The Secret Pro: My thoughts on Froome’s positive and the bikes we ride

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In the hours before this Secret Pro was scheduled to be published, news broke that Chris Froome had tested positive for twice the legal amount of the asthma drug Salbutamol at the Vuelta a Espana. Before we get to the regular column, we dialed our highly secure, untraceable TSP Hotline and asked the Secret Pro for his reaction.

Big news today: you can use all your newly gained Twitter characters to discuss yet another Sky saga.

I struggle with this one, honestly. I have to say, never I have seen more inhalers in one place than at a bike race. I don’t use one myself, but several of my teammates do. Do I think they are all cheating? No. Exercise-induced asthma is a real and dangerous issue. In the regular world, people might go their whole life without actually finding out they have it. Professional sports are so demanding that you notice every detail of your body. Is your right leg one millimetre shorter than your left? Maybe never thought about that, but every pro will have it checked a few times during the year. Checked and double checked. Does this account for all the asthma sufferers in the peloton? Probably not, but many of them are legitimate.

Second, no one is surprised Froome uses an inhaler. We’ve seen him do it. So does Vincenzo Nibali, on occasion, and many others (though that hasn’t stopped Nibali from saying today that “no one would give me back the thrill of winning the Vuelta again,” which is funny.)

I do know that salbutamol is legal to a certain limit; Froome went over it. A lot over it. Double it. Apparently it would take something like 20-30 puffs on an inhaler to get to that point. That’s weird.

Did Froome take an extra big dose knowingly? It would be a strange thing to do. As the leader of the race, he was sure to get tested. Therefore, knowingly taking something that is easy to detect would be kind of crazy. I don’t know if you’ve met Froome, but he’s not crazy. Plus, taking a big dose on just one day, out of all of them, and doing so on a stage that wasn’t even that crazy hard… well it’s a bit silly. Froome isn’t silly, either. I don’t know what to think.

It is odd how we found out about it. There was no announcement. Someone leaked it to the Guardian. I don’t like that for a couple reasons. Froome and Sky have known of the results even before Worlds, and the B sample’s already been tested. Yes, it is a substance that’s allowable to a certain limit, but it’s pretty rare that an A test isn’t announced straight away (although I am hoping this will start being the case for the future). The UCI has said that they don’t have wait until the B sample to be released, under WADA code. If we weren’t talking about Mr. Froome, would they have waited?

This is something that really bugs me. Preferential treatment will not lead this sport forward. Not in the long run.

Another example recently was the new Chinese WorldTour race. The UCI had said races won’t be able to just appear and straight away receive a WorldTour status, but yet these guys did because they had cash. This sort of thing is no good for the sport.

Obviously, Froome has the funds and the backing of Sky. Now he’ll have a stage 22 to fight for his Vuelta win. But if it was a neo-pro from (almost) any other team, how soon would they have been sacked and banned? What if it happened to a lesser rider?

It shouldn’t matter who it happens to. But it sure does.

So, get some popcorn and grab a chair, and let’s all watch this unfold. In the commercial breaks, feel free to discuss what has happened to the results of Cardoso’s B sample.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Sadly, my offseason has officially come to a close. I’m back on the bike. WorldTour racing is just over a month away, and it feels far too soon.

A little while ago, I came across a Twitter post from American Trek rider Kiel Reijnen on his offseason activities. It reminded me how many different ways we pros spend our annual time off. Kiel spends it growing out his mullet and being a lumberjack. That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end are the party guys. A lot of riders go out a lot. Like, a lot. I find it odd that even the pros who are married and have children still go out so much. Of course, we follow a strict regimen during the year and everyone deserves to blow off steam, but there is a line there somewhere. Some guys don’t know where.

We’ve all heard the stories of Boonen doing lines in the off-season, but he’s not the only guy in the peloton who likes to party. Not to mention the good old days when Jan Ulrich would just drink his weight in beer every Tuesday. My personal favourite is when Italians go out. A bunch of the Italian guys in their mid-20s still live with their mothers; that’s no secret. We hear stories of these guys going out and having a bit too much, then mum has to come pick them up. Or they manage to get home only to stumble into the house, making loud noises and waking up the folks. Gold.

I was listening to a CyclingTips podcast recently, the one where Ryan Mullen talks about gaining a minute in long time trials since he switched teams. It reminded me of something. This is the time of year to ask pros what they actually think of different equipment brands in the sport. Why? This is when guys switch teams and are willing to talk a bit of smack about their former sponsors.

Everyone always says, “our team bikes are the best,” and “these wheels are the fastest,” and “the team nutrition sponsor is the only one that will make you go fast.” Or perhaps, if you’re on one team in particular, you say, “The country that sponsors the team is just misunderstood and is actually a great place to visit, plus the prince has promised he won’t hurt anyone anymore.” But some bikes are bad, some gels are gross, and not all dictators can be trusted.

