This article originally appeared on The Roar
First Roman Kreuziger, then Daryl Impey. Who next? Which of the best men from their generation will join these two fallen warriors, needle in arm/sicknote from Mum in hand/shocked expression on their chops (delete as approptiate) on the naughty step?
I’m with Sean Lee on this one, I have indeed heard it all before, and now Impey joins the long list of ‘It wasn’t me, honest’ chaps who invariably get slapped with a suspension.
Don’t fret though Daryl, Frank Schleck will be on the blower soon enough with some consoling words too, because he also never cheated but still got whacked with a ban.
The timing of the Kreuziger and Impey news is interesting, and does follow a pattern of sorts. Is ASO sending out a message to would-be dopers ahead of the Tour to let them know that they won’t be happy if they find any unsightly track marks and unauthorised inhalers?
Who can blame them? We’re a good few months into Brian Cookson’s new reign at the UCI and if I’m not mistaken, cycling fans who want a cleaner sport are still wondering just what plans are afoot to tackle the problem of chemically-enhanced performances.
There seems to be a whole lot of bluster and no little bluff, but just where the new policies and initiatives are is anyone’s guess.
Next up for a grilling are the Trek Factory boys. Samsung has just announced that they will be sponsoring the team which is good, though Fabian Cancellara’s interview recently when he spoke about the electronics giant coming on board was not quite as good.
“To say cycling has a bad past is bad,” he said, which makes me wonder what question could have prompted him to start talking about Lance Armstrong’s favourite subject when he was talking about his team’s newest sponsor.
“Cycling has lots of potential for sponsors. We should not look in the past, we have to look to the future. When we talk about the problems in sport, we should remember it’s a global sports problem, not only cycling had problems, the whole of sport had problems. These partners showed there’s a future.”
Agreed, global sports is also screwed, when you look closely enough, but the whole ‘forget the past thing’ is utter tripe. These guys may ride bikes very well but that doesn’t mean they have to be listened to when it comes to matters related to doping, thank goodness.
Back from the dead to a sort of waking coma stage are the aforementioned Frank and his brother Andy, who are both on the Trek roster for the Tour. The younger of the two once won one of those Yellow Maillot things once, remember?
Back in 2010? When he came second? But then Alberto Contador got busted for his love of Spanish beef? No, I can see I’ve lost you. Check Wikipedia. It happened, trust me.
Anyway, Andy is now pants, he even admits as much too.
“I’ve still got a name, good capacity and good legs even if I’m going into the Tour with low ambitions,” he trumpeted into the paper bag he’d just about managed to fight his way out of.
“There’s no need to go back over the past,” he continued, as he perched on Cancellara’s shoulder. “There’s a good interview on Cyclingnews that explains the last two years. This is not the place to go into details.”
So, where is the place Andy? Rumours are a-flying, you don’t need me to tell you that. A curious case indeed. Top 10 for the former Tour winner? I’d be surprised by a top 25.
Interestingly, Chris Froome out in his tuppence regarding Impey, a good friend of his, when he said it was “shocking” to hear of the South African’s positive test result.
However he did set himself apart from Cancellara and Andy when he started talking about the past, making it clear that he believes cycling has to sort the past out before it can move on.
“I do think it’s a good thing that we talk about it,” he said in a press conference ahead of the Tour start in Yorkshire. “That we put all of our cards on the table and we tell people how it is now. It is a shame that with cycling’s past we find ourselves in this situation now.
“But the only way we’re going to move on from it is to accept what has happened. Get it all out there. And then move on. Show people this is not how it’s done any more.”
Agreed! Shall we start with Sky then? Or…?
Finally, and back to Fabian for this one, the cobbles! The big man has warned of a “big attack” on the cobbles that loom in the first week of the 2014 Tour.
“When people ask if it’s safe or not, I say that we’re in the Tour de France and it’s part of racing,” he said of the decision to include the hallowed stones in the Tour.
I’ve already made my views clear on this subject as indeed did many of you, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of the havoc these cobbles could wreak on the peloton, and in particular on the skinny men.
Froome and Contador won’t like the idea of the stones and neither will the Schlecks, but hey, this is bike racing. The sprinters don’t like going uphill but they’d never ask for the Ventoux to be taken out of the race.
Suck it up, calorie counters!
Oh and just in case you’ve missed it – the Tour de France starts this Saturday. A part of me doesn’t want to enjoy it and yet I know I’ll be glued to my screen as the action unfolds. It’s tough love.
But it’s our love.
this article originally appeared on The Roar
Giant-Shimano’s Cheng Ji will become the first Chinese rider to participate in the Tour de France, a fantastic achievement for the 26-year-old who last year became the first Chinese national to ride in the Giro d’Italia.
Giant-Shimano’s team coach Rudi Kemna commented on Cheng Ji’s inclusion in the Tour squad and made the point that he has gained his slot through merit.
Kemna also acknowledged an eagerness to see what kind of effect this would have on the growth of cycling in Asia.
“When we started working with him as a young talented rider back in 2008, we made a long-term plan and this has seen him develop into the highest level of the sport and we see him now playing an important factor in the sprint formations,” Kemna said.
“Having Cheng in the team as the first Chinese rider ever to ride the Tour de France will be huge for him and his country and we look forward to seeing the impact this has on the globalisation of the sport.”
Kemna is not alone in this. The UCI, bicycle product brands, TV companies and the other top-level teams have been very keen to crack Asia and in particular China for some years, and remain so.
Cheng is not the first Asian rider to have participated in the Tour, but the fact that he is Chinese has many people involved in the administration and business side of the sport intrigued.
