- Article published:
- July 27, 2013, 12:13
- Pat Malach
Former pro explains his decision not to take EPO
Wednesday's revelations about which riders' samples tested positive for EPO at the 1998 Tour de France re-opened fresh wounds on the anti-doping front and prompted a familiar refrain about a "black period" in cycling and an unwritten acceptance that it was necessary to use performance enhancing drugs to compete.
Many of that generation's top riders were caught up in what happened, including many from the US. Their Australian peer Stuart O'Grady, who was implicated just days after he retired from the sport, told The Herald Sun he "was basically trying to survive in what was a very gray area". Reacting to the revealing of the names of riders whose urine samples from the 1998 Tour de France revealed traces of EPO, Lance Armstrong told Cyclingnews that the nineties was "an unfortunate era for all of us and virtually all of us broke the rules, and lied about it."
But former US pro rider and team director Kirk Willett, 43, an early anti-doping advocate who raced for the US national team in the mid-90s alongside several of the riders who have since been caught or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, has told Cyclingnews recently that there was never any ambiguity in the USA at the time about the right-and-wrong of taking banned substances.
"Perhaps in Europe that's all you knew back then, so you never knew a different choice, but I think for the most part riders in the US knew there was a choice," Willett said recently while taking a break from his duties as an emergency room physician at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City.
"There was a strong anti-doping community in the US throughout the mid-90s," Willett said. "There was no confusion that doping was something that you were supposed to avoid. It was against the rules, unethical. We all understood that. It was very clear. I can't speak for the young up-and-coming European riders, what their experience was, but I know for the North Americans, and the US in particular, there was no misunderstanding."
Willett began his cycling career in the Pacific Northwest in 1984 at the age of 14, gradually moving through the ranks to compete professionally and ride for the US national team. He raced professionally in the US and in Europe as part of the Mercury, Colorado Cyclist, Nutra Fig and Prime Alliance teams. He was the team director at Prime Alliance from 2000-2003 and led Toyota-United for one season in 2007.
During his own career, Willett achieved more than 100 national and international victories. He competed in UCI ProTour events such as the Tour of Switzerland and garnered stage wins at the Tour of Venezuela and Tour of El Salvador. He enjoyed yellow jersey wins at Visalia/Exeter, the Tour le Fleur, the Tour of Willamette and the B.C. Commonwealth Invitational.
Willett's personal experience with the PED temptation that overcame so many of his fellow riders took place when he was on the national team in 1994-95. He had already heard through word of mouth about riders using boosters and about the programs that existed on bigger teams, and he had witnessed for himself the miraculous power among his competitors. But there came a point when he simply decided he would never use PEDs.
"I wrote it down on a piece of paper, and that was my line in the sand," he said. "EPO was becoming super prevalent and basically making it a whole other world. But we all knew that, and that's kind of where people stepped off the train or decided to go that route because they couldn't bear the idea of investing all those years just to get to that dead end.
"It was difficult for me to see and hear about how it can transform you," Willett said of EPO. "But at the same time, what are you going to get in the end? Are you going to buy a better house, a car? What is the real price you're going to pay if you were someone who really valued being true and whatnot? So there is a price there. I'm sure there were plenty of guys who really had to swallow hard to make the choice to do it, but I'm sure it got easier after that."
Willett "stepped off the train" and competed domestically in the US alongside teammates that included future WorldTour riders Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Baden Cooke and Will Frishkorn, among others. At Prime Alliance he directed the Carney brothers Jonas and Jamey, Micheal Creed, Danny Pate, Svein Tuft and Jonathan Vaughters for a season after he returned from European racing.
After the 2003 season, Willett left cycling to pursue his undergraduate degree and the medical ambitions he had harbored since high school. He joined Toyota-United in 2007 as director for one season in the months between finishing his undergraduate work and starting medical school.
Even when he was out of cycling, Willett's thoughts were never far away from the sport he'd learned to love over his 20-year career of racing and directing. In 2005 he started the "Compete Clean" organization - an early precursor to current groups like Ride Clean and Bike Pure - to advocate for clean sports.
