I said this earlier today on Twitter: the CIRC folk could have saved themselves a lot of time if they’d just read crankpunk.com in the first place. It was a bit of a glib comment but, a little amazingly, it seems that the CIRC folk did indeed do just that when doing research for the report, as an excellent article by Cillian Kelly of Irish Peloton on here last year makes the footnotes on page 150.
A moment for celebration?
No, not really. The real fact of the matter is that this report should never have been necessary and it wouldn’t have been had the authorities, the teams, the riders, race organisers and journalists (I’m getting deja vu here) not been such a motley crew of cretins and cowards.
CIRC has said very very little that people close to pro cycling did not know already – if there is a silver lining it is that it’s shut up even the naysayers – for now. I’m sure we’ll hear them scraping their knuckles over the pebbles when they emerge from under their stones soon enough though.
To read Cillian’s article, which is just as if not even more relevant now than when it was published – click here.
“We learn from history that we never learn anything from history.”
In October last year, the Italian cyclist Mauro Santambrogio opened up his smartphone, browsed to the twitter app, typed in two words and pressed ‘send’.
Four months earlier, Santambrogio had been informed by the UCI that he had tested positive for EPO during the Giro d’Italia. He had won a stage of the race and finished ninth overall, it was by some distance his best ever performance in a Grand Tour.
But his joy at such an achievement did not last long. Having previously been mentioned as part of the Mantova investigation, this time there was little doubt – he was a doper. He lost his job, was facing a two year suspension and his life would never quite be the same.
Then, that October evening, Santambrogio sent out his chilling tweet:
In December last year, news broke that Michael Rogers had tested positive for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup. On the same day, another rider also tested positive for the same substance, the lesser known Jonathan Breyne.
Rogers, being a member of a World Tour team, was much more to the forefront of the headlines. Breyne on the other hand was an afterthought in the cycling news of the day. But privately, it was Breyne who was suffering greater consequences.
The day following the news of his positive test, Breyne attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills.
Recently I came across an article where Belgian cycling physician Dr Roland Marlier made a number of proposals to the UCI Medical Commission regarding reforms on anti-doping procedures.
These reforms included:
- To institute a system of licensing for doctors attached to cycling teams.
- To give more thought to the method of publishing of doping control results, publishing ‘positives’ only after a counter-check has been made.
- To allow the rider to be advised by a lawyer and a medical counsellor in cases of alleged doping.
The first point is something which has become more and more relevant in recent years as doctors like Michele Ferrari, Pedro Celaya and Eufemiano Fuentes have all received sanctions from the UCI. There are now UCI rules pertaining to who can and cannot be hired as a team doctor and the specific qualifications they must hold but these rules are currently not enforced.
With regards to the second point, according to the UCI’s own rules, in the case of a positive ‘A’ sample, they are only required to notify the rider, the national federation of the rider and the national anti-doping agency of the rider. In spite of this, it is the UCI’s tendency to release details of positive ‘A’ samples on their website.
The third point is one which has been addressed by the Australian anti-doping agency. They state on their website:
“This initiative provides an athlete, who has been notified of a possible anti-doping rule violation, with free access to independent and confidential counseling with qualified professionals…The aim of this initiative is to provide short-term counseling and strategies to help individuals deal with very stressful and potentially life-changing circumstances.”
Thus far, Australia is the only country in the world which provides this service to its athletes.
Fortunately for Mauro Santambrogio and Jonathan Breyne, both men are still alive, unfortunately for the entire sport, none of the reforms suggested above have been adopted by the UCI as policy.
But what is the most unfortunate thing of all, is this – the article I read containing these reform proposals was written in a cycling magazine from 1973.
by Cillian Kelly
Milan San Remo: 2nd
Tour of Flanders: 7th
Tour of Lombardy: 2nd
These are the best results in all five monument classics in the career of a particular cyclist. It’s an impressive collection of placings for any rider in any era. This rider, despite never making the podium there during his career, always wanted to win Paris-Roubaix.
