Sunday 25 September 2016

Paul Kimmage: In disturbing times for Nicolas Roche and cycling, has the landscape after Lance Armstrong really changed?

Published 08/05/2016 | 17:00

The peloton passes a windmill during stage two of the 2016 Giro d'Italia, a 190km stage from Arnhem to Nijmegen. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
The peloton passes a windmill during stage two of the 2016 Giro d'Italia, a 190km stage from Arnhem to Nijmegen. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

'Cycling Ireland has warned against the 'inappropriate consumption of caffeinated substances' before, during, or after youth and junior bike races after a number of young cyclists took ill at an event in Cork last weekend.

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The governing body was alerted to two incidents involving U14 and U16 cyclists, one of whom required hospital treatment. Both riders have made a full recovery, though there was concern for their welfare when they suffered adverse reactions at the races which took place over the May bank-holiday weekend' - Brian Canty, Irish Examiner

After a lacklustre start to his 15th season as a professional, Nicolas Roche was back in the saddle this weekend at the Giro D'Italia. And back with his diary in the Irish Independent. These are disturbing times for Roche and for his sport.

Two pros, Antoine Demoitie and Daan Myngheer, died this year in races; a third, Gijs Verdick, is in a critical condition in Poland after a heart attack. Michael Rogers, a former world champion and a teammate of Roche, retired last month with a heart complaint. One third of Roche's team have asthma.

A young Belgian woman, Femke Van den Driesshe, was banned recently for technological fraud - using a hidden motor - and a rider's agent, Vincent Wathelet, has claimed that pros have been cheating with motors in the biggest races since 2010.

The Englishman, Simon Yates, tested positive last weekend; Sergio Henao, a teammate of Roche at Sky, is being investigated for a blood- passport anomaly.

Danilo diLuca - the winner of the 2007 Giro (Roche's first grand Tour) - has just released a memoir and confessed to doping for his entire career: "I lied. I cheated. I did what I had to do to finish first."

Two schoolboy racers take ill in Cork after ingesting caffeine.

But do we learn anything from Roche's diary?

Well, they got some new bikes for the Giro on Wednesday and had the 'usual' anti-doping test. And the race started in Apeldoorn and the town was turned pink. And he put an eye-mask and some headphones on to prepare for the opening time-trial and was happy with his ride and his time.

And that's all folks! Tune-in for the next three weeks!

To be fair to Nicolas, he does not have a patent on shite: we've had the Chris Froome autobiography (The Climb) and the Bradley Wiggins autobiographies (In Pursuit of Glory; My Story; My Time; My Hour) and a plethora of books on Team Sky and the magic of marginal gains, but opinions are still divided. Has the landscape after Lance really changed?

We're told things are different now and that performances are credible but the speeds haven't changed. We're told that this is a new generation but the old generation - the seasoned dopers like Contador and Valverde - are still winning. And Omerta still reigns.

"Are you clean?" I asked Roche in Monaco last year.

"Yes," he replied.

"What does that mean?"

"It means that I'm a rider who has never taken anything that is illegitimate or can be sanctioned in the sport."

"You have not used products that are on the WADA list?"

"Never."

"And that's your definition of clean?"

"Yeah."

Clean was clearer when I was a boy. My father, Christy, was a famous racer and I remember sifting through the pockets of his sweat-stained jerseys and finding not caffeine or tramadol or salbutamol inhalers but sugar lumps and raisins. Cold tea in your bottle was good, or lemon and water mixed with honey.

And from my debut as a 10-year-old to the Los Angeles Olympic Games, I raced on dextrosol tablets, marzipan, my mother's apple tart, Mister Kipling pies and Kendal mint cake.

A month after the Olympics, in the autumn of '84, I returned to my club in Paris and travelled out one morning to watch the start of Paris-Brussels. Seán Kelly was flying that year and after a brief meeting at his team car, I withdrew to a space by the side of the road and waited for the peloton to roll to the start.

It was typical of Kelly not to have inspected his tyres and as he came towards me he started bouncing up and down on the saddle to check for give. And as he bounced I heard a sound from his jersey pocket that was totally alien and at first made no sense to me.

Is that…?

No. It couldn't be.

It is!

It couldn't be.

It is!

The rattle of pills!

He finished third that afternoon and tested positive.

A year later, I turned pro and saw things I could not fathom and would never have imagined. In July of '86, on the stage to Alp d'Heuz during my first Tour de France, I reached into my pocket for a caffeine tablet. The dosage was minimal; I wasn't breaking any rules but knew I was crossing the line.

Pills were dirty.

It got better. We started taking caffeine in suppositories. Oh boy, that was fun! Believe me, you haven't lived until you've shoved a bullet up your hole at 30-miles-an-hour and realised a moment later that you've used the same hand to feed yourself.

So I smile when I hear about rugby and football players routinely popping pills and taking cortisone and professing to be clean. And I smile when I hear about tennis players with heart problems and runners with dodgy thyroids and cyclists with chest infections winning on TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions). And I smile when I hear managers complaining about dope controls and rowers who should know better protesting: "What is dirty? Where do you draw the line?"

Because the problem with that mentality is that you'll open your paper one day and find that some 14-year-old kid who has been following your creed has been hospitalised and is seriously ill. And then you won't pretend that it's clean any more. You might even want to cry.

Sunday Indo Sport

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