Kanstantsin Sivtsov: Ex-Team Sky rider banned over EPO

Kanstantsin Sivtsov
Sivtsov won the under-23 road race at the 2004 World Championships

Former Team Sky rider Kanstantsin Sivtsov has been banned for four years for using erythropoietin.

The Belarusian, 37, was suspended after EPO was found in an out-of-competition sample in September 2018. He subsequently retired.

Sivtsov, who rode for Sky from 2012 to 2015, was part of the team that helped Briton Chris Froome win his first Tour de France in 2013.

At the time of his suspension Sivtsov was riding for Bahrain-Merida.

The ban – imposed following an International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping tribunal – expires on 4 September 2022.

EPO, a hormone produced naturally by the kidneys, can be made artificially and has been found to improve endurance in athletes.

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Could you be a future Para-cycling champion? Scott launches search for new partner for Tokyo

Sophie Thornhill celebrates (right) Commonwealth gold in 2018 with pilot Helen Scott
Pilot Helen Scott (left) celebrates winning Commonwealth gold in 2018 with Sophie Thornhill

British cyclist Helen Scott is hoping her dreams of getting the chance to retain her Paralympic title in 2021 will be realised after launching a search to find a new partner.

It comes after Sophie Thornhill announced her retirement, ending a six-year partnership which yielded eight world titles and the Paralympic gold.

Scott and British Cyclingexternal-link advertised the vacancy on social media on Monday.

She said: “Hopefully the person we get will be up for the challenge.”

Scott, who won the time trial B kilo title in Rio with Thornhill, is hoping to attract a tandem ‘stoker’ – the blind or visually impaired rider at the back of the bike.

The 29-year-old from Birmingham added: “To find visually impaired athletes is quite difficult because most of the top athletes are already in their sports and heading to Tokyo, but you’d be surprised.

“I think we’re going to have five or 10 for sure who are going to be able to test, and who knows what will come off the back of us putting out a wider announcement.”

Scott also revealed she and her new partner would face a race against time to make the team for next year’s rescheduled Paralympics.

“Sophie and I had qualified for Tokyo – our bike was on that plane – but this is different and we’d need to qualify for the World Championships which will hopefully go ahead in January, so there is a time limit on when we need these performances,” she said.

“It is going to be tough but what a story it could be. It’s such an inspiring place to be. I’m biased, but who wouldn’t want this opportunity?”

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Leah Dixon: Welsh cyclist makes do with virtual reality victory

Leah Dixon
Leah Dixon switched to cycling after injuries curtailed her athletics ambitions

Leah Dixon thought her dream of competing with the world’s best would become a reality this year – instead she has come out on top in the new cycling world of virtual reality.

The 28-year-old Welsh cyclist, riding for Team Tibco Silicon Valley Bank, won the first ever V-Women’s Tour by nearly 22 seconds on Friday night.

It was not the sort of victory Dixon – an athlete who only started riding in 2016 – envisaged after signing her first professional contract in January 2020.

The rider from Aberdare was, like her rivals and team-mates, looking forward to the real event.

Instead, that ambition fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic and waits for June 2021 to be fulfilled.

“I’m really pleased to have won the virtual women’s tour, it was a really intense few days of racing,” Dixon told BBC Sport Wales.

“We went into it with some team tactics, they didn’t necessarily go to plan to start with after my team-mate Lauren [Stephens] had a virtual mechanical on stage one [when the internet drops out so the avatar stops moving], but we were able to reframe and go again with a different plan.

“We were able to work together all the way to the line. Stage three was a very brutal criterium that never really calmed down. I spent a long time with a max heart rate of 190 and was just trying to hold on.

“It was really painful, I found the race really tough. I felt like from lap 15 I was just counting down the laps. It was really tough.”

Leah Dixon
Leah Dixon’s view of the road ahead was not what she had expected for 2020

The stage race, which has been held in Britain every year since 2014, was due to take place from 8-13 June.

