The French have long had some of the most punitive sanctions when it comes to doping. With doping being a criminal offence in France, rather than something simply enforced by sporting governing bodies, it’s somewhat ironic that the Tour de France has become the unfortunate poster child for all that is bad about professional cycling. Members of the public with no other interest in cycling are likely to be able to name the race, and perhaps its most notorious ‘winner’ Lance Armstrong.
So, finding myself sitting with Gilles Lapierre, ‘Mr Lapierre’ of Lapierre bikes, and bike sponsor for team FDJ – one of the longest standing sponsorship partnerships in professional cycling – I wondered whether he worried about the risk to his company’s reputation if one of their riders was caught cheating:
We’ll announce next week that Lapierre and FDJ have signed a contract for the next two years – 2017/2018. This is pretty fresh news, because we made the decision last week! We signed first contract in 2001. That will be 17 years in 2018. [There’s a grit.cx exclusive for you – we checked, and Gilles is happy for us to tell you this before anyone else!]
That’s a long period of stability in a team?
Yes. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a man story between Marc Maidot and I, and OK there is money behind it, but there is a lot of trust. The team is now at a very high level – when you can achieve a podium at the Tour de France, that’s pretty unique.
Because we have been with FDJ from the beginning, and because of the structure – where FDJ is a state company for gambling/lotto – they are depending on the Minister for Finance. This means that, as a state company with all the potential side effects if some one is cheating in the team – it’s a pure disaster. So, what we decided to do from the beginning, is not having a doctor as a part of the team, but a doctor getting paid by the sponsors. It makes a big difference.
It means that they have autonomy to check on a regular basis because they are getting paid by us. I think there are simple solutions to try and fix this [doping]. Talking about this type of doping, the job is never 100% done, but I think we can say that now it’s really under control.
Definitely cleaning up?
Yes, I think so. And now, of course, I think we have to discuss a little bit about this new ‘technical doping’. It’s hard to believe from my point of view. OK, at amateur level, it’s easy to do, because there is no control, there are not so many people involved. On the other hand – in a professional team, it’s a big structure, so you have a lot of people directly connected to the riders, to the management, the mechanics.
They’d all have to be in on it? It’d have to be a major corruption kind of approach?
Yes, I think it’s hard believe. And I think it’s also easy to check. I would say the UCI has a key role – with an iPad or whatever it’s so easy to check the bike. This is already what they do, but they have to do it more intensively – it’s so easy to check if the bike is OK or not.
And so our discussion concludes. With Thibaut Pinot looking like a strong contender for a stage win, another podium finish, or even the yellow jersey, you can be sure that Gilles will be cheering Pinot on with confidence that everything you see is real.
Read more about Gilles Lapierre over at Singletrack.