Four Japanese riders have started the Tour (though only two have finished, Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu, both in 2009), but while the Japanese cycling scene and cycling market are better developed than in China, it is China, with its vast population and increasingly affluent middle and upper classes, that offers the greatest potential for the growth of the sport and, naturally, financial profit.
But while Giant-Shimano should be lauded for bringing in Cheng Ji and nurturing him to the point where he is getting ready to line up for the Tour, and for signing Malaysian rider Sea Koh Leong at the start of this year too, there remain several doubts about the way in which the UCI is going about implementing its plan for the growth of cycling in Asia.
One of the UCI’s flagship initiatives in Asia, designed to shock and awe a generally uninterested public in the wonders of modern cycling, was the Tour of Beijing.
The race is unique not just in that it is the only top-level bike race in China but also because of the way it is organised and promoted. The race is run by a company called Global Cycling Promotions, a company that was set up by the UCI itself.
There is here a very clear conflict of interests when a sport’s governing body is running an event with the aim of making a financial profit. Was this race set up to promote cycling in China and wider Asia? Or was it seen primarily as a money-making venture for the UCI?
With reports of almost non-existent fans and with those few spectators who did turn up being kept far from the action by police, as well as disgruntlement among the teams about the UCI’s insistence that they compete in a meaningless race, the latter question is a fair one.
Much of the UCI’s approach to Asia follows a ‘trickle-down’ mentality. Bring in big names in their shiny kits, throw financial incentives at local cycling federations and bring in local sponsors at top dollar, and eventually the grassroots will benefit and develop.
But this concept does not work. Nations such as Taiwan are a perfect example. The organisation that runs the UCI 2.1 Tour de Taiwan runs almost no other events for local cyclists and does very little to raise the cycling culture in the country. It also does not allow Taiwanese teams to stay in the official race hotels at the Tour de Taiwan and requires them to supply their own food throughout the event.
It is not just in Taiwan that we see national federations treating local riders so shabbily. I have personally witnessed local riders at several UCI tours in Indonesia and other parts of Asia being forced to sit outside, on the ground, at the official opening ceremony banquet.
Why this is neglect is happening is not known. Whether the UCI allocates money from its funds for each team for the duration of these events or whether it is the national federations that fund the hotel stays and the meals I do not know, but it might look to the casual observer that money is being siphoned off somewhere.
In many cases, cycling is seen as a money-making venture first, a sport or pastime second. We can hardly blame the Asian federations however when the world governing body has for so long done exactly the same.
Another issue that is very troubling on the Asian cycling scene is that of doping. The UCI sanctions some races here that have absolutely no doping controls whatsoever. Several riders and teams were dismayed at the 2013 Tour of Borneo when this was the case.
The Malaysian Cycling Federation have insisted that there will be controls from now on, but it’s preposterous this situation could be allowed. Tests though are said to cost between $US2000 and $3000, so perhaps yet again money is the driving concern.
Yet whether there are tests or not, many who are against doping see them as essentially useless as there is no blood testing here in Asia. With all tests being urine-based, the likelihood of catching out all but the most idiotic doper are very slim.
There are just the same temptations to dope in Asia as in any other part of the world. Prize money is often substantial and salaries for the top riders can far exceed what these guys could be making were they working a nine-to-five job.
As a rider on the UCI Asia Tour circuit for four years, I heard rumour after rumour about certain riders on certain teams, tales about guys disappearing for half a year and explanations as to why, and about national federations hush-hushing positive tests.
To think that of all the racers in Asia some would not be tempted to dope is ludicrous. And yet the level and manner of testing suggests that either the UCI and the national federations do in fact believe that, or that they are not fully committed to catching cheats because the exposure of an Asian circuit with riders juiced and winning regularly would be bad for business.
There is no doubt that cycling in Asia is going through a growth period, with more and more people taking up the sport and more bikes being sold, but whether that growth is being positively encouraged by the bureaucrats rather than exploited is another matter.
Brian Cookson, the president of the UCI, addressed the thorny issue of Global Cycling Promotions’ control of the Tour of Beijing and has said that the organisers cannot “parachute in with a European pro model” for a stage race in Asia and expect it to work.
Alan Rumpf, head of GCP, hosted Cookson when he went to visit the race last year.
“After two days, [Cookson] had a good understanding where we are and what we want to do,” Rumpf said last October. “He’s been positive. He said he wants to see the race continue.
“He says, and I agree, that this race has to benefit the whole of China. He wants to see more cooperation with the Chinese cycling association, more benefits for all levels of cycling. He’s right. We’ve tried to do it since we’ve been here. It takes time. I’m glad that he’s there. He’s pushing us.”
GCP’s contract to run the race expires this year, and whether that is renewed might tell us about the sincerity of the UCI in addressing the issue of the conflict of interests that lie at the heart of their approach to growing the sport in Asia.
The UCI should also have in place a committee that travels to its Asian races to determine whether those in charge at a regional level are indeed the right people to entrust with their Asia Tour. The issue of doping controls also must be taken far more seriously if they are to avoid the same mistakes and problems that were compounded for so long in Europe, the USA and other hotbeds of bike racing.
the first of two ‘Lee’s Lowdowns’ on the Tour de Suisse, appearing on Pez Cycling News!
click the image below read the article.
(and can I just say a big thank you to Richard Pestes and editor Chris Shelden, for allowing me to write whatever I want and never cutting a single word – unless it’s gramatically incorrekt…!)
oh my goodness. what a race.
and of course, the finest race analysis by your friendly neighborhood crankpunk.
read all about it right here, or click the image…
this week on PEZ, my musings on the Dauphine, Froome, Conty, mad sprinting and the chances of the Spaniard bringing a proper challenge to the Briton in July.