Are They Stupid?

Several riders are being sucked into a sporting and judicial vortex after police investigations claim links them the infamous Doctor Ferrari. In his defence Filippo Pozzato claimed he did work with Ferrari from 2005 to 2009 but it was an innocent deal where he just paid for training plans. La Repubblica says he paid €40,000-€50,000 a year for the service.

If possible, try to stop the laughs and give Pozzato the benefit of the doubt. Let’s actually imagine he and others have been paying €50,000 for training plans because this still involves big risks.

First the concept of several riders using the same coach has to be the most stupid idea possible for a cyclist looking to get the edge on their rivals. Now it’s a lucrative business for Michele Ferrari having so many athletes on his books but how can he avoid a conflict of interest? Riders are paying for coaching services with the aim to be in peak form so they can beat others in a big race. Yet here one coach could be in possession of their intimate training data as well as the data of their arch-rival. Right now I suspect rival teams would secretly love to have access to Tim Kerrison’s laptop and the folder with all of Bradley Wiggins’s SRM training files that log power, distance, speed and other training data. Imagine if a coach could have all of this, plus extra information on lactate testing and other inside information and even the thoughts on the mental state of the rider ? Well that is exactly what Michele Ferrari has, and his clients don’t just volunteer this, they pay him.

Now shared coaching happens in other sports, for example in athletics Usain Bolt and and Yohan Blake, Olympic and world champions in the 100m share the same coach in Glen Mills. It’s a choice for Bolt and Blake but I’d argue there are two differences:

  • Bolt and Blake presumably know who else their coach is working with. But in cycling there is only gossip. Rumours have linked certain riders to Ferrari, you won’t find his client list on Wikipedia.
  • In the 100m your rivals don’t matter so much as you are really racing against the clock. But in cycling there is a much greater degree of tactical sophistication. Lance Armstrong famously got the team car to call Ferrari mid-way through an Alpine stage of the Tour de France for advice. Indeed it is possible two clients call Ferrari midway through a stage race for advice on how to beat each other, could Ferrari offer equal services to two clients?

But it happens in other sports, helpful readers via Twitter have said it happens in horse racing, speedskating, golf, triathlon and more. I’m still not sure it’s a good idea but in cycling in particular with its tactical sophistication it’s a worry.

If that’s not questionable enough, how about €50,000 for a training plan? Expertise never comes cheap but when you look at the point above, you realise you’re just one client amongst many. Worse, you’re sending all your training data and season’s goals over to one coach. It’s a lot of money to be just one rider amongst many.

There are more specific risks with Michele Ferrari. Italian riders working with him could face an automatic suspension, a point made by journalist Daniel Friebe:

However paperwork issues mean this ban might not be valid, although the Italian authorities do have a list of banned staff, Ferrari is not on it. But legalities aside the mere mention of working with Ferrari invites question marks the size and weight of boat anchors. Even if you were only paying for legitimate training plans you risk being labelled as something worse.

Finally this is a damming story that makes the teams look stupid too. Their star riders are being coached by a stranger. Squads are supposed to offer support to their riders but seeing them leave elsewhere for third party coaching makes you wonder what is going on. Think for a minute if a players from the New York Giants or Chelsea Football club were getting their primary coaching from a third party coach outside the team. But this is what happens in pro cycling. For example see the Astana team website, it is blank under the Team Trainer listing. It’s not just them, several pro teams have big budgets but do not employ a full-time trainer. When you google their coach, all you get is the team bus.

Working with Michele Ferrari is controversial. Even if we buy the claims he offers totally innocent training schedules and even if these are the best in the world there are still big risks for his clients.

If you’re a top pro then hiring a coach who is already working to deliver your rival to peak form seems an unnecessary complication, in fact it seems plain stupid. This is particularly true in a sport like cycling where a weakness in one area, for example climbing, could be known by a coach who is advising another rider. Worse, paying such large sums of money is odd if all you get is training advice back in return but at the risk of being banned and tarred with the brush of associating with an apparent high priest of il doping. It seems the winner is the coach, not the client.

And doesn’t this make some teams look amateur too, as if they’re outfits who offer bikes, jerseys and a salary but not much else, leaving their riders to their own devices? Indeed if several riders are paying for the same coach it would be cheaper for the team to hire the same coach directly.

  • Finally a note to say I’m not trying to point fingers at the three riders pictured above, rather their names are in the news right now so they illustrate the story. We’d do well to remember this is a systematic problem within the sport where many other riders do the same and some teams don’t offer proper coaching services. Indeed if three names are leaked, I’m frustrated to see some called to hearings whilst others who have hired Ferrari carry on ahead of the Tour de France.

105 thoughts on “Are They Stupid?”

  1. Has anyone ever seen these so called ‘training plans’ issued by Ferrari and, further, has anyone checked that these cyclists are actually following these plans ? Or are they just a smokescreen ?

  2. Aside from the madness of riders still using Ferrari, it raises a bigger question about the concept of team outside of races.

    Riders often train alone or with riders from other teams, some spend very little time with team staff or teammates unless they are in a competition setting. Compare this with other team sports where all teammates live in the same area and train together with access to the team’s facilities.

