Episode 5 in my home-made Top Trumps series welcomes you to the exciting world of Rainbow Curses, disagreements, scandals and really bloody good cycling. Yes, this time I’m taking you through 7 of the World Champions who are still in the pro peloton - the 8th being Marianne Vos, who I've covered elsewhere - and as always it's from a fangirl perspective, rather from any place of knowledge.... We'll start with the Curses and move on through – but don’t worry, this article does have a happy ending!
If there’s a Curse Of The Rainbow Jersey, it seems to have been doubled by Nicole Cooke winning the World Championships and the Olympics in the same year.
Up to 2008, Cooke had won, well, pretty much everything, in her time. She started in 2000 as the World Junior Road Race Champion – she’s won the UCI Road World Cup Series twice, the Giro Donne, Giro del Trentino, the Grand Boucle – almost all the Classics, at some time or another – in fact it’s probably easier to say what she HASN’T won (the Tour de l’Aude - yet)
For her 2008 season she was riding for Team Halfords Bikehut, an all-British team with David Brailsford learning his skills as general manager and a specific goal of getting Olympic glory for Cooke. It worked too – Nicole won the Gold (with the support of non-Halfords riders like Emma Pooley). It felt like Britain could be a real force in women’s cycling… except then Halfords decided they’d rather support a men’s domestic team (which they also dropped after a year), and David Brailsford seems to have dropped any interest in women’s cycling at all as he moved his focus to the Tour de France.
So as the Halfords riders struggled to find homes for 2009/10, Nicole joined forces with Stefan Wyman, who’d been DS-ing and managing Swift racing ( Nicole had guest-ridden the Grand Boucle with Swift in ’08, and came 3rd overall). Vision 1 brought on board riders like Vicki Whitelaw and Aurore Veerhoeven, as well as ‘Cross riders Helen Wyman and Gabby Day. The team started well, with Nicole coming 5th overall in the Tour de l‘Aude – but just after that in May, Stef Wyman left "by mutual agreement" – and although Cooke went on to win the Giro del Trentino, by August the team had run out of funds, and folded.
Nicole also had health issues that summer – but things seemed to look up when she signed to Nürnberger Versicherung. Except then Nürnberger pulled its sponsorship – but that was OK, because Skyter Shipping stepped in. But then in murky circumstances, Skyter pulled out (I’ll never buy a luxury yacht from them again). The riders went cap in hand to everyone they’d ever met, begging for funding (including rumours that Cooke had been to Brailsford, who had been happy to use Cooke to promote Team Sky as it started, but less happy about helping women's cycling...) – by the time it all collapsed completely, it was too late for the riders to find new teams.
Follow me below the jump, and I'll not only tell you what happened next, I'll introduce you to more.....
So Cooke has been riding 2010 leading a British Cycling Team GB made up of young riders with the sole purpose of supporting Cooke (I’ll write more about the National Teams another time, but I think this misses a trick – if Team USA can make up teams to prepare riders for the Junior World Champions next month, I don’t see why British Cycling can’t) – except this was put on temporary hold after 5 of the riders were involved in a horrible accident in Belgium when a car pulled out of a sideroad and managed to injure all of them… Rainbow Curse? What Rainbow Curse? Who knows what happens next? Nicole’s only 27 – and she was back on the roads for this weekend's Open de Suède Vårgårda - but at this point it feels like anything could happen next…
Nicole wasn’t the only former World Champion caught up in the Nürnberger-Skyter debacle. Amber Neben was World Champion in the ITT in 2008, although to be fair, she’s combined huge talent with patchy luck (of all kinds) throughout her career, which has been dogged by health problems.
At age 4 she caught meningitis and was in a coma for 4 days – throughout school and university she competed in athletics, but kept suffering stress fractures that stopped her running. She moved to cycling, where she won the Tour de l’Aude in 2005 and 2006, the Route de France in 2007, the Tour de l’Ardeche in 2008, and pretty much all of the USA stage races. Then in November 2007 she noticed some strange patches on her lower back. These turned out to be skin cancer. Luckily, she'd discovered it early, and was able to go through her treatment in the winter months, coming back to win the World ITT Championship in 2008. She has to have regular check-ups with her oncologist, and so far the cancer is in remission (here's to it staying that way forever).
Like Nicole, Amber was left without a pro team for 2010. She'd ridden for Nürnberger in 2009 , coming 4th in the Fleche Wallone, and Gracia-Orlova, and winning stages in Gracia-Orlova, Tour de l'Aude and the Giro Donne, before crashing out in stage 5. This year she's riding for a USA domestic team, Webcor, and was brought to the Giro Donne by Manel Lacambra's Team USA... where she crashed out in Stage 9. She's currently recovering from having multiple plates put into her collarbone - but here's to her coming back healthy and strong - and to a real pro team - for 2011.
