Lizzy Banks stands in front of a black backdrop, looking into the distance.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: The alarming story of Lizzy Banks

The British rider went public with the details of her nine-month saga to prove her innocence.

Hello and thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. The Spanish racing block is over and we’re headed to the U.K. for the next round of WorldTour stage racing. But the British racing world isn’t only on the radar for RideLondon Classique this weekend. Lizzy Banks, who has been absent from cycling since the Giro Donne last year, came forward on Tuesday with details of her absence. The story is heartbreaking and raises many questions about the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). A fan favourite, Banks’ story has spread like wildfire and is the talk of cycling. But what can be done to help other athletes like Banks? How does the CPA feel about the whole thing? I don’t have the answers, but hopefully, time will provide some.

The Vuelta a Burgos wrapped up the three-race block of stage racing in Spain with yet another Demi Vollering victory. The string of wins puts the Dutch national champion firmly on top of everyone’s lists for the Tour de France Femmes in August, even if a lot can happen before then.

But Burgos wasn’t the only home to top-level women’s racing this weekend. Described (by Matilda Raynolds on the Wheel Talk Podcast) as a mini-Paris-Roubaix meets Strade Bianche, the Antwerp Port Epic on Sunday was a fantastic watch, especially the final 15 km.

The whole race is wild but don’t take my word for it. There’s a full replay on YouTube for your next Zwift session.

With the difficult nature of the course, there wasn’t much action in the first half of the race apart from a few failed attack attempts. The route did most of the damage, and by the time Zoe Bäckstedt (Canyon-SRAM) attacked with 30 km to go the group was already reduced to a select bunch. Naturally, Bäckstedt attacked on a rolling dirt road, terrain the U23 World Cyclocross Champion is more than accustomed to.

Behind Bäckstedt – racing for the Canyon-SRAM Generation team instead of her WorldTour team for Sunday only – AG Insurance-Soudal riders Ilse Pluimers and Julia Kopecky worked to bring back the cyclocross champion. Within the final 15 km, the group behind had Bäckstedt in their sights, they would bring her back with 7.7 km to go.

The race came down to a reduced bunch won by Lara Gillespie of the UAE Development Team. It was a major road victory for the Irish national champion who has proven to be a strong contender on the track.

“It feels amazing,” Gillespie said of the victory. “I couldn’t be happier. It would not be possible without every single person who rode today on our team and all the staff and everything. It’s just amazing.”

“Today was really fun,” Bäckstedt said after the race. “I love this race. It’s probably one of the best races on the calendar for me, with a lot of gravel, cobbles, and hard sections – everything I love to do.”


Racing continues…

At RideLondon Classique!

Three days of fast racing are next for the women. The RideLondon Classique, originally a one-day event turned three-day stage race in 2022, is one for the sprinters. In its original form, it was won by Girogia Bronzini, Barbara Guarischi, and Coryn Labecki, with the inaugural edition won by Laura Kenny. Since it’s become a multi-day race the overall has gone to Lorena Wiebes in 2022 and Charlotte Kool in 2023.

When Wiebes won the overall in 2022 she also won all three stages, and when Kool won last year she won two, with the middle stage going to Chloe Dygert.

This year not much has changed in terms of course design and we are again looking at a string of possible sprint finishes, with a possible exception being the second stage into Maldon. With three possible sprints on the menu, you best believe teams will be bringing their most powerful riders, meaning we could see the best sprinters up against each other again this weekend.

The Basics

When: Friday to Sunday, May 24 to 26

Distance: 3 stages, all “sprint” friendly, the final stage is pretty much a big criterium

Live coverage: 🇪🇺 Eurosport, 🇬🇧 BBC, 🇺🇸 Max, 🇨🇦🇦🇺 ?

The Courses

Stage 1: Friday, May 24 – Saffron Walden to Colchester (159.2 km)

After the women roll out of Saffron Walden they have two climbs to tackle: a 2.3 km ascent of 2% and a 1.4 km ascent of 3%. Neither will do much damage, although the roads in the UK are stickier than what the women will be used to so even these gradual climb will feel a bit harder. Both climbs offer a good opportunity for attacks, should any of the smaller teams want to send someone up the road.

There is another climb with 53 km remaining that the organizers have marked on the route, a 900-meter, 5% ascent. Honestly, most of the race is rolling. None of the three climbs indicated will do more damage than the constant fluctuation of the road.

The finish is not actually flat but a short poppy climb to the line. The average of the final 500 metres is 4% but the maximum is 7% – nothing that will have Wiebes worried. The final 2 km is a little more challenging. Two sharp turns leading into the final straight will make positioning and strong teamwork critical for those wanting to wear the first leader’s jersey.

