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Letters to Cyclingnews - June 1, 2007, part 1
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Is amnesty the best policy?
Following the recent spate of confessions from current and former riders, the Cyclingnews Inbox received its own flood of opinions on how best to deal with a problem that appears to have been endemic throughout professional cycling in the 90s, and possibly beyond.
Suggestions ranged from an all out amnesty, to locking up offenders and throwing away the key. And while we can't print each letter received, rest assured we do read every one.
- Ben Abrahams, letters editor
June 1, part 1: A
thought for cycling's true heroes..., A cunning plan, A great opportunity for
the UCI, Admissions of guilt, Let's have some real confessions, Amnesty is the
way forward, Suggestions for an amnesty, Amnesty, Amnesty or punishment?, ASO's
double standard, Tour Clowns, Bjarne Riis, Bjarne Riis confession, Riis must
go, Riis, Basso, Zabel, et al..., Repairing the Magenta Express, Tip of the
iceberg, Riis and winning the tour on EPO
A thought for cycling's true heroes...
While it is heartening to see the cloud of silence lifting from within cycling in the hope of a better and cleaner future, I would hope that people refrain from commending these cheats for coming clean. For those who follow cycling closely it's not like we didn't already know. While they are big men to stand up and admit their guilt when others continue to hide, they do so after years of silence, denial and profit and often only when the weight of evidence is already against them.
The bigger men are the many forgotten promising cyclists over the years who chose not to cheat and in doing so, sacrificed their cycling careers and sporting aspirations in pursuit of a more honest way of life.
Instead of empathising with fallen heroes who we seem to consider friends by virtue of their familiarity from the amount of interviews and press coverage they have received over the years for being 'winners', the forgotten many who cycling spat out for 'non-compliance' are the ones we should be thinking of. The ones who endured the ignominy of the press for failing to live up to their hype and the ones who accepted their lost contracts with grace are the real heroes in cycling's mess.
To be honest, I'm not sure why sport has a tolerance for cheats and fraudsters at all. In the finance industry that I work in, any sort of fraud would lead me to be barred for life. It is the same in many other professions such as law and medicine. While cycling may be considered sport, it is also a profession and so I can never understand why convicted cheats get a two year ban instead of being barred for life just like I would be.
In many professions we have to be seen to be taking the correct pre-emptive
measures against fraud ... but for some reason, athletes always kick up a fuss
when stricter measures are introduced. Thankfully clean athletes endorse these
measures as they rightly see it as being in their interests to put themselves
beyond suspicion. Indeed, it's really refreshing to hear the voices of clean
athletes within the peloton ... at last they feel they can express themselves
freely and without consequence.
Julian V. from Australia writes in the light of Zabel and Aldag's admissions that it's "time for a UCI amnesty now". This corresponds with my own belief. I have a cunning plan to help us move forward. It's no 100% solution but it might help. Please read on.
From all of us, I'd like to see the attitude change from "oh no, not another doping scandal to hurt our sport" to "sorry mate, you're a cheat, you're out". We should not be afraid of a scandal because it appears the sponsors keep coming anyway. The attitude of "it's a bad year for cycling" or "let's hope we have no more scandals" is detriment to cleaning up the sport. The UCI and WADA have already begun on this road. Verbruggen wasn't prepared to go far enough but McQuaid does seem to be doing what he can. And Dick Pound is frankly an anti-doping legend. I hope he doesn't get booted out by the doping lobby's influences.
Connected to the above, how long should the proven cheat be punished for? Forever, i.e. permanent ban. And banned from any connection with the sport. As team manager or sports commentator, whatever. It's the only way. You cheat - you're finished.
This brings me onto the Amnesty: the idea being, let's put the past behind us. We know that many great champions have doped. Many who never made it to being great also doped. And this has happened right up the present day. As I write this it seems there'll be some sort of announcement from Bjarne Riis. In this light, why not have "truth and reconciliation" style doping conference this autumn/winter. Perhaps riders who come forward and admit doping can keep their crowns. The others shall just remain as "assumed dopers". If that's how they want it.
The amnesty idea needs more work but I think the time is right for this new departure - but only with lifetime bans being brought in to make the point that cheating is wrong.
With the slate of former T-Mobile riders admitting to doping during their careers, I have to think that this is a great opportunity for cycling. We are at a point now where the truth about the doping that took place would be much more valuable than any sort of punishment that was handed out. The ball has started rolling, and hopefully, more riders will come out and say what they took. This should be encouraged by the UCI.
Now is the time to offer an amnesty for all riders. Come clean and tell us what you took. No punishments, no taking away of wins. Get the information out there and use it to prevent doping now, not worrying about how a race was won in the 90's.
Just one comment with respect the non-race related cycling news we've all been gut punched with in the past year. Is there any doubt in anyone's mind right now that LNDD and WADA are a bunch of clowns?
The Landis trial criticisms highlight that LNDD is staffed by under trained and inexperienced analysts and run by bureaucrats more interested in funding agenda than science.
The Telekom confessions show that they couldn't find their own couch in their living room. If cycling needs to clean up, then I suspect so does every WADA governed sport. They've failed in their mission, they should all be fired - starting with Pound, who has never recovered from being disgraced in his role as Canadian Olympic committee chair when Ben Johnson got caught.
More than the riders have abused public trust here - so has WADA - with the shameful waste of public resource and funding.
I think Amnesty is a great idea and have for quite sometime. Doping news in cycling has become a cottage industry. I am pretty tired of it. Hell, I don't even care anymore. If they are dumb enough to do it for the glory and money. Go for it, it is their dumb choice.
If they want a clean sport, they should let everyone off the hook if they admit. Not semi confessions like "I was going to cheat, maybe" or, " I only did it once". Real confessions like Riis'. Anyone else remember his Mr 60% nickname?
All riders should have to give a full statement of any doping or a full denial and if they are caught that is it. Not only no more racing, but their name gets stricken from all cycling related records except the list of cheaters.
The public fallout and impact on sponsorship and paychecks will hurt them more than a little, but it might be the only chance we have for a clean sport.
I really think something like this or just stop testing and let them ride.
Julian V is a genius. There is a "war" against doping and drug use in cycling. In order to delivery the final victory, we need to move beyond a terrible time in cycling's history. We need amnesty for all those involved with doping retroactive from a particular date (pick one--say 1/1/05).
In exchange, the athletes and teams must agree to the most modern and thorough testing program imaginable, with harsh penalties for riders and their teams, for cheating. There have always been periods of amnesty after major wars have ended. We need to move on with a victory against the problems of the past in one hand, and a long-term solution for the future in the other.
I think the idea of a full amnesty now and a new system in the future is probably the only answer. I suggest the following
1. You do not have to say anything all charges as to anyone are dropped and the slate is clean but going forward one strike and you are out - forever. Additionally if the athlete goes the team manager is automatically suspended for a year. (If the Director can not control his team than he deserves some of this too)
2. In addition, if you are convicted all winnings from the year of the offense - for the entire team is forfeit. There is nothing quite as good as peer pressure to stop a problem.
3. A new testing system with double blind tests and a requirement that all tests be done in two separate labs at least one of which must be outside of Europe (frankly I would prefer a university lab not one run for profit) and the riders have an absolute right to have a representative present at the testing. And all test procedures will be video taped with prior notice of dates and times and the names of all those who handle the samples recorded,
4. A published, open and scientifically accepted set of testing criteria.
5. NO suspension while charges are pending.
6. If allegations are made by the testing authority and only be the testing authority then a date will be set for a hearing and given the severity of the penalty I propose all hearings will be held during the months when there is little or no cycling.
7. All hearings will be open and the decision like a jury conviction in the US must be unanimous.
8. Members of WADA are subject to a gag order no comments allowed on pending cases. You enforce the rules but you don't get to go out and try the case first in the press.
Janis L. Turner
In light of the recent admissions of doping by many of the top riders of the recent past, I believe it would be disastrous for cycling to apply retroactive sanctions to these riders. This would only serve as a obstacle to the increasing transparency that is now occurring with regard to doping.
As additional incentive for riders to come clean, there should be a universal amnesty for all riders accused of or currently serving suspensions for doping. However, the amnesty cannot be seen as rewarding cheaters, but allowing all riders to start with a clean slate and a level playing field. Furthermore, as an adjunct to the general doping amnesty, any future doping violations should be punished by a lifetime ban.
Needless to say, the doping rules must be made fair as well. Riders should be given due process to defend themselves against a doping violation, and should not be tried in the court of public opinion - especially if the penalty is a life ban.
Is it time for an amnesty in cycling or punishment of the admitted dopers? In my view it doesn't matter until we rip out the rotten core of cycling. By this I mean the current team management, former riders and those running dope testing, many of which seem to live in an unreal parallel universe where short term PR wins over ethics and standards.
