Letters from Abroad – Bad/Good News for Valentin?

Photo by Anthony Skorochod, Cyclingcaptured.com

For the past two seasons, Valentin Scherz, a 20-year-old elite cyclocross racer from Switzerland, has come to the US to compete in races as part of the Philadelphia Cyclocross School program. This season he was captain of their 2010 Cyfac-Champion Systems p/b Revolution Wheelworks Team.  In 2010, Scherz successfully defended his Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Series titles (Elite & U23), while also competing in other events including Cross Vegas, Gloucester, Providence, and a few rounds of the USGP, winning five races and standing on the elite podium 11 times.

Scherz has since returned to Switzerland and is now competing in World Cup and other major European events as preparation for the World Championships, where he hopes to improve upon his 23rd-place from last year.  Valentin’s graciously agreed to check-in with us periodically throughout the rest of the season, sharing his experiences and insights with us all from the perspective of someone who has competed at the top level both domestically and abroad.

Some news!

I have been selected to participate in the Swiss Anti-Doping Whereabouts program.  This means that I have to register my whereabouts for each and every hour of my life.  I am now required to complete a form on-line, and I needed to have my whereabouts through March 31st registered no later than December 31st.  This is incredibly difficult, especially if you do not yet know if you have qualified for the race that will take place in two weeks. Additionally, when you are not a paid pro, cycling is not the only thing you do, and you don’t have the means to plan everything well in advance. It is possible to update your whereabouts to accommodate schedule changes, but it means that you have to go through the whole process again, which is a real pain!

Everyone reading this article should consider how difficult this program really is for the athletes.   Imagine yourselves announcing your whereabouts each and every hour of your life for the next three months!

Another thing to consider is that the website/form is not really user friendly and you have to get up to speed immediately—there isn’t time for a learning curve, and the consequences of mistakes are dire.  For me, the letter announcing my selection arrived less than 2 weeks before I was obligated to register my whereabouts, and it only came with a minimum of information and instructions.  But it can be done, so there are no real excuses.

On one hand, it is really good that we are strictly controlled, tested, and that we invest in a clean sport.  It sets a good example, and shows a good perspective towards me; my selection is a vote of confidence in my abilities by the authorities.  But on the other hand, this is a pain, and more generally, there are things I just don’t understand.  This system costs a lot to maintain.

Since we don’t get a lot of support from our national federation (we have to pay for most of our trips and equipment ourselves), and since I’m not a paid pro, I don’t have a trade team providing all of my equipment and covering all expenses.  So it is a little bit frustrating that some of this money is not used to help provide the support that I need.  Some other Swiss riders, who are better than me, are not in the same pool.  In some other countries I believe they are not drug tested frequently, and not blindly. (Sometimes the federations are shady, as a number of recent cases bring to mind.)

In the best case, the federation provides good testing procedures/protocols, provides good support, raises the level of their riders, and promotes the sport. I get tested, but without the support, so it is frustrating. In my case, I have to pay a lot to compete, plus I have these new obligations. Because I love my sport, because my federation manages to do the best with the money they have, because it’s just how it is, I will learn to deal with it!

To sum it up I’d like it if all this energy was spread evenly across all countries, and if at least the drug testing were all on the same level.  While we will never all have the same support and help from our federations, the same tests would be nice! But to be positive, I greatly appreciate the message that the Swiss authorities sent to me; it shows that they believe in my abilities, and that I show promise for the future.  It also helps me prove—if needed—that I participate in what may be the strictest system of anti-doping control in the world—and that I am clean in what I do!

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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