By Rob Jones, Canadian Cyclist
Geneviève Jeanson was in the news a lot during 2003 – first, because she is one of Canada’s biggest cycling stars, and second, because of the high hematocrit result she posted at the road world championships in Hamilton, which led to her withdrawal from the women’s road race mere hours before its start. Although Jeanson tested negative in a subsequent doping control, the frenzy, particularly among the Quebec media, has taken a long time to die down.
Jeanson has been sparing in her media contacts since, in part because of the Quebec College of Physicians’ investigation of Maurice Duquette on allegations that the Quebec doctor prescribed Eprex (a brand name for EPO) to patients in a manner contrary to the accepted practices of the college.
The majority of these incidents concerned patients who were undergoing surgery, but two counts caught the interest of the media, since they concerned an unnamed international female cyclist and her coach.
Duquette subsequently pleaded guilty, drawing a reprimand and a suspension of his license to practice for a period of time, and the matter was ended as far as the college was concerned.
However, the Quebec media and the cycling federations were not prepared to let it go at that, and petitioned the courts to order the names of the athlete and coach released. A legal battle ensued, and it was not put to rest until Jeanson admitted in early November that she was the cyclist named in the charges against Duquette. Duquette also released a letter stating that the charges against him were incorrect with respect to Jeanson – that he had neither prescribed nor administered Eprex to her.
Despite the fact that Jeanson has never tested positive for any banned substance, the Canadian Cycling Association and FQSC (the Quebec cycling federation) plan to hold a hearing with Jeanson to discuss the situation, and sanctions remain a possibility.
In the meantime, Jeanson agreed to speak with me in her first lengthy interview since the controversy erupted at the world championships. She spoke by telephone from her home, for more than an hour, about the events of the year, her team, her coach André Aubut, and her plans for 2004. She sounded relaxed and initiated some topics of discussion, unlike previous interviews in the past few months, when her answers were usually limited to yes-no responses.
VeloNews: You have had to deal with a lot of controversy this year. Has it been a particularly hard year for you?
Geneviève Jeanson: Actually, it has been the best year for me so far. The team did a really good job, we won some great races. Everything was good except for Hamilton, and even there I am happy with my fifth place in the TT. It was the best I could do, I don’t think I could have done a better race. In the past years, from the month of August I got tired, and this year I was more consistent overall. I was named (North American) Athlete of the Year (by VeloNews) for my whole season.
VN: What made the difference this year?
GJ: I have had trouble in the past making it to world’s (Jeanson missed the world’s entirely in 2001, and withdrew after the time trial in 2002). André made me start more slowly, and in the winter I had better preparation than before. I still won some major races in the spring, but it was not as intense as other years. I even felt more relaxed, and enjoyed going out a bit more and doing normal stuff. I think that this was a major factor. I put pressure on myself more than anyone else does, but I am trying to work on this and I have met with a sport psychologist.
VN: Moving to the excessive hematocrit result in Hamilton: Have you had a chance to think or investigate why you went over the limit?
GJ: I have met with lots of doctors, I think I am in pretty good hands right now. I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but we are still working on it, and there are lots of possibilities. I will be talking with the CCA; for sure it (the hearing) is going to happen, but we still need to work on the details for the meeting. It has not happened yet, but it will.
VN: Pierre Foglia (a Montreal newspaper columnist) challenged you to release your hematocrit level, and you wrote an eloquent response, but still would not release the results. Why not? It might take away some pressure?
GJ: It is simple: It is my private medical record, and no one should have to release that.
VN: At the time of the announcement in Hamilton, you said during the press conference, your “head was frozen.” Now you have had a chance to reflect more, what are your feelings about that day?
GJ: It was the worst day of my life, I don’t wish something like that on anyone. I remember my legs were going like Jello…. Everyone was there to see me race, my family, my fans…. It is still a major disappointment to me. But I have had great support from my family, my friends, André.
VN: André attracts some controversy. You have been working with him for years now, but some people would say that maybe it is time to leave him, that you would be better off without him, and that there would be less controversy and publicity. What do you say to these people?