According to my personal ethics it is not OK to congratulate someone who has the character to admit drugs use only as the tower of lies comes tumbling down. This is pleading guilty, not coming forward because of internal turmoil. The rot is so deep that the self-proclaimed Mr Clean has been turned. I was dumbfounded when I heard that Bob Stapleton had said he would hire Zabel in an minute. PR 2 - Ethics 0.
Floyd Landis' arbitration involved three clear points which shocked and surprised me. One, the analysts were able to search for a result until they found one as there is no clear standard and procedure. Second during B sample analysis the analysts knew whose sample they were analysing. Third the information somehow leaked out. I now understand that drugs testing involves data mining and conviction by media, and their 'evidence' would be thrown out by any judge in a drink driving case. PR 5 - Ethics 0
As long as cycling remains a parallel world where fraud, drug abuse, leaks and unsound science abound it does not deserve our money. In the city or almost any other walk of life cheating results in hefty fines and lifetime bans. Why not in cycling? I am glad to see that Discovery Channel and Wiesenhof are taking the high road. I will be doing my bit by posting my wife's old Telekom jersey back to the current CEO with a letter asking for my money back. The Hohlentour DVD will go to Mr Zabel's mansion with a similar note. I'll probably spend the refund on some Chris Boardman or Bradley Wiggins memorabilia from eBay...
Patrice Clerc and the rest of the ASO organization have completely lost it. Patrice Clerc now wants Riis to stay away from the Tour saying he can't work with someone who has doped.... yet his organization had no problem with Richard Virenque admitting he did drugs then serve a seven month suspension and then is welcomed back to the Tour. Talk about a double standard. It looks like the ASO is ok with allowing French cyclists to compete in the Tour even if they've been found guilty of doping, but when it comes to riders of other nationalities the ASO wants to ban them.
Then to really show how much Clerc and his merry organization have lost it. Clerc wants CSC to do something about Riis saying "Why should it always be the riders who pay the price?" So I have one simple question for Patrice and the ASO: Why are the riders from Unibet paying the price for the dispute between the ASO and the sponsor of the team?
What's that saying about people throwing rocks in glass houses?
"Shocking" is right on target. What kind of Tour de France are these clowns running? Are not the directors of the Tour responsible for insuring that they are drug free? What a poor job they have done. Certainly they benefited from the excitement over the years. How many years have they had to develop systems to stop the drug use? Perhaps it has been more beneficial for them to do nothing. Do we now talk about the Tour all year long?
Bjarne Riis, who now has admitted doping, provided a really exciting Tour de France when he won. Now as the owner and sporting director of CSC, Riis is a leader in cleaning up the sport. If the tour directors had done half of what Riis is doing then maybe they would have a place to talk from. Surely they have know something has been going on. What have they really done? Have the riders pee in to a cup? That is so old school. Maybe, just maybe they chose not to find anything?
I think it time to find where the buck stops and it is at the top. The director of the tour Christian Prudhomme and the past director should be receive life time bands and be removed from participating in the fraud they claim in the tour as has resulted under their watchful eyes.
Upon the admittance by Riis that he doped in the 96 Tour, this tidbit of brilliance
was uttered by Pat McQuaid in your May 26 first edition news:
I believe that at least as far back as the death of Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux in 67 there probably hasn't been a clean winner of the Tour de France and probably none of the other great European races since then either. Steroids hit sports in the early 60s and EPO came in the mid 80s. Is Pat promoting the idea that, should enough racers come out over the coming years, he would declare that none of the races since then were ever won? Should all of Zabel's wins be vacated?
The problem with all this, that escapes McQuaid and Pound, is that these 'solutions' punish the fans and sponsors as much as the dopers and we end up with what we have, a dying sport. The fans and sponsors of UCI cycling are innocent in this 'war' on doping, and no professional sport cares as little about the collateral damage it does to it's fans and sponsors as does UCI cycling.
I believe the 2007 Tour de France will be given to the next highest placing uncaught doper as probably was the 2005 Vuelta. I've seen both names mentioned in Puerto articles and both are still racing. So be it.
The only statement Bjarne made in his press conference that I disagree with is when he said he wasn't a worthy Tour champion. Yes he was, he was doing the same as everyone else and he won. That's a worthy champion.
