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Spin Cycle: The Saudi surge cometh?

Contains a side-helping of Gruel.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 05.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos, Aaron Humphrey, Groupama-FDJ
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Spin Cycle is Escape Collective’s news digest, published every Monday and Friday. You can read it on this website (obviously) or have it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up here.


Hello!

Welcome back to Spin Cycle, Escape Collective’s news digest.

Well, it all kicked off over the weekend. New details emerged from the serious journalists over at Reuters that Saudi Arabia is primed to chuck €250 million at Richard Plugge’s dream of wrenching power away from UCI/ASO/everyone, while over in Spain a Guardia Civil report on Miguel Ángel López’s alleged doping in 2022 makes for a pretty damning read.

In happier news, a new best name in the peloton dropped over at Groupama-FDJ, while in a bizarre twist of events, it’s the Middle East’s UAE Team ADQ who are apparently prepared to break the bank and set a record-breaking highest wage in the women’s peloton. It’s a mad world.

Sau-deal or no deal?

We’ll get into the serious points concerning the rumour-gaining-traction of Saudi Arabia’s attempted LIV-golfing of professional cycling, but first thing’s first: we will absolutely not, under any circumstances be referring to SRJ sports investments, the sports division of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) behind this rival cycling league, as ‘surge’ sports investments, as SRJ say the acronym is supposed to be pronounced on their website.

Sure, it’s not of equal depravity to executing hundreds of people a year, their widespread discrimination of women, or chopping up a dissident journalist’s body inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul before stuffing it into a number of suitcases. But the Kingdom is responsible for all that too.

Our Dane Cash has the story, first reported by Reuters, about how €250 million could be injected into a new racing league, with Visma-Lease a Bike and Ineos Grenadiers amongst the teams involved in the venture, while the organisers of the three Grand Tours, ASO and RCS Sports, are apparently not involved.

“Struggling to understand how the teams will benefit from bringing big investors in to create a new league. Surely it’s the investors who will want to see the profits,” tweeted former pro Dan Martin.

Of course, the PIF’s main goal isn’t necessarily turning a profit straight away, but the more pertinent questions as we await further details and if this ongoing saga actually makes its way into the daylight, is how the UCI and ASO/RCS Sports will treat the teams who side with the Saudis? Is there the potential that Jonas Vingegaard’s Visma-Lease a Bike get barred from the Tour de France as penance for their insurrection? How would that go down with Vingegaard? Presumably, the Dane has little to gain from the deal, and is rather happy earning millions while racing and winning the biggest bike races in the world with the status quo as it currently is.

Maybe this is how we’ll finally get a French winner of the Tour de France – with half of the teams missing. That could have the unintended consequence of Grouapama-FDJ boss Marc Madiot suddenly considering Visma-Lease a Bike head honcho Richard Plugge his new best friend in the whole wide world.

The peloton zips past the Maraya Concert Hall at the recent AlUla Tour, the largest mirrored building in the world.
The peloton zips past the Maraya Concert Hall at the recent AlUla Tour, the largest mirrored building in the world.

At this point, it feels the deal mostly benefits the owners of teams, who actually own very little in return for their hard work, aside from some team buses, a service course, and the contracts signed with riders (which seem to barely be worth the paper they’re written on these days anyway).

We’ll reserve final judgement on the whole thing for the time being, but in my personal opinion, it’s going to be hard to feel good about any Saudi-backed project.

For some further reading on Saudi Arabia, this report by the Guardian on the crown prince’s current obsession with architectural gigaprojects is worth your time.

Damning texts surface in López doping case

Following his somewhat combative disbelief that the drug testers would dare knock on his door while on holiday with his family at Disney World, it’s looking more like if Miguel Ángel López was one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs he has a far claim to being dopey, after Spanish newspaper AS reports there is now new evidence that the rider has used the banned substance Menotropin.

