the UCI repeating the same mistakes in Asia

crankpunk isn’t just a soapbox addict. i also love the crank, am fond of dancing in a manner utterly inappropriate for my age, have a penchant for goofy labradors and like to push the tips of unsheathed biros into the soft skin between my fingers, but what crankpunk truly adores – more than just about anything on this odd, wonderful and confusing planet – is to crush souls in bike races. i don’t know why exactly and am not bothered enough to work it out. i just like it. there is of course some deep-seated and possibly disturbing psychological reason for this unnatural need to hurt others on two wheels – and crankpunk likes to think he’s not a terrible human being off the bike – it’s just that, when i’m on it, i’m ready to rage, even if it means blowing up within sight of the finish line gulping air like a dying Koi carp.

to facilitate this addiction (think about it – if our DNA was wired to be into heroin rather than bikes, we could all be on free methadone rather than ultra-expensive bike kit and painful training schedules) i’ve had to become a Continental-level cyclist. for the past three years i’ve been competing in the UCI Asia Tour series of events, from Thailand to East Java and Brunei to China, ever-hungering after fresh meat to devour and dreams to destroy (though more often than not it’s been myself on the receiving end, and then i wonder why i didn’t become a surfer).

the second phase of my racing life (i quit the sport altogether, for 19 years, after racing as a junior) began in  Japan, where i lived for a decade. as i moved up to the elite level and found myself racing against Japanese pros in the J-Tour calendar i was surprised to find that there was no drug testing whatsoever, despite the races offering lucrative prizes and several of the top guys being paid more than a decent salary.

‘why is there no drug testing?’ i once ventured to a Japanese pro.

he looked at me with raised eyebrows before replying – ‘Japanese riders don’t dope.’

could that be true? i wondered. well, if you have decent prize money, the offer of positions on pro teams with salaries that facilitate full-time training that mean riders don’t require a supplementary income combined with the fact that there are no doping controls whatsoever for non-UCI events, then at the very least you’d have to admit that the temptation to break the rules is increased. i’m not saying that there are Japanese riders who do dope, because i have no evidence to support that claim, but if it is true that absolutely none do then Japan would have to be unique on that score.

after racing in the J-Tour for a year, i moved to Taiwan after being offered a position on a UCI Continental team. when i resurrected my racing career my ambition was simple – to see how far i could go. the opportunity to race all over Asia in UCI sanctioned tours was just incredible. if you were to look at photos of the riders on the start line from my first year on the Asia Tour you’d know who was the crankpunk in a second, because in all those shots i am smiling from ear to ear. i was besotted. i still am. i still stand on the line in every race, before every stage, fully appreciative of where i am and what i am about to be involved in.

but as i’ve gone from being a novice at these stage races to somewhat of a veteran, the early-days naiivete has worn off. Asia, and in particular China, is rightly touted as the new frontier not only by the bike brands, keen to get their hands on the yuan possessed by the ever-growing middle classes out here, but also by the UCI. the awarding of World Tour status to the Tour of Beijing is the most obvious incarnation of that. but it’s obvious also by the increasing presence of UCI officials at the smaller tours. they are taking a close interest. the Tour de Langkawi is attracting bigger and bigger teams each year (Garmin and Zabriskie turned up this year), and races like the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan attracted the Saxobank boys (both events that I raced in).

the UCI is right to pursue the Asian market, because the growth of cycling here can only mean positive things for the sport as a whole and for the brands that drive it, but my concern is that the drug testing at these races is not stringent enough. we riders on the Asia Tour face no out-of-competition testing and at the races themselves, there is no blood testing, only urine, which opens the door for an abuse of banned substances. if i was so inclined, i could be on all the stuff the guys in the 90s were on without much worry of returning a positive.

and that is worrying. more than worrying. it is devastating, and there is a real risk of it becoming a two-tier sport out here without proper controls. yes it’s expensive and takes time, but what do we want? clean cycling in Asia, where we can perhaps rectify the mistakes made in Europe – or the same again? all for a quick buck? teams that win the Team GC at these Asian races can often be taking home up to $20,000 US, and the same if not more for the Individual GC. that is a lot of cash not just for one race, but especially if you think about the amount over a season. again, i am not saying that the top teams are doping, but to think that no one is, well it’s quite frankly a ludicrous position to take.

to have an anti-doping system that is so utterly outdated is asking for abuses. the system itself is could be considered to be an accomplice to unethical practices. skimping and saving will perhaps save some ca$h in the short term, but in the long run you’ll have exactly the same problem we saw in the Euro peloton over the last decade and a half. if the UCI wants the future to be cleaner than the past, for the sport to grow as it should, and for the Asian fan not to become as disillusioned as those of us in the West (assuming that is not already the case), then it has to sort this out.

or  else it will forever be taking the piss…

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