onsdag 27 januari 2010

Bjarne Riis: Making cycling better

Saxo Bank manager on blood profiling, nurturing young talent and post-ban comebacks
Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis believes that the team can develop its younger riders and that the biological passport is a useful tool when it comes to signing riders. Riis, who is stepping up his search for a sponsor after it was confirmed that Saxo Bank would pull out of the sport at the end of the year, also credited his progressive methods with laying the foundation of the International Cycling Union's (UCI) biological passport. The Dane also put forward his stance on riders coming back from suspensions.
Riis was speaking at the team's recent training camp in Fuerteventura as his riders built up for their 2010 seasons.
"I'm proud of being in cycling. It's my life. I feel obligated to give back. The sport gave me so much," said Riis. "We get so much criticism but what do they do about it to make the sport better? We do things to make it better. If you want to be allowed to criticise it's because you know better. Then come up with solutions. Otherwise shut up and let us do our jobs because we try to make it a better cycling and we're doing that."
When asked about his critics and sections of the media, Riis was resolute: "A lot don't understand me or don't want to understand me. I do my job and do what I think I should do. I can't please them all but I figured that out a long time ago."
Recruiting based on blood profiles, instinct
In 2009 Riis's team ended its association with Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard. He had pioneered the squad's regime of blood profiling and Riis credited his work for creating the building the building block behind the UCI's biological passport, which opened its first doping cases in 2009. Damsgaard had always said that once the passport was in place he would step away from working closely with Riis's team.
"I think we showed the way by building our system with Rasmus and I think you can say that because of that we have the biological passport," he said. "It's a copy of what we did. Maybe ours was a little better but we did it in a way that we thought was the best but definitely the passport is a good thing. I won't say it's optimal but it's the best we have and it's definitely good."
Riis added that the passport data were used when signing riders, although it wasn't a mandatory part of his selection process. Instead, his gut instinct and his experience were crucial factors in not only determining a rider's honesty but also his potential and fit within the team. "We analyse the results when we sign riders but it depends on how far we go back. If I feel it's necessary, then we go back. It's just a tool. It doesn't absolutely make riders innocent but we still see that there are riders who cheat and who think they can come around it. It's just a tool but it's good to have.
"When you hire a rider it's a lot about gut feeling and if you use that and your common sense you're right most of the time," he added. "Sometimes you're wrong. You never know. My experience, it helps me. Not always but sometimes. I stick to my instincts. That doesn't mean they're always right."
Young talents coming up
Riis' instincts have drawn in a crop of young talent for this season, led by the likes of Richie Porte and Laurent Didier. The team manager is also expecting second-year professionals Dominic Klemme and Jacob Fuglsang to step up.
"I can't tell you where they can develop," Riis said when asked about Porte and Didier. "It's too early to say. They have talent but we have to work with them and then we can see which direction they go in. I think Didier can do okay. He finished his university studies last year so he's not really ridden that many kilometres. It's going to take him up to another level. I don't think we've seen his true potential or strength yet."
Porte signed after a stellar 2009 in which he won a time trial in the baby Giro, along with a string of other good performances, and only turned to cycling three years ago. Riis believes that the Australian houses raw talent that sets him apart.
"He's very young but I think he's an obvious talent who is good at time trialing and climbing," he said. "He has so much to learn. He's very green but give him a couple of years he might step into the scene."
Riis rode for Toshiba in his early days as a professional and at the age of 24 was dropped by the team and told he did not have a future in the sport. That harsh treatment at the hands of director sportif Yves Hezard scared Riis and it's something that he's not eager to repeat as he tries to nurture the talent he has attracted.
"We take good care of them. That's really important," said Riis. "When I was a young pro my teams didn't really take good care of me like they should. These are things we do differently here. We follow them, give them a good structure and training and that's what they need to develop. That the most important thing we can do."
Second chances
One rider that Riis won't be looking to nurture though is Riccardo Riccò, who is set to make a comeback to racing in March after a ban. Riis, who is no stranger to controversy and admitted to taking erythropoietin (EPO) and other products in 2007, believes that the Italian deserves a second chance but that he wouldn't thrive in Saxo Bank's current set up.
"I don't think that he's the first rider on my list because he has a personality that might not fit into my team, but apart from that he had his ban and I think he and everybody should have a second chance to come back and prove that he's okay. Like some of the other guys, like Ivan Basso," he said.
Asked what he thought of Riccò's apparent lack of remorse, Basso's unwillingness to criticise and David Millar, who works with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and has an outspoken stance on doping, the Dane had strong beliefs. "Ivan made a mistake, how can he then criticise other riders? I don't see the difference," said Riis. "Everyone makes Millar out to be a god but he should pay as the rest of us. They're in the same category.
"Ivan might be a different personality. Maybe he doesn't have the same need to speak up about others. It's bullshit; just because you shout out about other people doesn't make you less wrong than another guy. It doesn't make sense," he added.

