Cyclingheroes "163,193 kilometres have been ridden as a protest"

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01.12.2006/ Markus Zimmerli, former coach of individuals and teams in road cycling, MTB and triathlon, today manages a Swiss company, which amongst other things develops internet software. The popular german-speaking websites and were created as a spin-off to this company. "From fans for fans" is the Motto of these "sportnews communities", which Zimmerli runs in cooperation with several amateur contributors. Cyclingheroes spoke with Markus Zimmerli.

Cyclingheroes: You run the websites und When did these sites start and what do they feature?

Zimmerli: In May 2004. During the Giro d'Italia I made first small tests with our new live ticker software. I was not yet fully serious about the whole project then, but when I realised how many people had taken notice of LiVE-Radsport in so short a time I knew that there was no return. came into existence in October 2005. Apart from news both websites offer, a detailed race calendar, a result service, live ticker of important races, bet games, forums, chat and much more.

Cyclingheroes: Has the doping issue influenced your work for

Zimmerli: No, not really. After each of the big scandals of this season (the 'Fuentes affair', Floyd Landis) we were all pretty frustrated and some, me included, put into question the huge effort for the sake of cycling for a short moment. But then, when all season highlights came in rapid succession, we soon carried on.

Cyclingheroes: How and when did your anti-doping campaign came into existence?

Zimmerli: Exactly one day after Ullrich, Basso et al. had been excluded from the Tour de France. Once the initial shock had subsided, we wanted to not hang our heads and went on the offensive. We can not yet move huge rocks but at least we can do something, we can express our displeasure and we can hope that the message can at least encourage one or another rider to think.

Cyclingheroes: How has your campaign been responded to?

Zimmerli: There has been very good response. I realised immediately that many sport fans feel a great need to demonstrate not only with words but also with actions that it must not go on like this.

Cyclingheroes: What is the current status of the campaign and are there any future plans?

Zimmerli: 339 sport fans have registered with so far. At 2,712 rides 163,193 kilometres have been ridden as a protest. More and more participants wish for a 'doping protest' cycle shirt or an armlet. We will seek to realise this next spring but we are still looking for sponsors. Group rides and visits at cycle events are planned too.

Cyclingheroes: Are you in contact with other initiatives like for example

Zimmerli: Yes, there are contacts, however, only loose contacts so far. In any case, I am open for joint activities.

Cyclingheroes: We shut down our website for several weeks after it had become known that Floyd Landis had tested positive, engaged in protests against doping, and took action too. What do you think can the cycling media do to positively effect the current situation?

Zimmerli: Ideally, everybody would join in one and the same campaign, only then can we bring about something that is noticed widely. To back out in order to demonstrate to the sport of cycling that one does not want to be party to all this does not help matters. There are plenty of others who would fill the gap. Of course, the really big media like TV could achieve even more.

Cyclingheroes: Jesper Skibby's confession demonstrated once more that doping is no recent problem. Skibby admitted to taking doping even after his career and to having been addicted to the drugs to some extend. The Dutch cyclist Johan Van der Velde spoke out a few years ago and he as well told that he had lived like a junkie for a few years after his career. Are riders who dope culprits or victims or both?

Zimmerli: Both of course. They are victims as they are told time and again as of before or very early on in their professional career that there will be no career without drugs. Certainly, many pros had to make a decision between playing the game and forgetting about their career. But eventually it is the rider who decides if he is prepared to dope or not. After all there are indeed cyclists who manage to make it to the top without illegal means. How large or small the fraction is these riders account for I do not want to estimate.

Cyclingheroes: What do you think of the 'Fuentes affair' now that most actions have been shelved or dropped completely while Jan Ullrich still has to face disciplinary action by the Swiss cycling federation?

Zimmerli: The whole thing is one big problem. Because of the number of authorities that have a bearing on the assessment of these cases clever lawyers of athletes and coaches involved always find loopholes. As a consequence there can be no conviction without 100 per cent proof or at least there can be no conviction for a long time. Instead of receiving a warning shot all those still undetected cheaters see now that they can carry on taking the risk. If we take into account the Olympic winter games and count the number of athletes and coaches involved in doping affairs in 2006 the number of actual convictions is negligeable.

Cyclingheroes: It ought to be obvious that top-level sport, cycling included, has a doping problem. From time to time cyclists have been suspended but that seems not to have changed much. Should we not rather develop new approaches to fight the problem effectively? What do you think of the anti-doping programmes of T-Mobile and CSC?

Zimmerli: What happens inside the teams is a bit of a delicate issue. Repeatedly, we hear about systematic doping, which implies that inside the teams not only individual riders but also soigneurs are involved. As a consequence many cycling fans do not have enough trust to believe in effective measures inside the teams. Nevertheless I see this as an important step. The more measures against doping are made public the more athletes and coaches of other teams become alert to this. Eventually they must and will follow suit if they are to remain credible. This could be one of the pieces of the puzzle that adds up to a 'cleaner' cycling.

Cyclingheroes: Within German media there were discussion as to whether the public puts cycling under some sort of general suspicion. Some riders reported that they were immediately suspected of doping after an outstanding performance. Is such general suspicion justified?

Zimmerli: No, definitely not. While I am convinced that the majority of riders ist continuing to dope, I am equally convinced that there are riders, who ride clean and honest. It cannot be that within a peloton of 160 riders we just watch 160 liars and cheaters? Having been a coach myself in the nineties, I realised that with sophisticated training and a well-planned race schedule top placings are possible. As to whether a Tour de France win is possible that way too, I would rather not comment on at the moment.

Cyclingheroes: What do you think of the ramifications of the coflict between the Grand Tours and the UCI about the Pro Tour, especially now that cycling is going through its worst crisis ever? Should not all parties involved better pull together?

Zimmerli: Surely, this would be preferable. But right now, in these difficult times, federations and race organisers realise that things will have to change, but opinions differ widely, just as they would in a crisis-ridden economy. Cycling, however, is depending on the international federation UCI and on the three Grand Tours of course, while the Pro Tour in itself is rather secondary. To tell the truth, I do not think that the persons in charge can be brought to act wholeheartedly in cyclings best interest, much rather everyone is acting on his own behalf in these precarious times. That said, I am convinced that cycling will positively change within the next three to four years.

Cyclingheroes: Next season the Swiss Phonak team will not exist anymore. What does that mean for Swiss cycling?

Zimmerli: The withdrawal of the Phonak team with its energetic boss Andy Rihs is a major blow to Swiss cycling.  For young talents Phonak was a great stepping stone into a career as a pro. This driving force is gone now and time must tell whether that will have an effect on young talents. Switzerland has some amazing talents, of who we will get to see something soon.

Cyclingheroes: What are your wishes für the 2007 season?

Zimmerli: I am somewhat torn here. On the one hand I would like to see spectacular cycling with epic races, spirited racing, and gripping fights. On the other hand I would like to see cycling finally being thoroughly cleaned up. That, however, would probably take another huge doping scandal to happen. The incidents of the Austrian cross-country skiers at the Olympics, the Fuentes affair and the Landis case still did not have the necessary impact.

As to I expect us to break the 1,000,000 kilometers of protest mark and I simply look forward to the day, when we do not have to doubt the credibility of the Tour de France winner.

More information about the websites of Markus Zimmerli: and (both German language).
More information about the anti-doping action: (English and German).
Related stories:

Doping in Cycling: One Fans Point of View

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