As a pro cyclist, you get asked a lot of strange questions. Here’s just a few: Do you find it strange having to pee in a cup in front of another man? Is it an uncomfortable way to start your day? Do you feel like it’s an invasion of privacy?
To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. It’s “part of the job”. But it did make me think and look at it from the other person’s perspective though. Let’s say a guy has been an anti-doping agent for ten years, does at least 100 tests a year and has to watch every rider pee. Think about it. He’s seen a lot.
I must admit that having a control at five in the morning is the ultimate alarm clock. Normally, I press snooze on mine between six and nine times. That’s not really an option when anti-doping turns up. I wonder if any rider has gotten a two-year ban because he pressed snooze on his alarm clock too many times.
Whenever they ring my doorbell, I go from zombie mode to calm athlete via complete panic in the space of ten seconds.
*BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ BZZZ BZBZBZBZ*
“What the hell is happening? I’m up, I’m up, I’m up! Don’t leave, I’m here!”
When I get to the house’s speakerphone with my heart rate at least 160bpm, I’m like: “Y’ello? Who’s this? Oh, hey UCI. Yeah, no probs. Come right up. I’ll make some coffee.” All in a relaxed voice while I desperately start dressing myself.
I have to admit, it’s a little traumatising. Obviously, I don’t want a missed test. So our doorbell is set insanely loud. My neighbour probably wakes whenever it rings. Mind you, I’m still paranoid about not hearing it. Several times I’ve gotten my wife to help with routine checks.
I’ll turn the music up to the max.
“Can you hear it?”
Then I try with the shower running and the bathroom door closed.
“Can you still hear it?”
Finally, shower and music on together.
“What about this time?”
“No, I can’t hear it.”
“What? That’s it, we need a new doorbell.”
It must be weird for an estate agent showing a bike rider around a house: “Okay, enough about the kitchen and dining room: what’s the doorbell like?”
Thankfully, I’ve almost only had friendly and considerate agents come visit me, which is unfortunate for my wife as it means we end up in a long conversation while she is trying to sleep.
When it comes to the actual test, it’s virtually the same routine each time. Depending on which test they are there for, it usually includes giving blood and urine. Hey, that sounds like a regular night out for some.
I prefer to start with urine. I’m always ready to go after a night’s sleep. So filling the cup to the 90ml minimum requirement is a piece of cake. I obviously have more in me but it would be awkward continuing to the end while another person casually stands by. It would also be rude to hand back a cup filled to the brim. It just stings having to stop midway through.
There have been times when I’ve gone for a wee and they’ve turned up immediately after. It meant that I had to spend the entire morning hanging out with a couple of anti-doping agents, a similar scenario to when I had doping control after a race and couldn’t pee. The only thing to do was drink water and wait.
“Ready to pee?”
Five minutes later…
“What about now?”
“Hmm…No, not really feeling it yet.”
“What about now?”
“Yeah, I should be able to squeeze out 90ml.”
But all of a sudden, the pressure got to me. It got nerve-wracking. Standing there with expectations of 90ml and then falling desperately short. Only 60. Damn. The look of disappointment on the UCI man’s face. So close. Almost an hour later, I was ready to face the challenge again.
It felt a little like I was about to do the day’s final climb and the UCI guys were going to start cheering me on for encouragement: “You can do it Chris! Only 30 millimetres left! Push it! Allez!”
I do feel for them. Having to test riders who compete in the Master categories must take even longer with their blocked-up prostates.
Some 90ml lighter and considerable time later, it’s time to pour the urine into A and B glass containers. First I pour into B and then the rest goes into A. Or is it the other way around? I always forget which comes first.
Either way, the flasks are pretty small, which does not make pouring any easier. The first flask only has to be filled up to a marked line. This is not as easy as it sounds. When I start pouring, I’m looking at the cup of pee. But I have to keep an eye on the line I have to reach, but not go beyond. This is when it usually gets messy. I can’t multitask, so when I take my eye off the cup, I automatically start pouring next to the flask – onto my hands and the flask itself. Lovely.
When both A & B have been filled, I screw on the lid as hard as I can and pack them into little bags. Us bike riders aren’t known for our arm strength, so getting it super-tight sometimes requires assistance. And yes, there is always that awkward moment when the UCI man realises he has just held a flask covered in my pee.
I have yet to master the technique of sealing the little bags. I always make the mistake of closing them before I put them back into the box without letting out the air first. Duh! Because then the bags are too big to fit back in there again.
Urine stored, hands cleaned, it’s on to the blood test. This is straightforward. Stick out my arm and wait for them to insert the needle and then fill the tiny test tubes. These are also packed into little bags and sealed in a box.
Finally, there’s the paperwork. There are quite a lot of questions on them, such as “have I been in a sauna within the last two hours?” Sometimes I feel like saying yes, just to see their reaction. I mean, who goes to the sauna between four and six in the morning?
Another great question is: “Have I had a blood transfusion within the last couple of days?” That’s a funny one to answer. Obviously it’s a no. But it’s still strange how my body language changes. It’s like when a police officer asks at a random roadblock check whether you’ve been drinking. You haven’t touched a drop, but automatically you feel under interrogation. Your sentences get all jumbled up and you get paranoid with the way they are looking at you.
“Have you had a blood transfusion?”
“NO! I mean, no. No, I haven’t. Of course not! Why? What are you implying?”
In a way, it would be kind of cool if they were allowed to ask one random question to make the whole thing feel less interrogative. It might help get the ball rolling.
“Have you been in a sauna within the last two hours?”
“Have you seen the latest season of House of Cards?”
“You should, it’s bloody great. Anyway, next question. Have you had a blood transfusion within the last week?”
There is also a comment section where I can write a couple of lines about the test. It’s a bit like giving a tip to a waiter. Sometimes I feel guilty for not writing something like “best test ever”. Or “super-nice people. Got the vein first try.”
Before they pack up and go, we all sign the papers and the agent writes down what time we started and finished. Sometimes it’s like they are trying to break a personal record. “6:22am! All right. Fastest test this year! Thanks Chris.”
Hey, happy to help.
“Okay, thanks for coming!”
“Thanks for having us.”
“You’re welcome – although I don’t have any choice.”
“True. You don’t. Anyway, see you soon. I mean, maybe. Maybe not. It will be a surprise.”
“You’ll know where to find me.”
“That’s right. We always do, that’s kind of the point. Which reminds me, have a nice holiday next week: I saw you changed your whereabouts. Ireland. That sounds lovely.”
I wonder if the next anti-doping agent to call will have come across this piece before the test.
“So…I read your blog the other day.’’ Whilst I’m trying to deliver those sacred 90 millimetres. Awkward.
Chris Juul-Jensen is a professional cyclist for WorldTour team Mitchelton Scott.