Here's a little tip for your readers: if you're ever working on a bike magazine, and you want to increase levels of reader feedback, employ a confessed former drug cheat to test and review bikes for you. You might get criticised, vilified, accused of naivety or scorned but, hey, any feedback is good feedback, right?
Actually that's more or less how we look at it here. Every one of our readers is entitled to their own opinion, and free to switch their allegiance to a rival publication if they see fit. Some, on learning that we had signed up ex-US Postal rider and confessed EPO-user Frankie Andreu to our team of bike testers, may already have done so. Others might follow when they've finished reading this blog...
You see, we understand everyone who writes in telling us to stop endorsing former cheats, but we also think the question is more complex than that. In our view there are three categories of, well - we might as well be blunt - dope cheat: there are the guys who spent years juicing to earn a pretty penny and still deny it today; there's another category of rider who has been dragged kicking and screaming into the confession booth, resenting every second; and there's a third category who bowed only to pressure from their own conscience, and who usually go on to become outspoken critics of doping. We'll leave to you to find a slot for the Bassos, Landises, Hamiltons and Herases of this world, but we can tell you that Frankie Andreu fits very much into the third category.
Why is this important? A cheat's still a cheat, isn't it? Well, yes, but it seems to us absolutely churlish and naïve to deny that, for a period of several years in professional cycling, EPO abuse was very much the norm. Frankie Andreu was a child of that tainted generation, yes, but he also has the experience, self-knowledge and maturity to become a force for good in the sport. Another former EPO user, David Millar is a living, breathing, pedalling example of how that can be achieved.
Frankie won't change the world testing bikes for Procycling, but let it be known that we hired him not only because he knows a sprocket from a seat-tube, but also because we wanted to express our solidarity with a guy who had the wherewithal to release a large skeleton from his own and the sport's overcrowded closet. The same honesty had already cost him at least one job, condemnation from his former team leader and team boss, several friends, not to mention a good number of sleepless nights. All for what? Because he cheated or because he had the audacity to put a fist through a very old, very thick wall of silence?
So, no, if you're waiting for us to fire Frankie, don't hold your breath. As you'll discover if you read his review of Specialized's S-Works Roubaix SL in this month's mag, he knows what he's doing and he can write. He even gets his copy in on time. Our hunch from spending time with Frankie is that he's also a good guy. Yes, believe it or not, they sometimes make mistakes too...
The rest of our November issue should prove less contentious, but that doesn't mean you won't be glued to the pages like every other month. My own highlight is the latest instalment of the adventures of Kevin "The Hulse" Hulsmans on page 26, but then that's my favourite bit every month. Please, readers, tell me that I'm not alone.