Archive for June, 2010

Ideas to combat doping – Idea 6

June 18, 2010

Idea 6: More teams in the big races
Right now there is an enormous amount of pressure on the marginal teams, those fighting for the last spots in the Grand Tours and Classics. Instead of 22 teams of 9 riders or 25 teams of 8 riders, change to 30 teams of 5 riders. That way most teams know from the start of the season that they are in the races that matter, and there is less pressure on the riders to perform. This idea would also solve a bunch of other problems, in fact I think it could be at the core of a program that really boosts cycling, but we’ll leave that for later as it is a bit off topic.

Note: It would also help to select these teams for multiple years, so the future is secure and less pressure exists on performance.

Ideas to combat doping – Cedric Vasseur guest blog

June 15, 2010

Cedric Vasseur, former professional cyclist and president of the CPA (the professional cyclist union) from 2007-2009, contacted me about the anti-doping blog posts I have been writing. I asked him to put his thoughts in a guest blog, which he graciously did. I corrected a few typo/grammar issues, but the content below is his. Please let Cedric know your thoughts via the comments section below. I thank Cedric for coming forward with his thoughts.

Dear Gerard,

I read carefully your blog and your ideas for helping cycling to find back his real place in the society. I must admit that all of them are really interesting and could be part of a new anti doping program.

Before going further I first would like to tell you that Cycling is already on the right way. Since a while we are having wonderful races, a real battle between the riders who are showing more than ever their limits. In that way I think that all the work that has been done since the terrible 1998 Festina affair really is starting to pay off.

Still we are listening that this or that rider is coming with some revelations but most of the time it refers to the old past. Cycling does not have to make the mistake to believe that one day not a single rider will be tempted by doping because it is one of the most difficult sports existing and this is why education is really essential. We also need more professionalism inside some the teams because there are still some people who have no business being in our sport. Your ideas about salaries and pensions as well as big sanctions for cheaters are also legitimate.

We also should not forget that Cycling is a sport and for me Sport = Spectacle = Dream. I have the feeling that those last years our sport government forgot that. We must promote the sport, the efforts and the most important the RIDERS…. I came to Cycling because I wanted to imitate Bernard Hinault who was my hero. Today my little boy is having a lot of heroes in Football but he is watching cycling without a special feeling for a rider and that’s a big problem. Lots of sports have more money than cycling and I guess the athletes from those sports are also tempted to grow faster but the last positive test in the Football World Cup for instance was in 1994….. I think those sports are a lot more organized than ours and we have to follow their example. I mean with all the doping problems there were in cycling it can’t only come from the riders, the system must be responsible.

So first of all, let’s try to organize a more federative system than the individualist one we are having still right now. 70% of the budget of a football club is coming from TV rights, 18 % from sponsors and around 12% from spectators.
In cycling more than 80% comes from sponsors.. When we will be able to go into such a communal system it will change a lot the mentalities. Let’s work on it. Money generated by cycling must be redistribute to all the stakeholders otherwise it is a jungle. Then, we also need an evaluation commission. That commission will check all the races and the performances. There for sure are some inhuman victories like Landis in Morzine (I finished 52min13s after him) or others cannot least for a long time. But for that you need people who know cycling and can appreciate it……

The cleaner cycling is, the fewer riders are tempted by doping. That we must put in our mind! A career is short and most of the riders are signing 1 or 2 year contracts. Again, in football those contracts are done for 3 to 5 years….Conclusion…

Finally I want to congratulate you for the new Tour de France jersey. Really nice. Cervelo TestTeam is definitely bringing cycling a new breath…. Sad that I am almost 40….–)))

Kind Regards,


Ideas to combat doping – Idea 5

June 8, 2010

Idea 5: Salaries & pensions
This may provide the biggest break-through but also meet the most resistance. As with all of the previous ideas, it could work in any sport, it’s not cycling-specific.

Think about the guy who dedicates himself to his sport for a decade or two, struggling to make a living, only to find out that he competed against cheats. The lost prize money, salary, his economic loss would be staggering, never mind his sportive loss. Contrast that with somebody who has made millions per year for many years, then buys off prosecution for a few bucks or by crying in Congress. He lives like a king until the end of time.

