Swiss rider working with Mapei sport centre
Half-way through a two-year suspension for EPO micro-dosing, Thomas Frei is confident that he can make a comeback to the sport once his ban ends in April 2012.
The Swiss rider has been working at Mapei Sport in Italy as he continues his comeback. He currently visits the centre once to twice a month and goes through a series of medical and health checks as well as undergoing surprise tests run by the centre at which Aldo Sassi worked before his death.
"They do my testing and I also train there," Frei told Cyclingnews.
"We do endurance tests and VO2 Max and we do the mass haemoglobin test that Ivan Basso and the others do. In the lab we do blood checks and sometimes they call me in for surprise tests. I live 286 kilometres from there so it's a long way to come in for a test like I did yesterday. It's a new way of training and a big challenge."
Frei doesn't think that the level of credibility the centre once gave riders has been altered after Ricardo Ricco announced he would carry out part of his testing at the facility. At the time it looked like a simple PR stunt on the rider's part, but he was soon without a team after allegedly carrying out a blood transfusion at his home earlier this year. The centre is also home to a number of other professionals including Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers.
"I can't answer for others but I can say Ricco had only just started to work there and they told me that it was very difficult to work with him. He was there for maybe a month, doing the first test and that's it."
"The reason I'm there is because they told me I can do good things in the sport without any drugs but that I have to believe that and work hard. That's what I'm doing. That's all."
However Ricco's comeback from testing positive for CERA, his rhetoric about a new start as well as the case involving Patrik Sinkewitz who tested positive for a second time in his career could have an affect on Frei's own chances of a second chance within the sport, something he's well aware of.
"For sure that doesn't make it easy for me but you can say, okay there are some riders that are out there and ride clean and never had a problem with doping and riders have said they'll come back clean and don't, but there also riders that come back in a good way with total transparency and learn from the mistake that they did in past, for example Basso or Millar, everyone is different, every case is different. We're human, we make mistakes but the important thing is to learn from mistakes."
"I'll do my tests, I'll work hard, simulate races and keep my head down. It's hard to do but it's the way I have to try in order to do things right. For me, in the end, I just have to do everything I can," he said.
"I don't want to be rider who just comes back as if nothing has happened after two years out. I want complete transparency so people can look at my entire process of coming back."
"Now people can follow data from my training on twitter and my next goal is to publish all my data from Mapei Sport online in the coming weeks."
"I don't know how I'll be accepted back. At the end, people must believe or not, but having transparency over my work is the only thing that i can do in this moment." Frei turned professional with Astana in 2007 and began doping between the spring and summer of 2009.
He admits that it was entirely a personal choice and that no pressure came from within any of the teams he rode for. However the lure of improving his level was tempting,but according to Frei, the moment he crossed the line was when the thought of doping actually crossed his mind, rather than when he took his first micro-dose of EPO.
"The moment things started to go wrong wasn't when I had the first injection but when I crossed the line and started thinking and ask about doping. As a rider you always think about how you can improve, get an edge whether it's training or recovering and sometimes you do everything and it doesn't work or it's too slow. So youhear maybe you can dabble in something and then it's a process you're mind goes though. You lose focus on training and it's just a spiral," he told Cyclingnews.
"You start thinking about the idea, you get some information, and then in the end you're not strong enough to say no."
"That weakness never led to blood doping but when you're going in the wrong direction you never now where it ends."
Frei even believes that testing positive could have been a good thing in the long run for him. At 26 he has time to make the most of a second chance should a team come in for him.
"Maybe testing positive was a good thing for me. Now I know the way I have to come back and what I have to do for it, " he said.
But when it comes to the debate over when cycling can ever be 100 percent clean Frei takes a similar line to that of ex-doper David Millar.
"A sport can't ever say it will be 100 percent clean. Doping isn't a sporting problem, it's a social and human problem. Look at speeding on the roads. Okay it's not totally the same but there are signs on the roads but some people still do it even though they know the law, so it's hard to believe that one day all people wont' take any risks. That's can't be a realistic goal but we have to try and get as close as possible."
And for the immediate future, Frei continues to train at home in Switzerland, aware that only with hard work and transparency he can improve his credibility and return to the sport.
"I've not talked to teams yet. I still have a year left to train. I'm just looking at doing the work. I'll do it from summer, but at the moment I'm totally focused on the way back and showing people how I'm doing it."
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