“I didn’t really have that many expectations going into the race. I’ve done quite a bit of virtual racing in the past. I used to ride a lot on a turbo trainer, but when you’re in a race against professional cyclists that’s a completely different ball game,” said Dixon.

“I was pretty nervous and excited to be racing against some of my heroes and for me, the Women’s Tour was the race that I really wanted to do this year so I was really happy to be able to do it in some capacity.”

Dixon started cycling in 2016 having previously struggled with injuries while competing in athletics.

“I kept fit and concentrated on my education instead, and then I bought a road bike as a way of keeping fit and things snowballed from there,” she explained.

“I’m now in a really fortunate position to have support from Welsh Cycling and the Wales Racing Academy, as well as being on my first professional UCI team.”

Dixon also has a job working as a procurement manager, which she juggles alongside her cycling training.

“I have a reduced hours contract. I’m really lucky to be part of such a supportive environment both from Tibco Silicon Valley Bank and from a work perspective,” she said.

Dixon says this year has been a “roller-coaster” from the highs of getting her first professional contract for everything to change a few months later as Covid-19 struck.

“We were out in Belgium when the lockdown actually happened and I’d just done one of my first ever classics races and I was really excited to be in these races and racing against my heroes. That was when things slowly started to get cancelled,” she said.

“From a coaching perspective, we just decided to try and reframe things and not really aim for a specific race because what would happen if that then got cancelled?

“My goals are still to help Tibco Silicon Valley Bank to a successful season, do my job and learn the ropes as a new professional cyclist, but also to hopefully represent Great Britain one day, and to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games, which, as far as we’re aware, is still in 2022.

“Even from when I was a junior athlete as a runner, I remember watching Wales compete in the Commonwealth Games and just being like ‘I want to be there’. I’d love to be there one day.”

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Chris Froome arrives at a fork in the road

Chris Froome crashes in 2006

Back in 2006, at the beginning of Chris Froome’s career, he came to a fork in the road on the Road World Championships time-trial course, seconds after he rolled off the ramp.

Uncertain of which way to go, he hesitated and went straight on, piling into a race delegate. Both ended up in a heap on the tarmac, the innocent party’s paperwork flying into the air.

It was an inauspicious start to what has become a glittering career.

Fourteen years later, and there’s another fork. Another decision to be made. The noise about a possible move away from Team Ineos has never been louder.external-link

That moment of clumsiness in 2006 seems unbecoming of a fearless and innovative racer, but things go wrong when people are in a hurry.

And he could be in a rush again now.

“My dream is to win more Tours than anyone,” the 35-year-old told L’Equipe in April. “It would be the perfect scenario, but I know there is still a lot of work to make it come true.”

Froome needs two more victories to make it six, taking him ahead of Eddy Merkcx, Jacques Anquetil, Miquel Indurain and Bernard Hinault. No-one has won more. (Well, not anymore, Lance.)

But leaving the team which has powered him to all of his seven Grand Tour victories could be riskier than a 90kph descent while balancing on a top tube.

Chris Froome
One-team man: Froome has been at Team Ineos (formerly Sky) for a decade

Shouldn’t he just stay put?

The newly formed Israel Start-Up Nation appear to be favourites to draw Froome away – to match or better his annual salary of about 5m euros (£4.5m) and make him the single focus of their attempt to win the Tour.

That sounds fine, but it’s no easy task to embed a new team leader.

“Often the biggest challenge can be something as simple as language,” said the boss of one World Tour team.

“If the riders have trouble communicating, it can take a bit longer to settle in.”

It has been a year since Froome crashed before the Criterium de Dauphine warm-up race and sustained terrible injuries. But that, coupled with team-mate Egan Bernal’s Tour win, appears to have changed Froome’s mindset.

During the 2018 Tour he ceded to Geraint Thomas to aid his long-time friend, and longer-time domestique, to victory – based on the meritocratic philosophy of Team Sky/Ineos; whoever has the better form going into the decisive part of the race would get the team’s backing.