So I would suggest a change in salaries. Just like now, a rider can get any level of financial compensation. But we cap the amount that is actually paid out immediately to a certain amount, say 250,000 Euro/300,000 USD per year. Anything above that will go into the sport’s athlete pension fund. As soon as the athlete retires, he will get a pension out of that fund which is related to the amount he put in (the compensation he didn’t get each year). The pension will last his whole life, or until such moment when he is caught cheating through testing (during his career or retro-actively). In that case, he forfeits further pension payments and instead his pension money is redistributed among the honest athletes who are still in the fund. It has several benefits:

  • Honest riders may have lost out on some salary during their active career, but they will receive a very generous pension, in line with what they would have earned if their career hadn’t been hampered by the cheats. Imagine the pension a clean baseball player from the McGwire era would make. It would be astronomical.
  • There is no need to claw back money from an athlete after he is caught, as he never received those large amounts to begin with.
  • Athletes who burst onto the scene quickly, get big salaries and lose themselves in expensive cars, cocaine and dog-fighting are now a little more protected from their own stupidity, as they won’t have that much to spend.

Obviously there could be many refinements (increasing salaries as the athlete gets older, etc), but you get the idea. And don’t say it won’t work because teams will make side deals and image contracts and whatever. If a team is caught circumventing this rule, it is avoiding an anti-doping effort. Teams can’t afford to take that risk (especially since testing for financial tricks is much easier than for doping products). I know there are hundreds of reasons why it wouldn’t work, but why not think about the reasons it will work.

Ideas to combat doping – Idea 4

June 6, 2010

Idea 4: Education
I once asked a group of riders: “Why does a sponsor pay you money?” It was quite difficult to get an answer. My next question was” “Why does a sponsor STOP paying you money?” Also not easy. This to me is incredible, how can you not know why you are getting paid to do something, and why it may stop? I don’t blame them, I blame management (see idea 3).

So at the first Cervelo TestTeam meeting, this was a big topic of education. The whole story is a bit long, but the crux is that in cycling, winning is not that important. That doesn’t just apply to a team like Cervelo TestTeam which also focuses on other things like product development and fan access, it applies to all teams. Here’s the proof: in most sports, the top team has a budget roughly 10 times bigger than the smallest team in the league . For example, Manchester United’s budget is around 10x that of the bottom of the premier league (Brad Wiggins would argue that’s Wigan). North American sports with a salary cap are obviously a bit different.

In cycling, the delta between the biggest team and team #20 is around 3:1, not 10:1. The reason is that in most sports like soccer, being #20 means you get very little exposure – only if you play #1 and even then you don’t get nearly the exposure of the #1. In cycling, as long as you get into the big races like the Tour, you get exposure. Maybe you don’t contend for the GC, but there will be stages to get into the breakaway, or you fight for the polka dot jersey, or you take a sprint victory. There is exposure to be had for everybody, as long as you get invited. Henceforth, winning isn’t that important, getting invited is, and while there are of course athletic considerations that determine the invites, having the right ethical stance also goes a long way.

With winning being less important than in other sports (remember the 3:1) , why are cycling teams focused so much (and often exclusively) on winning? It doesn’t make sense. So focus on the fans, on product development, on whatever your heart desires. Also on winning, but not at all costs, and hence not at the cost of cheating, as that might just be the one thing that keeps you OUT of the big races.

You can be darn sure Cervelo TestTeam riders know why sponsors are involved in our team.

Ideas to combat doping – Idea 3

June 3, 2010

Idea 3: Professional management
As long as we do not have professional management at all levels of this sport, we’ll be spinning our wheels and the sport will never reach its full potential. We have a long way to go in this regard, but things are slowly improving with some new teams entering the peloton (I’m not saying all the old teams are bad).

I don’t know if the Garmin, Sky or Cervelo model is the future, they are all different and time will tell, but at least new ideas have a chance now and other teams will follow. Ex-riders have a place in the management of teams, but they are way, way over-represented right now.

Think about it this way; cycling teams are a service industry with three types of customers:

  1. Fans (create a spectacle that is worth following)
  2. Sponsors (assist them to reach their objectives in the sport)
  3. Riders (support the riders to race successfully)

Name one other industry where the main human resources strategy is to hire customers?