An interview with Allan Davis, August 19, 2007
Aussie sprinter Allan Davis has had a turbulent 12 months. He was sidelined in July 2006 after being swept up in the Operación Puerto tornado and found himself unable to race in Europe. Finally cleared of all involvement in Puerto in December, the likable Aussie moved to Discovery Channel and quickly re-established himself as one of the world's most promising Classics riders with a second place in Milan - San Remo. Now with Discovery disbanding, Davis is once again on the look-out for opportunities, as he told Cyclingnews' Steve Thomas in Spain before he left for the Tour de L'Ain.
Allan Davis spent most of 2006 in the tense situation which befell him after his Liberty Seguros team ran into trouble because of the Operación Puerto investigation. In addition to having to defend his integrity, Davis had to worry about the future of the team and finding a new job. The determined 26 year-old returned home to Bundaberg in Australia in order to weigh up his options but in October last year, he was cleared to race by his national federation. He promptly won his first race in over four months by out-sprinting then Tour de France green jersey winner, Robbie McEwen, to take the Noosa International criterium and later was quietly signed by the Discovery Channel team.
Once everything was cleared up, Davis resumed the hectic life of a professional cyclist. Having just finished the Classica San Sebastian only a few days after returning home from a successful trip to China, which saw him capture five stages of the Tour of Qinghai Lake, Davis could only spend a couple of days at home with his wife and two children before heading off to the Tour de L'Ain, a French stage race. "Along with riding in the snow, being away from my family so much is one of the hardest things about being a pro rider," he commented.
Following on from the uncertainty after the Liberty Seguros turmoil which saw the team have many of its riders suspended on the eve of the 2006 Tour de France, Davis included. Despite protesting his innocence against any wrongdoing from the outset, and even after team-mates Alberto Contador and Sergio Paulinho were cleared of any legal investigation in early August, Davis was left in limbo until late October when he was cleared to race in his home country of Australia. It would take until the middle of December before he was completely cleared of any involvement by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) and allowed to race outside Australia again.
"I thought he'd be top 5 this year; the way he climbs is just amazing." - Davis on Contador's ability as a tour rider
For the second time in as many years, Davis is once again on the lookout for a new employer after the Discovery Channel Team announced that they are going to leave the sport at the end of the season, adding yet another chapter to the tumultuous year he's just experienced.
It takes some strong resolve to get through such stressful times, "I'm not too worried, I've had a good season and have been looking at options for a while. I guess the last year hasn't been too easy. The worst thing for me was not being able to race, although I was back in Australia and it allowed me to do gym and other work that I don't always get chance to do, and that helped me build to this season. I was never that worried, as I knew things would work out." Davis said reflecting on the past year.
Putting the 2006 season behind him, Davis quickly returned to winning form in the professional peloton in 2007. Signing for the Discovery Channel team right before the Tour of California, he promptly repaid the faith they put in him by taking the sprinters jersey on the first stage. He was able to hold onto the jersey until stage three, when, team duties took precedence over his own ambitions and he was needed to chase down the many breaks for team leader Levi Leipheimer. The work he put in eventually took its toll and Davis was dropped and finished outside the time limit, which meant he was eliminated.
By late March Davis was again mixing it up at the head of the field taking second place in the prestigious Milan-San Remo, only a tyre's width behind Oscar Freire. That result seemed to come from nowhere, but Davis insists that it had always been on the cards, "for me it wasn't a surprise at all. I had good form and I've always been able to handle long distance races. Even when I first turned pro I finished high up in the worlds and got on the podium at World Cup races" refering to his success at Paris-Tours where he has finished fourth in 2004 and third in 2005.
Things were looking good as the remainder of the spring classics approached, and then disaster struck. "I was really struggling with an injury of some kind that was affecting my leg and back, and couldn't find out exactly what the cause was. I went along to the early season AIS camp in Italy during early May and they did a lot of work with me. It turned out that it was the change in shoes and equipment that had affected things, the bio-mechanic sorted that out and I had some great physio work from Karen (Stephens)." Luckily the problem was nipped in the bud at just the right time, a week later he was back to winning ways. "The AIS have a great system; it's the envy of everyone, and thankfully it put me right and I managed to hold my good form and won a stage in (Volta) Catalunya the following week."
