By Rupert Guinness, The Sydney Mornng Herald
Australian cyclist Mark French has been sent home after breaching the national team’s code of conduct on Wednesday during a Qantas flight to Los Angeles, where he was to have raced in this weekend’s round of the UCI track World Cup series.
French, who would not say what happened on the flight, is trying to resurrect his track-racing career, stalled for 18 months following drug allegations that led to a two-year ban in 2004. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban on July 2005.
While he successfully fought to prove his innocence then, the former world junior champion is now accepting guilt and vowing to make amends.
French was told of his punishment by Australian track head coach Martin Barrass when the team arrived in Los Angeles, where he was put on the next flight home.
“I am certainly very apologetic to Martin Barrass and [for] the embarrassment to the cycling team,” French told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It would be an understatement to say how disappointed I am in myself. They gave me an opportunity to go over there and a silly thing ruins it.
“I’m not perfect, but I’ve learned my lesson and will never do it again. I accept the punishment of coming back home.”
Within hours of returning, he was off to the gym for a weights session, with preparation for the national titles in Sydney next mind firmly on his mind.
“Being here now, I understand how much I have let myself down. I have worked hard to get where I am,” said French, who was to have raced in the keirin and team sprint events at Los Angeles. “Now I have to move on. It’s back to training for the nationals and then World Cup [in Manchester].”
Following those events, French hopes to be picked for the world championships March 29-April 1 in Palma de Majorca, Spain.
Cycling Australia said it was awaiting a full report on the issue from the national team management, but it had the power to hand down further punishment.
However, CA chief executive Graham Fredericks said French would be counseled by staff and indicated the issue would end there.
“It is fairly straightforward. He has breached the code of conduct. It is a one-off incident,” he said.