He said: “I would have given anything to win Paris-Roubaix. I felt like I was good technically on the cobblestones, but I don’t think I ever had a peak day. I’ve always felt I’m a summer rider. I’ve always been a warm weather rider. The guys who excel in the early season either train all winter and are in their very best shape, or they’re Belgian or they’re Irish. Cold weather, rain, I’ve never felt good in it. I always wished there were more classics in August”.
But before we reveal the identity of our mystery classics rider, let’s consider another rider who has struggled of late in the cold and rain, Bradley Wiggins.
Now that Chris Froome and Richie Porte have taken over the primary and ancillary stage racing duties at Team Sky, Wiggins, aged 33, is in the market for one more specialist niche to occupy before he calls time on his career.
In recent weeks and months, Wiggins and his team manager Dave Brailsford have, apparently, been making noises about targeting Paris-Roubaix next year. The Belgian-born Brit has a habit of reinventing himself. He’s already shifted from track virtuoso, to time trial king, to Tour de France winner. Could he carve out one more niche as a classics contender?
The following are Wiggins’ best results in all five monument classics:
Milan San Remo: 44th
Tour of Flanders: 50th
Tour of Lombardy: DNF
Not great, but not terrible. Unlike every other Tour de France winner in the last quarter of a century, he has actually ridden all of them.
It is the 25th place in Paris-Roubaix coupled with his time trialling ability being roughly on a par with Fabian Cancellara’s that seems to be the foundation for next year’s plan to tackle the Queen of the Classics.
This subject is broached in the February 2014 edition of Cycle Sport magazine. It is confirmed that Paris-Roubaix is ‘on the radar’ for Wiggins and Team Sky. There are also the thoughts of directeurs sportif from all of Wiggins’ previous teams on whether he stands a chance against the seasoned cobbled competitors like Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
The responses vary from FDJ’s Marc Madiot, who says ‘yes… he can be a contender’, to Eric Boyer of Cofidis, who says ‘no, he can’t’, to more pragmatic answers from Jonathan Vaughters, Brian Holm and Roger Legeay who all think he could be good, but a win would be unlikely.
Wiggins won’t be the last rider to try to combine the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix on to a single palmarés, but he most certainly isn’t the first either.
Fourteen riders can claim to have won both races during their career – Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Jan Janssen, Felice Gimondi, Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi, Sylvére Maes, André Leducq, Henri Pélissier, Francois Faber, Octave Lapize, Henri Cornet, Louis Trousellier and Maurice Garin.
But it is becoming a rarer feat with the passing of time, as eight of those fourteen completed their double before World War II. The most recent rider to complete this unlikely career double was Hinault, having won the Tour in 1978 and 1979, he added Paris-Roubaix in 1981.
Although Hinault hated Paris-Roubaix, it is a common misconception that he only rode this race once. He actually rode the Queen of the classics on five occassions, never finishing lower than 13th. When he finally won it in 1981, he owed much of his success to a 19 year-old Greg LeMond – well, that’s according to LeMond himself.
The American was just beginning his first season as a professional cyclist. In an interview with Bill McGann, he said:
“In April I felt actually quite good in Paris-Roubaix. I was really helping Hinault. He won his first and only Paris-Roubaix that year. I loved it. I did a big final attack that split the race up for Hinault and then I just bagged it after 230 kilometers.”
Let’s now revisit the list of monument classics results that we started with – these are of course belonging to Greg LeMond.
The American gets labelled these days as a rider who focused only on the Tour de France and world championships. This label is somewhat applicable to the latter stages of LeMond’s career, after he was accidentally shot in 1987. But throughout LeMond’s early years, he was as good a classics rider as any on his day.
If you take the best result in each of the five monument classics, as we have done here with LeMond, for every rider in the current peloton (who have ridden all five races), the rider with the lowest score of any active rider is Greg van Avermaet. The BMC rider ends up with a score of 36.
Perennial monument winners like Cancellara and Boonen don’t even make the list because neither have ridden either Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Tour of Lombardy. The only monument winners to make the top 10 of the list are Alessandro Ballan (with a score of 41), and Phillipe Gilbert (with a score of 60).
Greg LeMond can boast an impressively low total of 18.
LeMond merely dabbled in the classics as he got older. He still had enough class left to finish ninth in Paris-Roubaix in 1992. But his last great classics result came in 1986, before his body had been blasted with lead. He had come close to a win on many occasions and by the time he had ceased focusing on the Spring classics he had most certainly learned what it was like to lose one.
Wiggins on the other hand, has none of this experience. He has ridden Paris-Roubaix and the other monument classics, but he has never been in the shake up at the end of one. All of the greats have had to learn and win, armed with the experience of losing – Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Francesco Moser, Roger De Vlaeminck, Boonen and Cancellara all came close to victory in Paris-Roubaix before eventually winning it.
Wiggins’s Team Sky are meticulous. But there’s no amount of meticulousness will prevent a loose elbow from a rival nudging you slightly off the line you were taking over the cobbles and instead steering your front wheel into one of the places where a cobblestone used to be. Can motor pacing over the Hell of the North replace the experience and anguish embedded in the head of Zdenek Stybar having clipped a spectator last year, momentarily losing Cancellara’s wheel and forever losing that race?
It is no wonder that Team Sky remain coy about Wiggins’ chances over the cobbles. They have trumpeted classics ambitions loudly in the past and have fallen hugely short. However, if the 2012 Tour de France winner does decide to aim for Paris-Roubaix it is a hugely exciting endeavour and one we have not seen attempted for a generation.
One can’t help but think that Wiggins will need a few years to woo the Queen of Classics, as everyone else has done – to build up a classics palmarés similar to LeMond’s before eventually tasting success. LeMond voluntarily ran out of time because he shifted focus away from the classics and on to the Tour.
Wiggins is doing the opposite and at 33 years of age, taking the age demographic of Paris-Roubaix winners into account, he still has a fair amount of time left. But with talk also of an attempt at the hour record and impending retirement shortly thereafter, you’d have to wonder how much time he’d be willing to give it.
by Cillian Kelly
which is better? winning a race or sex? hard to decide? Eddy Planckaert found the perfect solution…
Winning a race is the ultimate goal for any cyclist. It is the culmination of the work of dozens of people, team managers, masseurs, domestiques and of course the winning cyclist. Some cyclists spend their entire careers in the service of more capable team leaders and never get to experience what it feels like to cross the line in first position.
Thus, it is up to the riders who win the races to celebrate at the moment of victory and to savour the moment as best they can.
Eddy Planckaert was a classics specialist whose career spanned almost the entire breadth of the 1980s and into the 90s. As cyclists go, Planckaert got to taste victory more so than many others.
Cycling history is littered with scandals. The doping stories test the patience of fans and test the willingness of sponsors to part with cash. They no doubt test the patience of the riders too, both the doping and the non-doping variety. When road racing enters its slumber in winter, the doping stories have less headlines to compete with and tend to bubble to the surface quicker and stay there for longer.
This winter has been no exception, as the Texan who just keeps on giving let us know that former UCI President Hein Verbruggen was complicit in allowing him to escape ejection from the 1999 Tour de France for using an illegal corticosteroid.
Leaving aside Lance Armstrong’s motives for making such a claim (which are almost certainly self-serving), instead let’s focus on Verbruggen and his reply to this allegation:
“Since when does one believe Lance Armstrong?”
Anyone could be forgiven for no longer believing anything Armstrong has to say, he is after all, a proven repeated doper and liar. So if Verbruggen is choosing not to entertain Armstrong’s claim, it’s no surprise. But this isn’t the first time that the Dutchman has come out against known dopers and defended his sport.
In 2006, Operation Puerto rocked cycling when some of its biggest names were revealed to be involved in blood doping aided by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. The man who started the trail which led to the scandal erupting on the eve of the 2006 Tour de France was the Spaniard Jesús Manzano. In April 2004, not long after Manzano first went public with his claims of doping in his Kelme team, French cycling federation president Jean Pitallier stated that he would not approve of any legal action against Manzano simply for coming clean with doping revelations. Still the UCI President at the time, it was Verbruggen to the rescue against the evil scourge of doping. Manzano may have been ignoring the Omertà and speaking out for the overall benefit of the sport, but he was still a doper.
