Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fair play???

Cycling has had its fair share of doping scandals in the past and as a result, it is always under the eye of regulatory bodies and the media. Even the slightest, unfounded hint of foul play can attract a flurry of publicity with the majority wanting to throw those involved onto the coals. In the eye of the public, cycling is now seen as a sport tarnished by doping and is fighting to keep, or even regain, its credibility, even though, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency, there were more adverse findings last year in the sports of Bridge, Billiards and Chess!

Recently, Australian sport has had its first ever major drugs-in-sports crisis with the 2011 Cronulla Sharks rugby league team. 17 players and staff from the squad are allegedly involved in ‘unknowingly’ taking prohibited substances through the club’s supplement program. Almost 2 years after the fact, in February 2013, an investigation was opened and those involved were offered a measly 6 month ban by ASADA, which they refused. 2 months later, investigations resumed and not until this month, August 2014 (3 years since the actual event), have we heard any other repercussions.  

So what is ASADA’s punishment for those that admit to taking a prohibited substance??? They have been offered an up to 12 month ban that is BACKDATED to 21st November 2013. This means, at worst, the players will miss a handful of games remaining this season and be ready for pre-season training/matches again in November!!!

Let’s compare this to the sport of cycling… If a rider is implicated in a doping case, they are generally suspended immediately from their team and cannot participate in any races. The Cronulla Sharks have continued to play the entire time that the investigation has been going on.
If a cyclist is convicted of a doping crime, then they will usually be forbidden from racing for a period of 2 years. Even if a professional cyclist is not where they say they will be in mandatory athlete whereabouts reporting and miss 3 tests, they will receive a 2 year suspension. The Cronulla Sharks were offered 6 month bans by ASADA and they refused!!!

ASADA claims that ‘It is the organisation with prime responsibility for implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) in Australia.’ This being, ‘…the aim of bringing consistency to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments right across the world.’
Cycling is always painted in such a bad light when it comes to doping, however, I can’t help but feel that there is some inconsistencies between professional cycling and other sports. Many of the Cronulla Sharks players have voiced that they are upset about missing this season’s finals but in reality, they should be counting their lucky stars because comparatively, they may have gotten off pretty lightly.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mañana, Mañana

My Spanish team mate's have told me that there is a bit of a motto in spain... 'Mañana, Mañana'. Which means 'Tomorrow, tomorrow', or simply put... 'Later...' It reflects the relaxed attitude and lifestyle here in Spain and I have become quite accustomed to it.
In town, nothing seems to happen until around 9am when businesses begin to open and people emerge. Then, at 1pm, businesses shut their doors for siesta and people head back home to rest and have lunch with their family. At 5pm, doors re-open and it is business as usual until around 9-10pm.
Personally, I use siesta for exactly that. A quick power-nap after a long training session. Everything else has shut down so it's not like I am going to miss out on anything. And if I do want to head out to do something, its like walking onto the set of 28 Days Later. When I first arrived, I took a walk around town and the only people I saw were asleep in their cars!
One of the downsides of a 4hr gap in the middle of the day, however, is that it pushes everything else after it back as well. Dinner time is very late at around 9pm with a lot of restaurants not even opening their doors until then. If you eat lunch at a 'normal' time of around midday, then by the time restaurants open, you are starving!

