Cycling News Extra for August 2, 2004
Edited by Anthony Tan
Australian cyclists - besieged at home, triumphant abroad
By Gerard Knapp
Australian cyclists were triumphant at the highest levels over the weekend, with victories in the men's road World Cup, the Tour of Hungary and domination of the World Junior Track Cycling Championships.
After six weeks of the most unprecedented bad publicity for the sport in Australia - based on the unsubstantiated allegations of suspended sprinter Mark French and Olympic team selection politics - a group of Australian cyclists showed they are maintaining the form that generates such respect outside their homeland.
As the men's road World Cup resumed on the weekend with the HEW Cyclassics Cup in Hamburg, Germany, it was South Australia's Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) who showed the track-craft honed on the velodromes of Australia to take a superb sprint victory over Paolo Bettini (Quick Step - Davitamon) and reigning world road champion, Igor Aslarloa (Lampre).
Across the Atlantic at the World Junior Track Cycling Championships, the young Australians have dominated proceedings, with the latest victory of Matthew Goss (Tas) and Miles Olman (Qld) in the Madison taking Australia's gold medal tally to six, and there are still events to be held.
Meanwhile, in the Tour of Hungary, it was the turn of Team Cyclingnews.com's sprinter Cody Stevenson (NSW) to bag the final stage victory of the major stage race in the former Eastern Blok country. On hand to watch proceedings and present the trophies to the winners was Jean-Marie Leblanc, the race director of the Tour de France, the world's major stage race.
It was more good news for Team CN, as Stevenson's team-mate and fellow New South Welshman, Phil Thuaux, finished the race in second-place on general classification, the best result yet for the Division 3, professional development team.
The CEO of Cycling Australia, Graham Fredericks, was a happier sports administrator on Monday morning. Fredericks is confident the performances of the Australian riders on their bikes will begin to change the tone of publicity surrounding the sport in Australia.
"Yes, things are looking up," he said. "Even when you're flat on your back, you're still looking up," he joked. "I'd have to say that the future of Australian track cycling is looking awfully bright. There's a real talent pool coming through."
Fredericks said it would be the 12th time the Australian squad has topped the medal tally at the junior track world championships, "but perhaps not as convincingly as this". So far, the Australian juniors had taken out half of all the gold medals on offer.
Fredericks was also delighted with the performance of Stuart O'Grady, "who now has to be a favourite for the men's road race at the Athens Olympics".
While the Athens road race may not be the most significant event from an international perspective, a strong showing at the Olympics would generate considerably more publicity at home than wins in other monuments of the sport, such as Milan - San Remo or the Tour of Flanders.
Most in the sport are hopeful the weekend's performance will change the way the Australian mass media reports on cycling. But on current form, the latest achievements are likely to be ignored. Currently, the mass media is focused on reporting only the whereabouts of Jobie Dajka, who's now left the Australian track team's training camp in Germany, as well as maintaining the unsubstantiated allegations of the now-suspended rider, Mark French. Despite the third thorough investigation of French's claims - and complete exoneration of all riders except French and Dajka - the claims are continually repeated in many Australian media outlets.
However, as riders such as new world junior sprint and keirin champion Shane Perkins have shown, it seems that French won't be missed in another four years when the next Australian team is being chosen to compete in Beijing.
Perkins told Cyclingnews after his gold medal ride in the Keirin that he had been upset about all the negative publicity, but had handled it well. In fact, he actually used to train with French, because they had the same coach.
"It just makes me want to try harder," the young sprinter said of the negative publicity. "But we're the juniors and we're the clean ones coming through."
Gary Sutton keeps the juniors on track
Australian cycling's 'king of the kids' maintains team spirit in trying times
Two months of unprecedented bad publicity and negative press have undoubtedly damaged cycling's reputation in Australia, yet the kids are alright, it would seem.
Gary Sutton, the manager of Australia's junior track squad, has kept his squad focused over the past five days and they now have six gold medals to their credit. In an interview with Cyclingnews' Kristy Scrymgeour, herself a former professional cyclist who rode under Sutton's direction while with the NSW Institute of Sport, the former world track champion and 'king of the kids' explains how he maintains team spirit in trying times.
CN: How has the doping scandal back in Australia affected your junior team in the past month?
GS: The coverage we've been receiving back home had an enormous effect on the kids. These kids have role models within the sport and it was difficult training at the Dunc Gray velodrome with the media in such numbers.
"I would like to think on the positive side of it all that at least now they know that there are no short cuts.
"I'm disappointed in the coverage. When it comes down to it, none of our athletes have tested positive, that's the bottom line. If there were anyone cheating the system back home, it would be safe to say that you could count them on one hand.
CN: "This obviously has had an effect on the notably clean Australian athletes who are totally unrelated to the situation going on in Australia right now. How do you think this has affected other athletes and role models such as Bradley McGee.
GS: "Bradley McGee is my motivation when I'm working with these kids. I've known him since he was a snotty nosed young kid and each year he comes home I have fantastic conversations with him and I know that he is doing it a la natural.
"I always say to my son Chris, 'always keep Bradley as a role model', because not only is he a great athlete, he is also a fantastic person.
CN: What do you think it's going to take to change the image and status of cycling from where it is now?
GS: "It's going to take an enormous effort for the official side and from all sides to bring cycling out of this low but really, people have to realize that we are trying harder than any sport to clean things up and if we have to take a couple of steps backward to go forward, then so be it.
"It's going to be the younger generation that brings the life back into cycling. As long as we can keep them in the sport and keep it fun for them that's the main thing.
CN: What is your impression of all the comments people have been making around the world making accusations and such?
GS: "I always say that people can make comments if they like, but there's only one person who really knows the truth and that is the athlete."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)