Over the years the AIS have played a large role in the career of Allan Davis, "I first came to Europe to race as a second year junior as part of Shane Bannon's young AIS team. From there I got a spot on an Italian team, and then the young Mapei squad." Like most of the current Australian pro's he started out racing on the track, but not for long, the road was where his heart lay, "I grew up watching my dad racing, and before that my granddad also raced, my brother (Scott) also rides with T-Mobile; so it was very much a cycling family. I started out on the track, because there were very much two seasons - the road and the track, but I really focused on the road once I turned senior."
After living and racing in Italy for a few years he made the move to the illustrious ONCE team of Manolo Saiz. Moving country can be a traumatic experience for English speaking riders who move to Europe for their sport and can have dramatic effects on their performance, but Davis believes that the AIS network helped him adapt quickly to his new surroundings in Spain, "Neil Stephens helped me out and I moved to the Basque Country, it was different in many ways, but speaking Italian and having a good idea of the culture made the move fairly smooth."
Following four successful seasons with the Spanish squad he was fortunate to find himself signing at the eleventh hour for one of the world's other "super teams", Discovery "It's a great set up and well organized, most ProTour teams are, but this system compares very much to the Mapei system."
During the month of July he had expected to be fighting it out for stage wins in the Tour de France. Instead Davis found himself in the thin air of the Tibetan Plateau riding the Tour of Qinghai Lake, as part of an attempt by the Discovery team to secure sponsorship from a Chinese backer. Instead of dwelling on what could have been at the Tour, Davis instead made the most of his time in China, winning five stages en route to taking the sprinters jersey. "I guess I was a bit disappointed not to be at the Tour, but I've ridden before and there will be other years. China was a great experience too, and I had good form. The crowds were amazing, and the organization was great."
One thing he missed out on by not being in France was riding alongside friend and team-mate, Alberto Contador as he took the yellow jersey. Davis has been riding with the Spanish super climber for a number of years and was not surprised by his phenomenal performance in the mountains that eventually lead to victory in Paris. "Not at all, not in the slightest. We've been team-mates for 5 years now. I have always said to people that he can win the Tour. I thought he'd be top 5 this year; the way he climbs is just amazing."
Looking ahead, Davis still has some major goals to achieve and sees his time spent in China as a blessing in disguise, "the way it's panned out means that I will be riding the Vuelta, which fits much better with my plans for the season," referring to the World titles in Stuttgart later this year.
"The World's has long been a major goal for me, and I think this year is good for me." Similar to the Italian team, the Australian team has many strong individuals and top sprinters yet they have never managed to rise to the occasion. Davis believes that unlike the Italians in-fighting is not a problem, "I think it's just the nature and characteristics of the Australians that we work that way. On the day we will all know what's what and who is on the right form, and whoever that is, Robbie or Stuey, it will work itself out."
This year may well be the year that Australia takes its first ever gold medal in the elite men's race, currently ranked third as a nation in the ProTour standings there is no doubt that they have the strength and depth to do so. Davis plans to be there, but whether his role will be as a leader or a domestique, Davis will be proud to represent his country, "for me just representing my country is a fantastic experience. It's always been a huge deal to me, pulling on that jersey is a very proud moment."
Looking even further ahead to the Beijing Olympics, another race that could well suit his endurance based sprinting talents, Davis will be looking forward to once again to pulling on the green and gold jersey for Australia, "it's definitely a big goal of mine, and I think it's the sort of race that suits my characteristics. I was hoping to ride the test race this weekend, but have racing commitments in Europe. I'll be very interested to get the feedback from the riders and AIS officials." Still only 26, Davis has a bright future in the sport and if his results from this season so far are anything to go by, we can look forward to seeing the talented Aussie from Bundaberg spraying a lot more champagne from atop the podium.