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Letters to Cyclingnews - May 8, 2008
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While organizations like ASO and the UCI claim to be anti-doping, their recent musings about banning race radios could have the unintended consequence of forcing more riders to turn to illegal substances in order to keep pace.
Here's why: Currently race radios enable team directors to keep their riders informed of critical information such as who is in the break, time gap, and estimated speed/time necessary to catch the break. This helps take pressure off the peloton by allowing teams to let breaks of non-threatening riders go in order to earn their sponsors time in the limelight, while still allowing a reasonable opportunity for the teams of sprinters or GC contenders to chase and catch the break before the end of the race.
Without this information, the teams of sprinters or GC contenders would have to respond to every break immediately. Constant attacks would be required to form a successful break. This in turn would increase the overall speed of the peloton. With the increase in speed, more riders would be dropped earlier. Facing such a prospect, many riders and/or team managers might be tempted to turn to doping.
So while some may have romantic notions about returning the sport to a more pure time (if you can call the early days of cycling rife with the use of amphetamines pure), they should recognize that you can't turn back time. But even if you could, you might not like what you would find.
Race radios? #2
Totally agree with everything that you have said Claus. It would most definitely be a more exciting race where the riders were responsible for who to chase, or not to chase, rather than being fed constant times and positions from the DS in the car with his computer. One only has to look back when Ulrich crashed in the time trial on that wet roundabout and Armstrong was immediately told to shut down as he could not be beaten. Maybe if Armstrong had to race that little bit harder for a while longer the situation might have been different.
Race radios? #3
I love cycling. I love doing it, watching it and talking about it. There is only one thing I don't love, race radio.
Everyone respects the rider(s) whom has the guts to try a long break away. And everyone loves to see them succeed, it is part of making your own luck and at the core of the beauty of cycling. It breaks my heart to watch the peloton receiving km/hr radio instructions and timing their chase to mow down the escapees in the last 5km. It breaks my heart that racers do not use their own cunning.
Return cycling to the riders and open up the chances for all riders.
Race radios? #4
You say that you have ridden for 10 years, but at what level? If you have ever competed in a pro race with a full team, your view on radios might change a bit. Every experienced cyclist knows this sport takes more teamwork than just about any other sport. Now imagine racing in a group 180 people large, don't you think it would be very hard for team-mates to communicate? I've raced in several UCI junior races, with fields pushing 160 riders, and as a junior we were not allowed to use race radios. We tried to work as a team, but as soon as we got close as a team in the pack, you get swarmed, and then you are separated and you didn't even get a chance to discuss anything with your fellow team-mates.
Another example: lets say the team leader gets a flat, how does the rest of the team know they need to drop back and pace them back? Finally, since cycling is a team sport, they have a coach, or team director. Not only is it there responsibility to get the team to the start, but also to get wins. It's a little hard for a director to be shouting from his car to "call a play". So in order for a team to function as a team, they would either all have to be on the front controlling the pace so they can communicate, or sitting on the back of the pack together. Without radios much of the team tactics are out of the window.
Lastly the people who are in the winners circle time and time again are their for a reason. Boonen is a beast, Lance has mutant like powers, Bettini it a little goblin, they win because they are the best, not because a little wire in their ear is saying "you have to win."
What is going on in professional cycling? The use of performance-enhancing drugs should obviously be tested and appropriately punished if positive, but let's introduce some common sense into these proceedings. Petacchi is banned for one year for not doping with salbutamol. The CAS found that he used it for medicinal purposes. Petacchi is found guilty because he could not prove he did not take it in any other form than inhalation. The effect of dehydration and increased urine concentration on salbutamol levels is not known.
Furthermore, Petacchi took two to three puffs of his inhaler after the stage had finished and before his urine test. Obviously this cannot be performance enhancing if he took salbutamol after the race finished and, again, no one knows the effect of these post-race inhalations on the final salbutamol level. Who should the burden of proof be on - Petacchi or WADA and CONI who appealed the Italian Cycling Federation's non-guilty finding to CAS? WADA and CONI have access to the drug labs and scientists and the finances to investigate the effects of certain conditions on drug levels, not individual riders.