GJ: I think that André is a person that speaks his mind; that’s his personality. For me, he is my coach. I have confidence in his methods. He has brought me to the world championships, and I have won some big races with him. He made me learn how to be tough and how to race. I think he is a wonderful coach – it works for me. I have 100 percent belief in him, and that won’t change.
For me, the controversy is mostly during races with the national team, and I think that there are some people who are part of that problem. (Jeanson did not elaborate on this statement.)
VN: You have not actually participated in many national projects. Why?
GJ: It’s because I have the opportunity to do projects with my team (Rona). In 2000 I raced with the national team in Australia and had some great experiences. Since then I have had the opportunity to race with my team and I really wanted to focus on them. I’m paid by the Rona cycling team to win races, and if a national-team project is in conflict, or takes place when I am supposed to rest, then I prefer to race for my team, and prepare like a professional.
I’m not very good at racing lots of races. I’m better to prepare for one event, and after that to rest, stay with my family, train…. I have my training partners, and for me it is a better way to prepare than racing all the time.
VN: You and Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) are seen as the stars of the future, but you have very different styles. She races a lot with a pro team in Europe, which seems to work – she has won the World Cup, and the silver at the road world’s. Have you considered doing more races? Many pros say that they need to race to be at their best.
GJ: For the next year, I will race a bit more, but it won’t change much (from past years). I’m comfortable with what I’m doing now. Maybe in 2005 and for the future I will want to try new things, but for now I am more confident doing what I know works.
After 2004, for sure my goal is to try some longer races. We didn’t think we were experienced enough, and the team didn’t have the money or resources to do it now. I don’t want to do anything halfway. For the future, yes, I would like to try races like Tour de l’Aude, because my focus is still to improve as a rider.
VN: What about the track? Lyne Bessette tried it for the Commonwealth Games – what about you?
GJ: I have never had the opportunity to try it yet, but I think it would suit me. I like short time trials, but I need complete preparation. Maybe in the future.
VN: So for 2004, your program will be similar to the past, including starting in Arizona?
GJ: Yes, I will start in Arizona, then the California races, then hopefully do a trip in Europe in the spring.
VN: For the World Cup?
GJ: Yes, for the World Cup, but it depends on the budget of the team. My calendar is not finalized yet, but it is something I really want to do, I’m looking forward to it.
VN: I guess after this, it is all preparation for the Olympics. What about world’s – will you attend?
GJ: Yes, it (world’s) is in Italy, but sometimes, when you peak for the Olympics, it is an emotional high, so we will have to see for that. It is going to be a very heavy season, because of the level of the races. You know, the Olympics are not a small race, the world’s are not a small race….
I remember in 2000, after the Olympics, I was completely done, world’s were just two weeks after. I didn’t want to even think about world’s, just to go home, go shopping, do some other stuff.
VN: What about the team for next year? You have said that Rona is 100 percent behind you, but some good riders have left – Meshy Holt, Catherine Marsal.…
GJ: Meshy really wants to go for Olympics, and New Zealand is a small country, but for women’s cycling pretty strong. We knew in the middle of the summer (2003) that she wanted to stay with the New Zealand team in Belgium and train and do races with them.
We have to understand that the other riders, even though they ride for a professional team, have goals. For her, making the Olympic team, like every other athlete, is the main thing. We already knew that she wanted to solely focus on her (own) needs for next year.
VN: So what is going to be happening to replace them?
GJ: I can’t really say, because it is not my job, but for next year we are going to have a strong team too. I think we will have at least as strong a team as this year.
Shani Bloch (ISR), from Richard Sachs
Kathryn Curi (USA), from Gearworks-SpinArts
Katrina Grove (USA), from T-Mobile
Andrea Hannos (CAN), returning to Rona
Geneviève Jeanson (CAN), returning to Rona
Helen Kelly (AUS), from Team S.A.T.S.-Team TDS
Anna Milkowski (USA), from Gearworks / Spinarts
Émilie Roy (CAN), new to Rona (junior)
Erinne Willock (CAN), returning to Rona