Stephen Roche Insight: Giro, Landis, bio passport and the improving lot of French cycling
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stephen Roche Insight: Giro, Landis, bio passport and the improving lot of French cycling

by VeloNation Press at 3:44 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia, Doping
Triple crown winner talks about the state of the sport

Stephen Roche1987 Tour de France winner and former world champion Stephen Roche always has interesting opinions about professional cycling, and spoke to VeloNation recently about a number of matters in the sport.

The latest in our series of updates from him relates in part to the Giro d’Italia and Ivan Basso’s victory, as well as the message this gives to the media and fans in light of his past. Roche believes that Basso is doing things correctly, and that the win is proof that the push for a cleaner sport is succeeding.

He also talks about the Floyd Landis accusations, claims that the UCI took bribes, Italy’s push to clean up cycling, and the improving fortunes of French riders and teams.


VeloNation: First off, as the weeks count down to the start of the Tour de France, what did you think of the first Grand Tour of the season, the Giro d’Italia?

Stephen Roche: I thought it was a very good Giro. You can go on about the weather and the conditions and everything else but it is bike racing. You can’t cancel the event because it is raining or avoid dirty roads – that is like taking the cobbles out of Paris-Roubaix.

I think it was a great race in itself. Basso won it and I was quite happy with that because I think that it is very unfair that some journalists write that you can’t win races without taking stuff. First of all, how many of those journalists have actually ridden a bike? How then can they talk and say that he can’t win a race without taking something?

I think that Basso and the likes of David Millar are two guys who have been there, they have paid their price. I put my confidence in those guys and I think they are doing things in the right way. Millar has come back and got some good results and Basso comes back and wins the Giro.

VN: Is that important to see, that these riders who have apologised and said they are doing things clean can still succeed?

SR: Yes, I think it is a good thing overall and it hopefully will encourage the young lads as well to look at these guys and believe that it’s possible. You read so much that you can’t win a race without taking something, but hopefully it will show that the playing field is becoming more level now. If Basso can do it at 32 years of age, maybe they will feel that they can do it.

Also, I have said this to a number of riders before….when you speak about Basso, when you speak about Lance Armstrong, in one sense they will falsely admire these guys, while at the same time criticising them. They say ‘these guys are crazy, they do thousands of miles, they go and do Alpe d’Huez ten times.’ I say to them: stop. Listen to yourself. Don’t presume that those guys are taking stuff just because they are going so well. At the same time, these guys are working very, very hard.

Stephen RocheSo look at the work they are doing, first of all. The hard work always pays. Maybe if they can work as hard as these guys, maybe they can get somewhere as well. Don’t just look at these guys and presume they are taking stuff. Results don’t just come from doping, the results are coming from the hard work and the dedication they are putting in.

I hope that the younger guys can look at these guys and say ‘okay, we have confidence in the system. We would like to feel that Millar and Basso are clean because of where they are coming from, and at the same time they are getting results.

VN: Floyd Landis made the news recently, talking about alleged wrong-doing on the US Postal team. How do you react to this?

SR: Everyone can talk about what Landis said. Whether we have heard it before, whether we know about it but refuse to acknowledge it, I think it does belong to a certain past, which has to be considered as being in the past and that is the way it is.

At the same time, I think you have to move on and say that from that past, you have learned so much. We have increased controls, the severity of the controls, the in-depth testing…everything has gone forward because of the past.

So things are better, even though all the cheats aren’t going to be banned straight away. They are going to keep cheating, and hopefully they will be caught. Some guys won’t be caught, but hopefully it will serve a deterrent for everybody else.

I think that Landis’ thing was…okay, a lot of stuff in there we had heard about before, but nobody had ever proved it. It has always been, ‘I heard this, I saw that, someone told me…’ All the things we have heard, the same stories from before, and we couldn’t put a finger on it and say ‘this is it, this is certain.’ Even the strongest insurance companies have gone down the road trying to get money off Armstrong, or rather not to give him money [the SCA case], and they lost, because nobody could prove that he had done those things.

I think that you have to say this is all part of the past and get on with it. You know, I think that what Landis did would have had more power and more strength if he had done it better. I think that there are other ways of coming clean than the way he did it. You don’t have to tell the whole world about it. He could have gone to the UCI, sat down with them, and said ‘this is what I have seen, this is what I have done, this is what was happening around me. Please now have it on file and do something about it.’