"My brother and I kind of came to the point where we wanted to see if we could try and do something," Willett said. "We wanted to have a way of promoting clean sport by being a little more vocal about it in some way and trying to have a positive voice."
Willett and his brother enlisted the aid of longtime friend Prenctice Steffen, a former US Postal team doctor who was allegedly dismissed by the team following the 1996 season after telling management he had been approached by riders seeking information about PEDs. Steffen was working with Vaughters' fledgling TIAA-CREF team during the time the Willett brothers were trying to build momentum behind Compete Clean.
But the US cycling scene at the time was in the thrall of Lance Armstrong's record-breaking string of Tour de France wins, and talking about prevalent PED use at the top of the sport was not a high priority for most people.
"[Steffen] got a bunch of stickers and we tried to get them on the guys' bikes and get them out there," Willett said. "I'm not sure how long they lasted on the bikes, but we were trying."
And Willett is still at it. Even after having had two children with his wife, Tina, graduating from medical school and having less than a year remaining in the University of Iowa's Emergency Medicine program, the 43-year-old physician is trying to help heal the sport.
Willett has engaged his old teammate, Vaughters, several times in public debates on Twitter about the course cycling should take in the wake of ongoing PED revelations. They've respectfully disagreed on the lingering benefits of prolonged PED use, the number of riders who lost opportunities because of their doping cohorts, and about what kind of penalties the busted or admitted dopers should face and what their roles should be in cycling's future.
As expected, Willett has some strong views on all of the subjects, especially the notion that cycling and the anti-doping agencies involved have not provided a proper level of deterrence.
"Right now, the science is going full speed on trying to improve the testing, and there's been some recognition amongst the professional cycling community that we have to address this problem," Willett said. "But the weak link is the penalty aspect."
Willett believes the sport has still not reached the point where the risks outweigh the potential benefits of PED use.
"If you look at how the sport has handled doping since the beginning - and then with all the oxygen-delivery enhancing substances that became much more available - no one really took it seriously," he said. "So you have this kind of self-reinforcing process where people will get caught, whether it's through police action or positive tests, and they don't really end up paying a price. Some people will get three months and pay a fine, or they'll get two years, and then they all get hired back.
"And so the message for 20 years has been, you know what, it's OK if you get caught because someone is going to give you a job," Willett said. "You may not get paid, at least officially, for the time you were gone, but you're really not going to pay a big price. There are exceptions, but in general that's been the approach."
Although high-profile firings such as Julich from Team Sky before the season started - and more recently Jeroen Blijlevens at Belkin - are hints at a change in philosophy, decades of rampant PED use and a process of selection that favored those who were willing to bend the rules have led to a skewed ethical scale in cycling, Willett said.
"At some point we all get to the point where there's a decision to be made, and we all lie on different spots in the ethical spectrum, so everyone decides what they're willing to do. But if there is no true risk - other than having to lose some face to folks - the ethical spectrum basically moves. If we were to have some real accountability tools, then all of the sudden you're going to improve the whole spectrum," Willett said.
Reasons for hope
Improved testing and a changing culture have made significant ground in cleaning up the sport since his own generation was competing, Willett said, but a lack of serious changes in the penalties doled out are the missing piece of the full package. He said the selection process that took place at the top of cycling over the past decades makes the penalty component of change the toughest to overcome.
"The sport is in a difficult position to go about that, because a lot of folks who are in positions of influence have friends who were involved in it or were involved in it themselves," Willett said. "And I think it's difficult to really start cracking down in this period because you have these personal interests at stake as well."
That's one of the reasons Willett sees law enforcement as key component in cleaning up sport. He said judicial efforts in France and with Spain's Opercion Puerto went a long way toward not only spotlighting the level of cheating, but also sending a heavy message of deterrence.
Despite his view that cycling has a lot of work ahead before it can guarantee clean cyclists will be able to compete fairly, Willett also remains hopeful that it can eventually reach that point with continuously improved testing, a reformed culture and a higher level of deterrent.
