The Secret Pro: Mechanical doping, sketchy finishes, and Katusha dodges another bullet

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Welcome to the new season. And what a magnificent start we’re off to. Great to see we’re all doing our part to uphold the dignity of this wonderful sport.

My God, excuse my French but I have to say there are complete dickheads who really do their part to ruin a wonderful sport.

Top honours go to the twit who tested positive for a drug 99% of the world has never heard of. It’s a drug that is only made in his neck of the woods, and was just added to the banned substances list on January 1. He’s obviously been on it for years, and was stupid enough to not check if it was ever going to be banned.

Let’s remember: they only ban drugs that actually help your performance, so, yes, you’re cheating if you take them. You’re a cheater. Goodbye.

Of course there has also been a ton of yap about mechanical doping. (Oh my goodness, how could they?)

Two things to remember here. First: if people are willing to load their veins up with extra blood and who knows what, why not cheat some other way?

Second: Femke Van den Driessche is only the first person ever caught. That doesn’t mean, for a second, that she is the first person ever to use a motor.

There’s been so much speculation around Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders — his magic bike change, and he then he just took off. Of course, he denies it. You watch that video, and make your own decision. Either way, that’s why the UCI introduced the magnetic screening at races. I don’t for a second think this U23 Belgian is the first person to use a motor at a pro bike race. I’m sure whoever has done this is shit scared, now, after this.

Some people ask how anyone could get away with it, at the WorldTour level, where teams have so many riders, mechanics, and team staff that would all have to keep it quiet. I think it would be simple: pay the mechanic enough, he’ll put the motor in the bike and won’t talk. It’s just like doping. Pay the doctor enough, he won’t talk.

Some have questioned what’s worse, doping or using a motor. To me, there’s not one that’s worse than the other. If you’re a dirty cheat, you’re a dirty cheat.

I saw an editorial suggesting a lifetime ban for anyone caught using a motor. I get it, but I’m not sure I agree. I’ve always thought, for any sort of blood doping, there should be a minimum four-year ban. That’s effectively a lifetime ban, because you’re probably not going to come back. I realise there are occasionally legitimate tainted supplement positives, and that’s your two-year ban — not because you were cheating, but because you were an idiot to be taking those supplements.

For mechanical doping, I’d say up it to four years. It’s blatantly cheating the system at the highest level. Why not a lifetime ban, you ask? Everyone makes mistakes — although I don’t for one second think it’s the first time they’ve done it. But the likelihood of them coming back after four years is slim. It’s too long to be away from racing; they’re not going to come back anyhow, even if they try. Four years will deter them.

Next up on my shit-list is the UCI.

Honestly, so now Katusha has two positive tests within their team. Just coincidence? Not the first time Katusha has been close to being penalised by the UCI. Didn’t Astana have something pretty close to this? And what happened there? They won the Vuelta last year, and finished two-three at the Giro.

Also, the UCI needs to exercise better control over the finish of bike races. I realise they can’t monitor every kilometre of every race, but they should at least be responsible for the last 5km of every race. That stage 2 crash at the Tour of Qatar was ridiculous.

Sprint finishes are hard enough, let alone having to guess where the road furniture might or might not be. You have a traffic island, unmarked, and it closes, then opens, then closes again inside the final kilometre. You’re on the limit, holding the wheel in front of you, just trusting that wheel, trying to get as much shelter as possible. It’s just madness not to have any markings there.

But hey, it should be OK at the Road World Championships in Qatar later this year — right?

Ok, that’s my rant. Let’s move on to racing.

I had a great time at the Tour Down Under again this year.

And I have to say … this is the first year in many that bike riders actually showed respect to each other. People actually recognised teams riding together. There were never any stupid moves in any of the finals, with some cowboy thinking he can ride anywhere and everywhere. In all honesty, it was really nice to see, and I hope it continues.

We should all respect each other as riders. All of us are doing our jobs, and if you piss someone off, chances are you have to race with him, whether it’s tomorrow or another 60 times again this season. What goes around comes around.

At Tour Down Under Simon Gerrans and Caleb Ewan were on another level to everyone else. In fact the whole Orica-GreenEdge team was super. It was a super-impressive demonstration by the Aussies.

I’m really looking forward to seeing all the sprinters together, in one place. I think it’ll be more exciting than the skinny dudes all comparing their watts per kilo against each other. Imagine Kittel, Greipel, Gaviria (the new Colombian kid), Ewan, Cavendish, Kristoff, Modol and Viviani, all together in one sprint.

I mean, in all honesty, Kittel is the fastest. But if you’re a sprinter in that field, you could hit a personal best and still run seventh.

It was nice to see Kittel back in action in Dubai. He is a likeable guy, like most of the Germans in the peloton. He had a few issues last year — mentally, I’m guessing — but nobody seems to know exactly what was up. Maybe after four stage wins at the Tour de France two years in a row he just thought: “I CBF” (Look it up).

Jack Bobridge was a bit of a let down at the Tour Down Under, but my God what a victory at Aussie Road Nationals. We got to chill in the hotel room, recovering from jet lag, and watch Aussie Nats live on TV. I loved the quote from Gerro: “I didn’t think it was humanly possible to do what Jack did today, that’s why we couldn’t catch him.”

Bobridge is a special case. From what I have heard and seen, he’s a super talent. He’s just got some demons to wrestle, and he loses focus sometimes. But it seems like when he can focus that raw power that he has, he’s one of the biggest talents in the sport.

Everyone at TDU was shocked by that Giant-Alpecin training camp accident. I’m of the same opinion as everyone else — they were super unlucky, but also, how lucky were they? No one was seriously hurt, and they’ll all be racing again this season.

It takes you back to how vulnerable we all are on a bicycle. There’s just no second chance on a bicycle — if a car hits you, they’re doing damage to you. I don’t even ride in traffic any more; I just hate it. I never trust a driver, even with their indicator on, until I actually see them turn; I just don’t trust anyone.

Of course, what happened to the Giant boys, they had no chance. What a nightmare. I hope to see them all back in the peloton soon.

Cadel’s Race was fun. It was pretty relaxed compared to last year, mainly because the weather looked after us.

I’m a fan of letting the smaller teams race with WorldTour teams. OK, they are pretty sketchy in a big peloton, but in general they have respect. And for Aussie cycling to be on TV, it keeps the hopes of smaller Aussie teams alive.

There’s been some talk about Cadel’s Race becoming a WorldTour event. I hope that doesn’t happen. If it becomes a WorldTour event then why would anyone want to sponsor a smaller division team? They can’t ride Tour Down Under, and then they couldn’t ride Cadel’s. Not every race needs to be a WorldTour race.

“Whinger of the Week” award goes to that Pete Kennaugh, but most of us in the peloton have already have known this for a long time. He has a massive yappy mouth, but when an Aussie sledger like Pat Shaw has a crack at him, Pete has a cry about it. Imagine if he met a real Aussie mongrel, who would straight take his block off. Grow a set, Pete. And quit acting like your shit doesn’t stink.

Whew. Are we entertained, then?

So, what’s next? The Spring Classics are coming — racing in the wind and rain over narrow cobblestone roads and across fields of manure. The opening weekend — Omloop and Kuurne — is the first chance to show who’s going well, and who’s nearly ready. If someone has a good showing there, you know he’s ready for Classics. Then you go off and do your stage race, Paris-Nice or Tirreno, and then everyone knows who’s ready for the Flemish Classics.

For Belgian riders and teams it’s bigger than the Tour de France; it’s written up in the newspaper every single day. It’s madness. Races like Flanders and Roubaix are just 250km of madness.

That’s all from me. I’ll report back in the next few weeks.

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