    Why don’t teams insist that all riders live in the same location for the duration of the season(s) that a rider works for them and place their service course in the same location? Base your training and medical staff in the same place and build a sense of community so that when racers complete an event they return home to their team.

    You are trying to build a team not just a collection of very able impendent contractors who collaborate during races.

    • Garmin has a core of riders in Girona. It gets awkward as riders have families and tax comes into play as well. But it’s not a new idea, in Italy during the 1940s Fausto Coppi was surrounded by team mates who all lived in the same place and under a shared team coach.

    • Argos-Shimano has a trainer and a base camp in Spain (I thought it was Girona). The trainer of Rabobank is Louis Delahaye and they have set up camps in Girona, Sierra Nevada and St Moritz. The teams of Riis come and train together several weeks during the year.

      The need of a basecamp might come in handy for reasons of logistics, but the schedules of 30 riders on a team shows huge differences. The team for Flanders and PR is a different team than the team for LBL, AGR og FW. The same goes for the teams that ride the Giro, Spain and the TdF. Furthermore, some people benefit from training on altitude while others that ride the same races don’t. Thus, always training together seems impossible.

    • I asked Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) how many days there are within a year when the whole team is in one place. Riders, management and so on. His answer was very short: none. Not even an after season party or so. Too much dificulties when there are many different nationalities, different racescheme’s and so on. He does train with riders from other squads, just no sprinters.

    • Possibly but as I said in response to Robert, we could ask them to show exactly what they got in return. I think many can make their mind up here but I just wanted to point out that even hiring him for training could be a mistake and that the teams seem to leave a vacuum here.

      • Somehow even morons wouldn’t be paying 40-50K for “training plans” unless they contained something very, very special. Probably undetectable or managed to be so…..and if your rival is using it too…..well, we’ve been through the “everyone else was doing it” story before, no? The medical licensing authorities need to get in on this – docs doping riders shouldn’t be licensed as docs anymore. Like Alex Zulle or Riccardo Ricco, they should be painting houses instead! While they’re investigating, how ’bout the 6-7K the Schleck Bros. paid to that other doc, Fuentes? Is he still a doc?Just when you think they might be getting a handle on this crap, more of it gets uncovered under the next rock.

  3. Aldo Sassi was coaching Basso and Evans when they went more or less head to head in the 2010 Giro – it was common knowledge and there was a full page spread on Aldo and his “boys” in La Gazzetta. I think the main point is just that working with Ferrari is stupid regardless of the “expertise” he can offer.

  4. I recall a number of years ago Pozzato accusing one of his “colleagues” of spitting in the soup. I’ve, rightly or wrongly, always assumed him to be a bit iffy since then. So this hardly comes as a surprise. I agree with blind eye, it’s a tactic admission of full guilt.

    btw – I think you mean systemic?

  5. “First the concept of several riders using the same coach has to be the most stupid idea possible for a cyclist looking to get the edge on their rivals.”

    I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on the “Skratch Lab Training Camp” that just recently went on in CO. Multiple riders from Garmin, and Phinney from BMC attending the same camp, being “trained” by the same guy (Lim)?

    • A camp is one thing I suppose, I worry the longer term relationship allows a coach to build greater conflicts of interest. What if rider ABC says to the coach “I’ll pay you double to make sure I’m stronger than XYZ” and the coach over/under-trains the XYZ rider?

    • I am under the impression that this camp in Boulder is for a primary objective of advancing the US Team’s performance in the upcoming Olympics. With this being a mutual objective for all riders attending, perhaps this not quite the same issue as being focused upon in this thread. (e.g., a Basso and Evans coached by the same). Also, I’m not sure that the riders involved in the Boulder camp are truly head-to-head competitors, such as Phinney and VandeVelde often have different objectives. I’m not sure if Zabriskie is in attendance. Cheers.

  6. Different riders working with the same trainer reminds me of the McKinsey company. There you also pay McKinsey to help you with the knowledge they gained from working with your competitors. In exchange you also pay them with information about yourself…

  7. Another thought that occurs, maybe it already happens? Surely if a rider chooses to work with Ferrari for his wonderful training plans they are aware of the negative association this will have. Therefore it might be done discreetly, through a third party, removing any direct contact with the good doctor/coach?

    It seems that these dealings aren’t particularly buried deep in the ground?

  8. The consulting firm AT Kearney has a cost benchmark project they run in telecom – every company participating gives access to their in-depth financials and organization info, and in turn gets some info on how they compare against benchmarked costs. The scale of $$$ involved here is so immense that the annual budgets of all Pro teams would be a rounding error. But companies participate in them.

    Valid points but nothing than cannot be managed with clearly-defined terms in a service contract.

    Given that you can pay $1000+ a month for a coach as a Cat4 athlete, why is 30-50k euros annually hard to believe, if testing and other costs are included there? It isn’t 465k, for sure.

  9. To be honest I think this is a much greater reflection of the system and it weaknesses rather than the riders themselves. Are there licenses for accredited coaches / trainers? Is there minimum code of conduct and guidelines for operating as a professional, like a football coach, manager or trainer?

    Why are riders up for such speculation and the Ferrari’s of the world left to operate and hide in the shadows?