"As long as we realize it takes a constant effort to try and refine things, to improve the disciplinary tools and keep pushing the culture, it's going to make it even better," he said. "My sense is you can look back even five years ago, and the sport has made a lot of progress. There were a couple of years where I was like, 'Oh my Gosh, I don't know if I can watch the Tour anymore.'
"I think what's really encouraging to me is that over the next five years, when the new generation comes into the spotlight and establishes itself as the day-in and day-out folks in the peloton, I think we're going to have a better sense that these guys really belong there," he said.
And Willett is also buoyed by recent performances from riders of his own generation. Stories of Pate almost winning a stage in the Tour a couple of years ago, and Tuft playing a huge role in his team's success this year, give Willett hope. Both riders managed to keep their reputations intact when so many of their generation succumbed to temptation. Now, in a cleaner environment, they are back at the top of their sports.
"Those are guys who went through the depths of that whole era and have come out to establish themselves as key players in the WorldTour," Willett said. "I think that's encouraging. Too bad there are so few of them, just because of that whole selection process that was in play."
- Article published:
- July 27, 2013, 15:15
- Cycling News
Race director visits Yorkshire before 2014 Grand Depart
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has described ideas to hold a women's Tour de France at the same time and in parallel to the men's race as 'impossible' due to logistical problems and the sheer size of the men's race.
Prudhomme dismissed the idea and the recent 70,000 signature petition while visiting Yorkshire to see the road work being done for the Grand Depart of next year's race.
Last week UK politician Harriet Harmon wrote an open letter to Prudhomme urging him to look at the idea of a women's Tour de France after former British rider Emma Pooley inspired the petition.
Prudhomme shared his displeasure with Harman's calls while speaking to the Telegraph newspaper. He and ASO are not against the idea of a women's version of the Tour de France but cannot see how it can be held in parallel with the men's race.
“It would have been much easier to talk to us directly instead of a petition and [finding out by] opening your mailbox one morning and you don’t know what has happened," he said.
“We are open to everything. Having women’s races is very important for sure. [But] the Tour is huge and you cannot have it bigger and bigger and bigger down the road – it is impossible.”
The men's Tour de France is a huge logistical operation with thousands of people involved in the race convoy and caravan, and many thousands of spectators watching from the roadside each day. Accommodation and travel is often complicated due to the size of the men's race. For this reason the Etape du Tour, the sportif rides on stage routes, are held away from the men's race.
More British Grand Departs
Prudhomme was shown several sections of freshly surfaced roads in Yorkshire as the region gets ready to host the 2014 Grand Depart and was positive about the start of next year's Tour de France in Britain.
Prudhomme knows that cycling is booming in Britain. He's keen to secure any extra funding that international Grand Departs bring and hinted that the Tour de France could return to Britain in the future. Scotland could bid for the 2017 Grand Depart after being beaten by Yorkshire for 2014.
"The future of cycling speaks English – and I am a Frenchman (saying that)," Prudhomme told the Telegraph.
"We had three bids and Yorkshire won, and we still have a bid from Scotland. There is a huge passion for cycling in the United Kingdom and it is very important to keep the passion here – very, very important," he said.
Prudhomme hopes that Mark Cavendish can win the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate.
"This will be one of the most difficult stages to start the Tour in history, and that is one of the reasons we chose Yorkshire," he said.
"It will be a stage for punchers and attackers. Overall it will be a tough start in outstanding scenery, and there will be a magnificent sprint to end the first stage."
"I can imagine for Mark Cavendish this first stage of 2014 is the most important sprint of his life. A win in Yorkshire, at his mother's place, for a yellow jersey. It would be his first yellow jersey," Prudhomme told the BBC.
The 2014 Tour de France starts in Yorkshire on Saturday July 5. The opening stage is from Leeds to Harrogate. The hillier second stage on Sunday July 6 is from York to Sheffield.
- Article published:
- July 27, 2013, 21:09
- Cycling News
Redemption for a disappointing Tour de France
A week after completing the 100th Tour de France, Tony Gallopin (RadioShack Leopard) put his good form to use at the Clásica San Sebastián and rode himself onto the top step of the podium with a perfectly timed attack in the final 15km. Gallopin jumped away from the lead group on the day's final climb, the Alto de Arkale, and would not be seen again. For the 25-year-old Gallopin it was the biggest win in his career and made him only the third Frenchman to win the Spanish one-day Classic.
