Another one bites the dust

Yesterday afternoon news filtered through that Australian rider Matthew Lloyd had been sacked by his Omega Pharma-Lotto team. Initially the picture was unclear: a link to a team press release in Flemish was posted by @inrng on Twitter required web-based translation by the non-Flandrian leading to all kinds of thoughts.  But as the evening wore on, more detail emerged. Though still far from perfect, it seemed Lloyd had not been sacked for any doping offence rather “the collaboration between Matthew Lloyd and the Omega Pharma – Lotto team” was being “discontinued” for behavioural reasons. The mind could only boggle.

As we have come to expect with cycling news, the full story is only beginning to emerge. There has been debate on Twitter about what Lloyd has done and the rights and wrongs of his employer.  Following the initial news there has been a trickle of further information. Lloyd himself had alluded in a statement on his own website about his recent non-participation in the Volta a Catalunya to other, non-physical problems which were affecting his cycling:

Of late, subconscious elements have crept in slowly and steadily leading to a bogus phase of being so eager to be involved mixed with the slow process of recovery we cannot be 100% sure the first race will be of the highest quality, but thankfully the people surrounding me have blessed me with the confidence to once again feel the heat around the corner. Not to mention a brilliant team who’ve given me the opportunity to once again step it up a notch in order to remain directly driven towards the event I anticipate the most – The Giro D’Italia.. If Iv’e been bleeding in places you can’t see, and feeling the affects of doors being locked, I’ve called the people who change the locks, and the gate is open… All I have to do is ‘open the gate’.

This doesn’t sound too dissimilar to some of the feelings I have had over the last 18 months. Clearly the environment in which Lloyd finds himself is high pressure, one can understand the eagerness to return from a series of early season injuries and the added pressure riders put on themselves to secure results.  But when things don’t go to plan the pressure can mount. Is this the root cause of Lloyd’s problems? Possibly, though probably not all.  His team leader, Phillipe Gilbert, has indicated that “private problems” was the reason for Lloyd’s dismissal that the team gave in an email to other riders.  I’m sure I was not alone in thinking that Omega Pharma-Lotto were perhaps the bad guys in this case, sacking a rider going through a difficult phase of life rather than providing appropriate support. I know from bitter experience how a supportive employer might have made a difference.  Omega Pharma-Lotto have obviously been supportive to Lloyd in his recuperation from 2 nasty injuries and not rushed his return, as Lloyd acknowledges himself. Sport is getting better at dealing with longer term physical injuries, though even here there comes a time when a continuation of the contractual relationship is questions, as illustrated by Manchester United’s Owen Hargreaves.  The pressure for results in all supports needs fit bodies on deck not on the physios table.  When the injuries are less visible professional sports teams might be forgiven for not noticing and failing to understand them properly.  However, sport has a crucial role to play in highlighting more positively the implications of psychological stress as it is where most young men, the group least likely to admit a problem, can be exposed to these issues.  For this reason I am hoping that Omega Pharma-Lotto haven’t just abandoned Lloyd at a time of crisis. Looking at the statements made it would seem more complex than that.

I’m sure more detail will emerge around this case in due course. It highlights the way in which doping has become the problem in sport (not just cycling), eclipsing other welfare issues for riders/sportspeople.  In order to succeed riders dope but are we doping them with the expectations we place on them?  It highlights the fragility of individuals wellbeing in the face of pressure to succeed.  Ultimately sport is a microcosm of society, a lens through which to view our own issues and dilemmas. Pressure to succeed will always be there but what is the cost we are willing to pay for this.  We all have pressures on our life and many of them are outside of the work environment. Unfortunately it is difficult to close off different elements of life and the dangers of putting too many gates in place only adds pressure.

I hope Lloyd has the necessary support to get through this phase of his life. I hope that Omega Pharma-Lotto have helped him as much as they can. I hope this is an isolated incident, a relationship issue which happens in life.  But I also hope it can be a further wake up call that these things are just around the corner. As Gilbert said

I’ve said it before: ce n’est que du Cyclisme, it’s just racing. There is another life outside our sport.

What’s important is to ensure that life has some quality to it.

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