During the 2015 Tour de France, Chris Froome’s teammate Leopold König experienced hostility from the spectators, that had been uncommon for cycling events so far. People standing along the roads threw hard objects such as unopened Coca-Cola cans, intentionally aiming at the Sky Team riders. And not only that. Froome – leader of the Tour at the moment – was even doused with urine by a spectator, and his colleague Richie Porte was physically attacked and got a hard punch into his ribs.
Anti-Sky attitudes arose after the former professional Laurent Jalabert had insinuated in his radio comment that Sky Team riders may draw courage not only from legal sources. Jalabert had been actually convicted of taking drugs in his career, and although he built his accusation entirely upon his own impressions, among some French spectators – who were not quite reconciled to the UK base team hegemony over the Tour – his words worked as oil poured into an open fire. The crowd’s temper reached its boiling point, and the first incidents started to occur.
“I was climbing and the people around me were mooning. It was obvious that they had personal issues with my jersey showing a Sky Team logo,” Leopold recalls. In spite of staying rather cool-headed, he stopped and disembarked from his bike with the intention to ask a triple of young spectators about the motive for such behaviour. “I was curious to know what drove people to those manners,” Leopold says. Within a second, there was a policeman standing by ready to assist in case the inconvenience turns into something more serious. However, this was not necessary. Upon being confronted personally by the real Sky Team member, the triple changed their attitude instantly. “I comprehended how much untruth and falsehood about professional cycling was spread among people,” Leopold says.
The stories about drug-taking are still too fresh to believe that the sport has had enough time for its total rebirth. As a young guy, Leopold is curiously questioning older athletes about how things went in the past when EPO was already prohibited but not yet tested among the Tour contenders. “I want to learn all the details because I hope that nothing like that will ever happen again,” Peter emphasises. For him, as well as for many others, the reputation of the sport is paramount. He wants to see children taking advantage of hard training rather than doping.
When Leopold entered the world of professional cycling in 2008, the number of probably clean cyclists winning the races started to grow gradually. With the introduction of biological passports, cheating suddenly became more difficult. Yet, this didn’t prevent some riders from taking EPO, but according to Leopold, the dosing had to be cut down to less significant amounts.
Apart from the regular blood tests, professional cyclists are now permanently overseen by the ADAMS anti-doping system, which requires them to announce their whereabouts three months in advance. Although they can modify the plans and travel somewhere else, they always have to keep in mind to report it to the system. Once you announce your schedule, you are strictly obligated to stick to it because anytime you can have an unexpected visit by the official commissioner guarding riders’ obedience to the rule book.
“Missing an appointment even by an hour can result in a one-point penalty. Three black points, and you’re out of the game,” Leopold says. “For taking EPO and other shit, you would receive a ban for four years, but until recently it was an equivalent to violation of the ADAMS system. This seemed pretty strict to me, as there are a million possible situations in life when you can easily forget to make an announcement.”
And so it happened to Leopold that he woke up and left the scheduled hotel for a massage. A commissioner arrived and found that Leopold was absent. Fortunately, he came back early in the morning the next day and got in touch with Leo. “I explained everything to him, and he accepted my apology and at the end of the day, he forgave my punishment,” the current Bora-Hansgrohe team member remembers.
With the rise of anti-doping regulations, everybody involved in professional cycling had to become extremely disciplined. Leopold insists that because of the strict rules, cycling has become one of the most observed sports in the world and as a result, also the cleanest. Other disciplines experience the same purgation that cycling had to go through some years ago, and Leopold believes that spectators will soon perceive it the same way. However, it’s going to be hard to convince everyone. “It reminds me of an appointment with a doctor who asked me what was the favourite performance-enhancing drug in the racing. I stared at him hoping that he was only joking,” Leopold says. Unfortunately, he was not…