This is according to a Guardia Civil report seen by the newspaper, which purports to have evidence that the Menotropin, a fertility hormone drug, was prescribed by doctor Marcos Maynar and supplied directly in Hungary at the Giro d’Italia start by Vicente Belda García (son of the former director of Kelme) who was working as a masseuse for Astana.

The Guardia Civil report contains photos of four vials of Menotropin (with the serial numbers scratched off to make them harder to identify) allegedly sent to López, as well as text conversations between the Colombian and Maynar.

“I send you what you have to arrive [with] for the Giro,” reads one of the texts. “Check it carefully and if you have questions, tell me. Vicente has the testis,” with testis apparently being the codeword for Menotropin. Further texts show López complaining of problems after injecting the drug, with this inflammation to his leg apparently the reason for his abandonment of the race on stage 4, with the official message from Astana at the time being that it was a hip injury.

The Spanish judge assigned to this case (which as far as we can tell primarily concerns the Astana masseuse and others involved in the trafficking of the drugs) has not yet decided whether it’s worth a full trial for the various parties involved, because they do not currently believe what’s gone on violates article 362 of the Penal Code, which criminalises administration of substances without therapeutic justification that endangers life. For that reason, AS reports, prosecutors have asked to dismiss those charges against Belda Jr. However, AS makes the point that it will be hard for those accused to deny they are not guilty of Penal Code 361 – drug trafficking.

Either way, any more protestations of innocence from López filmed inside the happiest place on Earth are likely to fall on even deafer ears, or at the very least cause his nose to begin a Pinocchian lengthening.

Our lingering question, particularly given Belda’s purported involvement: was Lopez acting entirely on his own outside of team structures?

The latest from the rumour mill 💰

UAE Team ADQ offered one million Euros for Demi Vollering at the end of last season, according to former pro turned journalist Marijn de Vries, writing in NRC. A rumour she has heard from various mouths recently, and it’s a salary that’s more than double the previously-estimated highest figure in the female peloton.

The catalyst to this supercharging of salary, De Vries analyses, is the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

When Vollering’s manager was asked about the figures being rumoured, he replied: “I simply cannot say anything about the salaries of riders, but [you] don’t believe everything that is said, do you.”

Of course, with Lotte Kopecky also considering her future at SD Worx–Protime, could the dynastic era of the Dutch team soon be coming to an end?

Feed Zone 🥖

⭐ Having won stage 3 to put himself in the Etoile de Bessèges overall lead, Lidl-Trek’s Mads Pedersen finished second in the final day time trial to secure the general classification victory.

🇺🇸 Brandon McNulty won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana after taking the queen stage, with fellow American Will Barta taking the next day’s final stage having surged ahead solo from the day’s break and hung on to take the win.

😔 That fourth stage of the race was shortened due to the death of former cyclist Guillem Ramis (57) at the stage’s original finish line. Ramis worked as a driver for the Continental cycling team Illes Balears-Arabay.

🦵 Pavel Sivakov’s new life at UAE Team Emirates didn’t begin with the best of starts, forced to abandon the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana due to a tendon injury in his hamstring.

🇨🇿 At the Cyclocross World Championships in Tábor, Czechia, Tibor del Grosso (Netherlands) won the men’s U23 title, Zoe Bäckstedt (Great Britain) the women’s U23, Stefano Viezzi (Italy) the junior men’s and Celia Géry (France) the junior women’s race. In the elite contests, Fem van Empel beat Lucinda Brand and Puck Pieterse by more than a minute in an all-Dutch podium, while Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) completed a mightily successful weekend for the Dutch as he captured the rainbow bands – his sixth elite title – ahead of compatriot Joris Nieuwenhuis, with Michael Vanthourenhout the lone Belgian on the podium.

