The stolen chances: Brad McGee speaks about racing clean in a dirty era
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Friday, October 26, 2012

The stolen chances: Brad McGee speaks about racing clean in a dirty era

by VeloNation Press at 10:14 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
‘The more I think about it, the more it makes me mad as hell’

Brad McGeeAustralian rider Brad McGee has spoken out about racing in the same era as the Lance Armstrong/US Postal domination, saying that he believes his chances of being a top rider then were incompatible with his decision to compete clean.

McGee had good image during his career, having the reputation as one who didn’t take banned substances. He has opened up about his experiences via a fascinating article in Theage.com.au, describing how demoralising it was to try to perform in the top races against others who crossed the line.

“I was competing not just against Armstrong, but against the Armstrong years. I feel my professional years — my Tour de France years — have been stolen,” he wrote. “The 2005 Tour stands out in particular. It was the first time I had aspirations for a high overall position, based on my natural progression.

“In the 2004 Giro d'Italia I had finished eighth overall, and in 2005 I had a top-10 finish in the Tour of Switzerland. I was well trained with strategic altitude blocks, and had a reasonable backing from my team, FDJ.

“The Tour started well and in the first week I was able to match the top contenders, but then there was the first rest day... After that, Armstrong and his Discovery Channel completely changed the race. In effect they just tore it to bits.

“I got dropped, cramped and was lost in a sense of disillusionment for the next two weeks, until I felt the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees under my wheels on the final stage.”

Determined to try to salvage his Tour with a stage win in Paris, he launched an attack close to the line. However while he got a gap on the bunch, his effort was foiled by another rider who would later get busted for doping. Alexandre Vinokourov stayed on his wheel until the finishing straight, then blasted past and grabbed the stage victory; McGee held on for second, frustrated by what might have been.

“The more I think about it, the more it makes me mad as hell,” he said about the lost opportunities. “But I have to move on from the fact that I have, more than likely, missed out on results and revenue, plus more, because of others' doping.”

In reality there were many riders who found themselves in McGee’s position, although his natural talent did enable him to still have a decent career while many of them either drifted out of the sport or gave in to temptation. While he never improved on that eighth place in the Giro, he was able to take other strong results such as stage wins in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné Libére, team pursuit gold in the 2004 Olympics and victory in the 2002 individual pursuit at the worlds.

He is also one of a select group of riders to lead all three Grand Tours.

McGee writes of his victory in the prologue of the 2003 Tour de France, where he beat David Millar by fractions after the latter dropped his chain close to the line. The Briton would otherwise have won, but the mechanical issue cost him several seconds.

McGee might have initially felt that the victory was a somewhat lucky one, but said that a conversation with Millar made him realise that he right person had triumphed.

“After the 2003 Tour, in which I won the prologue by less than a second from Dave, who dropped his chain three times, I spent several days at his home,” he explained. “He confided in me that I was the rightful winner, even though he'd had mechanical problems that cost him time. I knew enough to know what he was talking about - that he was doping.

“But instead of taking action, I selfishly accepted his words as a compliment and enjoyed the kudos.” Millar was banned the following year and, seeing how much the suspension affected him, McGee states that he should have done more when he realised Millar had started using substances.

Perhaps because of the need to show others that it is possible to win clean – and also because of his shock and revulsion at the extent of the doping on the US Postal Service team – he said that he took the decision to speak about the topic.

“For too long I have not bothered to share my experiences. It seems only ex-dopers are invited to the table, because they can help improve control measures, whereas I can't. I can only assist with preventative measures.

“My experiences aren't of the "best seller" variety, but they have credibility. Unlike the money-making, conscience-clearing (and yet totally necessary) books we have read of late, my experiences were comparatively mundane.”

McGee said that others tried to entice him to use drugs during his career, but that he was able to resist. “During 11 years as a professional, I was confronted by doping several times by people from all walks of cycling life - including riders, support staff and doctors. Each time I was able to say, "No".

“Over time, and never faltering on this stance, the confrontations became less frequent, then non-existent. In each case, the confronter would eventually say something like, “Sorry, I was wrong - you were right all along.”

He has outlined three key points in preventing doping, namely education of riders and others as to the rule, being aware of your capacities and setting achievable targets, and also surrounding yourself with people who will support you, and who will not accept unethical choices. He also stated that he believes the threat of criminal prosecution or jail time has been a major deterrent in countries with such rules in place, including France.

In telling his story, McGee chose not to name names today, saying that his article was not about finger pointing. However he said that there was a good anti-doping ethos at the Francaise des Jeux team, whom he raced for from 1999 to 2007, and also at CSC in 2008.

He’s now a sports director with the latter and said that he has brought his personal philosophies into his dealings with riders.

“For four years now I have been a sports director with the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team. I have one simple rule – no doping. It's really not that difficult.

“I'm no angel. I have and will continue to make mistakes, but on the issue of doping I have stayed true to my ethical and moral standards. That means as much to me as any victory. Doping will never be fully eradicated, but a continued effort to stop it from spreading is vital.”

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