By:Daniel Benson

onsdag 13 januari 2010

Despite Steroid Admission, It's Way Too Late To Pump Up Mark McGwire's Bid For Hall Of Fame

Former St. Louis Cardinals Mark McGwire is sworn in during a House Committee session investigating steroids in Major League Baseball in 2005.
At long last, Mark McGwire has elected to talk about the past - a past that isn't very pretty for baseball - and now the Hall of Fame voters are going to have to decide whether being an admitted cheater makes him any more worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown than a suspected cheater.
It's a little unclear as to why McGwire chose now to issue his mea culpa for having used steroids as he inflated his home run numbers to record-setting proportions in the '90s, other than his desire to return to baseball as the St. Louis Cardinals' batting coach cleansed of guilt. Undoubtedly, he'll attain sympathy in some quarters as Jason Giambi did when he was the only one of the players caught up in the BALCOprobe who admitted to the grand jury in San Francisco about having used steroids. But I highly doubt if it's going to make any appreciable difference in the 23-24% he's been getting in the Hall of Fame balloting.
If anything, when the voters reflect on what an absolute sham McGwire was, publicly embracing the Maris family in 1998 as he went about annihilating Roger Maris' longstanding single-season home record with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, they should be even more dismissive of him as a person deserving of any honor in baseball. In his statement Monday, McGwire said: "I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroids era."
It seems to me the most important people he needs to apologize to are Roger Maris' two sons. After all, he robbed them of their father's legacy, as did Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, although I'm not holding my breath for either of them to admit their cheating ways. (For what it's worth, Maris still has a place in the record books as the American League one-season home run record-holder.)
And when McGwire says he wishes he never played during the steroids era, I have to laugh. After all, he was the steroids era. Is he trying to suggest that he just happened to come along and get caught up in this web of performance-enhancing drugs that had been festering in baseball for years?
And whether he wants to admit it or not, McGwire's admission yesterday, along with Jose Canseco's past lurid tales of steroids use, has taken a big chunk out of Tony La Russa's legacy, as the "Bash Brothers" 1989 world championship with the Oakland A's is forever tainted. La Russa was still saying yesterday that he believed McGwire's home run prowess for him in Oakland and St. Louis was primarily the product of hard work in the weight room. It remains a weak defense from someone who has lived by the credo "respect the game."
McGwire cited the 228 games he missed over five years due to seven trips on the disabled list as his incentive to see if steroids could help him heal faster, and I suppose that's going to be the standard excuse used by all the other cheats who either come clean or get caught. And if the residual effect of taking steroids was being healthy and strong enough to make a mockery of the record book and enhance their salaries tenfold, well, who could help that?
I do believe McGwire's primary motivation for coming clean now was his desire to get back on the major league field with the Cardinals and teach hitting - which couldn't happen until he addressed the issue - and not necessarily an attempt to improve his image with the Hall of Fame voters. He has to know that finally talking about the past can never eradicate the past. Rather, it has served to further illuminate it and remind everyone, the players and their union, the media and, yes, the commissioner of baseball, that we were all complicit in looking the other way as all these cheats tarnished the game forever.
Admission of steroid use should never be construed as some form of healing process for baseball, either. There is no healing from this. But it's a whole lot better than the lying and denying.
Are you listening, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa? Or are you content to wait for your turn on the Hall of Fame ballot to see exactly how well you really fooled everyone?


tisdag 5 januari 2010

The Toll of Doping - was it worth it?