The UCI needs to get off this 'destroy all the heroes of the past' kick and ante up with what they need to do, get rid of those cheap A tests that are beaten 99% of the time and spend as much money on good A tests as the racers spend on doping. But they won't do it because firstly that costs money and to obfuscate the issue by destroying the heroes of the past is free. Secondly that would also end doping and the WADA would have its budget cut. The WADA exists to make its budget bigger, not end doping. Bjarne, you made yourself another fan and Pat, I think you're even more of an idiot.
The latest confession from Bjarne Riis sickens me. How much lying and cheating should a fan accept? I have foolishly been a team CSC fan for years now. Is he really going to continue as their director? Am I really supposed to believe that team is leading the way in the fight against drugs? Am I really supposed to believe that Basso cheated without Riis knowing? It would seem to me that a master cheater would have been able to tell.
I always respected Zabel - how stupid I was. I used to think of Ullrich when trying to power up a climb - how stupid I was. Jens Voigt is my favourite rider in the peloton. I still think of him whenever I am riding. He is (I hope) a hero. Is it only a matter of time until I am asking why I was so stupid to admire Jens at all? Stuart O'Grady's win at Paris-Roubaix this year was amazing - as a fellow Aussie (living abroad) I was so proud of him. I think I will cry if I find out that was also produced by cheating. But how can you have any confidence when you know their boss stole the Tour de France in 1996? I hope I am wrong. But isn't it this blind optimism which allows cheating to continue? We don't want to admit the obvious.
I am sick of hearing about a presumption of innocence for cyclists. That is a fine legal standard to apply in criminal cases - modern society agrees that freedom is a basic human right and you should only forfeit that right if society is sure you did something wrong. But it is not a reasonable standard for many other things. Ask anyone with a "real job". You can't just get away with something at work until your employer can prove beyond a reasonable doubt you have done something wrong. These people do not have some basic human right to be pro-cyclists. It is a privilege - an earned privilege. You earn it by shouldering responsibility. One obvious way is to prove you are worthy to be a pro cyclist. The best way is to take every chance you can to prove you do not cheat. That would mean you should hand over DNA and submit to regular public testing. Taking drugs means you surrender that privilege and it should be passed to someone else who values it.
Only a set of guilty riders would resist testing. The innocent should be advocating it. Of course the sport needs to ensure the testing is 100% credible. That is where the riders union should direct their efforts. They better hurry up because there isn't going to be much left soon.
Anyone who is found to use drugs should be banned from the sport for life - in any capacity. That is the only response which reflects the seriousness of this problem. At the end of the day this is just "riding a bike". You have lost all perspective if you are going to take drugs to help you do that. Why should some innocent rider be kept out of the pro ranks by someone who cheated? Clearly that cheat has no appreciation for the fact that they are so privileged to get to be a pro cyclist and enjoy the admiration and esteem of millions around the world.
I wish I could go riding this weekend and be sure that my cycling heroes have never cheated. I wish I could paste Jens Voigt's picture on my stem and not have to feel slightly foolish when I use it to inspire me to kick up the speed or blast into a headwind. Just tell me the name of one rider who I can be sure is innocent and they will be my new hero.
Bjarne Riis says he made a mistake and that they can come and take away his yellow jersey if they wish. But that simply will not do. First, he didn't make a mistake; he cheated. It wasn't a miscalculation; it was a crime. Second, he doesn't need simply to relinquish an old jersey. He needs to give back the millions in prize money he fraudulently won as well as the greatly increased salary his fraud subsequently earned for him. He needs to go to prison for sporting fraud; and he needs to be banned from cycling forever. The TdF must not permit, nor should any Pro Tour race permit, CSC to compete in their event as long as Riis has any contact or financial interest in the team. If the organizers have the will to refuse entry to Unibet -- so far as we know an honest team -- they must have the will to refuse CSC, if a fraud is at their helm.
Now that we know for certain that Riis won cycling's biggest prize, the TdF, fraudulently, if the Tour de France organizers do not strip him of his title and seek to punish him on whatever legal, financial and professional grounds are still available to them, then I do not believe they should withhold the winner's jersey and money from Floyd Landis, even if he is proved guilty. Being proved guilty would simply put Landis in the same class as Riis the criminal, whom they will have let off the hook. Their credibility as an organization, and the status of their race as a world-class sporting event, depend upon their attempting vigorously to do the right thing -- and the same thing -- in both cases, providing, of course, that Landis is guilty. We already know that Riis is.
