Before reading this post, press play on the clip below.
We're charging our battery And now we're full of energy We are the robots We're functioning automatik And we are dancing mechanik We are the robots
After posting a couple of procycling related posts over the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the cycling scene and what those inputs might have meant. Over a coffee with a colleague last week I realised that there was a pretty strong connection between the post about the radio ban/break away league and the doping/media issues, which had hitherto been staring me in the face whilst I chose to ignore it. On one hand managers, teams, administrators, even other riders point their fingers at dopers and claim, whether rightly or wrongly, that they acted alone, that there was never any pressure on them to do this and that there certainly wasn’t any in-house system that aided and abetted them in their misdemeanour. On the other hand though we now have the teams claiming that riders need to be connected to their managers during races by two-way radio so that the managers can inform them of the dangers ahead, whilst they sit behind the race in their cars (and as shown by the in-car coverage during Tour of Flanders, watching the race on a TV whilst driving – QED?). Am I the only person missing something in the logic here? I’d like the think I’m not the only person starting to wonder about the degree to which “control” is exerted over riders by those above them. Hence the music – it’s not to distant a fantasy to think that the riders have become robots in this piece.
The radio debate has shown what can only be described as petulance by the riders and the administrators. The latest Salvo has seen the teams walk out of a meeting with Pat McQuaid in a way akin to Union leaders who are stuck in the 1970s and Jonathan Vaughters promising to shave off his sideburns if the ban is reversed (For record, I think the sideburns are good but maybe I’m biased). The only mature discussion I have seen about it has been between Tom Southam and John Herety, rider/embedded-reporter and DS respectively of the British Rapha-Condor-Sharp team and I can see both sides of their arguments especially in the British racing context. But come on, safety issues for ProTour riders riding in races with completely closed roads. Am I the only person who, having ridden a bike, would have thought the riders, being at the head of affairs being in the best position to se the dangers ahead? But then, who am I to tell those who’ve been there, seen it, done it.
No, I think the race radio issue is one that is being perpetuated by the control freaks. What better example of the way that riders have become robots than the end of Sunday’s Leige-Bastogne-Leige. No offence to Phillipe Gilbert on what was the crowning of a magnificent Ardennes Week, but what were the Schleck Brothers playing at. After coming over the Cote de St Nicholas as a threesome, most viewers would have put good money on the team with two riders in there producing the winner. But not with the Schlecks. No, we watched as they sat, and sat, and sat. Meanwhile Gilbert got closer to the flat and used his sprint to beat them both. Were they waiting for a call from the boss to tell them to attack? I doubt we’ll know the real story but I have my suspicions.
So, if riders are controlled in one way by the so-called good guys, its not a huge leap of imagination to think that they might also be in the control of the ‘bad guys’ who run the doping circles. And if a rider doesn’t use his own brain to race, do we think they will use their brain before embarking on their doping programme. Take for example a rider like Riccardo Ricco: I don’t think I’m stating anything out of the ordinary by suggesting he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, there is sufficient evidence emerging to show how he has been led by others throughout his adult life. If he puts his faith in one group of people then others can see the weaknesses and will exploit them. This is not an excuse for doping of course but I think it is an important context to consider. With the emergence in the last 15-20 years of highly scientific and organised doping systems having riders who are easily manipulated is important for the dopers to do their business. As I discussed in general agreement with Derek at Flammecast, it is the reason that riders alone are not the only villains in this piece and might even be an injured party in some respects. And then of course there is the possibility of the good guys and the bad guys being one in the same – the doping wagon and its links to the French Mafia in Les Triplettes Belleville, now why am I starting to think of a fairly high profile cycling team (or teams) now?
Unless we give some autonomy back to the riders in terms of their racing can we really expect them to be strong enough to resist the temptations and offers of the dopers? All of which means I can’t help but think of Bill Bailey and co in their spoof on Kraftwerk. Vaughters might say don’t race this year, but the hokey-cokey can’t be far off. I think you get the point now.