LIDO DI CAMAIORE, Italy (VN) — There’s the public face, and then there’s what they really think.
Reactions to the UCI’s headline-grabbing CIRC Report have been muted and guarded from inside the peloton, but turn off the tape recorder and you begin to hear a different story
There is a blend of anger, frustration, and apathy in light of the release, on Monday, of the long-awaited report from the Cycling Independent Reform Commission that portrayed today’s peloton in a very mixed light. As part of its sweeping study of the EPO era, the three-member panel also suggested that doping remains a major problem within cycling.
No one would deny that the sport is still struggling with doping, but there’s that one quote that is really rubbing everyone up the wrong way. One of the CIRC collaborators, cited as a “respected professional,” made the bold claim that “90 percent of the peloton is still doped.”
That’s the headline that went viral, and that’s what creating a stir within the peloton.
“That’s just bullshit,” one rider told VeloNews. “It’s what one person said, and that’s what all the newspapers use in the headlines. It’s made a lot of people pretty mad.”
The CIRC report said a lot more than that, of course, but it’s the perception today’s peloton isn’t being given the credit it deserves that is stirring anger from professional riders.
On Tuesday, several major stars attended a pre-race press conference at Tirreno-Adriatico, just a day after the nearly 300-page report was released to the public. Riders were hesitant to comment. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) both said they had not had time to read the report. Only Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who publicly revealed that he spoke with CIRC investigators, made any real significant comment.
Ahead of Wednesday’s time trial to open Tirreno-Adriatico, VeloNews spoke with several riders, team managers, and sport directors, all off-the-record, to get a better sense of how the pulse of the peloton was ticking concerning the CIRC report.
“You have to wonder how realistic a report like that can really be, at least when you’re talking about today’s peloton? 90 percent of the peloton still doping? Come on!” said one team official. “Cycling has made an incredible shift, and the report doesn’t reflect that. A decade ago, the deciding factor of which team a rider would go to was based on who was their ‘prepatore,’ or doping doctor. Now, a rider is looking at who are the nutritionists, the trainers, and the technical staff. There are so many things that go into supporting a rider today, and none of it involves doping.”
Many have taken issue with the report’s bleak view of the doping problem within the contemporary peloton. The report points out that cycling has made important strides toward cleaning up its act, but also raises some very important lapses, pointing out possible abuses of TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions), micro-dosing of such banned products as EPO, as well as over-use of corticoids.
Few within the peloton would argue that the doping problem has completely gone away, but many voiced frustration with the portrait depicted in the CIRC report.
“I don’t think it fairly reflects today’s peloton,” one rider said. “If someone is doping today, they will get caught, sooner or later. Look at the French rider [Ag2r’s Lloyd Mondory]. Everyone knows that.”
If riders were feeling aggravated with the findings of the report, many on the other side of the equation are feeling equally frustrated.
One striking detail to come out of the CIRC study was just how few of today’s current professional riders decided to cooperate with the panel’s investigation. Of the 174 people contacted by the panel, there were just over two dozen riders in that pool. And less than a dozen of those are current pros.
Froome and Contador are the only two active pros who have confirmed they talked to the CIRC panel. Another handful of active pros also spoke to CIRC on the condition of anonymity, but that number is believed to be about seven or eight more. Other input came from former pros and team officials, such as Riccardo Riccò, Lance Armstrong, Jorg Jaksche, Bjarne Riis, Alexander Vinokourov, and Michael Rasmussen, all of whom played an active role in the doping culture of the so-called EPO era.
So many were asking, just how reflective is the CIRC report of today’s peloton?
“From what I’ve read, it’s a lot of information about the past, and some of it is very useful, but it doesn’t seem to be accurate of what’s happening today,” said another team official. “Most of my guys [racers] were not even racing when all this stuff happened 10 years ago or longer. Cycling’s changed, but this report doesn’t show that.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday from the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, UCI president Brian Cookson acknowledged he was surprised at the low number of current professionals who chose to participate. Last year, Cookson made a passionate plea to the peloton to stand up and be heard, but that call to action fell largely upon deaf ears.
“Yes, it’s fair to say I am disappointed in the number of current riders who came forward,” Cookson said Monday. “Clearly, there were reasons why many current riders didn’t feel comfortable talking to the commission. That’s something that we’ve got to look at. I would like to see if we can do more research with the current peloton. And give them the opportunity to give a more accurate assessment of the current state of the peloton.”
The UCI-backed commission started its work early in 2014, and carried out a detailed 13-month review of what was being called as the “EPO era,” from the late 1990s through 2013. The panel painted a narrative of doping within the sport across those years, as well as delved into allegations of corruption inside the UCI, but it was the comments about today’s peloton that have touched a nerve within the pro peloton.
Cookson also said the professional riders have their role to play if cycling truly wants to turn the page on the doping scourge, and hinted that a type of “whistle-blower” hotline might be set up to encourage future engagement with the peloton.
“If riders really want to be part of a clean peloton, they have responsibilities as well. The teams, the doctors, sponsors, suppliers, race organizers, we all have our roles. It requires everyone to pull in the same direction,” Cookson said. “Many people are trying to do the right thing. There is still an element that is not, and my message to them is, we will find you, and we will deal with you. You might be able to fly under the radar, but when a new test is available, we will re-test your sample, and you will be caught. We want the confidence of the riders who want to compete cleanly. … We do believe that doping is a less of a problem, we don’t believe it’s gone away completely. Frankly, clean athletes are the priority for me.”
So why did today’s pros stay away from the CIRC commission? Was there some sort of omerta in play? No, one pro said, “no one ever contacted me” to participate, while another said, “[the study] seemed to be about the past,” before laughing and riding away, “it was just all political bullshit, anyway.”
Perhaps the collective apathy and anger on part from the peloton confirmed something else; pros just want to race their bikes, and that’s what they did Wednesday, CIRC report or not.