TdF 2016 – Stage 20

….and with an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) gone. With an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) not there. Today was the last ‘proper’ TdF stage before the hugging, champagne and cigar processional on the outskirts of Paris prior to the sprint on the Champs Elysees tomorrow.

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Barring anything untoward happening Chris Froome will win his third (and Team Sky’s fourth) Tour de France tomorrow. The anti-Sky brigade have been less vocal this year, or maybe I haven’t been seeking them out so much. They undoubtedly still exist and nothing will convince them that Froome is clean. I understand adopting a questioning attitude to outstanding sporting performance – it’s right that we shouldn’t necessarily accept what we see at face value – but if there is doubt, there has to be a basis in fact for it, not just a gut feeling or some difficult to contextualise raw data.

Also, what do the doubters actually win if they’re proved right? Will they endlessly, victoriously retweet their HE MUST BE DOPING missives from 1,2,5,10,20 years ago if/when the time comes? No-one comes out of this scenario particularly well, although I suppose they get to feel all vindicated and warm and fuzzy inside. It’s all a bit THEY GOT ME LAST TIME BUT THOSE PESKY KIDS WON’T FOOL ME AGAIN! SUCKERS!

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Over the years I’ve seem some sporting performances that I simply did not believe. I’ve been right about some, probably along the right lines with others although they’ve not – yet – been proven one way or the other. I was at the Anniversary Games today with Team FtW. The two junior members of Team FtW are very taken with Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Renaud Lavillenie. At their age I remember watching the men’s 100 metres final at the 1988 Olympics on TV. Although I didn’t understand what it all meant at the time, I broadly understood that sprinting was a discipline in which people cheated. It’s too simplistic to say that Ben Johnson et al made me cynical, but they made me question what I saw back then and what I see now. At the moment, Junior FtW believe that the performances they see are real. We have tried to be honest with them about how athletes cheat and what that means, but we haven’t (yet) had to go through the process of explaining that a sporting achievement they watched was actually a lie. I’d like them to swerve that particular right of passage really, but it’s highly unrealistic.

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Back to cycling, the thing I really don’t like though (and the thing that stopped me seeking out certain people the first place) is when the super-cynics start retweeting or quoting tweets from Sky superfans in order to belittle their belief and laugh at their stupidity. If attempting to make a devoted harmless grandmother feel silly is your way of having fun, you probably need to have a good look at yourself. Let them be. They aren’t harming you. Fight your battles somewhere else.

I’m quite wary about making bold statements on who I think is – and isn’t – clean. I believe it’s reasonable to have hope that the performances I’ve witnessed are achieved without resorting to illegal measures. Equally, it’s sensible to keep some scepticism in reserve. Broadly, performances in cycling are still slower today than they were during the EPO era. Chris Froome isn’t riding away from his fellow GC contenders in the mountains every day.

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I’d hate to think that Team Sky sit on the team bus after every stage wired up to God knows what, pissing themselves laughing at the idiots that believe in them. Frankly they’d have to be pretty bloody stupid to be doing that now. Surely in an age of smartphones with cameras and recording equipment built into them where people constantly over share about their lives on social media, they couldn’t contemplate indulging in such risky, reputation-shattering behaviour? It’s like the Moon landings. How could they have been faked when thousands of people were involved in making them happen? Someone would have talked eventually.

Maybe I’m just another dickhead, but I choose to believe that 90% of what I now see is real. Tomorrow I’ll enjoy the celebrations in all of their end of Star Wars glory.

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I’m not sure which one Chris Froome is in this gif. Maybe C-3PO? 

 

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Duty of Care

When your children leave you, at whatever age that might be, you hope that someone will look out for them.  As a mother of two eight year old daughters, that day is (hopefully) unimaginably far away. However, you can never know what their future may hold. It’s with that in mind that I have been keeping an eye on recent events.

How do you deal with the moment when your talented cyclist daughter tells you that they’ve been released from the British Cycling setup four months before the next Olympic Games? Moreover, she tells you that a senior manager told her to ‘go and have a baby’ after previously telling them that they had ‘a fat arse’? It subsequently becomes apparent that other people claim to have been on the receiving end of the sort of comments that would lead to instant dismissal in most modern workplaces.

Imagine receiving the news that one of your twin boys, one of a pair of brilliantly gifted young cyclists has failed a doping control test? Then it emerges that the team doctor failed to submit the required TUE form. Your son’s team has accepted full responsibility for the test failure but you know that cycling has a massive image problem that it is trying to shake off. Moreover, you believe and hope that your sons are making the right informed choices about their lives.

You go with your teenage daughters to a football game. They don’t want to sit with you because they want to do their own thing. You let them go because…what choice do you have?  You’d rather that they sat with you in the stands, or with their dad on the terraces, but you can’t force them. They don’t get to go home that day.

In all of these cases, the people involved were not protected by the bodies and authorities designed to do exactly that.

Jess Varnish’s position in the GB cycling team became vulnerable when the women’s team sprint team failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. In a setup where medal winning potential is the most important criteria and with Becky James making an excellent comeback from illness and injury, Varnish was always going to be fighting her team-mates to win a place in the individual sprint and keirin events. However, why spend a considerable amount of time and funding on someone only to kick them out with a couple of months to go? The politik course of action would have been to keep Varnish in the team and take her to Rio see if Shane Sutton would be proved right, or if she could prove him wrong. As for the comments that he (allegedly) made, professional sport is a relentlessly tough environment, but there can surely be no place for that culture.

Sutton is undoubtedly a brilliant coach with a proven track record and British Cycling would not have achieved its phenomenal successes without him, but he’s not exactly Gene Hunt. Hopefully the outcome of this debacle will be a better, more balanced structure in British Cycling that values female cyclists as equals to the men and provides them with access to appropriate role models.

When the news broke late last night on social media that an unnamed British cyclist had failed a drugs test, there was a small amount of hysteria and despair. Not Geraint Thomas. Not Pete Kennaugh. Not Hugh Carthy. A few minutes later, it was reported that Simon Yates was the unnamed cyclist. It felt unbelievable…and yet…with the history of the sport, who could really know? It appears that Yates has a well-documented history of suffering from asthma.  There are calls for transparency around prescription medication in professional sport but does the public really have a right to know when a rider is receiving treatment for an STI, or is taking a course of antidepressants, for example? In this case the system worked in one sense because the test found a suspicious substance. However, if it is merely a paperwork error and Yates was taking medication prescribed by the team doctor, his reputation has been tarnished for something that was not his fault. One could argue that he could have checked the status of the medication himself, but if it’s prescribed by a medical professional, how much are you going to question them?

Hillsborough. 27 years to clear the names of the 96 people that died and the countless others whose lives have been adversely affected. Sarah and Vicky Hicks were let down by every single body that was supposed to protect them. Moreover, the continual lies, smears and cover-ups that took place did not allow them to rest in peace.

As a parent, all you can do is let them go. You can’t protect them from discrimination. You can’t tell them to double-check every single medication they’re prescribed. You can’t tell them where to stand. All we can do is hope that those who have a duty of care will protect them as we have done.  When the systems fail them, we have a duty to challenge the status quo. Only then will meaningful, positive change be achieved.