He could have done that, rather than getting on television and in the media….you have to ask what credibility he has got? He has been lying for the last number of years, it has cost him a fortune and there is no money left, and now he has come along and basically told us what we already knew. So why come out and do it now?

VN: You are on the ProTour council – do you think the UCI needs to have an independent investigation, given that it was accused by Landis of taking bribes?

SR: No, I think that we can say it is part of the past. I think that the UCI and Pat McQuaid have been doing a great job. He is making slow progress, but I think at the same time he is gaining confidence from different bodies around.

Where people think of the UCI, [former president Hein] Verbruggen was about marketing, communication, finance and business, whereas [Pat] McQuaid is bringing a more sporting aspect to it and in doing that, he is probably generating more credibility for the UCI and keeping an open plan, trying to keep it as transparent as possible.

So I think whatever happened in the past…we all have our doubts about it. But I think the thing is to look at it now and say ‘because of the past, we are where we are today.’ We are coming out of the hole and the people are in place now to bring the federation and cycling forward. So I think that McQuaid and the UCI are doing a good job in that way.

VN: So you feel things are going in the right direction?

Stephen RocheSR: I think so. I think the way things are going at the moment will also help give more credibility to the sport as well. Also the Valverde affair will help bring credibility as you could see that the UCI didn’t just take things lightly and say, ‘okay, we can’t do anything about this guy.’ Instead, the UCI kept the finger down, it cost them a fortune to get where they got, and at the chance of not getting anything. There was a chance that he could have gone to the end of his career, costing the UCI a fortune. But it wasn’t the fault of the UCI, it was the Spanish federation and the management around Valverde who wouldn’t take the decision.

Fingers were pointed at Italy years ago, saying that they weren’t cleaning up their act. But they can’t say that they aren’t doing it, because all the Italian riders were being caught positive. The Italian federation started getting their act together and trying to dissuade cyclists and athletes from doping. Now the Spanish have to do it, they are a length behind now. They are ignoring the fact that there is doping in the sport and they have to clean their act up.

I would just hope at some point in time the journalists will turn to another sport, and also give credit to cycling for what they have done to contributing to cleaning up sport in general. Other sports are looking at cycling, what has been done with the biological passports and everything else. They are starting to do similar controls in their sports. But we don’t talk about the positive cases in others sports…maybe you get a few lines in the bottom of the paper, but with cyclists they make a lot of drama about it.

There was a problem there and that gave cycling a bad name. It took a long time for cyclists to realise that the media focus on it isn’t going to go away, our sport was going downhill, sponsors were running as all the time the spotlight [in the media] was for the wrong reason. So riders, sponsors, directeurs sportifs, UCI, federations and foundations all came together to try to do something about it.

They have come up with a very good system, the biological passport, plus all the random tests and everything else. There is a lot of co-operation between the federations, the teams and others. So things are going forward and other sports are taking interest and taking note of what cycling is doing. Unfortunately they still talk about the negative side of cycling.

VN: The French riders are doing a lot better this year – do you think that is down to the biological passport making the field more level, or is it a case that the training and other factors are becoming more advanced there too? It was said by some that one of the reason the French riders and teams were behind was that they were not working hard enough.

SR: Well, it is sad to say it, but looking at the riders who are doing well, they are nearly all on end of term contracts. I have always said that the French riders moan and groan, saying that ‘we can’t beat the Italian guys because they are doping, we can’t beat the Spanish guys because they are doping,’ rather than getting out and training hard and doing things properly.

If you look at the profile of the riders from teams that are doing well today, like Bbox, they are all end of contracts and looking for sponsors. So strangely enough all these guys are coming to the fore. I think it is a case that the riders know they could be out of a job at the end of the year, and are knuckling down.


Coming soon: More from Stephen Roche, including his expectations in relation to the 2010 Tour de France. What can be expected from the race, and who will be on form?

During his career Stephen Roche added many of the sport's biggest races to his palmares, and will be sharing his candid insight with VeloNation readers throughout the 2010 season. Stephen now runs the Roche Marina Hotel in Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, France. He hosts teams and individuals who use the hotel as a training base, giving them access to famed local climbs such as the Col d'Eze and Col de Vence, as well as a location that enjoys 320 days per year of sunshine. Roche Marina Hotel

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