"I gave everything with the plan to see where I would be on the top of the Arkale," said Gallopin. "I was alone, so I decided to go for it alone till the end. This is nice for me after a season with illness or mechanical problems at bad moments. This is a nice start of something new. Not that I will ask to be a leader now. I will not change. The team can continue to count on me.
"I was so tired after the Tour de France and even disappointed because I couldn't win a stage," added Gallopin. "But this morning I immediately knew that I had super good legs. I like the one-day races but this is the first time I've done this race so it was really new for me. But I'm so happy. To be here on the podium with [Alejandro] Valverde and [Roman] Kreuziger means a lot to me."
The 232km race in San Sebastián featured plenty of horsepower from the Tour de France with 66 Tour finishers taking the start, including 14 from the top 20 and seven from the top 10. Runner-up Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who took the sprint for second place 28 seconds after Gallopin, finished eight overall in the Tour while Kreuziger placed fifth on general classification in Paris.
Gallopin made the decisive 13-rider selection that formed on the final ascent of the Alto de Jaizkibel and was the second rider over the top behind Kreuziger.
"I already felt good on the Jaizkibel and then on the Arkale I could feel I was still good," said Gallopin. "As I knew [teammate] Bob Jungels was coming back I didn't dare attack but Alain [Gallopin] gave me the green light."
"Tony told me he had good legs on the Arkale so I told him to go," said RadioShack Leopard directeur sportif Alain Gallopin, Tony's uncle. "Tony was probably the smartest guy as he didn't waste his forces on the first climb of the Jaizkibel. Yesterday when we arrived from the airport we did a recon of that climb with Tony behind my car and he liked it. It was at that point he already showed his motivation."
The winner of the Clasica San Sebastián is presented with the Basque beret, the txapela, on the podium and Gallopin had some timely advice from a teammate the previous evening.
"Last night at dinner my teammate Markel Irizar explained in detail to all of us about Basque habits and how to put the txapela on our head in case of victory," said Gallopin. "We were prepared!
2013 marks Gallopin's fifth season as a professional, with today's victory the fourth in his career and his first for RadioShack Leopard, his team for 2012-2013. This year he earned the bronze medal at the French road championships behind Arthur Vichot (FDJ) and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) plus provided support for teammate Fabian Cancellara in his Spring Classics wins.
Tony grew up in the world of cycling and is the nephew of team director Alain Gallopin and son of former Tour de France rider Joël Gallopin. In 2011 he was fêted as Coupe de France Champion following in the footsteps of some famous winners of the season-long competition, including Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert. In 2008 he won the French U23 time trial championships in addition to the U23 Paris-Tours.
- Article published:
- July 27, 2013, 22:10
- Cycling News
Movistar rider denied second victory in Spain's premier one-day race
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was unable to add a second Clasica San Sebastian victory to his palmares today as he finished 28 seconds in arrears of solo victor Tony Gallopin (RadioShack Leopard). The 33-year-old Spaniard sprinted in for second place from a five-man chase group ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to earn a podium spot in his home country's biggest one-day race.
Valverde's teammate Nairo Quintana, fresh off his finishing second overall and claiming the mountains classification at the Tour de France, ripped the Clasica San Sebastian field to shreds on the final ascent of the Alto de Jaizkibel, but once the Colombian pulled off and dropped from the front group Valverde found himself without teammates in the 13-man selection.
Following the final climb, the Alto de Arkale, Valverde would join a five-man chase group behind solo leader Tony Gallopin in the company of two Saxo-Tinkoff riders plus two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders, a difficult tactical position.
"I was hopeful we could chase him (Gallopin) down, because we were getting closer and closer and even saw him on the final small climb in the city, but it was impossible. I was there with two Euskaltels and two Saxos and couldn't simply push more than them and burn myself," said Valverde.