What surprised me most of all, is that families would be out and about until almost midnight. You can here kids running around and playing into the late hours of the night when its well past my bedtime, never mind someone that has school in the morning!
In 2 days time, I head back to Australia to prepare for the races in Asia at the end of the season. I have one goal... to continue living on relaxed Spanish time. Not in that I am going to  stay awake when it is daytime in Europe but in that I am going to try to continue with the late starts, siesta and late finish to the day. However, I have a few things that are not going to work in my favour...
Firstly, it is still the tail end of Winter back home in Australia so the sun comes up at around 6am and sets at 5:30pm. This is okay for my planned late start to the day but doesn't help when it is cold and dark by 5:30pm and all you want to do is get home. Although its a balmy 24-25°C during the day, as soon as the sun goes down, so does the thermometer. It just doesn't have the same atmosphere as here in Spain where the sun goes down at around 9:30pm and it is still 30-odd degrees at 6pm!
Another obstacle is the fact that everyone else gets up so early. If I want to go for a ride with friends, then I need to be out of the door at 5:30am. This means putting on layers of clothing and charging the lights up because it is still dark. I'm not keen to do either of these things.
Lastly, and most likely my biggest hindrance to keeping Spanish time is the fact that my wife cannot do it. She starts work early so leaves the house at around 6am and if she is not in bed by 8pm, she has probably fallen asleep somewhere. I can't help but think that she would be a little unimpressed if I slept in while she was preparing for the day and then made her go to bed alone while I stay up late.
It's gonna be tough, but I will give it my best!


Monday, August 11, 2014

What if?..

In this year's Tour de France, Jack Bauer came painfully close to winning Stage 15. He had spent all day off the front of the race only to be caught within a few meters of the finish line. 

We were watching the stage while at training camp and I don't think there was a single person that was not glued to the TV, willing him to the line. 

After the stage, his disappointment was clear as he was left to ponder what could have been. People around the world felt for him, I mean, how could you not? He was so devastatingly close. Nobody wanted to be in his shoes. Including me. 

Stage 4 of the Tour of Denmark was relatively short with a 98km road race followed by a time trial in the afternoon. As we were preparing for the start, the wind began to pick up and the storm clouds were rolling in. The course did a slight loop on itself, which meant that at some point in the race there was going to be a tail wind, a cross wind and head wind. Not easy conditions to race in.

As soon as the gun went off, we set off at a relatively gentle pace. With the wind at our backs, the peloton assumed that any attempt at a breakaway would be crazy. Suicidal even. So I attacked. 

With the tail wind, I reached 71kph in my initial surge. I quickly made a gap on the bunch as they continued along at a more calm rate. Some doubts entered my mind as I also realised that my actions were potentially crazy. Keeping a charging peloton at bay alone into a headwind was a near impossible task. 

Thankfully, behind me, two other riders decided to jump and made their way across to me. We quickly gained an advantage of almost 4 minutes as the rain began to fall.

In the bunch, rain makes things a lot harder. Nervous riders, slippery corners and brakes that don't seem to do anything cause crashes and general mayhem. Fortunately for the three of us in the breakaway, this meant that we were able to sustain our advantage. 

I never thought that the break would stay away. I was totally expecting to be swept up well before the finish, however, with 30km to go, we still had an advantage of almost 2mins. We pushed on with everything we had in hope of possibly denying the bunch. 

The effort took it's toll on one rider and his legs gave up. This left two of us at the front and to be honest, my legs were close to giving up as well. 

The race finished with 3 laps of a 3km circuit and as we entered the loop we still had a gap of around 30 seconds. With the possibility that we could survive, I suddenly found some extra power. 

With 2 laps to go, I had no idea how close they were. The lead car was still behind us but thanks to the rain, I could barely see out of my sunglasses. As we went past my Team Director he was screaming at me to go so I knew we had a chance. 

With one lap to go, my legs were getting tired and my heart rate was the highest it had been all day. I still had no idea how close the peloton was and as we rounded the last corner into the slightly uphill finishing straight, I gave everything I had. 

The signs indicating the distance remaining seemed to take forever. 300m... 250m... 200m... Then the inevitable...

100m before the finish line the bunch swallowed us up and I crossed the line in 16th position. 

At first, I thought to myself, 'oh well, I gave it my best'. 10 mins later, the 'what if' began to set it. What if I went a little harder in the windy section? What if I wasn't so hesitant on the slippery corners? What if?...

Despite the end result, I still stood on the podium with the most aggressive rider award but I will probably dwell on what could have been for a while.