  10. It does seem foolish to have a coach hold that data on competing riders, but also he won’t remain a top coach for long if he were to start sharing that data out. As with consultants in business, just because you have knowledge that could give your client a competitive advantage, it’s unfair to assume that the person in question will act unprofessionally.

    Also, you have the competing goals of teams and countries. What if, say, Cunego and Pozzato are training together under the same coach for the worlds, but will ride against each other at Lombardia?

  11. Dr. Ferrari is beginning to sound like a Bond baddie or at best – a cartoon villain (Dr Evil etc). Let’s not forget who and what this guy is and is the sum of everything that is bad about the sport.

    Has the nice Dr ever taken the Hippocratic oath?

    “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”
    “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel”

  12. I remember Mark Renshaw spoke to press about the Australian National Road Race course. He had asked his trainer (who also works with Simon Gerrans) if it’s a course he can win, to which his trainer replied “not if Simon’s racing, he’s just far stronger on the parcours.” It’s pretty scary to think that even information like that is passed across so easily, and what other riders may be asking these coaches regarding their competitors.

    • I’m not a cycling coach and I could have told Renshaw the same thing.
      It’s hardly specialist knowledge that the Aussie Nationals course doesn’t favour sprinters.

  13. I remember Mark Renshaw spoke to press about the Australian National Road Race course. He had asked his trainer (who also works with Simon Gerrans) if it’s a course he can win, to which his trainer replied “not if Simon’s racing, he’s just far stronger on the parcours.” It’s pretty scary to think that even information like that is passed across so easily, and what other riders may be asking these coaches regarding their competitors.

    • True. Both work with Frenchman Benoit Nave. But they’re not really rivals, I was more thinking of two riders duelling for the overall classification in a stage race or the spring classics.

      I didn’t want the piece to be just about shared coaching, this can be possible amongst some riders. Rather paying such big sums for a coach who is banned; and the overall idea of teams abandoning riders. When you step back it sounds a bit amateurish.

      • FYI. Nave worked with Lance. There are a ton of sports scientists but the cycling world has a history of using doctors qualified in other fields to take care of their riders. That’s changing of course but it’s interesting how a few doctors have worked with different teams over time.

  14. I’m assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the teams know and perhaps encourage this (after all if the rider is paying the cost then it’s not coming from a team budget) but why on earth would a team sanction this? Surely you would not want one of your riders (who you are paying) to be willingly giving their information to a third party who could use it to help someone in a rival team ?

  15. I think Ronan has it right; there is no indication that shared coaches violate confidentiality. If anything some of these dodgy doctors seem to keep that door very well shut. As far as riders working with their own coach/trainer versus one provided by their team, please consider:

    a) trust and rider of rider/coach built over time.
    b) relationships are formed over time
    c) in general riders switch teams rather frequently

    By using their own coach, they maintain stability and control in a very important aspect of their careers.

    It is up to the coach to set or review training/preparation, it is up to the DS to dictate tactics or strategy, it is up to the rider to perform to every ones expectations. These 3 factors don’t always align and result in success; there is only 1 race winner each day, though success can be achieved in ways that go beyond victory.

  16. Don’t forget: it’s not doping vs. training, but a planned and monitored combination of both (and more). From all the rumors about Ferrari and other preparotes I judge that this what the excel in – providing the whole package with training plans, a diet and the fitting PEDs.

    And concerning the blog entry’s title: believing to be smarter than anybody else is quite a common form of stupidness.

  17. I think you are also incorrect that athletes in other sports don’t have their own personal trainers for both off-season and in-season training–regardless of the team having a training staff. At times, teams even complain about their choices; e.g., the NY Yankees had a trainer suspected of doping banned from the clubhouse though he was Roger Clemens personal trainer (yes, the same trainer who just testified against Clemens in court for doping). In addition, athletes hire skills coaches and not merely personal trainers to attain their goals. Professional athletes are (as the previous post correctly pointed out) often with a single team only briefly and are more like free agents responsible for the development of their own career. All this said, working with Ferrari seems like a desperate move of some especially stupid (or hubristic) athletes.

    • I still find it an odd idea that some riders and teams agree objectives, eg “you will ride the spring classics / Giro for the overall” etc and then expect the rider to go away and come back in shape for the races.

      • Re Sky’s approach: I was at the Cycling Show in the UK a couple of months ago. One of the British Cycling Performance/Coaching bods gave a presentation on BC and Sky approach to coaching. Matt Hayman sat in on the session and what he said was interesting: before moving to Sky he – like many other riders – used training plans which he’d be left to his own devices to follow, but that at Sky he and the other riders use coaches employed by the team. His coach is Bobby Julich and that the interaction, analysis and feedback on the data he sends to Julich is constant. His view was that this was much more beneficial to the quality and results of his training.

        I’ve read that working with team coaches has been a new fairly novel experience for the likes of Bernie Eisel joining Sky this year.

      • I agree that it’s a strange way to ‘manage’ your team and investments. Even a team like Radioshack can’t seem to keep track of what their riders are doing when the riders send them a stream of training files (e.g. Mr Horner and his 600 mile training weeks with a back supposed too bad to ride the Tour). On the other hand, Sky seems to keep vigilant track of data but Wiggens still has own trainer who come from a swimming background and, thus, has shown Wiggo how to stay at 95% for such a long stretch of the season.