Were the experiences and competitive results I obtained with the help of doping worth the physical and mental anguish I’ve suffered during the past two years? The simple answer is “no”. While this probably seems like a no-brainer to the casual fan or weekend racer, it was not a conclusion I ever foresaw during those long nights spent hooked up to an IV or smarting from an intramuscular injection.
Doping can ruin your life...
and that’s the message I have for young athletes who might face similar choices

Don’t get me wrong - save from a few brief moments of clarity when I recoiled in disgust from my participation in systematic doping - I understand that I was willing to follow “the program” if it meant I could keep racing and practicing the sport I loved in an environment that seemed intoxicating to me.
Unbeknown to most, I had two significant opportunities to escape the system - one in the aftermath of a terrible crash in 2003 that almost cost me my left leg, and later in early 2006 after it was revealed publicly that a former teammate of mine had tested positive for EPO.
And though both times I took baby steps towards the door of mental and physical freedom from cheating, I lacked sufficient willpower, confidence and hope for a future without competitive cycling to break free. Maybe things would have been different if I’d had a stronger outside influence, or a better-calibrated moral compass, but the reality is that I didn’t, and I’m reminded of this each and every day of my life.
I don’t ask for sympathy from those of you who could never understand how a good person can make a fundamentally bad decision - or even a series of major mistakes - but I was amazed by the venomous hostility that characterized so much of the anonymous email sent to me care of my website.
I never realized that so many people felt so let down or angry with me for my own failings. I do offer my sincerest apologies to those people I directly harmed - my competitors who raced without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. I know you’re out there and I took food from your plate. (Though I met more dopers than clean professional cyclists during my time with a UCI license.)
Without cataloging the entire collection of woes that have befallen me as a result of doping, there are four that bear mentioning (in addition to almost having died after my last race), and which future professionals tempted by the needle should acknowledge:
The poisoning of personal and professional relationships that were incredibly important to me; separation from my family.
My inability to secure post-cycling work in the professional field for which I’d trained,
My subsequent financial ruin;
And the dual physical and mental anguish I’ve endured since being cast out of the sport I loved, which formed such a dominant part of my identity and sense of self.
I started cycling on May 25, 1989 - my 14th birthday, one day after the death of my father. Cycling was an escape from a shattered childhood, but also a means to supercharge my existence - to travel to exotic parts of the world, immerse myself in foreign cultures, represent my country, test myself physically and mentally and generally collect experiences that I thought would form a life tapestry rivaling that of my peers. In the end though, that tapestry is shredded. It hangs in tatters, and I’m left with little more than a few dusty trophies, fading stamps in my passport and vague notions of “what could have been”.
Unlike the authors of more than a few melodramatic letters that appeared in major cycling publications, I would never dissuade a young athlete from following his sporting dreams. I would, however, strongly encourage anyone choosing to pursue sport as a career to relentlessly analyze the long-term costs of his participation against the short-term benefits. Ruin lies in wait for dopers who are caught, but even clean sport can exact a significant toll.
There are two questions I wish I’d prepared answers for prior to leaving grad school to return to racing:
1) What would I choose to do if I couldn’t race a bicycle and
2) How would I support myself doing something I loved and construct an enjoyable life if professional cycling couldn’t be a part of it?
I’ve been forced to confront the fact that my answers to both questions are still incomplete, and that I’m running out of time to respond appropriately. I am humbled and contrite, and implore you - young athletes to avoid making the same mistakes that have consigned me to my present state.

by Joe Papp