McGee Interview (Part 02) – Working with Riis
Working with Bjarne Riis – appraisal of a team owner
Interview by Rob Arnold
29 October 2012
“A couple of people picked up on my teams and asked, ‘How dare I mention CSC?’ Which is fair enough but my view is that I can only talk of the time I’ve spent in Bjarne Riis’ system and the same applies to Alberto Contador. People can bring up whatever they want but I can only talk about the time I’ve worked with the guy and then it was fair-dinkum, ridgy-didge, nothing dodgey. I don’t even know how to respond to it because I don’t want to get into a wider debate because as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing to argue about.”
Brad McGee is talking about what people had to say after he wrote a piece for the Fairfax Media about how he always raced as “clean” (ie. non-doped) rider.
“The reason I went to Bjarne (at the start of the 2008 season, originally as a rider but by 2009 he was a directeur sportif) was exactly because he did clean out his dirty cupboard full of doping skeletons. For me it was like, ‘Okay, now we can move on. He’s made a commitment to move on in the right way. While a lot of other people out there could do themselves a favour and actually clean it out too – and move forward.
“But that was possible until a month ago. Now that there’s an inquisition into just about everyone who race a bike as a professional in the last 20 years – and no one knows what’s going to happen to these people with a cloud over their careers… but for the moment it looks like they’re all going to get burned on the stake.
“When Bjarne admitted, it was possible to go: ‘Okay. You got me. I did this, this and this. It was a long time ago and now I’m committed to moving forward.’
“He bought in Dr Rasmus Damsgaard to do internal controls on his team and this was, basically, the start of the blood profiling system that we’ve got now from WADA.”
RIDE: But a lot of people were cynical of that because it seems like something that was… ah, a little contrived and convenient, especially given what happened prior to the 2006 Tour de France with Ivan Basso.
Brad McGee: “If you want to, you can be cynical about anything. But I was in that system and, in the end, it wasn’t just what Damsgaard was doing with his tests – which, as far as I’m concerned, were fair-dinkum: they were independent tests and he had no complaint in pulling out dodgy profiles and acting accordingly. It was also the message that was being put out there too. It wasn’t just testing either but the talks riders had with the doctors, to team meetings, to just a general philosophy that was being pushed in 2008. It was all anti-doping.
“It was like what [Marc] Madiot was doing [at FDJ] after the Festina Affair: constantly sitting down and saying, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get involved!’
“I’m not sure that the other teams kept that up years after the Festina Affair. At first there was a big push to be clean but was the message still being drummed home? That’s what I try to explain in my article: it should be all about prevention!
“Even though you might say, ‘Yes, we’re clean. We’re not doing anything.’ That pressure has to be constantly maintained. It has to be overkill. You have to be in front of the game. Madiot, with his big voice, was one of the first to start doing it and as far as I’m aware, he’s still doing it. And Bjarne did it when I was with him.”
RIDE: When we first started these series of interviews, you hadn’t read Hamilton’s book and the USADA report was still 10 days from being released. That’s been out for three weeks now… have you read it?
McGee: “Yes. I went through all the pages of the document that related to the years I was involved as a rider. I got the general structure of how it was written and then I read up to 2006.”
RIDE: And? How did you read it. Did it make you feel sick in the stomach? Or did you just nod along thinking, ‘Well, this all starts to make sense now…’?
McGee: “It did make sense in a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey kind of way. It was disturbed by seeing how deep guys like Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie were involved.
“My original feeling was that Christian would have been put under pressure when he was part of the US Postal team but that there was no way that he’d step across that line. I thought he’d move on from that because he didn’t want to be a part of it but he was. And that upsets me.
“I’ve got a good relationship with him. We’ve come through the system at around the same time, we’re around the same age, we have a similar background… and there was always something a little odd when we talked – and maybe that ‘something’ was a bit of an apologetic kind of tone that he took with me without actually having to go there and explain what was happening. That makes a lot of sense to me now.
“That was one thing that most disturbed me: that even a guy like that was dragged in and he made bad decisions under that regime.
“I still stay that everyone has the opportunity to say ‘No’ and walk away. And that’s what I thought he did, but evidently: no. He was also dragged right in and it is really sad to read that.”
RIDE: Let’s finish off what we were saying about Bjarne and try and reach some point where people can understand your take on him. You’ve said he’s put the skeletons out of his closet, and therefore you went to work for him. When you were working with him, did you ever say: ‘Hey, what was it like when you were on 60?’
McGee: “Nah, but he would reference it. He’d bring it up himself. He’d offer anecdotes and say, ‘Of course, it’s completely different now to when I was racing’. He’s quite aware that what he did was a different way of doing things. He’s the first to state it. ‘Now we can’t do that: we’ve got to do this, and this… and this.’ It’s not something he pushes away at all.
“He’s aware that there is a huge difference to the way he did it [as a bike racer] and the way that it’s done now.”
RIDE: Did he ever offer an example of being on the bike and… ‘Far out, we used to be able to smash up this climb at 40 kilometres an hour…’ anything like that?
McGee: “I’ve never known him to say that he did what he did because he was a great bike rider. But he’d often say, ‘I’d do that in my day because I was able to do this…’ He’s quite open about it and I think that’s a healthy way to look at things because these young riders coming through are looking at him saying, ‘You want me to do this and this… but damn, when you did it, you were on the shit!’
“His first line is to say, ‘Yes, I was on that and that’s how it was, but now I know it and I understand it and this is the way we can do it… this is what we’ve got to play with: the way we train, the mentality, the way he organises team-work and focus on what actually makes a difference in today’s racing.’ He’s really been able to change fundamentally.
“What’s probably more of a concern now is what’s coming out through Hamilton’s book and other sources that are pointing the finger at Bjarne’s CSC boys in his days as a directeur sportif – or when he was an early team owner. That is something I can’t speak of because I wasn’t part of the team.
“I joined in 2008: after his confession! That’s the whole point of what I’m saying: I was never interested in joining the team until he did that.
“Of course, one has their doubts about how that team was run during those years when they won Paris-Nice: they were just killers. They were incredible.”
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In part three, McGee talks about a special day in the Tour with Jens Voigt.
A big thanks to all who contributed to the discussion: many of your questions will also be answered by McGee soon.
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