Bjarne Riis's departure from Tinkoff-Saxo is the exception to the rule in a sport where teams and managers are inextricably linked. But while some stability is welcome, perhaps more staff turnover would see the sport evolve faster, writes Al Hinds.
After one of the most drawn out, leaky sieve, type PR strategies, it’s official, Oleg Tinkov and Bjarne Riis are no longer as one. On Sunday evening somewhere in Europe, Riis’s suspension turned rancid and the Dane was shown the door of the team he’d launched and managed for more than a decade. None of it was all that surprising, the issues surrounding the relationship of Tinkov and Riis are nothing new, trading barbs almost from the outset of their high-powered partnership.
What ultimately broke them apart, it’s hard to say, but if I was to make an educated guess, I’d put it down to a disagreement over the kind of premier cru reds the team was stocking in its purpose built kitchen truck. Or not. Personally I’m not particularly interested. It’s at least in Tinkov’s view irreparable, and the two have now gone their separate ways.
The 228-page CIRC report reveals just how far the sport has come in the last decade to clean itself up, but warns doping is still prevalent in the peloton and the sport remains at significant risk of regressing to its old habits. Importantly, it also offers solutions.
Perhaps the most telling of lines in the the Cycling Independent Reform Commission’s rigorous review of cycling is a timid appraisal of the sport’s current health in the opening chapter, ‘Elite Road Cycling’. Rather than an unequivocal line in the sand that separates the insidious, wild west era of doping that has clouded the last decade and more, and today’s crop of riders, the review simply offers a “probably”. Things are, probably better than they were, but we can’t say for sure.. The exact line “doping and cheating remain evident in the peloton, though it is probably not as endemic as it used to be” colours a lot of the depth of the report. A realistic, frank discussion of what the sport’s been through and the mountains it still needs to conquer.
There has certainly been progress in the last five, six years, the introduction of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), a more intangible change in the sport’s culture, including the formation of organisations like the MPCC, major investigations like those conducted by USADA and CONI that have ruffled the feather of the doping establishment, have all been factors in helping the sport renew. For those looking for good news, CIRC’s report is adamant the introduction of the ABP particularly made it more difficult for doping riders to continue what they were doing.
Last Sunday, in Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines, Anna Meares became the greatest female track cyclist of all time.
That line at least led Cycling Australia’s release shortly after her breathless performance in the Women’s Keirin, where at 31, she shrugged off her competition to win her 11th World Title, a mark that’s never previously been surpassed in track cycling. Meares has taken world records, Olympic, Commonwealth and World Championship titles, she’s had a longevity, that’s made her a force over more than a decade, and, she could well do more before she retires. In short, she’s an extraordinary athlete deserving of all the praise she’s afforded.
But I’m always reticent to get swept away with the greatest, the best, particularly when it's further qualified, by the classic, 'of all time'. Comparisons, between sports, between athletes, between eras, are unsatisfying in their determination to simplify something down to a better or worse. They're compromised in their simplicity. More often that not weighted in the present, in what an author has seen and experienced - quickly forgetting history, ignoring context.
The English Premier League is among the world's most watched sporting competitions because every game in the season carries weight. The same can't be said for cycling's WorldTour, writes Al Hinds.
My mum, the good soul that she is always opposed having cable television, for fear my brother and I would be glued to the screen thereafter, lost in the endless hours of programming it offered. But after we moved homes to an area where our aerial simply struggled to even pick up the faintest signals of her favourite ABC, she finally relented. We had the basic package, but back in those days, that also came with sport, and having only sparingly been exposed to wonders of the English Premier League previously, I quickly became a dyed in the wool fan of not just my anointed Arsenal, but also the league as a whole.
It was hard not to be carried away, and I must’ve watched hundreds of hours of the EPL between 2003 and 2005, hardly the best complement to my studies, but with an almost religious devotion, it was a part of my life. The history, the contest, the whole narrative of the 38 games. There were all sorts of battles within battles, derbys, the fight for spots in the UEFA Champions League, the title race, the battle for relegation. Every game offered something. The 2003-2004 season was brilliant as an Arsenal fan, the “invincibles” romped home, an achievement which now seems an age ago (C’mon ya Gooners), but the 2004-2005 season is perhaps more memorable.
Just because you believe something to be true, doesn’t make it so, writes Al Hinds.
Cycling Australia has had a bad 24 months. That much is clear as day. At a time when the sport’s profile is at record levels, and cycling’s elite sporting success is as good as it’s ever been, the contrast to the health of its administration could not be more stark.
It’s overspent its budget, despite an increase in funding from the Australian Sports Commission, has seen a stagnation in its membership base, and has had to overhaul its board completely under strict conditions dictated by the ASC. The longest serving board member is former president, now director, Gerry Ryan, and he’s been involved less than 18 months. But, we’re told, the clouds are clearing, and the organisation is set for a new era of stability and growth.