However, it's not just heath and teams she's had problems with - in 2003, while she was riding for T-Mobile, she tested positive for 19-Norandrosterone. She said that this was unintentional, and it was as a result of taking contaminated supplements. The UCI agreed, saying they "did not find [she] had engaged in intentional doping", and the North American Court of Arbitration of Sport gave her a 6-month ban, from the moment she'd withdrawn herself, which meant she could try for the 2004 Olympic team. (You can read the CAS ruling here). All that is years in the past, but I mention it here, as it provides a segue into the story of the next World Champion....
Marta Bastianelli was a very young, very talented cyclist who was battling with Marianne Vos through the World Juniors and European u23 road races from their first races. In 2006, when they were both 19, Marta was 2nd to Vos in the Road World Championship – in the 2007 World Champs she escaped on the last lap and became World Champion, ahead of Vos and Giorgia Bronzini.
Her results in the big road races boded very well for the future – 10th overall in the 2007 Giro Donne, 8th in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen; 2nd in the 2008 Fleche Wallone, 10th in the Emakumeen Bira and 11th in the Giro Trentino. She came 3rd in the u23 European Road Race Championships…. Where post-race testing found her testing positive for the banned amphetamine derivative fenfleuramine.
Fenfleuramine was mostly used as an aid to weight loss, until it was banned for causing heart problems. Bastianelli has always denied she took it deliberately, saying her pharmacist had given her what she thought was a pineapple-based herbal weight-loss aid. She’d been under a lot of pressure to lose weight, and later admits it had all got out of control (one of the craziest things about the case was Renato di Rocci, President of the Italian Cycling Federation claiming, as if it would make the defence more believeable, that she was winning all these races eating only salad…). I am a cynic about doping excuses, but there is a good case for believing she wasn’t doing it deliberately – and the stuff she was taking contained benfleurex, which metabolises into fenfleuramine, rather than the actual stuff (I know, I know, that's a shady distinction) - but the bottom line was she hadn’t checked out the contents with her team doctor, management or anyone else, and this is why she was banned.
In a cautionary tale for banned cyclists everywhere, she was initially banned for a year by CONI before she appealed to CAS - leading to the UCI putting in a counter-appeal, and CAS increasing her ban to 2 years (you can read the CAS press release here)
There are all kinds of questions raised by this case about the obsession with weight in the cycling world (Bridie O’Donnell was tweeting about a team-mate weighing her food, and the pressure to lose even more weight) – and what this means for the very young riders, especially in societies that value thinness for girls over brains etc – and the pastoral responsibilities of teams to keep riders not just in peak condition, but also healthy. I am not absolving riders from the responsibility to triple-check everything they take (I take daily thyroid medication, and it’s second nature to check out anything else I take, just in case – and I’m not being paid to do it!), and of course no one really knows all the ins-and-outs of a case except the people involved, but still, it’s a warning in more ways than one.
So Marta missed the Olympics, and the chance to carry on challenging Marianne for all those Young Rider jerseys and wins. She carried on training throughout her ban, and took a part-time administrative job in a local prison, which had indicated she’d come back to professional cycling with Valdarno – but she’s signed to Fenixs-Petrogradets (who also provided a berth for Svetlana Bubnenkova after her ban for EPO in 2007) and returned to the roads for Thüringen-Rundfahrt. She interviewed recently that she is more in control of her weight issues now – here’s to her riding healthily and well.
Don't worry, that's it for the doping scandals, health problems and team disasters - the last 4 World Champions have much more positive stories... and the only scandal with the next one comes under the banner of comedic, and fun!
Remember when Cav crossed the line in the Tour de Romandie with a two-fingered salute? He was just following the example of fellow HTC rider, Judith Arndt, who way back in the 2004 Olympics had crossed the line to win the Road Race silver medal with a similar gesture of disdain .
Judith, being nothing if not outspoken, didn't bother with ridiculous excuses about historical accuracy, archery and other nonsense - she was completely upfront about the fact it was aimed at the German Cycling Federation, after they hadn't selected her partner, Petra Rößner for the team. It was about cycling strength, rather than love - and last year she was publically angry about the way the Federation had taken Sarah Düster out to Mendrisio for the World Championships, only to tell her two days before the race that they hadn't actually registered Sarah to ride, so she couldn't start.
Judith's had a great career, both on the track and on the road. She's another of those World Champions who's won pretty much everything - from an Olympic bronze for points in 1996 and silver on the road in 2004, to World Championships on the track in 1997 and road in 2004, to the UCI Road World cup series in 2008. She's held at least 12 German National Champion titles, including the 2010 ITT title, and this year she won a stage and came 3rd overall in the Emakumeen Bira, came 2nd in the Giro del Trentino and 2nd in the Giro Donne, which is pretty damn impressive for a rider who says that her weaknesses are very, very long hills. And her season's not over yet... Like the other World Champions, she's got one eye on 2012 - and until then she'll be a GT contender in all the big stage races to come.
