Yoann Offredo made his return to competitive action at the Tour of Qatar last week after serving a one-year suspension for violating the whereabouts system, but the FDJ rider admitted that he was still frustrated by what he feels was the severity of his sanction in relation to others handed out since.
Offredo’s year-long ban was double the sanction handed to Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, Michael Barry and George Hincapie, who belatedly confessed to partaking in a systematic blood doping programme during their years at the US Postal Service team (later Discovery Channel).
“I committed a fault and I had to be sanctioned, but it should be proportionate: I got a year for an administrative error but other riders only got a few months for actually doping,” Offredo told Cyclingnews. “Personally, I find that pretty bizarre, but that’s the way things are. Maybe giving six months to guys who contribute information can help to fight doping, but for me it was a bit shocking to see that. Still, there’s no point in complaining about it at this stage.”
While Offredo is careful to insist that he was banned for an administrative oversight rather than doping, he is more than aware that the wider public will not share that distinction and that his name has been irrevocably tarnished.
“When my mother was going to work on the metro in Paris, she saw a headline in a newspaper that said ‘Offredo escapes three controls’, as if I had fled from three controls after races,” Offredo said, shaking his head. “In fact, I submitted my whereabouts information late on two occasions and the third time, the team changed my race programme at the last minute and they didn’t modify my whereabouts.
“People who know cycling know how easily that can happen. But I know that people who don’t know cycling and just see all these doping cases will just have said, ‘shit – another suspension, another doper.’”
In the early part of his suspension, Offredo contemplated leaving cycling behind altogether, a phase he says lasted for two months. “I realised that I wanted to see it out, and I told myself it would be a shame to end things over something so stupid,” Offredo said.
Instead, Offredo returned to training in May of last year, and began following a training programme tailored to the peculiarities of his situation by FDJ coach Fréd Grappe. “He helped me a lot during the year, especially when it came to compensating for missing out on competition,” he explained.
Offredo marked his comeback by attacking in the finale of the opening stage of the Tour of Qatar and admitted afterwards that the simple act of signing on beforehand had been “quite emotional.” By the week’s end, Offredo had finished the race in 30th place overall but he acknowledged that Qatar was simply a test site ahead of the spring Classics.
Offredo last shone in the Classics at Milan-San Remo two years ago, when his escape on the descent of the Cipressa precipitated a breathless finale. It was a performance that promised much, but a crash at Gent-Wevelgem the following week interrupted his progress. After sitting out last spring in its entirety, the 26-year-old Offredo is eager to make up for lost time in 2013.
“It’s funny because when I stopped my studies in 2010 [he has a diploma in management], I said, ‘ok, I’m all about cycling now,’ but since then, I’ve had the crash in 2011 and the suspension last year,” he said. “But the Classics are the races I love and I’m very motivated. It was very important for me to go to Qatar to find my place in the peloton again and get used to it, before getting to the Classics themselves.”
Offredo’s pre-Classics build-up continues at the Trofeo Laigueglia, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Nice. During the off-season, he had already led an FDJ delegation to reconnoitre the routes of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and he calculates that he has spent 45 days in the last two months in training camps.
“I like the new Flanders route a bit less than the old one, although a lot depends on the weather conditions. I would prefer if the weather isn’t that good to be honest, because that might help the race settle a little more quickly,” he said.
“In any case, I really love the Tour of Flanders because it’s a race where you really have to fight and I love racing in Belgium. But I love Milan-San Remo too because it’s a very, very long race and it suits me because there aren’t many riders who can cope with that kind of distance.”