rejoining forces with Bernie Eisel. Many have questioned the move, but looking at it on paper it’s going to be a team with some solid workhorses and lead-out men. And yes it does look very much like the old Highroad line up. Let’s hope they don’t lose the feel-good factor that brought MTN-Qhubeka so many fans this year.

The next question is whether the equipment sponsors will be the same. Cavendish has a very close relationship with Specialized. Will Cervelo be getting the boot? It’s a tough one to call as Brian Smith just this year brought many brands to MTN that had been part of the old Cervelo Test team. The word on the street is that Oakley may be making a bigger investment in the team than just sunglasses …

And as for Marcel Kittel’s move from Giant-Alpecin to Etixx-Quick-Step, well that’s a whole different situation. The guy’s had a really poor season — it’s been stop, start, stop, start … with far more stops than starts.

Rumour is the issue’s not quite what was described in the press either. The team’s press releases have suggested he’s been ill, but details of the actual illness are sparse. Word in the peloton is it’s more the case that Kittel hasn’t had much motivation. Or, as the Aussies like to call it, a bad case of the ‘CBFs’.

If that’s true it’s a shame. Add to that the fact the team still had a great season without him and you could see how motivation and morale would quickly plummet. The other rumour is that ultimatums were given by certain riders in the team. They wanted one sprinter in the team, so it was an “either him or me” scenario.

I look forward to seeing Kittel at his new home. If he can get back to his form of last year and with the Etixx team behind him we should see some stunning sprint shootouts in the 2016 season. Good luck to him.

As for other transfer news and how things pan out, choosing riders isn’t always about getting the best guys for the cheapest price possible. There’s not always a bidding war between rival teams as many have tight budgets. Instead savvy team managers will look for guys who may not be performing at their best or living up to the promise they showed earlier in their career.

Winning or even getting picked to race doesn’t just come down to being the best on the team, it’s also about fitting into a team’s environment. Some riders just don’t feel at home on certain teams — their character might not fit with the mould of a certain setup.

Take Sky and Orica-GreenEdge for example. From the outside Sky looks very analytical and calculating with its whole approach. Orica, with its Backstage Pass videos and Aussie mentality, seems a more fun and lighthearted team to be with. But that’s from the outside. Inside there will be different camps of riders; little groups of guys who like to race and hang out together.

If you don’t fit into a team then you’re not going to perform to your best. It’s that simple, but it has a knock-on effect. If you’re not getting on with others or you’re struggling to fit in, the team may very well limit your race days too.

As this is an Australian website I thought I’d take a look at where some of the Aussies are moving to next year. Jack Bobridge’s move to Trek Factory Racing is nice to see but it’ll be interesting to see how he balances his Rio Olympic goals with the team’s. Then there’s Leigh Howard who’s off to IAM. I think he’s one guy that’s worth keeping an eye on in 2016. He’s also a guy who didn’t quite fit in at Orica.

The same could be said for another guy jumping ship from Orica-GreenEdge: Simon Clarke. He’ll be hoping to hit the sort of form he had in the past with his new team Cannondale-Garmin. And we can’t forget about Richie Porte heading off to BMC. We’ve mentioned this before but it’ll be interesting to see how Richie and Tejay get on.

When you look at next year’s BMC team roster there’s not a huge change from this year at all. Ritchie’s the only new boy so he could have his work cut out to fit in. Plus, if the stories of Tejay spitting the dummy on the second rest day of the Tour de France are true we could be in for some fireworks.

Before I wrap this up, let’s talk a little about the last big race of the season just finished: the Abu Dhabi Tour. If that race taught us anything it’s that next year’s Road World Championships in Doha could see riders end up in hospital due to the conditions we may have to race in.

Stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour was a joke. Some computers showed 52 degrees C in direct sunlight. That combined with heart rates of 180 bpm and an average speed of 34km/h showed that these were conditions no one should be on the bike in, let alone race in. The stage was shortened and the peloton still rolled over the finish line later than the predicted time. What a joke.

This was on a stage that was just 170km. Now let’s chuck another 90km on top of that to make it a proper Worlds distance. What’s going to happen? One of two things if we see similar temperatures. Either there’ll be multiple athletes in hospital (hopefully no deaths) or the riders will protest. I for one hope it’s the latter.

It’s absolute bullshit that the UCI granted Doha the Worlds in the first place. Again it’s all down to money, money, money. I’ve seen people comment on many matters regarding the course already, but one thing that I haven’t seen raised is the fact it’s not just us male professionals that have to race in these temperatures. How about the women, the juniors and the under 23 riders?

Everyone will be using the worlds as a platform to showcase their talents. It’s not hard to push yourself too far, overestimating how well your body copes with the heat and wind for a stab at glory, and then ending up in a serious condition. Still, at least no fans will be there (up close) to see these problems as I’m sure the crowds will be as sparse as they were in Abu Dhabi (not even one man and his dog on a few occasions). My prediction is it’s going to be a Worlds to forget.

On that light note I’d better get back to resting up and to living a semi-normal life for a few weeks. It’s all I’ll get before starting to train for 2016!

Ride on.


Previous instalments in 2015:

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