Doping Crisis: Cycling at a crossroads
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doping Crisis: Cycling at a crossroads

by Steve Jones at 11:13 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping, Opinion
How should cycling deal with its past?

DopingYesterday VeloNation received a copy of an email purportedly exchanged between Floyd Landis and a cycling official in which Landis admits doping and chronicles systematic doping practices over the years leading up to his suspension from the sport in 2006.

This development confirms what many suspected and now another public flogging has begun over a doping scandal that is really nothing new.  Yet, cycling (like no other sport) airs its laundry when dirt or suspicion (Franco Pellizotti) is present, and has been at the forefront in the fight against doping, most recently with the Biological Passport that monitors the markers of its athletes.

I struggled with how to approach this last night, and decided it was best to sleep on it, knowing that I would wake up to media frenzy.
The past can cough up sickening deceit, and all too lividly at that.  In doing so, that lurid past not just tempers, but wreaks havoc on the present.  There is a need for a line to be drawn in the sand somewhere so that cycling can move forward.  It’s no different than mistakes in everyday life.  We can dwell on the past, or we can learn from it, move forward and get on with living our lives in a more positive manner.  For me, the line with respect to doping was drawn when the Operación Puerto scandal broke in May 2006.  It took a while for the peloton to absorb the message that things needed to change, and change drastically, but the process is well underway.

Alexandre Vinokourov recently admitted to his “dark days”, in an attempt to clear the air since his return from a doping suspension in August of last year.  This year he’s won cycling’s oldest Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and worn the maglia rosa on two occasions in this year’s Giro d’Italia.  If I’m honest, had he come clean before La Doyenne, the race would have been more enjoyable for me to watch.  My hope is that you wouldn't know that based on reading any of our news, or even the race report I wrote.  Ivan Basso is also riding in Italy's Grand Tour, and began the race with a legitimate shot at the overall.  He is another high-profile rider that has successfully returned to cycling following suspension.

Floyd Landis was caught fair and square in 2006, but the positive test was an absolute surprise, since for some, doping was just another part of the sport and there were procedures in place to stay “clean”.  The storyline that followed is enough to make anyone with an ounce of humanity feel sorry for the man.  Since his return to the sport, he has been unable to find an opportunity to ride at the highest level, which is especially tough for a person that only knows sport.

There does seem to be a double standard in cycling when it comes to riders that have been caught doping.  Some, if they have enough power, return and race without issue, while others without the proper connections are cast out of the sport.  Either the sport should deem a sanction as sufficient punishment, or it should simply hand out lifetime bans.  I understand that all doping cases aren’t equal, and I am as enraged as anyone when I’m forced to write the next doping story.

Cycling’s governing body has worked on new initiatives to clean up the sport, but the messages sent by their actions haven't helped their cause.  The Biological Passport is a good idea if it becomes properly enforced, and we now find a trend where riders are admitting to doping following a positive control, and helping to narrow the window of opportunity for others, by detailing procedures as well as naming suppliers and others involved.  It’s to the point where riders are at more risk than ever if they decide to involve themselves with doping, and that is very good news.

The truth is, there will always be doping in sport - especially when there is a lot of money to be made and glory to be had.  You can look at the biggest sports in the world and see doping scandals get buried and blown off time after time – no need to mention names.  If cycling continues to on the path of digging up its skeletons, there is no chance it can flourish the way we all hope it will.

At this point it’s impossible to say what will come of this latest development in a story that is old news being re-hashed.  Regardless of how it turns out, we’ll now be forced to watch the mainstream press batter our sport and thin out sponsorship opportunities.  Milram, Saxo Bank and Bouygues Telecom and others are all in search of new sponsorship to continue in 2011.  If they find replacements, there is no doubt that the companies that have chosen to partner with them will enter a sport that, because of the groundswell of support from its fans, has taken a no tolerance stance towards doping.

Edvald Boasson HagenThere is much to look forward to in our sport, with young riders like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Peter Sagan, Jens Keukeleire and Tejay Van Garderen all showing immense promise.  The future of cycling is looking brighter than it has in many years, and we can head there with lessons learned from the past.  If we really care, it’s time to put in a concerted effort at a grass-roots level and make sure our youth can enter their sporting career without the pressure to make the mistakes of the past.  It’s time to move on and go forward and let this be the last skeleton that is dragged out.





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