The TdF leadership need to protect their race tenaciously or else flush it away with their lost integrity. The Giro, now underway, needs to do the same thing -- no CSC if Riis is involved. Expulsion should be immediate if he continues.
With Bjarne Riis's confession that he doped during the 1996 TDF, it feels as though the entire house of cards that is professional cycling has finally collapsed. Who can really believe anyone at this point? Just as personal relationships are built on trust, the relationship between professional athletes and fans of sport are as well. When trust is gone, the relationship is doomed.
As far as I'm concerned, professional cycling is headed the way of professional boxing...a sport that has become so dirty with cheating that nobody really cares the way they once did. As an American fan, I believe that the advancement of professional cycling in this country will most certainly decline to where there is virtually no interest.
Despite the notoriety of Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Pro Cycling team, cycling is considered nothing but a fringe sport at best. Due to the actions of what appears to be a large number of those involved, it really deserves nothing more. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this mess is that just as many have suspected all along, cheating in cycling has been both organized and widespread.
I give no credit to any of those who have confessed unless they are willing to name names and offer specifics. At this point, there still appears to be an unspoken agreement among the people in the sport not to do so. And when riders such as Zabel and Basso confess that they merely tried doping, it smacks of Bill Clinton admitting to smoking marijuana but not inhaling. Give me a break!
I was brought to the world of cycling by Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel and have Hoellentour listed in my all-time favourite films. The news that they, and especially Rolf, were doping in the 90s disappointed and saddened me, although I can hardly say I was shocked after all the recent "coming-outs". And it seems that not many other people here in Germany were. There is, of course, all the hype in the rush to sell the latest issue of the newspaper, but what is behind this is surely a mirror into the mentality of cycling as it was in past years and in its present. As Rolf said- there was no risk then of getting caught or punished and when everyone else was involved in the same practices and the pressure to win was so great, it is no wonder that so many explored their "options". And their option was to stay silent about it.
Now that we are here with in the present with the moral high ground that doping is bad for the sport, bad for sponsorship, and most definitely bad for the body, thank god Rolf and Erik have taken the risk to break that silence. While admittedly they were given that chance in very pressurised and individual circumstances, I can only think more highly of these two. We have two men who have accomplished so much, inspired so many, and are wiling to risk and lose so much in order to save a sport from self-destruction; to save young men and women from being pushed into a corner full of needles, fear, lying and silence like what they have had to sit in for years.
I have been honoured to meet, converse and cycle with Rolf Aldag and was so impressed by his gentleness, his passion for the sport, riders, fans, Die Mannschaft T-Mobile, and also by his desire to build cycling as a clean sport. He lives and breathes cycling; has been there and done that- is there anyone better to reform the sport? I extend this also to T-Mobile- they pioneered cycling in Germany and they will continue to do so with their commitment to the team.
Both the team, Rolf and Erik are providing the prefect example of how to handle
this "crisis"- come forth, admit the mistakes made, be open, frank, share the
stories, the experience and the emotion with the people who supported you, and
use all of this to ensure that we can still trust that those cyclist we believe
actually deserve our faith.
The recent Team Telekom confessions should make us all realize that this is only the very small tip o the iceberg! Only because Jef "bidon" D'Hondt published his (censored because shorter version than the original because of possible legal implications!) memoirs, many of those named in the book saw no other option than to come forward, and only an "unhappy few" (Pevenage, Ullrich, perhaps Godefroot?) are struggling to do so but will eventually come up with some sort of well prepared statement.
Was it THE "system Telekom"? No, it was A system Telekom, just as there were systems used by most other professional teams.
The onus lies with the team management, the soigneurs and later with the doctors,
who made their racers believe that they could not perform without! And these
So Riis confessed. In his gentlemanly manner he has offered to return the 1996 Yellow jersey. The UCI have accepted, the only problem is: whom does it go to now? Look at the results: Telekom, Telekom, Festina, Festina.
It's not that I am a cynic (well, I am, actually), but my Father in law was a Pro rider (track) in the '50's/'60's and did a season on the Euro circuit then high tailed it home when he saw what was going on. All that has happened since then is the science has gotten smarter, from both sides. It doesn't necessarily wash that "everybody was doing it" they shouldn't have been. But, by the same token, there is little value in crucifying people for the past when we don't know who was clean.
For that reason the confessions of the former Telekom riders should be congratulated and they should not be punished, and we should move to a system where there is a short amnesty for the past, air the laundry. After this the penalties should be severe, career ending severe.
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