For example, in the beginning of this year Astana was riding Vision wheels, but then suddenly changed back to Corima. Why? The brand probably uses the name “Vision” only because you’re going so slow on those wheels that you can enjoy all the views for longer. Did you know Powerbars turn to rocks when it gets a bit cold? Good luck trying to eat them while racing the classics. Some glasses make your eyes water like crazy, like they’re funnelling wind into your eyeballs. As for the bikes themselves, the common knowledge is that Specialized, Trek, Canyon, and BMC are a step above everyone else. Sure Giant, Bianchi, Cervelo, and Pinarello are great, but when it comes down to millimetres, a brilliant bike can make all the difference.

Sometimes you don’t even need to talk to a rider to find out what equipment sucks. Turn on the TV during a rainy race and look for teams crashing more than seems normal. It’s surprising how bad tyres can be. A few years back, you could guarantee that anyone with Vittoria tyres would never win a rainy race. Good news for those Vittoria-sponsored teams is that they’ve improved a lot and are pretty good now, among the best, even. Remember the wet Paris-Nice stage a few years back when the Sky guys kept crashing? They were on Veloflex, if I recall correctly, but they switched shortly thereafter.

In the rain, no brand is even close to the quality of Continental. No wonder Sky now just buys them (or used to) instead of having a bad tyre sponsor.

Most teams allow riders to use any shoes they want. In my opinion, it would be great if that was the case for saddles as well. But some teams don’t even allow for individual shoe choices. This year, riders on Movistar and Bahrain had to wear Diadora or Sidi, respectively. There is a way around it though: sponsor-correct overshoes. If you see a guy riding in the heat of July with overshoes on, you know why.

By now, any rider who is switching teams likely has a new bike. Why are there fewer pictures of pro guys in lycra on your Instagram feed? Because they’re still paid by their old employer, but riding something from the new team. They can’t post photos of that bike. They might even lose out on their last couple paychecks if they do.

Pro tip: If you want to get a local professional in big trouble just take a picture of him wearing or riding equipment from the wrong companies. Just, please, don’t pull this one on me.

It’s training camp season again and that means packing that suitcase for the first time in a while. Travelling to training camps and races all year makes cyclists real airport ninjas. We get very good at silly things like reading which security line will be the fastest. I like to turn travel days into a game, like chasing Strava KOMs through the airport. Setting new record times getting to the airport. Getting from the check-in counter through security is another timed sector. Seeing how late I can board the flight. The hardest event of the day is actually already at the check-in counter if you are flying with a bike. Of course, the team reimburses the bike fee, but it’s still a fun challenge to try an get away without paying it. Smile, dress fashionable, a little flirt, and you might just get away with it.

I’m sure some of you travel a lot, too. Since I’m always looking for ways to improve my times, add any great tactics you’ve developed in the comments.

If you really think about it, the racing never stops. They were still racing in China in November. OK, maybe in December there aren’t any UCI 1.1 or higher races, but November, for some guys, isn’t really that easy. Several WorldTour teams have cut the number of riders, citing smaller teams in Grand Tours. But the WorldTour calendar continues to expand. It feels like soon we’ll be racing from New Years to Christmas. Wouldn’t that be a show? So why do teams have 3, 4, or 5 riders less? Doesn’t really make sense to me. For me, it looks like the teams are trying to save money and think they can just keep racing the same guys every month. Let’s see how that works out for them. Sure, one year you can do that, but after three years, it’ll catch up to you and it won’t be pretty.

Luckily, I’m experienced enough to know how to get some time off in October, so by mid-November I can get back at it. The Tour Down Under starts in January and most who show up there show up to race, and race hard.

It’ll be interesting to see how Sky manages their new recruits. They have signed several young climbers, but so far their development program hasn’t been the best. From speaking to some guys there, if you didn’t come up through the British system, Sky can feel pretty stifling. We have a test case for that this year: watch Colombian Egan Bernal and Brit Christopher Lawless. Let’s see who excels. Bernal is the bigger talent, but Lawless knows the system. While we’re looking at Sky, keep an eye on David de la Cruz, too. He’s got the engine, but not the skills. Let’s see if Sky can teach him the Froome descending tricks.

If you’re looking for a new rider to follow, then keep your eyes on Sam Oomen from Sunweb. Big talent, and a nice kid. He’s only 22 and he’s already spent two years in the WorldTour and finished his first Grand Tour. Plus, he helped the team to the TTT world title and placed a pretty incredible sixth at Lombardia. Of course, there are plenty of riders to cheer for. Maybe cheer for me, if you can find me.

Until next time.


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