From one German National and World champion to another... Hanka Kupfernagel is our oldest champion still on the roads.... and on the mud, as she's a 4-times World Champion in Cyclo-Cross as well.
When she started out, she had to fight to be allowed to ride 'Cross, as it was seen as a sport that's too tough for girls. She refused to believe that (I love the interview on her website, where she says the weather "hasn't killed anyone yet") - and has gone on to be massively successful. Once able to ride, she was instrumental in the fight to get the women paid prize money for the World Cup (they were allowed to ride if they did it for free...), and she's still one of the most fearsome competitors out there.
She's included in this article because she also won the road Time Trial championship in 2007. If that's not enough, she was junior pursuit World Champion on the track and junior Road Race World Champion in 1992, and won the silver medal in the Olympic Road Race in 2000 - and she's won 31 stage races, specialising in the ones known for tough, lumpy stages, often in the rain - she's won Krasna-Lipa 6 times and the Emakumeen Bira 3 times. Most recently she won the ITT at the Internationale Thuringen-Rundfahrt der Frauen riding for the German National Team - and check Monty's article, because there are some links to interviews in the comments, and all kinds of evidence of what a popular rider she is with the fans. Expect to see her back on the mud for the 'Cross season, where she'll be loving the awful weather, and burning up the track!
Next comes my favourite current Champion, Sarah Storey. She's currently the Paracycling World Champion in the LC1 category, in Road Race and ITT on the road, and 500m and Individual Pursuit on the track. She's always been an over-achiever - at 2 years old she was the only girl in the Cub Scout pack her parents ran, and she went on to play pretty much every sport (including being the only girl on her local boys' cricket team). At 14 she entered the Paralympics for the first time, as a swimmer - she went on to win 5 golds, 8 silvers and 3 bronze medals over 3 Paralympics, until she had to give up swimming in 2005 due to recurring ear infections. This didn't stop her - she moved to cycling instead, winning the 500m Time Trial and the Individual Pursuit on the track in the 2008 Paralympics. It's not easy being a paracyclist, as there aren't many opportunities to compete - there was no World Cup in 2010, and there seem to be all kinds of uncertainties even about the Worlds. And anyway, Sarah's nothing if not competitive. She competed at the British National Track Championships, winning the Individual Pursuit title in 2008 and 2009 - and seeing as her 2009 IP Paracycling time would have got her 7th place in the UCI World Championships, a move away from paracyling was always going to be on the cards.
This year she's ridden across Britain with fellow Paracyclist Jody Cundy to raise over £300,000 for the British Paralympic team, and rides on the roads with the team run by Stef Wyman, Horizon Fitness, coming 15th in her first ever pro -race Time Trial in the Tour Féminin en Limousin. She'll be riding in the Paracyling World Championships in Canada later this month - and has her eye on qualifying to ride in the Olympics for Team GB, ideally in the Team Pursuit squad and the Individual Time Trial. She talks about her chances here- and although both Nicole Cooke and current Olympic IP & TP Champion Rebecca Romero both are also after that particular double - not to mention current TP Olympic champions Wendy Houvenaghel and Joanna Rowsell, and current Olympic silver ITT medallist Emma Pooley wanting to keep their spots - I'm rooting for Sarah to be one of the few atheletes to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.
After all that, reigning Road World Champion Tatiana Guderzo (or Tatana Guzerto, if you were unlucky enough to be watching the World Champs coverage on the BBC) has a pretty ordinary story. Well, if you don't count the fact she has one of those Fiamme Azzurro jobs, where she's paid by the Italian Prison Service to ride her bike. And she rides for Valdarno, which is pretty much the team of the prison service, and doesn't believe in the internet... OK, she's got as much randomness as all the rest!
She won last year's World Championship with a beautiful piece of team riding. She attacked off the final break of her team-mate Noemi Cantele, ITT Champion Kristin Armstrong and former World Champion Marianne Vos, and solo-ed to the end. This was her first major win, although the signs it was coming have always been there - Olympic Road race bronze in 2008, and she's been working her way up the Giro Donne top 5 year-by year, from 5th in GC in 2007 to 3rd this year - so expect her to win the race in 2012!
She's a consistent GC threat, and so far (TOUCH WOOD) does not seem afflicted by the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey at all - either Cadel has her share, or it was so virulent in 2008 that it's given up in embarrassment and slunk off.... and long may that last!
Up next in Top Trumps.... No idea - climbers, maybe? Or a DSs? Check back to the series and find out - or add your suggestions below. Next time should be shorter, I promise!