It is a philosophy the team have made work better than any other, but backslaps and congratulations can’t forever hide what someone can feel when giving up such an accolade.

But Froome has been the darling of only his second team since he came to Europe from Africa in 2008. Does he really know any different?

Chris Froome
Froome has won four Tours de France, two Vueltas a Espana and one Giro d’Italia

A time to fly

Froome is still the boss, isn’t he? What could be the reason he would feel that status slipping through his fingers?

Bernal. The Colombian is media-trained enough at 23 not to admit it, but he won last year’s Tour at a canter. That bizarre summer snowstorm did not assist his maiden Grand Tour victory – more sheer performance in reserve. Oh, and it was his second three-week race ever.

And he has made it clear he has no intention of standing aside to lose out on another Tour victory to a team-mate.

“I’ve already won one, and I’m not going to throw away an opportunity to win another,” he said. “That I would sacrifice myself being at 100%… I don’t think I’m going to do that, nor will anyone.”

Chris Froome and Egan Bernal
Bernal, right, has been riding for Ineos since 2018

A lot has been written in recent weeks about Froome’s potential departure. Something – or someone – appears to have rattled his cage.

“I am ready for the Tour and to be a leader,” he said recently. “The important thing is the team wins, that’s what matters. The road will decide the rest.” He did add, though, that he wasn’t sure how the team would manage its ambitions with three team leaders.

Froome knows Thomas, and has beaten him several times. He will believe he will always be capable of beating him again. Less so Bernal, perhaps.

Status in road cycling is based strongly on reputation and certain signposts of strength.

Thomas, for all his hard work, has cracked before in Grand Tours in the mountains. Froome never truly blows up on the climbs. And last year’s Froome-less Tour showed Bernal – consistent, unspectacular, patient and showing almost no pain in the high mountains – is a version of Froome. Only with time on his hands.

Twelve more years, to be exact.

It would be disrespectful to say Froome would be running scared of a less experienced rival. But it is disconcerting to see a younger version of yourself with so many of your qualities – in any walk of life, let alone a sport with such brutal demands.

“If a rider is giving his best then you accept it, support them but also re-align your goals and consider your options,” says the aforementioned general manager.

“Modern cycling is about being versatile and not relying only on one rider. Before you had a team leader who was much stronger than all his domestiques. Nowadays, the margins are much smaller and everyone at the top level is stronger.”

If it does take months or even years to dial yourself into a new team, but your 23-year-old rival is already winning Grand Tours in ‘your’ team, then time – and the odds – can seem to be against you.

Ultimately, no-one knows which way is best for Froome: Stay or go? Left or right? He has to work out what is best for him.

For fans of Britain’s most successful cyclist, let’s just hope he doesn’t end up off the bike facing a pile of paperwork.

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Peter Sagan to skip classics in favour of Giro d’Italia

Cyclist Peter Sagan stands next to the Giro d'Italia trophy at the route presentation
Peter Sagan attended the Giro d’Italia presentation in October

Three-time former world champion Peter Sagan says he will skip most of the one-day classics this year to ride the Giro d’Italia after the Tour de France.

Sagan, 30, will target a record eighth green points jersey at the rescheduled Tour from 29 August to 20 September.

He will then make his Giro debut from 3-25 October, missing ‘monument’ races the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, both of which he has previously won.

“I promised the Giro before the date changed,” said Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan.

“I really want to respect that promise. You cannot have everything in this world, sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”

The Giro, which was scheduled for 9-31 May, was moved to follow the Tour once the calendar was revised because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Italian Grand Tour now overlaps with most of the one-day classics that were set to take place in Belgium and the Netherlands across March and April.

Slovakia’s Sagan added he will race the season-opening Strade-Bianche one-day classic on 1 August before targeting Milan-San Remo on 8 August, the first ‘monument’ – cycling’s oldest and most prestigious races – of the season, which he has twice finished second in.

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