Verbruggen said: “I was extremely, unhappily surprised by Mr. Pitallier’s statements saying he found it scandalous to sanction Mr. Manzano. Why not sanction a cheater for the simple reason that he decided to talk? We have to remember that it’s the cheaters that are talking. If they’re protected by the directors, we have to ask ourselves some questions”.
In the summer of 2010, Floyd Landis decided to finally come clean about the doping he had partaken in throughout his career. This confession eventually led to the USADA Reasoned Decision which now sees Armstrong banned for life. His confession also included details about a cover up of a test result at the 2001 Tour de Suisse involving Verbruggen and the UCI. Landis’s information about the doping practices of his various teams could help the sport and help to combat doping in the future, but he was still a doper.
Verbruggen said directly to Landis in leaked emails:
“Now here comes a person like you (and with your records!) who tells me I am dishonest and even repeats this in public. What mentality one must have to do things like that to other persons?”
Verbruggen does not think that former dopers are worth listening to when they have something to say. A view, no doubt, shared by many.
Conversely then, we should expect that Verbruggen welcomes the input of renowned clean cyclists, shouldn’t we?
In an edition if L’Equipe in January 1997, Verbruggen was asked his opinion of two riders who had recently retired from road racing and who had spoken openly about their knowledge of doping in the peloton, Graeme Obree and Giles Delion:
Verbruggen said: “I am not at all impressed by the testimony of riders like Delion or Obree who are retired and who can no longer keep up in the peloton. I find it cowardly, I have no other word.”
Well, if Verbruggen doesn’t like the opinions on doping of dopers or non-dopers, perhaps he’d be willing to listen to anti-doping campaigners?
In January 2012, Verbruggen formed part of a lawsuit which attempted to sue journalist Paul Kimmage for writing about doping and the allegations of former dopers in an article he had written for the Sunday Times. Kimmage had long been an outspoken voice against doping in the sport and the lack of willingness to address the issue. But Verbruggen didn’t want him addressing the subject either.
So is there no type of person that Verbruggen is willing to tolerate talking about doping?
The answer, it appears, is no.
The new UCI administration led by Brian Cookson has stated its intention to carry out some sort of independent commission to investigate the problems that cycling has faced. A recent statement from the UCI reads:
“The UCI’s Independent Commission of Inquiry is in the process of being set up and we are in advanced discussions with stakeholders on its terms of reference to allow full investigation of any allegations relating to doping and wrongdoing at the UCI.
“The commission will invite individuals to provide evidence and we would urge all those involved to come forward and help the commission in its work in the best interests of the sport of cycling.
“This investigation is essential to the well-being of cycling in fully understanding the doping culture of the past, the role of the UCI at that time and helping us all to move forward to a clean and healthy future.”
An obvious candidate to participate in this process, in order to help clean up the sport he loves so much, is Hein Verbruggen.
When asked about his participation, he replied:
“I have never been afraid of any investigation commission. I will participate in everything and I will be never be found (guilty of) anything.”
Evidently, all Verbruggen is concerned with is avoiding any punishment himself. An appropriately similar attitude to that of a cyclist who is doping.
Verbruggen has been described before as ‘a dinosaur’ whom the sport has moved past and outgrown. But he is not a dinosaur – people like Hein Verbruggen are not extinct. People like Hein Verbruggen are barely even on the endangered species list. The sport is full of them.
It is no longer just the doping stories that are wearisome. It is the attitude of the likes of Verbruggen which perhaps tests the patience of fans, sponsors and riders even more so than the act of doping itself.
We’re tired and we’re weary… and it’s been a long winter.
all opinions stated by writers are those held by the writer individually, and in no way reflect the opinion of crankpunk himself nor any other contributor to the site. however, we probably do all agree on most things, if that helps any…
thanks to my friend Damian Barrett for putting me onto the latest Velocast podcast, episode 35, in which i get a mention from Cillian Kelly in regards to crankpunk and the doping problem in Asia.
check the link below, Cillian goes all punky at about 27 minutes…