        • But Kerrison (the swimming guy) is part of the Sky/BC setup – I assume he is responsible for more than just Wiggins – his title is something like “performance analysis director”

      • If you’re of the opinion that the team’s responsibility is to ensure strategic success and a rider’s responsibility is to ensure tactical success, then a rider hiring an outside coach/doctor seems to fit within that paradigm. As you point out, one concern with this model lies in the team’s risk associated with trusting that a rider’s tactics will not jeopardize the overall strategy for success. The name Michele Ferrari seems to be the touchstone here, but an anonymous coach’s incompetence could just as easily affect a rider’s achievements.

        I agree that it seems like a missed opportunity and potential liability for a team to detach itself from oversight of certain tactical preparations. But on the other hand, perhaps the lack of oversight from the team is completely intentional. Plausible deniability of systematic activities requires a protocol of ignorance of certain means and methods. I guess some teams are smarter than others…

      • This is pretty normal. I (and my colleagues) coach several professional riders, and the nature of how some teams are run is laughable from a rider performance management perspective. What races a rider will race is not always as well known either, and hence planning a season and preparing the rider accordingly is often quite tricky. At this level, one needs sufficient talent to race when not in form, and cope with highly variable workloads.

        In some cases they will push a rider over the edge by forcing them to race when ill, or over cooked from previous endeavours, and this can crack them badly. For many a DS, riders are a commodity. If one isn’t working, toss them aside and get another, hungrier, beast. There will always be another that wants the chance.

        • “In some cases they will push a rider over the edge by forcing them to race when ill, or over cooked from previous endeavours, and this can crack them badly. For many a DS, riders are a commodity. If one isn’t working, toss them aside and get another, hungrier, beast. There will always be another that wants the chance.”

          Sounds like another reason why the new teams, such as Sky, are having success with their measured, analytical approach.

      • I feel the same as the money and size(s) of teams grow they would want to keep their “investments” close at hand see how they are progressing in their goals. Makes you wonder how you can afford that many euros for coaching out of whatever the rider(s) are being paid. When I read about min wages on contracts a week or so ago I was surprised how little it was.

  18. Maybe one day we should read an article concerning cycling-doping-related leaks. Why does everything leak? Why can’t we be limited to knowing the cases only after verdicts are given? This is all so dangerously vague…

    Regarding Ferrari, I really don’t know what to make of the guy. Could well be he gives “advice” on what capacities a rider needs to boost, and what sort of treatments could lead to improving those capacities, and then leave the rider to his own devices as to how exactly to achieve it, thus staying away from doing anything illegal (informing is no crime) and making the rider the sole responsible of his eventual doping (while charging him hefty sums for the “consultancy”).

    Strange bloke. His website is however quite interesting.

  19. Lets cut the BS here why don’t we? Ferrari offers coaching advice on how to optimally uses various drugs as part of a training and racing regiment. That’s what its about. When to use epo, what dosage, and more importantly how to beat the tests!

    Just like doping, doing business with Ferrari is a sine qua non of pro cycling if you want to be competitive. And UCI basically goes along for the ride… And by and large so does the media…. Occasionally small fry is caught and tossed in the ashes of cycling history (remember that Chinese rider for Radio Shack who got fired right away by Johan the B.). All the while the real cheats – who win Grand tours – get suspended (from Merckx to Contador via every other big name) for a couple of years — that is if anything happens to them.

    Perhaps instead of singling out the riders or even Ferrari, we should question the organizers and the UCI who create an environment were you have to dope to win (grueling schedules) and where you can often get away with it (provided you donate to the UCI or their cronies)…..

    Why I still love the sport is a mystery….. But I daresay Phil and Paul ostrich policy when it comes to these issues is becoming increasingly nauseating.

    • My point above was a device to say “even if they are telling the truth working with this guy is risky: you could lose out to a rival, you could be banned, you could be labelled a doper even if you were not and it makes teams look bad.

      I’d rather we examine these ideas as a concept rather than the more obvious point. I hope you see what I mean. And if you want less ostrich, try other sources in the media.

      • @INRNG:

        I am trying other sources in the media, namely your excellent web site! I try to catch articles by Kimmage when I can, etc…. For some of us in the states it can be hard to avoid Phil and Paul, but thanks to the internet I can avoid that to. I was really thinking of what the new uninitiated fan was exposed to in terms of mainstream media, and what a distorted picture he must be getting in the process.
        In terms of your original post — which I find quite interesting as usual — I just cannot get away from the notion that the above riders (and a host of others to be sure) are not stupid far from it. They are not risking everything for mere training advice, I just don’t think it makes sense on its face. They took those risks to get advice on how to use illegal drugs optimally (and how to beat the tests). They took that risk because their careers depended on it. If they want success they have to risk it all, I think every top cyclist is faced with this dilemma, its not easy.
        Perhaps you cannot come out and say it, but the conclusion I get from your piece is this one: “of course they did not risk it all for training programs!” It’s more than that, if not it would be stupid.

        Don’t you agree?

    • Most things I’ve read about Ferrari say that he is (or was) incredibly innovative in the development and application of sports science to cycling, e.g. use of W/kg, VO2Max, bpm/lactate threshold to predict climbing capability, etc.

