The Female Secret Pro: Giro Rosa, La Course, and doping in the women’s peloton

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For a couple years now, The Secret Pro has been providing an entertaining and informative perspective of life inside the professional men’s peloton. This season, we go inside the women’s peloton with posts from The Female Secret Pro (or should that be The SHEcret Pro?)

As with The Secret Pro, our insider from the women’s ranks will be kept anonymous, to allow her to write freely about the experience of being a female professional. We’ll be ghostwriting these articles as well as dropping in the odd red herring, ensuring it’s not possible to guess the rider’s identity.

I’m back! And so much has happened since my last post! Let’s go in chronological order and start with the Giro Rosa, the only women’s “Grand Tour” of the year.

It’s funny how racing a tour can feel so long but also go by so quickly at the same time. Ten days of racing back-to-back-to-back and you don’t know what day it is anymore! You just wake up, eat something that resembles oatmeal, drink as much (generally shit) coffee as you can, and look at what the stage ahead of you might bring.

If you were going by the Giro Rosa handbook then you ‘thought’ you were racing a flat stage, but if you had done your homework and knew the course, then you knew that the provided flat profile actually included a switchback climb! Yep, whoever’s job it was to do the profiles of the stages was a good joker! We all quickly learnt the importance of having numbers on a vertical axis!

Just check the comparison Amalie Dideriksen did for stage 1.

Yeah I’m no artist, but come on! How can you get it so wrong?!

In a stage race, it’s not just the countless lies in the stage profiles that start annoying you. Certain riders do too. There’s always “that person” who’s been annoying you since day one. You try to get away from them in the peloton every day but always tend to find yourself next to them. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

For me, it was pretty much the whole of the BTC City Ljubljana team. I mean seriously ladies, when the break has six minutes, that’s not the time to think you can bridge across solo. You are not Fabian Cancellera or Tony Martin! It is also not the time to hammer it on the front because you “just want to finish” when you’re 20 minutes down. It’s a tour. No one cares or remembers who finished 50th or 51st in the GC but everyone will remember who made the groupetto annoying and who pissed them off for three hours..

Sometimes it’s good to have friends in the peloton, girls – just saying. Yep, gone are the good ol’ days of Ina Teutenberg calling the shots and when riders knew their place pretty quickly if they f***ed up.

Now, it’s pretty close to the Olympics, and people are really starting to fly. Some people I expected to, like the top Americans – e.g. Megan Guarnier, Evie Stevens and Mara Abbott. The three of them passed around the pink jersey in the Giro Rosa like they were the only ones in the game.

Man did Mara fly up the Mortirolo like Captain America! Unfortunately she then descended like Princess Peach in Mario Cart, losing 3.5 minutes on the descent. And I think if she hadn’t achieved this rare feat then she probably would have won the Giro for a third time.

I feel like the short-listed Americans were under a lot of pressure to prove themselves – there was more drama going on for their Olympic selection than in an episode of Days of our Lives! I mean seriously. WTF?!

In the end, I believe they all proved worthy of selection. Others, I feel cynical about, like the riders who haven’t flown all year who two weeks prior were not climbing that well, and then in the Giro Rosa smashed out strong results. Yeah, maybe I am cynical, but when some of these riders have been caught for doping before, I feel like a little cynicism is warranted. Yet somehow this gets hidden in the media or swept under the rug.

Let’s skip ahead to La Course, a race everyone wants to race. Because let’s face it — what cyclist doesn’t want to race down the Champs Elysees! Last year it was an ice-skating rink with heaps of crashes. So when I saw it was going to be sunny this year I was doing a little dance. Turns out though, the race was just as crazy! (I guess it wasn’t weather related after all.)

It just felt like there was no respect in the bunch. Being such a big race, girls were willing to do kamikaze moves to maybe get “that result.”

I still, sickly enough, find it an awesome race. But it has now been three years of it just being a one-day race. What happened to the petition we all signed asking for there to be a Women’s Tour de France? I don’t think we should have a three-week tour with the same distances as the men — I don’t think that would showcase women’s cycling. We don’t have any other three-week tours, and we won’t be used to that. However, I do think having a 10-14 day tour is possible.

It would give spectators more to watch while they are chilling roadside for the day, and all the roads are already closed and the media is present. Just start us 100km up the road to solve the problem of there not being enough hotels at the starting towns and you’re good to go. Boom. Problems solved, right? You can thank me later, ASO.

Now before I start the next topic I just want to say for the record: I do believe there are far fewer dopers in the women’s peloton compared to the men’s peloton. Firstly, because there aren’t as many of us female pros and not as many teams. And, because sponsorship is harder to come by, a lot of teams are reluctant to associate themselves with drug cheats. There’s also the fact that most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to dope even if we wanted to. We struggle just to pay rent and buy food!

It’s a sad truth: at least 50% of female cyclists in the peloton don’t get paid, and about 25% would be paid under €10,000 (AU$15,000; US$11,100) per year. It’s why so many of us rely more on personal sponsors, family, savings from previous jobs, or very wealthy partners (of which I have had none).

But this is something we don’t really talk about with each other. Sometimes I think it’s because we are embarrassed (to be getting paid less than someone on social welfare), we find it awkward, and we are scared that maybe we are asking too much. Because if you are asking too much then there is probably a girl who wants a contract who’s willing to ride for free. And given there’s no minimum wage in the women’s peloton, what’s in it for the team to pay a rider more when they can get a rider who does the same job for nothing?

Most of us do our own wage negotiations too, which means pretty much selling yourself as a package and how much you believe you are worth. And this is a lot harder than you might think!

There are however, some riders in the peloton who get paid quiet well in comparison. And yeah, Lizzie Armitstead is one of them. Of course, with all her results she deserves a good salary. But with everything that has happened these last few days, her performances and whether she is innocent have definitely been hot topics at the coffee shop between us cyclists.

It’s easy to believe that she must be on something. She never looks like she is trying, she has won so much, and everything about her suspension was kept so quiet. How could you miss three out-of-competition drug tests? If you missed one you would be lifting your game, if you missed two you would be bat-shit nervous and make sure you didn’t miss a third, but if you miss three, well…apparently you just appeal and get your first strike removed…

It seems strange that someone with such a high chance to medal at the Olympics would put her chances of going to the Olympics in jeopardy. Then there is the involvement and funding British Cycling had.

To be honest, I don’t really know what to think.

Yes, cycling is one of the most tested sports in the world, and when you’re as good as she is, you get tested a lot, but “with great power comes great responsibility.” Lizzie Armitstead is more than just the world champion, she is one of the most prominent faces of women’s cycling, she is a role model for the younger generations, and she has a responsibility to make sure she is where she says she will be for that one hour each day.

The fact that this was kept hidden until less than a week before the Olympic road race, and that she did not appeal her first strike immediately, does make things look suspicious. But I guess she hasn’t actually tested positive. And so what can you do?

Personally, I’m looking forward to the women’s Olympic road race. If London 2012 was anything to go by, it’s going to be awesome for spectators.

Until next time,


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