"We have to be happy with this result, because we did the best we could to win, as well myself as the rest of the team. We knew we were the favourites - though it's even more difficult to show it when everyone is looking at you - and took charge of the pace into the bunch from the beginning.
"My teammates were phenomenal today. The strategy was making the race hard with Nairo into the second Jaizkibel climb to split the group and make it easy to control, and we succeeded. Kreuziger attacked on the final slopes [of the Jaizkibel], and even though I waited a bit to see how he went, I had to move with 1k remaining because he was too dangerous. I caught him on the downhill, but after that it was impossible to go after every single wheel, and Gallopin was gone."
One week after finishing eighth overall at the Tour de France, Valverde now turns his focus to a bit of recovery time before setting his sights on his home Grand Tour.
"Now it's time to take some days of rest, but not too much - I didn't really train hard this week," said Valverde. "It's time to think about the Vuelta."
- Article published:
- July 27, 2013, 23:00
- Cycling News
First WorldTour podium result on mountain finish in Trentino
The Tour of Poland broke new ground this year with the opening two days of racing taking place in the Trentino region of Italy with a pair of mountain stages in the Dolomites. The WorldTour event's most taxing days of racing are front-loaded in the first two of seven stages and the climbing-heavy stages are the ideal terrain for Team Colombia, a Pro Continental squad which garnered a wild card invite, to make its mark.
While Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) sprinted to victory and the leader's jersey on the Madonna di Campiglio mountain finish at the conclusion of today's opening Tour of Poland stage, the second man to cross the finish line was Team Colombia's Darwin Atapuma, no stranger himself to success in the Dolomites. Last year Atapuma won the final stage of the Giro del Trentino when it finished on the Pordoi summit, and with the Tour of Poland's queen stage utilising that same finale tomorrow on stage 2 Atapuma has already garnered a confidence boost one day earlier.
"It is another close second, but I am very glad I was able to deliver a good result to reward the excellent work of my teammates, who were totally committed to support me since km 1," said Atapuma. "The sweltering weather made things really tough, but the guys were nothing short of super on a difficult day, in which I also had to negotiate with a crash at the halfway. The finale was very fast, and I was able to make a good sprint despite a weary effort in my first race in a month."
After finishing 18th overall at the Giro d'Italia in May, Atapuma's Grand Tour debut, the 25-year-old Colombian competed at the Tour of Slovenia, notching a sixth place finish, then spent a month recovering and training in his home nation.
Entering Sunday's queen stage, 206.5km from Marilleva Val di Sole to Passo Pordoi Val di Fassa, Atapuma is just four seconds behind Ulissi on general classification in third place overall.
"Tomorrow we finish on 'my' mountain...I can't deny to be thinking of it," continued Atapuma. "We will make our best to make the most of it. This team deserves a great win."
"We really wanted to do something big today, and we definitely delivered a great performance at the WorldTour level, showing our value ahead of some of the strongest riders around," added directeur sportif Valerio Tebaldi. "Atapuma looks really inspired by climbing. Days like this help you to find new energies and motivations: expect to see our black jersey at the front tomorrow, too."
- Article published:
- July 28, 2013, 08:46
- Stephen Farrand
Team Sky reveals the pain of missing this year's race
Bradley Wiggins has admitted that it was difficult for him to watch Chris Froome win this year's Tour de France, saying that instead he tried "to focus on positives, really, rather than sitting depressed in front of the TV."
Wiggins spoke after making a low-key return to racing at the Tour of Poland, more than two months after puling out of the Giro d'Italia due to injury and illness. He missed Friday's team presentation and finished nine-minutes down on stage one to Madonna di Campiglio in Italy, along aside Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Wiggins said in June that he may never again target overall success in the Tour de France but admitted he missed not riding this year's race as defending champion. He was not selected for the Team Sky Tour de France line-up due to his knee injury.
“I didn’t watch it – I couldn’t watch it,” Wiggins said of the Tour de France after the stage.
“I would have loved to have been there and would have found it very difficult to watch. I’ve just been trying to focus on positives, really, rather than sitting depressed in front of the TV. I only watched the first stage, as I heard the bus had knocked the finish line down. I followed it from afar but it was too painful to watch.”
