Wednesday 14 November 2018

Nicholas Roche: I was disgusted to hear my team-mate Sanchez failed a drugs test

Thursday, August 17, Nimes

'Sanchez had an adverse analytical finding for growth hormone releasing peptide' Photo: Getty
'Sanchez had an adverse analytical finding for growth hormone releasing peptide' Photo: Getty

Nicholas Roche

Having arrived at the team hotel in Nimes around lunchtime on Wednesday, myself and Spanish sprinter Fran Ventoso spent much of the day on our own, while the rest of our team-mates came in dribs and drabs later that evening.

Like every other team in this three-week Vuelta a Espana, this morning began with having our blood taken for the usual pre-race anti-doping control.

After breakfast we had a two-hour spin on our time-trial bikes ahead of Saturday's opening team time-trial.

After a good warm-up and a recon of the local roads, we found a roundabout leading to a good, straight road where we could do a hard, 10-minute effort at time-trial pace.

After a few minutes of discussion about what order we should line up in, off we went.

I took a team earpiece with me to get directions from the team car following us and as we approached the next roundabout after about 10km, the directeur sportif radioed me.

"Nico, at the next roundabout turn around. We'll go back for Sanchez."

To be honest, I hadn't noticed my Basque team-mate Samuel Sanchez wasn't in the line until we stopped. Apparently he'd taken a phone call during the ride and sat up.

Just as we were about to turn around however, I got more instructions.

"Nico, don't bother. We go straight. Samu is in the car and he's going back to the hotel."

I thought maybe he was sick but we continued our spin not really thinking much about it, arriving back to the hotel an hour or so later.

Just before lunch, we were all summoned onto the team bus for a team meeting.

This often happens at races so I didn't think much of it until the directeur sportif made his announcement.

"Samuel Sanchez has had an adverse anti-doping test result. He has been sent home and it will be announced by the UCI in the next half an hour."

Sanchez had an adverse analytical finding for growth hormone releasing peptide in an out-of-competition test carried out on August 9, just over a week ago.

Immediately the questions started: the most common one being, "What the f**k?"

After the initial shock, I was disgusted and I have to say there were a lot of angry riders on the bus.

This is the first year I've raced on the same team as Sanchez and even then my only races with him have been the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour of Abu Dhabi.

Some of the other guys know him better than I do but having raced against him for years, we often chatted about our mutual interest in cars and motorsport and he seemed to be a really nice guy. But that's the thing.

You can't tell just by talking to somebody whether they dope or not.

It's not like the guys who dope talk about it.

They don't rock up to the breakfast table and say, "Hey guys, I did growth hormones."

At the lunch table, the questions kept coming.

"Why would he do that?"

"What a stupid idiot!"

"Why would he ruin his career, just as he was coming to the end of it?"

But none of us had any answers. We just couldn't understand it.

After 19 years as a pro, we all thought he was going to retire at the end of the year and could only surmise that maybe he took a chance in order to go out with good results.

Maybe he intended to earn one last contract for next year.

Technically, the only 'adverse finding' so far has been in his 'A' sample and he won't actually be found guilty of doping unless his 'B' sample also proves positive in ten days or so, but it's very rare for one not to be the same as the other.

It's a sad day for the team and it's sad for the sport. Once again, we're the ones left answering the questions to the media.

π Read Nicolas Roche's daily Vuelta a Espana diary from Monday

Irish Independent

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