Stage 1 live coverage starts @ 13:30 local time.

Stage 2: Saturday, May 25 – Maldon to Maldon (142 km)

The second stage is the most challenging of the race, with 1,280 meters of elevation gained throughout the 142 km course. The women will race an opening loop before they continue on to three laps of a circuit that contains a few uncategorized climbs and one significant climb – Little Baddow.

The finale is once again not an easy one. The finish is atop a 500-meter-long climb of 9.7% with a max of 12.4%. It’s a great stage for, say, Lotte Kopecky. Last year Dygert won on the same finish.

Stage 2 live coverage starts @ 13:15 local time.

Stage 3: Sunday, May 26 – London circuit race (91.2 km)

The final stage is a 10+ km long circuit around London that will be wicked fast and require a lot of bunch skills. The peloton will complete nine laps of the circuit before the final leader’s jersey is given.

The final 900 meters is flat as can be and a straight run to the line. After two days of technical finishes, Sunday will be the only pure sprint of the race, but the wide roads and speed of the bunch will make the race susceptible to crashes.

Stage 3 live coverage starts @ 15:00 local time.

The Contenders

The full start list isn’t out yet but we know that last year’s winner will return and she has a point to prove. In the early season of 2023, Charlotte Kool stormed onto the scene, winning two stages of the UAE Tour ahead of Wiebes. This year, Kool’s schedule was set back due to illness. When she did start her racing season she managed some fantastic results, but a win has remained elusive. She was second at Brugge-De Panne behind Elisa Balsamo and second in Scheldeprijs behind Wiebes. At La Vuelta Femenina, she was again runner-up to Wiebes in the third stage.

Returning to RideLondon, where she had so much success last year, could be the key to unlocking her winning ways. She will have a team around her solely set up to support her in the sprints.

Lorena Wiebes and Charlotte Kool sprint to a finish line side by side.
Lorena Wiebes vs. Charlotte Kool at Scheldeprijs earlier this year.

Unfortunately for Kool, Wiebes is on the long list to attend the race she dominated in 2022, and the Dutchwoman is arguably in better shape this year. She will also have Lotte Kopecky with her, who is both a fantastic lead-out and another option for SD Worx-Protime especially in that second stage.

Canyon-SRAM will have both Zoe Bäckstedt and Maike van der Duin. Bäckstedt had great form last weekend at Antwerp Port Epic and Van der Duin had a few good sprints in Burgos. The pair could put together a good result for the team, along with Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka.

Agnieszka Skalniak-Sojka races up a cobbled climb during a Spring Classic race
Agnieszka Skalniak-Sojka pictured during Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Lidl-Trek will be without Balsamo but they do have Clara Copponi who finished second behind Wiebes in Burgos and won a stage of the Women’s Tour (of Britain) back in 2022.

Other names to keep in mind: Kim le Cort (AG Insurance-Soudal), Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health), Letizia Paternoster and Georgia Baker (Liv AlUla Jayco), Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ).

Wheel Talk Podcast

Matilda Raynolds joined Loren and I this week fresh from the Antwerp Port Epic to chat about Vuelta a Burgos, Veenendaal-Veenendaal and the current USA Cycling Olympic team situation.

Let’s Discuss

Lizzy Banks vs. WADA.

I had intended to write about Kirsten Faulkner’s amazing USA national championship win on Sunday after missing out on the ITT title and a ticket to Paris, but when I woke up Tuesday morning to what can only be described as a firestorm of text messages about Lizzy Banks and her last nine months I couldn’t think about Faulkner’s bid for an Olympic spot today.

Banks, who has always been a fan favourite for her daring attacks and outspoken interviews as well as her voice on the Cycling Podcast, dropped off the map last year mid-season. She had been battling with years of injury and illness; a long-running concussion, complications due to COVID-19, and more challenges had kept her out of the peloton for much of 2021 and 2022. It was to the joy of many she returned to the peloton in 2023, but her presence in the peloton was short-lived. By the end of July, she was again sidelined, it wasn’t until Tuesday that we would find out why.

In a lengthy blog post, Banks detailed a notification of a positive drug test and her nine-month fight to clear her name that left her without savings and a career in cycling, even if the result was a “No Fault or Negligence” finding from UK Anti-Doping.

In the blog post, Banks breaks down her findings over the nine months including some starting and alarming discoveries about the way WADA runs and information about the pharmaceutical industry that will have your skin crawling.

Banks stands on a podium holding up a bunch of flowers
Banks pictured at the Tour de Yorkshire in 2019

The entire story is heartbreaking. As Lizzy points out multiple times, athletes are constantly told to be diligent about what they put in their bodies when it comes to supplements, but sometimes contamination is unavoidable. Remember Kateřina Nash? Nash tested positive last year for a banned substance and was able to prove it had been medication she’d been giving to her dog that had gotten onto her skin and resulted in a positive test.