Chris’s performance was dominant
Wiggins has not been in direct contact with Chris Froome to congratulate him on his victory but praised his teammate despite their often tense relationship, highlighting how this year's Tour route suited Froome perfectly.
“Chris’s performance was dominant – it was a brilliant team performance and brilliant individual performances so they deserved everything they got,” Wiggins said.
“He is probably the best climber in the world at the moment. I have never been that good a climber – I can climb but my specialty has always been the time trial. For sure, if the Tour [in 2014] is like it was this year, Chris is the stronger rider.”
He also sided with Froome after he faced numerous doping questions and suspicion about his performance but said questions were inevitable.
“Unfortunately, whoever wins the Tour is going to face those questions, and when you have been as dominant as Chris was in winning that Tour, it was inevitable,” Wiggins said
“I had to answer those questions last year and whoever wins in the next 10 or 20 years there will always be those questions.”
Wiggins has reportedly been training hard in Mallorca in recent weeks but is targeting the time trial world championships in Tuscany in late September. He confirmed he will not ride the Vuelta Espana but is expected to lead Team Sky at the Tour of Britain.
"That is the obvious one, then working back, but at the moment it is small steps and not thinking too far ahead," he said of his shot at a rainbow jersey.
- Article published:
- July 28, 2013, 11:25
- Cycling News
Future looks bleak for Basque WorldTour team
The riders and staff of the Euskaltel-Euskadi have reportedly been given the green light to look for new teams for 2014 by the management as the future of the Basque squad seems more and more uncertain.
According to a report in the Basque newspaper Deia, Mikel Astorkiza, the corporate director of Basque Cycling Pro Team, the squad's management company, told the riders competing at the Clasica San Sebastian the bad news on the team bus before the start of the race. Mikel Nieve, Igor Antón, Mikel Landa and Mikel Astarloza all rode aggressively in their home Classic but missed out on victory.
In early July, it was reported that the team had just 45 days to find a sponsor or it would risk losing its WorldTour status or disappear all together after a shortfall in funding from Basque public institutions left telecommunications company Euskaltel to cover the deficit for 2014.
There is no sign of a new sponsor coming on board and so the team management has rightly given its riders a chance to find places with other team. There is currently no sign that the team will continue even as a Professional Continental team with a lower budget and lesser race programme.
The squad also includes 2008 Beijing Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and several international riders after the team dropped a long-running requisite that riders had to be born or have develop in the Basque region.
Should the team disappear, Spain -once a major powerhouse in cycling- will have just one WorldTour team: Movistar, and one Professional Continental squad: Caja Rural. And the Basque Country, traditionally considered the heartland of the sport in Spain, would be without its team.
- Article published:
- July 28, 2013, 14:03
- Cycling News
NetApp-Endura rider takes climber's, sprinter's jerseys on opening stage
Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) made an impressive start at the Tour of Poland, going in the break of the day during Saturday's opening stage and taking both the climber's and sprinter's jerseys.
The Polish rider is determined to again make a mark in his home national Tour as NetApp-Endura tries to take advantage of being in a major WorldTour race.
Huzarski was first over the two big climbs of the stage to Madonna di Campiglio and so leads the climber's competition ahead of Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff). He wasn't able to fight for the stage victory but is hopeful of defending the climber's jersey.
"I tried to win some sprints and the mountain jersey which is really important for me, because I won already two times the mountain jerseys in previous editions of Tour of Poland. My goal is to not go through this Tour unknown since it is my home race," Huzarski told Cyclingnews.
"Funny enough I said a couple days ago that I doesn't really like the Italian stages because of the long climbs. And even after yesterday's success winning the mountain jersey, the jersey for the most active rider and the new classification for attractivity, it is still the same, but the race started well for me and I decided to go for a good stage performance. Cycling is unpredictable and it always depends on the daily shape.
"I am very happy about my good start for the second part of the season after a six week break. I didn't expect the legs to be so good. Now I try to keep the jersey. Therefore the stage on Friday is very important. But of course also today I want to try to go in the break and get some points. You never know."