      I think Ferrari looks at use of EPO and other ped’s as an extension of his scientific work. Not defending the fact that use or prescription of these substances is cheating, but I do think Ferrari does have some substance behind him and is more than just a drug pusher.

    • Oliver –

      I am a client of Dr. Ferrari and have been one for over a decade now. Not once in all that time have I been offered drugs or have drugs been discussed as part of my training or otherwise. And I have thousands of conversations over email to prove it. So please do not generalize about this. Maybe others have a different experience about Dr. Ferrari but mine has been nothing but a pleasure and pretty darn clean of anything illegal.

      I do agree with you however on the role the UCI is playing in damaging the sport and in how Phil and Paul look the other way when it comes to these issues. The culprits with what is wrong in cycling are also at the top and in the media.

  20. I trained in 2008 with Lubos Lepanek. This rider had leaved Lampre for the so-called H2O team that never began it’s activity. We were riding together almost everyday in th South of France (Saint-Raphael) and he kindly explaned me some Ferrari’s training tricks (nothing special…). So I supposed he didn’t pay too much for that. He even told me to come with him on the famous Canarian island, Tenerife, for a training camp on the Teide where Ferrari coaches his clients. The funny thing is this one: if you come to the hotel Parador saying you’re a Ferrari client, you got 10% less on the price of the room! Everybody knows that in cycling and that’s ridiculous to call the police to find clues we all knew before. Just talk to the riders!

  21. Is he actually a medical Dr.? he would be then bound by client/doctor relationship. On a slightly different tack. @DrDaveHulse tweeted a while back that Tinkoffs team Doc was an Endocrinologist by training

    Endocrinology is concerned with the study of the biosynthesis, storage, chemistry, and physiological function of hormones and with the cells of the endocrine glands and tissues that secrete them.

  22. If I recall correctly from Dan Coyles’ book a few years back, Ferrari would only work with one Grand Tour GC rider at a time. When LA was using his services, Basso and Ullrich had to go to Fuentes, who apparently saw no conflict working with multiple GC riders. Odd that Ferrari showed SOME professional standards…

  23. One point of interest is that the continued use of Ferrari by top riders suggest that he is one the few providers of whatever it is they get from him. If there were many other providers of such services, possibly with lower profiles, surely riders would seek to work with them instead, given how toxic Ferrari’s reputation is.

    I’m not sure if this a cause for optimism or despair.

    • Look,

      Outside of chemical enhancement, the current, most optimal legal training involves training with power. Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggin are considered the absolute experts on training with a power meter. So…what exactly is Ferrari an expert in that is worth $40 – $50,000?

  24. Well, the other one, Cecchini, who works in Lucca (strangly a lot of riders live there…) smartly says he doesn’t work anymore (he used to “prepare” Riis, Cassani, Bartoli, Petacchi, Piepoli, Basso, Ullrich, but some say Flecha and Cancellara and Cunego (in fact, I saw several times the last 2 training in the area in early february each year). Cecchini was close to Giancarlo Ferretti (manager of Ariostea and Fassa Bortolo) The rumours in Tuscany, tell about Froome being among the clients. Cecchini is very clever. He used to send his son in the infamous drugstore in Bologna years ago (italian police caught him). Since then, he still receives a lot of riders, but no more written papers, just instructions. Oh…Ulissi grew up with Cecchini who was in charge of his “squadra amatori”

  25. I dont think it’s a conflict of interest for 2 rivals to share a coach outside of the team. It happens a lot in American Football for a player to have a personal strength coach. Sure, the coach could tell rival A how strong rival B is, but it comes down to more than how much ya bench….strategy, motivation, coordination ect all play a role. It’s like in NASCAR, you could have the same engine, but driving, pit stops, suspension setup etc also plays a role.

    Having said that, I have a gut feeling Ferrari is less than innocent!! I have no hard evidence, just gut feeling, and I have a big gut.

  26. It’s not about guessing what the answers are. I totally agree with your opinion that if they are telling the truth, working with this guy is risky: you could lose out to a rival, you could be banned, you could be labelled a doper even if you were not and it makes teams look bad.

    I now follow cycling for thirty years+. What really intrigues me with dr. Ferrari is that nobody seems to know who his suppliers are. I have not heard of any pharmacist sued for trafficking doping. Does he work alone? It cannot be possible, to train (or dope) multiple riders alone and still be informed on the latest scientific developments. Although I am not a doctor or a pharmacist, his article on http://www.52× doesn’t look like he is on top of the latest developments concerning high-altitude training or the effects of 9scientific) dopingproducts.

  27. Can someone elaborate more on the story about Lance using the team car to call Ferrari in the middle of a mountain stage in the TdF? Is there a link to read more about this fascinating story? This is the first I’ve ever heard of it.

    • But their primary coaching work is with the team. They might see external coaches but imagine if the team said “ok guys, the game is on Saturday, please show up on time” and did not offer training together. Of course for a team sport it is different, my point is that some big budget teams still leave their prize assets to others. Some riders don’t even have a coach at all.

