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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for February 6, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

France seeks to define soigneur

By Chris Henry

Soigneurs on guard
Photo ©: Chris Henry/Cyclingnews

Alongside the latest doping affair to hit cycling, sparked by the January arrest of Cofidis soigneur Bogdan Madejak and several subsequent arrests/interrogations of cyclists, France's sports minister has made a very vocal entry into the fray with new demands and initiatives to fight doping in sport (with a particular emphasis on cycling). One issue lying below the surface of the investigations into drug trafficking is the role of the soigneur, or technical assistant, in a professional team.

It may be a French word (the verb soigner means 'to treat' or 'to care for'), but it seems ambiguity still surrounds the definition of soigneur. The term soigneur has taken on a general context for someone who not only provides massage therapy for riders in competition, but also performs a variety of day to day support tasks such as preparing feed bags and water bottles, driving team vehicles, transporting riders to and from airports, etc. Throughout cycling, many soigneurs share a very close and important relationship with their riders, looking after every need and working to stay completely in tune with a rider's health and physical state.

However, as some soigneurs such as Madejak have become implicated in the provision of doping substances in the sport, the profession has come under increased scrutiny in the latest rounds of drug scandals. In fact, a professional association was formed for soigneurs after the fallout of the 1998 Festina affair, to shed more light on the functions of a soigneur and provide better representation for those employed in this sector.

With the arrest of Bogdan Madejak, suspected of a major role in drug trafficking from eastern Europe, French sports minister Jean-François Lamour has issued a call for proposals from the professional teams concerning the role of soigneurs. According to French law, only licensed physical therapists are permitted to administer massage to professional athletes. With the ever expanding number of duties for assistants on a team's staff, this fact would seem to be often overlooked, but Lamour is eager to keep tabs on who is in contact with cyclists and involved in their healthcare.

Attitudes vary within the community as to how far Lamour should go in his quest to reform cycling, but the community of soigneurs/technical assistants has been put on notice and is keen on fighting for its place within the sport. Inconsistency of enforcement is also a major concern, as the French law does not apply to foreign teams, even when competing in France. Paris-Nice organisers ASO announced that they expected French teams to adhere to the law by this year's event (March 7-14), but conceded that international teams could bring their own soigneurs (who may not necessarily be licensed physical therapists).

For some, the increased scrutiny- and finger pointing, however direct or indirect- towards the soigneurs does not inspire confidence in the challenge to eliminate doping.

"This is not a solution that will remove the risks of doping," said directeur sportif Martial Gayant, quoted in l'Equipe. "Even a physical therapist can get banned substances for a rider..."

Langkawi off to rocky start

The Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi stage race started Friday in less than fashionable form with a neutralised stage 1. The opening road stage, a 112km stage from Bayan Baru, Pulau Pinang to Taiping, was nullified after police opened the finishing circuit to traffic prematurely. A final sprint could not be contested, thus all riders received the same place and time. The first leader's jersey was awarded to Merculio Ramos (Pagcor-Casino Filipino) based on time bonuses from the intermediate sprints during the stage.

Perfect start for Illes Balears

What better way for a new sponsor to begin the cycling season than to win the first race on the national calendar at home. Illes Balears-Banesto got just the result it had hoped for as Antonio Colom took the overall series title at the Challenge Illes Balears.

"It's a triumph that I've dreamt about for several seasons, because to win on home soil is something special," Colom said. "I won thanks to my teammates, and it will have special meaning since it is the first for the new team and I'm the first rider from the islands to win."

WADA, UCI moving closer

Disagreements still resonate between the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), but their respective heads Hein Verbruggen and Richard Pound are slowly moving a number of toward fundamental agreements. A primary sticking point between the UCI and WADA has been the proposed World Anti-Doping Code set forth by WADA, which the UCI has yet to sign. The international football federation FIFA had also expressed reservations about signing the code, unwilling to agree to a mandatory two year suspension for any athlete found with a positive doping test.

FIFA Has since agreed to sign, having achieved the leeway it sought for treating doping offenses on a case by case basis when dealing with sanctions. Pound does not consider the move a back pedal on the part of WADA, even if he had pushed hard for the mandatory two year ban.

"Nobody had to take a step back from their positions," Pound said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro. "Our lawyers confirmed that the principle of a fixed sanction of two years couldn't be incorporated into the code, and they returned to an agreement with the lawyers from FIFA in May of 2003."

Hein Verbruggen of the UCI echoed this argument in a recent l'Equipe interview, affirming that the UCI would sign the code prior to the Olympic Games in Athens this year.

"We will sign before the Games; I've said it and we will do it," Verbruggen said. "The main concern now is that the code doesn't offer us the option of applying a rule of proportionality in sanctions. That won't be accepted by the courts if the sanctions are too severe. We have to recognise a difference between the use of EPO and forgetting to submit a justification for therapeutic use of a substance."

"I have problems with Dick Pound but that doesn't mean I don't like WADA," Verbruggen insisted. "The code includes many elements from our own rules, even if I find the editing a bit too American."

For Pound, the necessity for the UCI and cycling to face its own problems is of critical importance. WADA has been vocal in its criticism of cycling's handling of doping violations, and although agreements appear to be on the horizon, continues to push for tougher sanctions from the UCI.

"Cycling needs to recognise that a serious problem exists in the sport," Pound said. "It needs to take appropriate actions, and I don't believe that a suspension of six months is serious."

Majewski charged

Polish amateur Daniel Majewski, who was taken for questioning by police in late January concerning his possible involvement in the trafficking of banned substances from eastern Europe along with Cofidis soigneur Bogdan Madejak, has been charged with the possession and distribution of doping products by French judge Richard Pallain.

Majewski, 23, is suspected of having links with Madejak, who while still in custody in Nanterre, remains the focal point of the investigation which has surrounded various members and ex-members of the Cofidis team. Majewski's lawyer, who is expected to submit an appeal for his client's release from custody, issued a statement rejecting the notion of an organised trafficking ring.

"In this case there is a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of work being done, but no leader, big or small," Majewski's lawyer Pierre Mairat asserted. "Nothing shows that in the contact between Majewski and Madejak, Madejak provided [my client] medications or any sort of arrangement. There's no such connection."

Majewski rode as an amateur with the AC Boulogne-Billancourt club outside of Paris before joining the Castelsarrasin team at the suggestion of Madejak. Majewski was picked up by French police on January 28 in Limoux, where banned substances were found in his hotel room.

RAGT Adds one more

In addition to signing Nicolas Reynaud, RAGT Semences-MG Rover has added a second new rider to the 2004 roster. The team lost two riders before the season even started: Marek Rutkiewicz, the first cyclist to be arrested in the Madejak drug trafficking investigation, and David Lefèvre, who made a last minute decision to retire from cycling and pursue other career options.

Twenty-six year old Renaud Dion of France joins the team, turning professional after riding for the EC Saint-Etienne-Loire amateur team, for whom he won nine races in 2003.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)