This Week’s Whys #3

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Spanish racing has roared into life (hey Tadej Pogacar!) but it’s rumours from Denmark that dominated the week. Meanwhile, a first pro win in Australia…

Why have Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutsenko been in the news?

At the start of the week, a cycling anti-doping foundation (CADF) report detailing an alleged link between two Astana riders and cycling supervillain Michele Ferrari was leaked in Danish news outlets; you’ll know by now that the riders were Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutsenko.

Although the story exploded across social media, there was a sense of familiarity and muted eye-rolling from a cycling fanbase that have been hurt by doping many times over. If cycling fans deserve any credit, it’s for their ability to mourn disgraced heroes. Whilst there remains no hard evidence of association between the pair and the banned doctor, the phrase “no smoke without fire” rings depressingly true. How will we respond to Fuglsang’s next victory?

Anyone but Jakob!

Why should we believe in Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutsenko?

Although the “never failed a test” rhetoric has been drained of all power by a heavily flawed system, there are some thin reasons to stay hopeful on this occasion. Pro cycling has a long list of offenders and there is mounting pressure to develop the resources responsible for catching dopers. The sport is riddled with suspicion and “doper fear”. Against this backdrop, the power of accusation is huge.

The report stated that one of twelve people interviewed claimed to have seen Fuglsang working behind a scooter with Ferrari near Monaco. It’s a paper-thin claim, not least because Fuglsang would be cluelessly irresponsible to meet with the most renowned doping architect of the last thirty years. The report also suggests Ferrari was with Astana at the Volta Catalunya last year (a race won by Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez – but with Fuglsang absent). Even for the brash and sometimes despicable Alexandre Vinokourov, this would have been a wild card to play. It’s become extremely easy to launch accusations at a team like Astana, especially with the difficulties surrounding “proving a negative”. But then again…

Why should we worry about Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutsenko?

…both Fuglsang and Lutsenko did have phenomenal seasons. At times, the loveable Fuglsang looked a world-beater for the first time in his fourteen-year career. Whilst the power of accusation is certainly inflated in pro cycling, that doesn’t mean that claims are always unfounded. Whilst any decision by Astana and Michele Ferrari to “get the band back together” would be mind-numbingly stupid, the parties involved inspire little confidence. As Cycling Tips’ “Secret Pro” put it: “Have we actually gone back to the same fucking bullshit”?

Perhaps relics from the golden age of doping – like Vinokourov – still believe in the magical ways of Michele Ferrari. Perhaps they believe he’s “different now” and that it’s fine to just “meet with him”. Ultimately, the biggest losers will be the riders. The marks against their names – however small – will be magnified for the rest of the season, and perhaps several after that.

Why didn’t Ackermann win a race in Mallorca?

Pascal Ackermann showed in 2019 that he could go kopf-to-kopf with the likes of Fernando Gaviria and Elia Viviani. He flexed his muscle, won the points jersey at the Giro, and dislodged the talented Sam Bennett from the pure sprinter spot at Bora-Hansgrohe (being German helped with this, you’d think). He started this season with two strong rides (2nd and 2nd) in a pair of one-day events held in Mallorca. With most of the field behind his back wheel, Ackermann would have notched up two victories had it not been for one man: Matteo Moschetti. The Italian won both Trofeo Playa and Trofeo Felanitx and suddenly looks a very interesting piece for Trek-Segafredo.

Why have the women’s Australian races been so much fun?

Despite the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race being the only Women’s World Tour event, the ladies tend to entertain more during the Australian racing season. There is a notable absence of Dutch heavy-hitters, but absentees don’t seem to hit as hard as they do in the men’s races. One explanation could be the relative reliance on European riders on the men’s side of the sport. At the turn of the year, there was 23 Europeans in the UCI’s top 25 male riders. By contrast, the ladies top 25 contained two Australians, a South African, two Americans, a Canadian, a Cuban and Jutatip Maneephan from Thailand (American Leah Thomas was just a handful of points outside the top 25). With the utmost respect to Richie Porte, riders such as Amanda Spratt, Lauren Stephens, Arlenis Sierra and Lucy Kennedy help sprinkle the ladies’ time in Australia with some extra pedigree.

Perhaps I’m blinded by the fact that that two of my favourite riders took victories this year. FDJ’s 28-year old Brodie Chapman arrived solo to win the inaugural Race Torquay; a victory made sweeter by her agonising failure (a late catch) on the opening stage of the Tour Down Under. Then – at the Herald Sun Tour – Canyon’s young New Zealander and Zwift Academy graduate Ella Harris took the second and final stage climbing up to Falls Creek. It was a quirky little 44km jaunt and Harris was dropped before clawing her way back to take her first pro win.

I’d love to say she made it look easy… but it was a fight all the way to the line

Why did we hate on Bahrain’s kit?

The hatred of Bahrain’s orangey/red/sunburst effort is starting to wane. I am proud to say that I have never lambasted the design, but it’s good to see others beginning to warm to the jersey which will illustrate the final chapter of Mark Cavendish’s career.

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