Richie Porte (Team Sky) has told Cyclingnews that winning bike races in the modern era makes a rider a sitting duck for accusations of doping.
The Tasmanian secured the biggest win of his professional career last weekend at Paris-Nice, winning the mountain finish to La Montagne de Lure and the individual time trial to Col d’Èze on his way to overall success.
Porte's post-race press conference was dominated by questions relating to doping, Sky’s anti-doping stance and the team’s impressive form. The situation was heightened by the fact that Sky were also on the front foot at Tirrreno-Adriatico over the weekend, with Chris Froome and Sky’s train dropping the best climbers in the world to win at Prati di Tivo.
“By sitting duck, what I mean is that success means we’re an instant target. If you go to Paris-Nice and you have a great performance all of a sudden you’re a target. I find that sad that I’m looked at in that light. Some aren’t involved in any way other than following cycling on Twitter or watching it on television, and to be honest the television commentary doesn’t really always give a true perspective. You can’t always take the television commenter and his opinion as gospel either,” Porte told Cyclingnews.
“There’s not that much you can do to defend yourself either. I can point to the tests and that I was tested three times in two days at Paris-Nice but I know that’s not everything. But what more can I say? I comply with the standards and rules and at the end of the day we just get on with our jobs.”
Part of the issue over Sky’s strength and the discussion over doping has been taken out of Porte’s hands. While Sky has become the strongest force in team stage racing in the last 18 months - with seeming ease in the eyes of armchair viewers - they’ve also missed several opportunities to come to terms with the doping discussion within sport. Even when they’ve tried to be proactive in the post-Armstrong era, they’ve misjudged the situation and at times taken the public for fools.
“Credibility and results, for me, they have to go hand in hand,” Porte says, “and people can say what they want on Twitter. I’m training harder than most people can imagine and I’m riding up Col d’Èze in 19 minutes and I’m doing it clean. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
It's a shame Sky’s hierarchy can’t employ someone who can talk with such relative frankness. Instead, the team has shot themselves in foot repeatedly, first by working with Dr. Geert Leinders, then by creating an unworkable framework in which riders and staff were asked to sign anti-doping declarations in order to keep their jobs. It doesn’t look much better with the fact that the team held themselves up as an anti-doping team yet hired Sean Yates, Steven de Jongh and Bobby Julich. Their vocal, no-stone-unturned approach looked weak after they claimed no knowledge of Leinders’ past.
Sky has tried to turn the tide in recent months. They’ve recruited the Sunday Times’ David Walsh or rather granted him full access to the team. Currently, the Irishman is in Tenerife with the team’s Classics squad, something that Porte strongly backs.
“I met him in Mallorca this year. He was always around I guess. A couple of mornings he was there with Froome and me when we were doing core work with the physio. He’s a presence in the background but for us, what more can we do because we’re sitting ducks. To have someone come in, for me, that’s good because it’s nice to have someone impartial and a third party getting their side of the story out.”
A few zumba classes with the men in black and blue certainly won’t be enough in some peoples’ eyes. The Leinders question has yet to be fully explained too. The doctor worked with Sky for 80 days in 2012 and has been talked of highly by all concerned at Sky. However his involvement with doping riders at Rabobank was too much for the team to take and they were forced to drop him from their ranks.
Working with Leinders was a decision that looks sloppy at best and something Walsh will need to raise if his all-areas access – a luxury that was pulled from under the feet of Paul Kimmage in 2010 - is to be seen as credible.
“He was there on the bus after races and that’s no different to any other race doctor I’ve worked with,” says Porte, who goes a lot further than his teammate Mat Hayman, who offered Cyclingnews a flat ‘no comment’ when the doctor's name was mentioned last week.
“If you had a problem you went and saw him but to me he was no different to any other team doctor that we’ve had at Saxo Bank or Sky. When I was sick he helped me. I didn’t know anything about his past, I had no idea. I heard him talk about Rabobank once or twice but whoopee do he’s the ex-Rabobank team doctor. He gave me caffeine maybe but that’s about it. He gave me Strepsils and Paracetamol.”
Porte explains that Sky’s dominance is partly down to the new techniques they’ve employed since 2010 as well as a comprehensive recruitment of talented riders. Two years ago they were laughed at when they began warming up and cooling down on rollers at races. A few races later and after riders had been shelled out of the back in the opening kilometres of races, no one was laughing anymore.
“The truth of it is partly down to the recruitment,” Porte says.
“At Paris-Nice, I had two of the most crucial riders as teammates in Lopez and Kiryienka. Did you see Kiryienka on the stage to Nice? The team know the riders who they want and that’s what they’ve gone and recruited. That’s the key when you’re going to Paris-Nice and Tirreno, having two strong, balanced teams in both races.
“The thing is that every rider has a goal of where they have to get to in a race. The other day Danny Pate had a goal. He had to ride until 140km into the stage. That was his day over. Cycling is a mental game as well so if you’ve got a figure in your head, you’ve done your job by the time you pull off. It’s such a strong team and it’s great to be riding for a squad that’s so well organised.”
Porte’s progression and confidence from Paris-Nice will carry him towards Critérium International later this month before a stint in the Ardennes and the Tour de Romandie.