🇸🇦 Simon Yates secured the overall victory at the AlUla Tour (after a typo in Friday’s edition accidentally gave the win to Tim Merlier), after the Brit won the final queen stage in a three-up sprint ahead of Soudal-Quick Step rookie William Junior Lecerf, who took a surprising second, with Finn Fisher-Black (UAE Team Emirates) third.

🇪🇨 Ineos Grenadiers’ Jhonatan Narváez won the Ecuadorian national road race championships after besting Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) in a three-up sprint.

🤩 Cédrine Kerbaol (Ceratizit-WNT) gave her team their first victory as a WorldTour team with her win at the Vuelta CV Féminas.

🥵 The UCI have adapted its current Extreme Weather Protocol to include a revamped “High Temperature Protocol,” which will include five different temperature zones: white, green, yellow, orange, and red as “in the coming years, more and more competitions will be organized in increasingly difficult climatic conditions,” the UCI said. The governing body is also considering additional measures such as moving start lines to shady areas, delivering cold drinks and ice to teams during competitions, more motorcycles with water bottles, adjusting the starting time and possibly neutralizing certain parts of the competition.

🇿🇦 Ryan Gibbons (Lidl-Trek) has won the South African national road race and time trial championships for the second time in his career.

😬 The UCI has temporarily suspended Franck Bonnamour due to biological passport anomalies based on tests before he joined Decathlon Ag2r La Mondiale on January 1 2023. “While the UCI procedure is ongoing, the team provisionally suspends Franck Bonnamour with immediate effect,” the team said in a statement. The Decathlon Ag2r La Mondiale team advocates the practice of cycling in accordance with stringent ethical rules.”

Cycling on TV 📺

Tuesday February 6th

No live racing …

Wednesday February 7th

Cyclocross

Exact Cross, Maldegem – Elite Women
(07:43-08:45 ET/12:43-13:45 GMT/23:43-00:45 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes

Exact Cross, Maldegem – Elite Men
(08:58-10:20 ET/13:58-15:20 GMT/00:58-02:20 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes

Thursday February 8th

Road

UAE Tour Women, Stage 1
(05:20-08:20 ET/10:20-13:20 GMT/21:20-23:20 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes

Tour de la Provence, Prologue
(07:50-09:50 ET/12:50-14:50 GMT/23:50-01:50 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes, 🇦🇺 SBS

Friday February 9th

Road

UAE Tour Women, Stage 2
(05:20-08:20 ET/10:20-13:20 GMT/21:20-23:20 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes

Tour de la Provence, Stage 1
(08:20-10:10 ET/13:20-15:10 GMT/00:20-02:10 AEST) 🇬🇧Eurosport/Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes, 🇦🇺 SBS

New favourite rider name of the week 👌

“You have had your fill with French cycling darling Thibaut Pinot,” the cycling gods presumably barked down to Groupama-FDJ boss, Marc Madiot. “From now on, you will have to make do with bowl upon bowl of Thibaud Gruel.”

The fantastically named French 19-year-old currently rides for Madiot’s Continental outfit but has signed a WorldTour contract starting in 2025. Slightly resembling a younger, angrier Romain Bardet, we can’t wait to get our Gruel on.

And finally …

Some fans will queue up outside Mathieu van der Poel’s bus/caravan at the start of races in order to get a memento, such as an autograph, to take home with them. Others will stand at the side of the World Championships course, beer in hand, politely asking for Van der Poel to once again hock a loogie their way.

Cyclocross is just a different beast.

🧺 Send us yer laundry pics

“I had absolutely no reason to visit this laundromat other than to provide a pic for Spin Cycle,” writes Brandon Conine, attaching today’s featured laundromat. “I can only imagine what everyone in the place was thinking when I walked in, opened a bunch of washing machine doors, took a few pics and just walked right back out without saying a word.”

As always, we are accepting your laundry photos (especially ones with the doors open so we can Photoshop riders inside the drum) to star in Spin Cycle. Either send them via the Discord or shoot me an email: jonny.long@escapecollective.com

Until next time …

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