Belgian Canyon-SRAM rider Shari Bossuyt tested positive for Letrozole last year but said she didn’t have the “strength or money” to fight the two-year ban. Bossuyt was supposed to be Kopecky’s Madison partner at the Paris Olympics. She believes she tested positive due to contamination.

Banks tested positive for two substances – formoterol and chlorthalidone. Formoterol is in the medication Banks takes for asthma, and Banks declared it when she was tested. Chlorthalidone is a diuretic and is referred to as a “masking agent” in terms of anti-doping and sport.

Banks worked with Morgan Sports Law to clear her name and spent months and £40,000 trying to understand what had happened to put her in that situation.

Banks rides a time trial bike
Banks racing in the 2020 World Championship time trial.

Five days before a tribunal hearing to discuss the case UK Anti-Doping, or UKAD, notified Banks that she was not at fault and would not receive a two-year ban.

“UKAD concluded that I was not at any fault and had exercised an extremely high level of care at all times in order to avoid ingesting a prohibited substance,” wrote Banks. “UKAD, therefore, wanted to avoid a tribunal hearing on the basis that UKAD found me to bear “No Fault or Negligence” for the positive test and therefore have No Sanction and No Period of Ineligibility imposed.”

The whole story of how Banks was able to clear her name is a tale of pure determination with a hint of fury but her findings that she filed in the form of a 144-page, 40,000-word report are just as important as the fact that Banks is innocent.

In her report, Banks criticises both UKAD and WADA for their outdated practices, claiming that with increased sensitivity in testing the bodies in place to “protect” sport aren’t actually doing that. The percentage of chlorthalidone in Banks’s system was clearly due to contamination, and throughout her report, Banks shows not only that but also that anti-doping authorities know that can be the outcome and have not alerted athletes to this possibility or adjusted their practices to account for it.

There are other cases of athletes testing positive for the same substance. Recently, Stian Angermund, the world trail running champion, tested positive for chlorthalidone and said on his Instagram he was “utterly bewildered.”

Banks pictured from behind, jersey cut and covered in blood as she takes a bottle from the team car
Banks in what would be her last race as a professional cyclist.

By telling her story Banks hopes she can save other athletes from the nine months of hell she experienced after the positive test.

“I truly believe that public pressure is the only way that is going to get WADA and UKAD to change their rules because we tried and they would not listen. So if I have to be the sacrificial lamb, so be it because something has to change otherwise someone will lose their life and that is just not okay,” she wrote on the blog.

“UK Anti-Doping do not have the inherent scientific knowledge to understand this critically scientific process and as they are, they are not fit for purpose.”

For now, Banks has turned to woodworking and doesn’t plan to rejoin the cycling world any time soon. But this should be the beginning of bigger questions posed towards WADA and national bodies in charge of anti-doping.

This interview with Banks in The Telegraph is also worth a read.

A picture worth a couple of words

Remembering Lizzy’s Giro victories:

In 2019, Banks’s first season racing in Europe after riding for UnitedHealthcare for a year, she soloed to victory on the final stage of the Giro Rosa. She finished 30 seconds ahead of her Bigla teammate Leah Thomas.

Lizzy Banks raises her arm in victory
Stage 8 from Vittorio Veneto to Maniago, 2019.

A year later, Banks won the fourth, and longest, stage of the Giro from a two-rider move with Eugenia Bujak. She had been off the front for 86 km and dropped Bujak to take her second Giro stage victory.

Lizzy Banks pumps her fist in victory
Stage 4 from Assisi to Tivoli, 2020.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour opening act Sabrina Carpenter has released the catchiest song of the summer. She played it over the weekend on SNL:

Until next time!

Two final things to close out this week’s newsletter.

First, Sarah Roy took to Instagram following a crash in the third stage of Vuelta a Burgos. Roy was one of many unable to start the final stage and had some words.

And finally, Lidl-Trek released an update on Elisa Balsamo following her stage 1 crash at Burgos.

“On Saturday afternoon, Elisa Balsamo returned home and today, 20th May,  she will be admitted to the Casa di Cura La Madonnina in Milan. Tomorrow, she will undergo maxillofacial surgery to reduce the fracture of the nasal bones and the nasal septum, as well [as] operated on to fix the fracture of the second metacarpal of her left hand. The surgery will be performed by the team of Professor Federico Biglioli, the maxillofacial surgeon who operated on Elisa following her previous accident in May 2023.

“At the moment, any assumptions about the recovery time are premature. Communications on the next steps will be made later.”

Thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. I’ll be back next week and in the meantime, you can find me on the Escape Collective Discord.

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