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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scuttlebutt

Greetings cycling fans, with another blockbuster Giro behind us (one day everyone will wake up to the fact that it has always been more exciting than its bigger Gallic cousin) and as the days get shorter and colder (in my part of the world at least), it only serves to remind me that the Tour de France is just around the corner.

Not to long ago this was a time of joyful expectation, waiting for the evening highlights of a race which was the only cycling event which existed according to mainstream media. Alas things have changed since then and the sport is easily accessible to anyone who might be curious. Well it’s still a time of expectation for me but for different reasons. You see over the years as interest in the sport has slowly increased I have noticed a pattern. I’m waiting, waiting for the next doping scandal to break.

Of course we have already had Floyd Landis finally coming clean (after years of denial) about his doping experiences and consequently slinging mud in every direction to see where it might stick. When the story came out during the Tour of California I started to think why didn’t he wait till before the TDF? Of course soon after the Landis mud slinging Lance Armstrong had a nasty fall and had to abandon the race. According to some conspiracy theorists this was a clever ploy to avoid the media and there was even the suggestion of fake blood capsules being used by LA to feign the bloody facial injuries he received as a result of the crash! Well done to Floyd for finally coming clean, it would have taken a whole lot of guts. I just wish he had have done that from the start, he may have still had a career as a top cyclist if he did.

Soon after this came the Fabian Cancellara moto doping story.

                                            

Of course Fabian has now set the record straight and told us that the only engine he uses is inside him. Which I’m sure will only fuel even more bionic themed conspiracy theories.

The most recent (and my favourite) moto doping scandal is of course the Tom Boonen rodent assisted race wheel, which left one cycling pundit asking “Is the hamster doped?”


It seems that every year just before the TDF begins with all of us looking forward to the spectacle of the race somebody comes out with another doping scandal. I was musing over the issue the other day (that’s what I do) while out training (I call it training but really I was just out wasting time on my bike) and I think I have it worked out.
In my part of the world if you rely on mainstream media outlets for coverage of cycling you could be excused for thinking that the sport doesn’t exist outside the month of July. I’m sure cycling isn’t alone in this aspect, many fans of other world class sports must be going through the same conundrum as I am. Of course I can’t tell you which sports these people are fans of because I rely on mainstream media for my sports coverage so they may as well not exist too.

After not reporting on a sport for most of the year all of a sudden the TDF looms large on the horizon and some of our friends in the media realise they had better start showing an interest. Of course a good old scandal can sell plenty of newspapers so why not jump on the first negative story that comes along to feed the once a year interest most people show towards cycling and whip up a few sales.

In my corner of the world many people follow a certain local code of football. Now I’m not really a fan of this code of football, in fact I’m not really much of a sports fan at all apart from cycling. Just because I’m not a fan it doesn’t mean that I have anything against the sport or its fans, people can enjoy playing or viewing any sport they like.
However I do find part of this football codes anti doping policy very hard to swallow. I was astonished to find out that under the league's three strikes drugs policy a player who tests positive remains anonymous unless he returns three positive tests in a four-year period! At first I thought it was a joke but I did some digging and apparently it’s true. I singled out my local code of football because thanks to the amount of media coverage it gets it’s almost impossible to avoid it. When quizzed on the leagues testing regime one player mused… "I got tested a heap … I reckon in the last year-and-a-half I was playing I would have been tested over a dozen times".

How can one sport be so lackluster in its attitude to anti doping while another sport like cycling can stop somebody from competing for failing to notify the anti doping establishment of their whereabouts? Remember when Michael Rasmussen was ejected from the TDF? He failed to report his whereabouts  and was unavailable for testing in the lead up to the 2007 TDF which led to him receiving a recorded warning from the UCI. The Danish cycling union then decided to ban Rasmussen in lieu of missed drug tests during this period. Rasmussen said: "I do admit that I've committed an administrative error. I was informed of this at the Danish championship two and a half weeks ago, so it's no news... It might be a surprise that it comes out right now.” Rasmussen copped a two year ban and never even tested positive. Some might think that it may have been to harsh a penalty but I think you will all agree that it does a lot more for the anti doping cause than a three strikes policy.

I know that you might be thinking that I am all for the cycling “omerta” which is far from the case. Doping is a subject that needs to be discussed, athletes need to be encouraged to come clean to help the effort to clean up the sport. Anti doping authorities can learn much from those who have been cheating and getting away with it. Like it or not doping is a part of all professional sports. I am all for a cleaner sport and improved testing. I also think that doping cases need to be reported as they arise, fairly, and not selectively as seems to be happening. Sensationalism in the media has the power to hurt the sport we love and I don’t think any of us want to see that.
All sports need to work together to have a common standard towards doping. The problem is with plenty of corporate dollars being thrown at professional sports the sponsors want to see a return on their investment. To give them that return the sport needs to attract more fans for the sponsors to advertise to. Sponsors do not want to see a drug scandal. I suspect that some sports minimal efforts towards doping control help minimise the bad press they receive when another role model athlete goes positive. Why would parents want there child involved in a sport if that sports athletes are going positive every other week? What do they say to little Jonny when the supposedly clean living, healthy role model on their kids bedroom wall gets banned for taking veterinary products?

I think cycling is suffering because of its strong stance on doping. Im sure you have all experienced those moments when a non cycling fan hears you talking about a race and says “cycling, all those guys in the tour take drugs don’t they?” Sometimes it feels like ours is the only sport in the world with a doping problem (a reported one anyway). If only all the professional sporting associations could get together and decide on a level of control which they all adhere to. Of course there is next to no chance of this ever happening.

Incidentally you may be curious to know that there is a common factor in the Cancellara moto doping and the Rasmussen story. Retired Italian professional cyclist Davide Cassani.



Cassani works as a cycling commentator on Italian TV these days, that’s him presenting the moto doping story and telling us that he could win a stage of the Giro at 50 years of age if he had a such bike. Incidentally Cassani won 2 Giro di Italia stages of his own in 1991 and 1992. It was also Cassani who reported that he had seen Rasmussen training in Italy in June 2007 unfortunately for Rasmussen the schedule he submitted to the UCI had him in Mexico at that time.


Oh well I might just go back to waiting for the next scandal.





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