      • This is the norm in cycling. It might be a pro sport, but in many ways it is still run by amateurs. Many riders recognise the limitations of the “coaching support” provided by the team, and seek out their own coach. Some just don’t know any better, and so the folklore and mythology of cycle training is passed down through the generations. This happens at National Federation level as well as Pro Team level.

  28. “For example see the Astana team website, it is blank under the Team Trainer listing. It’s not just them, several pro teams have big budgets but do not employ a full-time trainer.”

    Or maybe they *do* employ team trainers. They just might not want to tell anyone who those trainers happen to be…

    • Given that the vast majority of experienced cycling trainers and doctors have been implicated in one doping scandal or another, I wouldn’t blame them.

  29. For Justin
    It may have been in the 99 or 2000 TdF and Pantani was going full-gas on a climb and Armstrong was going slowly backwards. It’s reputed that he had Bruyneel phone Ferrari from the car and ask if Pantani was able to sustain the rate of climb. Ferrari came back with a resounding ‘No’ and Armstrong measured his pace and caught up and I think passed a spent Pantani

      • It seems that VAM calculations are good predictor of ability or performance. Possibly it could be even used to see if the people are clean or if their numbers are to “good”. Possibly VAM can be calculated very easily only knowing itme of the segment and average grade of segment. Further on the W per kilo or total W are calculation away. See dr.Ferrari’s take on Cadel Evans from last year http://www.53× where he’s mentioning how he using VAM predicted 12years ago that Cadel could make successfull switch from mtb to road. He was right 🙂

  30. I believe that the next step in fighting doping is introduction of mandatory publication of training data on daily (weekly) basis applicable for all pro riders. I understand that there are significant/relevant know-how/intellectual property and personal privacy arguments against it. Regardless, it is the only way to fight OMERTA. To support this, if SKY team is voluntarily showing Mr Wiggins’ data to ASO, there is no reason why not to show it to general public. The data itself does not make make you a champion.

    Being amateur cyclist I share all the information about my training methods with my friends. If Mr Evans was able to share his methods with Mr Basso (as they shared the same trainer), I see no difference in sharing those information between Mr Evans and Mr Wiggins.

    I am just a romantic fool, but as I understand cycling, it is the art of suffering. The one who is able to withstand the pain wins. But we as fans (who finance pro teams by buying sponsor products) are entitled to know the truth. Because the TRUTH set us free.

    To all cyclist, there is only one answer: KEEP SUFFERING!

  31. Sorry if I missed it skimming all the comments but I haven’t seen anyone provide the example of Cadel, Basso and all the other riders who use the Mapei center and their seemingly successful relationship with Adlo Sassi until his passing.
    The titles and roles of a coach, trainer or manager are hard to definitively separate, if someone stands to win a grand tour and all that comes with it then €50,000 is probably not unimaginable for the planning, testing, monitoring, advice and mentoring required to get to that objective.
    This kind of “coaching” is an advanced science and an art combined and if the best coach is far more likely to produce the results from the athlete then to the sponsors and the riders it will be a great investment.
    Although I find this article very interesting I would caution that it seems to imply that because a coach charges or is paid a significant fee that it could indicate that unfair means are being procured.
    There is nothing unfair about a coach helping to identify and strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, I would doubt that Sassi was unethical in this regard with Cadel/Basso, the ethics of Ferrari are perceived far differently.

  32. Normally I love your articles but this time I just don’t agree with the assumption that you make that it is a mistake for several riders to work under one coach. It happened too when Cadel and Basso worked under Aldo Sassi and it was never a problem.

    In our sport, there are a number of select verified gurus who have so much experience with riders that they are above the rest. Ferrari is one of them. Do you really think Lance would work with anyone but the best in the business? I am not getting here into whether Dr. Ferrari helped Lance dope or not as they are the only ones who know that. I am only saying that it is not out of the realm of reason for Pozzato to seek Ferrari for his good and tested methods of training and for Ferrari to discern between the data and confidentiality of one client vs another. Remember that all these riders have a coach already in their respective teams so Ferrari plays a special role to many riders but they do not respond to him professionally.

    I have been (and still am) a client of the Ferrari method for close to a decade and I can attest that it is arduous, that it is carefully thought through, and that it is top class. I do it not so much to win races (I am an amateur cyclist) but to learn about cycling and how the body can be trained to perform. There is no magic bullet to their method as much as some would like us to believe.


    • Jack, really interesting post – thanks.

      I’m curious what is the “Ferrari method” and what makes it so effective, both in and of itself and as compared with other training methods? What specific benefits do you derive from it?


      • roomservicetaco –

        The Ferrari coaching method I am familiar with is quite simple and easy to implement – and it works.

        I communicate weekly via email and get a program to follow. The exercises in the program are all based on four well defined intensities: Low, Medium, high, and Super high. I supposed these are equivalent to the “zones” that are common use in other training methods. Intensity is measured by heart rate or (better) through watts (power meter). The method plays heavy emphasis on cadence as well and each exercise is performed at a specified intensity and cadence for a specific duration of time (and specific repetitions). Every few weeks, I perform an all-out test to measure progress. This is usually an uphill time trial lasting 20-30 minutes. The results guide the way forward and help us adjust where my intensities are.

