The Aussie conundrum, new UCI anti-doping regulations and their failings, and an African breakthrough

This article originally appeared on The Roar

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Can you feel it? It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean the Tour Down Under. It’s the buzz of a new season, the sharpening of the knives, the shaving of the legs, the thrum of the media and the froth of the forums!

Bring it on.

One thing that caught my eye last week was a statement from Matt White, sport director at Orica-GreenEdge.

“Porte is the strongest rider in the world right now and he’s my tip for the race,” said White. “He’s the favourite and having seen him on the bike first hand, I can say that he’s absolutely flying.”

We all know that Porte had a season last year that’d stink up an outside toilet for half a decade, flitting between too few high notes and altogether too many lows.

Porte said as much in an interview with The Courier:

“Anyone who follows cycling would know I had a shocker of a season last year,” the 29-year-old said.

“I was pretty good here (at the road nationals) and at the Tour Down Under, but that was about it for me – my season finished up at the end of August.”

Fair play to him for getting his mojo back but I was struck by the thought: who on the World Tour roster apart from the Aussies is ‘flying’ right now?

Seriously, and not to sound denigrating, but it’s not too hard to be ‘the best in the world right now’ when now is January – you just have to be the best Aussie and you take that mantle by default.

Sure, there are always some non-Aussie riders who arrive for the TDU in smoking form but they are few and almost always the usual suspects, and you can be sure, apart from maybe Andre Greipel, that they won’t be going great in the European mid-season.

I’m aware that the Aussie cycling season follows in large part the Aussie weather, but might it not be time for the Australian National Road Race Champs to be held in line with the European national champs?

To require a World Tour rider to be in top shape in January and then to try to hit those heights in May say, for the Giro, or in July for the Tour, well, there are only so many times in a year a rider can be in top top form.

Or maybe the guy who wins the Australian nationals is in pretty good shape but not great shape? Is the competition being devalued somehow, now that so many of the national contenders are based in World Tour teams?

I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me.

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The new UCI rules regarding doping were announced and were in large part met with a kind of wearied shrug of the shoulders it seemed, by both the press and the fans.

Some of the changes were expected, such as the 4-year ban for ‘serious’ cases of doping (but what is ‘serious’? Clenbuterol and platsicisers in the blood? Cocaine ringing the nostrils on the start line? Or EPO track lines on the arms?) as WADA had already brought them in back at the end of 2014.

Yet there is a proviso in there that states that anyone that admits ‘promptly’ can have the 4 years dropped to 2. Not sure how that will change anything, except leaving us with more calculated ‘admissions’ of guilt that change nothing.

Teams will be charged 5% of their annual budget is a second and third rider get busted for doping, which is surely too little. If three positives result only in a 10% fine then the fans – myself for sure – will feel conned.

One interesting change is the ‘banned associations’ ruling. This states that riders can be banned for associating with any banned individual in any capacity, meaning that Frank Schleck’s excuse that he paid banned doctor Eufemiano Fuentes 7000 euro because he ‘just kinda did’ will be a enough to see him banned.

But again, whilst moving in the right direction, how about taking out all former banned riders who now work in management, and applying the same rules to those now working with riders who were not actually banned but who were heavily ‘associated’ with doping and characters involved in doping other riders?

Maybe because, well, we’d have almost no management left? Probably.

That old line about ‘well they were all doing it’ is still left with the shreds of validity because there has never been an official counter to it. Why? Because the UCI facilitated it, the management encouraged it or even forced it in many cases, dopers bullied those who would not do it and drove so many of them from the sport. It wasn’t a case of ‘they had no choice’ – never. The had a choice. But those who were inclined to cheat, who lived to cheat, were allowed to not only be left alone but to actually thrive.

And those who did refused? Take it or leave it and be mocked as you walked away, that was the rule.

There are too many caveats in the new rules to make this whole thing effective in the way it could be, in the way it should be.

It is better but it is not enough, not by a long shot.

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Finally, some great news: MTN-Qhubeka are going to the Tour de France!

Yes, the African team received one of five wildcard invitations Wednesday from race organizer ASO and they are going to the big boys’ party in July. Amazing! What an achievement that is.

Shame their kit is the worst in the history of cycling but you can’t have it all I suppose. Don’t they know vertical black and white stripes have a slimming effect? What cyclist needs that? Sometimes there is a reason why no one ever tried something before…

Mtnkit2

But it’s not surprising that the team is thrilled (if not with the kit), after being founded with this very dream in mind, back in 2007.

General manager Brian Smith said:

“The team is different and the Qhubeka foundation makes a difference, that’s why I took the job on. When I stood in front of them at the team camp in South Africa, I told them that I’d help them reach their goal.

“The Tour de France invitation … It’s emotional. I shed tears realizing that this team is coming along. I’ve seen how Qhubeka makes a difference in the townships. This will make the world ask, ‘What is Qhubeka?’ And it will give so much brand awareness.”

Yeah, what is Qhubeka? As they say these days, google it.

Well done lads!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Aussie conundrum, new UCI anti-doping regulations and their failings, and an African breakthrough

  1. Hi Lee, one obvious problem with holding the Aussie nationals in mid-season is that most of the guys who ride in Europe would struggle to make it back. The travel time alone, plus jet-lag make it quite a different proposition to ducking over to Italy from Girona. I think the race would lose too many of its best riders. Clearly a lot of them don’t hit Aussie nationals in real peak form (although they’re usually pretty good leading in to TDU) but still better to have them there, I reckon. At least holding Nationals in our summer means they can come home, train in the warm weather and use it as a tune up for TDU.
    Also, Ballarat in July/August is bloody miserable.

  2. Same in NZ. The Elite National Champs were moved to January to encourage the overseas riders to compete. Generally this has been successful with Jack Baker and Hayden Roulston both winning in the last couple of years. Any other time of year and it would be a locals only event and we already have the Club championships in April to cover that.

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