WADA and CONI should be responsible for proving that Petacchi administered salbutamol through means other than inhalation, not Petacchi proving the opposite. What a ridiculous ruling to find Petacchi guilty and banning him for a year for using salbutamol for medicinal purposes and with so many unknowns regarding salbutamol concentrations with dehydration and inhalations immediately prior to testing.
Another case is Bjorn Leukemans. How sorry do you feel for this rider? He tests positive for testosterone and is banned for two years because of a mistake made by the Silence Lotto team doctor. Riders are told to trust their team doctors and the doctor made a mistake. There was no systematic doping on either the part of the team, doctor or rider. Banning Bjorn Leukemans is nonsensical - what purpose does it serve? Absolutely nothing other than punishing an innocent victim. No wonder Bettini didn't sign the UCI charter - I wouldn't if I was a professional rider and these were the kind of verdicts being handed out by cycling federations and CAS.
Punish the true drug cheats and, more importantly, the big fish in this game (doctors and suppliers). But let's be sensible and not punish innocent victims and riders where there is no burden of proof.
Sometimes our sport is so hypocritical. As you might be aware, Petacchi has been suspended and his results have been taken away for 2007 and 2008. The facts are that he used an asthma puffer too much, beyond the legal limit.
But, an asthma puffer is hardly the same as using EPO or testosterone or something like that. In fact, there is no evidence that he's ever used any other serious drugs and his integrity seems pretty strong. I haven't seen any signs that he sneaks around and hides his training techniques or nutritional support.
With that being said, Petacchi has to give up all of his winnings and prizes from 2007, including his Maglia Ciclamino for winning the point's competition for the 2007 Giro, which goes to Danilo Di Luca. Di Luca was suspended for his participation in the Oil for Drugs after that same Giro and suspected of using masking agents (for a serious drug) during the same Giro that Petacchi was suspended in. This is ridiculous.
It looks as though the CAS ruling on Petacchi's case is the most ridiculous one and demolishes the last remaining credibility of sport's justice.
If there is no doping offense or major negligence then why did he get a one-year suspension? For minor negligence (if any)? Is that not somewhat too severe.
It is more or less understandable why his 2007 Giro stage wins have to be relinquished, but why is it that he can keep his competition results between May and October but not after October? Where is the logic? What occurred in October?
The whole anti-doping system desperately needs a major overhaul. The main reason for its existence (which seems to be completely forgotten) is to protect riders health and their lives. And it should be concentrated on this very goal. Any performance-enhancing medication or practice that is harmless for riders health (or no more harmful as normal training/racing) should be indisputably permitted.
I must say that I think Matt O'Brien is wrong when he lumps in Unibet with Astana. Unibet was caught in the unfortunate tug of war team between the UCI/ProTour and ASO debacle. The UCI happily gave them a ProTour license and ASO denied them entry under the "excuse" that advertisements for online gambling companies were illegal in France. Hence Unibet couldn't race, but the real reason was the prolonged battle between the grand Tour organizers and the UCI insofar as allowing 20 teams in the ProTour. The GT organizers wanted fewer mandatory pro teams at their events so they could invite more wild card and presumably national teams. And the UCI insisted on a mandatory 20 teams that had to participate in the ProTour events while happily taking their team license fees.
And, comparing David Millar's contrite "voluntary" confession is erroneous. David Millar trash talked badly about anyone who was pointing the doping finger against him and other cyclists if I remember calling them "nutters" or some such insult. It was only after the French police had arrested him and grilled him overnight at the police station (and with substantial damaging evidence) and applied considerable pressure, did David recant. Please, let's stop applying a moral relative scale to pros caught doping. The system and "omerta" is such that only the rider takes the fall. Director Sportifs, soigneurs, team doctors, mechanics, management and sponsors go on as if nothing has happened and repeat the sorry, tired mantra "it was something the rider did on his own, unbeknownst to us". As long as everyone in that game gets to go on with their livelihood, doping will continue. Everyone involved has to take ownership of the problem, even the cycling fans that goad their "heroes" onto more spectacular feats of the impossible.
