Opinion: It never ends how it starts
The first thing that caught my attention this week came from the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, a series of criteriums held on Australia’s beguiling Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria and which began on New Year’s Day. It acts as a prelude to the Australian national championships, also staged in Victoria and currently being held as I pen my first column for VeloNews.com.
For those living outside our island continent, the most newsworthy event at the ‘Bay Crits’ came from the women’s race. Chloe Hosking, a rider previously with HTC-High Road the past two years but now contracted to Specialized-lulelemon (which arose from the ashes of the High Road women’s team), described the UCI president as “a bit of a dick” after she won last Sunday’s opener in Geelong, where the 2010 road worlds were staged.
“What can you say, Pat McQuaid is a dick,” she told wire service Australian Associated Press.
“To say at the biggest sporting event (for) women’s cycling that we haven’t progressed enough to have a minimum salary — how do we progress if we all have to still work and we can’t support ourselves?
“There’s just been some really negative things said in the press lately about how women’s racing is boring and how we don’t deserve a minimum salary, that sort of thing,” Hosking continued.
Her retort was mainly in reference to Pat McQuaid’s remarks from last year’s road worlds in Copenhagen, where, after a fairly lackluster women’s race from a couch potato’s perspective, he said women’s cycling “had not developed enough” to qualify for a minimum wage.
McQuaid has since said his remarks were taken out of context, and that his perspective was based on the harsh reality that women’s cycling still struggles to attract a level of sponsorship (and thus financial backing) for all female riders to be paid a set minimum wage, or for the UCI to mandate as such.
The debate has raged ever since Copenhagen, particularly on Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen’s personal website; check out his blog posts from October 11 and 12 last year. For this first column at least, I am not going to get into the details of the debate until now.
Part of what I want to canvass is something that appears to be so far missing from the conversation: should a journalist include defamatory comments made by a young’un — Hosking is barely 21 — in the heat of the moment, knowing full-well those comments are likely to incur some form of reprimand?
Does it matter what type of publication that journalist works for (tabloid, broadsheet, magazine, website, etc.)? Is it considered defamatory only when comments are made concerning a member of officialdom, but acceptable if they were directed at a colleague, peer, rival, journalist, or media outlet?
Cycling Australia is yet to punish Hosking, but in a statement issued Monday said they will “be seeking an explanation from Chloe before making any decision regarding disciplinary action.”
“All our members have the right to express views contrary to those of the UCI, but it is not acceptable for any member of Cycling Australia to personally denigrate others,” read the statement.
“Name-calling does nothing to enhance the reputation of professional women’s cycling. Under the Cycling Australia code of conduct and UCI regulations, Chloe is afforded the right to be treated with respect by her fellow riders, administrators and officials of the sport. Therefore she should afford the same rights to them.”
Will this affect Hosking’s selection for the Olympic Games road race in London, where, as in Copenhagen, she would likely lead the Australian women’s road team, or at the very least, share a co-leadership role with Rochelle Gilmore? Will this affect other future selections for her? With so many already skittish about their involvement with professional cycling, what has this done for her trade team’s sponsors? Will it affect her team’s ability to acquire invitations to certain races?
Whatever your view about McQuaid and the UCI, Hosking’s remarks, despite being widely reported, talked and Tweeted about, were ill-considered and are unlikely to further the cause for women’s cycling. And for Chloe, the ramifications may be protracted and wide-reaching — wider than she ever imagined.
One also has to ask what, if anything, did Hosking learn from the experience, given that when a team-mate told her over dinner Sunday evening her comments were spread across the Twitterverse, she told reporters the next day, “It’s gotten the world talking about women’s cycling, hasn’t it?”
Less controversial, perhaps, but of equal interest, were the polarized opinions of Team Sky buddies Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, concerning David Millar’s inclusion at the London Olympic Games. The British Olympic Association (BOA) currently has a lifetime ban on drug cheats, something the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) does not agree with and wants changed.
Speaking to the BBC on separate occasions though within a week of each other, Cavendish opened by saying, “He’s redeemed himself. I would love him to be at London 2012. Dave cheated but he has realized what he did and learned a lot. He’s a massive anti-doping campaigner.”
“If we want to win the Olympic road race, we need Dave,” said the Manxman. “If you want to win and make history, you need a group of people around you. There are certain people I would want to share that with and Dave’s one of them.”
Wiggins, on the other hand, thought differently. He said, “To have Dave in the team purely from a performance point of view, it would be fantastic for Mark (Cavendish in terms of) trying to win the Olympic road race.
“But from a moral point of view,” he said, “from what cycling is trying to achieve, from what cycling’s been through the last few years, for what the Olympics stand for, he should never be able to do the Olympics again.”
Personally, I think it’s healthy for athletes — even those on the same team — to have (and voice) differing opinions, particularly on issues as vexed as doping and repentance by those who have doped.
In Millar’s autobiography, ‘Racing Through the Dark,’ the Scotsman makes it quite clear he was disappointed in the way Wiggins left what was then Garmin-Slipstream in 2009 and what he subsequently said about his former team. “You need to be at Manchester United and I’m playing for Wigan,” Wiggins said, shortly before it was announced he had indeed joined Team Sky.
Millar, a part-owner of the team, also said after they turned themselves inside out for Wiggins at the ‘09 Tour de France, there was no reciprocity when it came to providing a lead-out for Tyler Farrar on the final stage to Paris. “It was the one day that Brad was asked to give something back to the team, after we’d given him everything for three weeks,” he said. “Yet I felt he hadn’t even tried.”
He also said about Wiggins, “Brad looks after number one and that’s one of the traits that makes him so successful. But I think he sometimes takes advantage of the admiring and respectful reaction to him.”
This may have something to do with it, although Wiggins has long been staunchly anti-doping. He is often sought out by journalists at the Tour because of his views and his ability to articulate his perspective both in English and French.
Regardless, I don’t see any rift developing between Cavendish and Wiggins because of their opinion on Millar’s moral eligibility for the Games. Tension will arise only if either doesn’t feel adequately supported — and we won’t know about that till July, because in all likelihood, the pair won’t race together until then.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently ruled against an International Olympic Committee (IOC) edict that outlawed ex-dopers from competing at the next Olympic Games, specifically in relation to US track and field athlete LaShawn Merritt, the reigning men’s 400-meter Olympic champion. It prompted WADA to ask the BOA to drop their lifetime ban ruling, which they refused to do.
WADA has now called on CAS to intervene, so, based on precedent, Cav may well get his wish — along with an Olympic gold medal.
Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan