Lee’s Lowdown: Bjarne Is Back?
Moving on from ‘Millargate’ last week, Lee Rodgers now has the return of Bjarne Riis to team management to discuss. David Millar will be in a behind the scenes position that could influence young riders, but Riis will be in charge of a (possible) WorldTour team. Here’s Lee’s opinion on the return of Bjarne ‘Mr. 60%’ Riis.
Here’s a question. You’re a professional cyclist with a distaste for doping. You believe that doping has to a very great extent ruined not only cycling but also other major professional sports and you find it impossible to ‘just move on’ and feel that dopers past and present should not be coming back into the sport as coaches, managers and owners.
The question is: What team, if you could choose any, would you join? Perhaps you look for a new team, like the new one being set up by Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa of the Bahrain royal family. Or you make like Alberto Contador and create a whole new team just by yourself, as the Spaniard is rumored to be doing for 2017, which by all accounts will be his last as a pro racer?
The Bahrain team sounds rather an exciting choice, as it is being set up to take on the big guns of the pro peloton such as Astana, Sky, Katusha and the rest. Could be a whole new approach, with a dedicated in-house doping program and a transparency policy that will see live power numbers sent out during all races over a season. However, no mention was made of anything like that in the articles about the new team, but there was mention of the involvement of a certain former Tour de France winner who admitted doping as a rider: Bjarne Riis.
The same Bjarne Riis that was found in a report published in January last year of running a team (CSC) that was infested with “patterns and cultures” that involved the “use of substances and methods, particularly EPO, cortisone and blood doping.”
The same Bjarne Riis who admitted that he knew that Tyler Hamilton was blood doping and employing the services of Dr. Fuentes to advise him, of whom Hamilton said did absolutely nothing to stop him. The very same chap that was accused by Bo Hamburger, Michael Rasmussen and Jorg Jaksche of actively encouraging them to dope. The identical human being who, said an anonymous source in the Danish report, was trying to get Carlos Sastre to dope, eventually forcing Sastre to leave the team at the end of 2008.
Yeah, that guy. So Nibali jumps from the viper’s nest that is Astana under the tutelage of that slippery chap Alexandre Vinokourov and off he may go, if the rumors are correct, to a team that will be run by a fellow who is as bad if not worse than Vino with regard to doping in his own career and in creating a culture of cheating in the teams he manages.
A few questions arise here. First, why can the UCI still not yet deny employment on professional teams to people with a charge sheet like Riis has? Why has that ‘fit and proper’ test that Brian Cookson so encouragingly spoke of last year failed to appear? Why is a new team looking to breathe fresh life into the sport looking to someone like Riis in the first place? Also, why does every article about the possible new set up in Bahrain fail to mention and detail the dark past that is that of Riis?
Finally, why is a rider like Nibali, or indeed any of them, especially those with some power and swagger, as Nibali has, not saying ‘Hey, employ him and you don’t get me’?
People keep saying ‘let’s move on’ and then I have to go read about Riis and Bahrain and then I have to write a bloody article about Riis and Bahrain because people, it seems, have very short memories and are inclined to not join the dots. Nibali could of course join, possibly, Etixx – Quick-Step, ah but Lefevere did admit corticosteroid use and amphetamine… or perhaps BMC Racing? Ah, Allen Peiper, admitted using testosterone… How about Dimension Data? Newish team, bright, quirky… ah, Rolf Aldag, he admitted using EPO 1995-1999. Dang, not too many choices out there are there?
So, how about a new team, a la Contador? Oh he did what now? Right. Forgot about that. I had moved on, I guess…
Back to Nibali and other top riders who have not been busted for anything or accused either, other than on the odd forum here and there, these are the world’s biggest cycling stars and they have no real choice as to who they are managed by and who owns their teams. Their professional cycling union (CPA), designed to look after the rights of its members, is run by Gianni Bugno, a man who was busted himself and admitted to using much more besides. There is almost no real representation for them and they have yet to find the desire or the will to make a collective stand about riding for former cheats themselves, partly because several among the peloton itself are current-former cheats (if you get me), and then there are several others who, well, just don’t give two freakin’ hoots.
Because if they did, they just might be able to do something about it. However, what happens to the pro riders who would, just maybe, really like to ride for a clean team, is really telling when you consider that if these top star guys have little choice and little power, what about further down the line, with Pro-Continental, Continental and now, with the likes of David Millar working with the British Cycling development team, junior and U23 riders? If you are a 19 year old on that team and disagree with dopers being coaches and mentors, what choice do you have? Like it, lump it, or get off the team. That’s just about it.
The news of the potential employment of Riis, the lack of critical commentary about the rumors and the fact that a man like Riis, with such a dodgy and quite frankly embarrassing past in regard to cycling doesn’t have the sense to stay well clear, and that the sport’s governing body is too toothless to do anything about it, well, says it all really.
Welcome to the future.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.
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