Cadel Evans has defended former team-mate Alessandro Ballan, who received a two-year doping ban last week. Evans insists that professional cyclists looking to protect their health are at risk of their careers being wrecked by being accused of doping. The Australian has also said he will postpone thoughts of retirement until after May’s Giro d’Italia.
The Italian Olympic committee announced its sanction last Friday, resulting from the long-running Mantua anti-doping investigation, which alleged among other things that Ballan had undergone a banned blood transfusion in 2009, the year after he won the Tour of Flanders and the world championship.
The 34-year-old insists that he underwent ozone therapy to help speed up his recovery from the cytomegalovirus, and not to boost his performance.
After Ballan’s ban was handed down last week, BMC Racing said it had terminated his contract. The Italian joined it for the 2010 season, the same year Evans, who had just succeeded him to the rainbow jersey, arrived.
Evans, quoted on Fox Sports, admitted: “I don't know all the details and so on [about Ballan’s case].”
The 2011 Tour de France champion said: “The only things that appears to me that we must be the only profession in the world where for looking after your health and trying to be healthy you can ruin your career and all but ruin your life.”
Evans struggled to defend his Tour de France title in 2012, finishing 7th overall, more than a quarter of an hour down on race winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Later, it was revealed that he had been struggling with a virus throughout the season.
Speaking about Ballan, he said: "As far as I understand it he was trying to treat his health.
"Having had a virus myself, at a certain point you have to be healthy.
“That's not whether you are a bike rider or not, that's just human.
“The two most important things in our life are our health and then everything else.”
While Ballan insists he is innocent, in November 2009, Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that investigators claimed that ozone therapy, involving a small amount of blood being taken from the body and reinjected after enrichment, was being used by athletes to gain an unfair advantage.
In 2011, the same newspaper also published transcripts of phone calls intercepted by the authorities in which it claims Ballan freely discussed doping, including the use of EPO, human growth hormone and blood transfusions.
Meanwhile Evans, who is building his 2014 season around the Giro d’Italia – last year he came third overall after making a late decision to ride it – says he will postpone any thoughts of retirement until after that race, with Tejay van Garderen set to lead BMC Racing’s Tour de France challenge.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, when asked about his thoughts over when he may retire Evans, who turns 37 on Valentine’s Day, said: “I would like to do a good Giro and use that as an indicator to the future”
He went on: “My main thing, as I have said before, is to get back to my top level whether that is 2011 level or one or two per cent less – whatever my best is, [to] get back to that and then make assessments on the future on that.
“Ever since I was about 20, I didn't want to retire from the sport having any regrets in terms of not having tried harder or worked harder,” continued Evans, whose current contract expires at the end of this season.
“I wouldn't want to retire early thinking six months down the track: 'I could be up there at the front beating those guys.' I have no experience retiring from sport. [You] don't want to cut yourself short, but you don't want to be caught trying to squeeze out any more than is actually there.”
Contrasting this season with 2013, when he was slotted into a team that was not built around supporting his challenge, he said: “To go for the Giro with a serious plan and serious intention and with the whole backing of a team behind me [and] to do it properly rather than go there, not half heartedly but not properly prepared like we did in 2013 … The result was okay, but it could have been much better.
“This year we go in much better prepared. That in itself is much more appealing than to go into another Tour de France with goals for three different riders or three different goals.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.