        As an amateur racer with a traditional northern hemisphere schedule, the year is broken into a winter phase (gym work combined with on-the-bike riding and strength training) and a racing season phase (just bike work on the road or on a trainer and races). Objectives for the season are determined in advance and workouts and levels of intensity tailored according to the racing schedule and the response of the body. Rest weeks or low intensity weeks I should say, are often done after a big race. I normally rest on Mondays but train all other days of the week.

        My interactions happen through Dr. Ferrari’s son (Stefano) who has been nothing short of kind, attentive, and responsive to me. For nearly ten years now he has been a respectful companion to my racing career and an educator about how to train my body to do better (and safely so) year after year. And I am racing better now than 10 years ago. I am no Lance and I don’t win Tours but cycling plays a large part of my life and I take my training and progress seriously.

        By working with Dr. Ferrari and his son, I have learned to listen to my body and to understand how to make it respond best to a combination of tailored intense work and rest. And while the method I described is, on paper, as mundane as it comes, I am testament that it works and that it works well.


        So to answer your questio

        • Jack,

          What you’ve described is the kind of training program that near every coach, or coaching book, would provide you with.

          The question is why, when doing so will get them banned, would a rider pay 50 – 500 thousand dollars to Dr Ferrari for ‘training advice’.

          • Matt –

            I think the answer is simple. It’s not the program alone but how Dr. Ferrari interprets the data and then pushes the rider in a customized way. If coaching programs were just prescriptive then there would be no need for coaches, one could just lift the info. from the web.

            Why did Basso and Cadel work with Aldo Sassi? Surely they could afford anyone out there. But they choose Sassi because he offers them something that separates him from the others and that costs money. At the pro level the type of expertise about the human physique and how it responds to stress that Ferrari (and Sassi bring) makes all the difference and that is why riders are willing to pay more and risk something.

            Your message implies that Ferrari offers ways around the legal methods but you really don’t know that to be true anymore than anyone who has just read the press. My point is that the secret of the Ferrari method is not that it is revelation per se but that behind it is the knowledge that only a few coaches like Ferrari can offer. This does not necessarily mean he is not doing anything illegal with Pozzato but that he has never attempted it with me.


  33. Coaching riders on competing teams is not uncommon at all. I have been coaching for over 15 year and have even raced against riders I coach. Riders strengths and weakness are pretty apparent on the road. Knowing your competitions watts/kilograms is not all that critical. The values needed to compete are pretty well know to coaches and teams. The metal aspects of racing are much more difficult to deal with than physical training. This could be an area of conflict if the coach manipulates a rider to perform poorly. Coaches I know would never do this, but we are as ethical as the rest of the population, I suppose.

    I have no comment on Dr Ferrari.


  34. Thank you for again writing about an inside issue which is fraught with difficulty. As a professional coach, I can speak to some of the concern that is raised having thought through all this carefully for my own sense of direction and focus. Also I’ve been willing to re-direct if in the course of providing a service and expertise, conflicts of interest or a sense of violating my own conscience has occurred. Perhaps sharing some of this process will be of interest to you and your readers. Also, I believe that to be accountable and transparent will help me in my quest for mastery as an expert in cycling performance.

    I was first a racer, who then became a coach. The transition was natural and easy – an open door at a serendipitous time. As a racer, I lacked some elements which I am determined to provide as a coach; that being said, I completed my work as a racer in exhausting my entire potential given my resources and knowledge at the time. There was no regret there – I put it all out on the road for all the years there was opportunity. In hindsight, I see that those experiences were training ground for coaching; however, race and training experience is not enough to “qualify” as an expert and effective coach, in my opinion. One must have both the art – intuition and insight about what’s going on with one’s riders; and science – analytical ability and knowledge to apply the most recent technologies and physiological evidence regarding performance. One could make the argument that the best riders may not be the best coaches simply because performance requires automation, whereas coaching requires analysis. Sometimes, star riders cannot break down into words the multiple details of what constitutes success; by definition, they need to not be thinking about it as much as doing it at the highest level of mastery which is automatically. A coach however needs to be able to explain it all and analyze it from all sides and then discern what to share with the rider and when. People can learn and perhaps a really good rider could make the transition into this level of coaching analysis. There is also a large body of scientific work which is relevant to performance. A former racer no matter how insightful must come up to speed on this or be left behind by the PhDs and MDs of performance these days. Likewise, these credentials are not enough for cycling performance since strategic insight based on experiential knowledge is key. I’ve witnessed some of these credentialed names making dumbfounding strategic suggestions which an experienced rider is quick to dismiss.

    Cycling is a cottage industry in some respects; meaning that it’s governed, managed, coached, and often sponsored by former bike racers. The sport tends to assign former star riders into roles as coaches and team directors. This is a tremendous benefit in that the sport requires a lot of sport-specific knowledge for performance success. It is also a disadvantage in that the best coaches may not be among these stars or names, and to build that reputation requires time and some high profile success. Another disadvantage is that there is safety in outside fresh counsel when building a franchise of performance, not to mention accountability for its governance. There are quite a few former star riders turned coaches who are in place because they can be, in my opinion. Others truly are effective leaders for their riders. There are also a few non-star turned coaches who now work with a stable of riders because they hit with 1 or 2 big name riders and were able to gain a trust to get inside the sport; these few may or may not be good coaches. Then there are the performance advisors such as Ferrari who provide a real or perceived advantage based on a particular expertise. This expertise is perceived by the riders to level the playing field so that the potential for conflict of interest becomes a manageable risk. The perception is that this coach knows something or has something which can put the rider among the other coached competitors. The thinking is, “I am an athlete and I’m already a pro and I believe that given all my elements and a level playing field, I will also succeed.”