Let's face it, a three week stage race would cause most of us to drop dead with the effort and we expect that someone like a Floyd Landis can turn around a horrible stage and come back the next day "a la superman?" I don't condone doping but it seems to have always been part of the cycling lore. Decades ago it wasn't considered illegal because the regulations to make it illegal hadn't been put in to place, but whether you're injecting caffeine, drinking alcohol, doing blood transfusions or getting a hold of the next scientific wonder-drug or technique it is all the same.
We are all somewhat strangely entranced by an athlete who continues to push against his/her physical limits by resorting to a "little something extra" because my competitor is also doing it. Like a moth to a light, we can't help but watch the accident that is waiting to happen.
Just my 2 cents.
Basso gets a contract #2
Hasn't Basso been signed up by Liquigas, who late last year had dumped Di Luca after the oil for drugs episode? I know who Id rather have in my team.
Basso gets a contract #3
Do you do the crime - you to the time! Now he has served his time Basso needs to be given a fresh start!
Basso gets a contract #4
David Millar confessed only when confronted with the evidence in his apartment?
Why is he being held up as the role model? He cheated, got caught red-handed did his time and is back racing. There is nothing wrong with that (in my opinion). Why should Basso be treated and regarded differently?
Like the guy in the Bud Light commercial says (incredulously): "Dude!" Matt O'Brien of Australia suggests that Tyler Hamilton is somehow a victim of a hypocritical philosophy which now punishes him for "defending (his) honour and integrity" while rewarding Basso for remaining silent.
You do know that Tyler was at one point "defending" himself by suggesting that he had a chimera (a foetus absorbed by another in the womb - the odds of which are approx. 1 in 10,000)? Dude, once you "defend" yourself with the medical grab-bag, you officially have no integrity. Yes, Basso cheated, yes Basso initially lied about his cheating, but in the end he admitted he was wrong and took his punishment like an adult, unlike a few more famous American cyclists (I'm sad to say).
Like Floyd's "Wiki defense" and Lance's "Francophile bias", I think cycling history will look back on the likes of Tyler Hamilton as fairly symptomatic of what is coming to be known as the "doping era." Do I feel sad for Tyler Hamilton? Yes, like others he was caught up in an environment which encouraged (almost demanded) that he cheats to compete, but that doesn't mean I'm letting him off the hook.
As far as I know, it was proven that Vinokourov was doped when he won the ITT in Albi, and Riis confessed that his performance in the Tour 1996 was improved by his consumption of EPO. But even if Virenque ended up confessing his doping, there's no way to prove that he was doped in a particular moment, except for the tour of 1998, where he confessed it. And he didn't earn anything that year, so there was nothing to give back. There were favouritisms? Sure, if the cyclist was one Roberto Pistore instead of Virenque, I highly doubt he would've run the following Tour as he did, serving no suspension at all.
But once he was participating, there's no way to question the legitimacy of his results. Anyway, I think it's an useless logic, because if we follow the pattern of reasonable suspicions, well, maybe the accurate winner of the 1996 Tour is Fernando Escartin and Charly Mottet was actually a cannibal during the late 80's/early 90's... Let's just stick to the facts.
French riders had to give up their jerseys?
No, Virenque hasn't been stripped of any jerseys - but then again he didn't admit to doping during the Tour (like Riis) and didn't test positive during the Tour (like Vinokourov). I'm not a big fan of handing back jerseys and taking away stage wins simply because you can't account for what the runners up did as they might well have doped too.
If everyone was to give back their jerseys then I guess Basso and Di Luca would have to give back their Maglia Rosa's and Virenque give back most, but not all, of his jerseys. An awful lot of jersey's would have to be handed back and an awful lot of stages would have to be allocated new winners.
You can see why I'm not a fan of that idea can't you
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