    Hold that thought.

    There are also coaching groups. I’ve been both independent and with a coaching group. An advantage of joining a big name coaching group is that one can focus on coaching and not on administration or marketing. The way a professional coach earns a living has to be either through volume – working with many clients; or like a boutique – charging a lot per client, supplementing that with speaking/ writing/ consulting. The coaching groups provide volume but it’s my experience that once the volume is achieved to earn a living, the quality service per rider goes down. This may not be as important working with well-paying weekend warriors, whose livelihood isn’t dependent upon their performance. But I argue this change of quality service and focused attention is a disservice to an elite rider in development, a neopro, and even an experienced pro. For this reason, I decided to go solo as a coach again and work with fewer riders. I feel that if I don’t address all issues thoroughly which influence performance, then I’m remiss in assisting someone in reaching their potential. Because of this, I work with only a handful of riders daily; I supplement with one-off or short-term consulting to make a living. I may compromise pay and perhaps prestige (or a broader marketing reach) for quality service. I am able to do this because no one is dependent upon my earning potential. Others may not have this luxury. Ironically, this has been far more rewarding for me. Fewer athletes trained better has broadened, instead of narrowed, my reach.

    For someone to work with 90 clients at a time (was it 90 all at once, or 90 over the course of years?) would require very little quantity of service per rider. For the rider to receive a benefit from such limited access then, the information or service would have to be of considerable worth. The expert could only give this valuable thing or monitor this valuable piece of data; he would have to be highly specialized. He could not address all issues of performance. Indeed, in some of the top pro teams, it is not likely such an expert would be able to address all issues of performance. Firstly, because one must be an expert in nutrition, medicine, physiology, biomechanics, psychology, lifestyle choices, equipment etc. Secondly, because some of the managers of these teams being former pro stars would not allow it. The relationship would be supplemental and collaborative rather than all-encompassing. A service that expensive that is not all-encompassing would be highly specialized and focused on one piece of data or one product area.

    I’ve also been the performance director for teams in the past. It was my personal experience that it does not work as well if riders are seeking advice from multiple coaches. Trying to sort through the reasons for team success and failure is part of creating a winning program. This is inordinately complicated working amongst experts with varying perspectives, and their riders who endorse the opinions of those experts. Trying to get everyone on the same page can be daunting. Even if individual coaches were all successfully coaching their particular team member, oversight of those plans is necessary for team periodization. It’s one thing if a rider is planned to go well during a specific time-frame, it’s another if this meshes with that rider’s role and if that coincides with team goals. This is one of the tensions of switching from a pro team’s calendar to a national team’s calendar for events like the Olympics and the Worlds.

    There may be several reasons that members of the same team work with various coaches. Coaching is largely about building a relationship and trust. This takes time and a track record of success in that relationship. Someone like Ferrari has a perceived, and real, track record of success (without judging the reasons for that, merely explaining the rationale.) With manipulation, a coach in this position could very well influence scenarios that are in performance conflict. There is no code of ethics or licensing required (though most national federations and now the UCI offer varying levels of coaching certification.) However, riders may not talk outside their tight circles,but they do talk within them. A rider is going to find out quickly enough if his training is manipulating his performance to work against him and for another. Even if he doesn’t confer with the competitor in conflict, performance speaks loudly. Also, a rider can tell in comparison against himself if a certain coach is working for him. Also, it’s in the coach’s best interest to have riders succeeding. Sometimes the star rider is the easiest to “coach” (sometimes not!) and the real coaching is in the rider in the shadows working hard for that breakthrough. Eventually coaching in conflict will catch up with the culprit; the evidence will be seen in the performance and the riders at this level will likely know their own capabilities better than anyone.

    For me the dream team would be oversight of training of all riders. However, as stated above riders should seek advice from a team of people interested in performance, such as experts in nutrition, medicine (injuries, rehab, special concerns), psychology, biomechanics, equipment, In my opinion, the best scenario is that the team has designated experts in these area and they are all conferring regarding vision, mission statement, individual and team goals. Today, it’s likely such experts are conferring with other preferred experts and team managers. No single individual is responsible for a pro athlete’s success; not even that athlete. It truly takes a village working in tandem. This means that the entire system may need examining.

    Finally, no coach/expert has the market on this knowledge, there are innumerable good coaches/performance experts out there. Even though there is a considerable body of work, data, evidence, knowledge and intuition – talent for coaching if you will, there is still a finite approach. And this approach can be duplicated by multiple advisors. Best to choose one that can establish a quality, focused coaching relationship and has a track record of ethics in performance.

  35. Glad no one is on my case for training plan given to me by Ferrari in ’91 & 92 seasons for training for the Nice Triathlon. The problem is he is still on of the smartest guys around. His riders never come up positive. (Pantani was screw-up). It’s proof that many Italian riders do not believe they can win without “help”.

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