Thursday, January 27, 2011

Going off half-cocked

Take a good look; maybe your only chance to see Alberto Contador Velasco in Saxo kit! Pistolero is going down. Well for now. One year and losing the '10 Tour title say the reports. This could be a bad day for cycling. No, not in the way you'd think. Is it bad that the guy who won the "world's biggest bike-race " is taking a doping sanction? Does it paint the sport in a negative light? I would say "No". On the contrary, it would be far worse if he finessed out of it just because he won "the world's biggest bike-race".

Unfortunately, there seems to be finessing going on. There have been machinations, or the appearance of machinations from the beginning; from the long delay in notification to the current wrangling over the nature and duration (if any) of the sanction. Also, the role of the Union Cycliste Internatinale (UCI), the International Federation (IF) that governs cycling, in this has been questioned. What role have they played in this case? Does it even have a say in doping cases?

To the best of my knowledge, the sanction is supposed to be two years. Vinokourov was given a year in '07 by the Kazakh Cycling Federation, a term that was seen as nationalistic in nature i.e. to get Vino back on the national team as soon as possible, and the UCI appealed successfully to get him the mandated two years.

One year bans are handed out, but this is usually when the accused charger has "cooperated". This time-off-for-good-behaviour approach sticks in the craw. Danilo di Luca just got a year ban for a second doping offence (well kinda second offence, the first one was only an implication in Oil For Drugs but he still served a ban). The nature of his "cooperation" the second time around wasn't clear. He confessed to his own doping but didn't implicate anyone else. So how does this merit a reduction? More-so a reduction that allowed him to start racing almost straight away, we must add!

It's been said that it is unfair that the cyclists are taking the rap and having their reputations tarnished and careers destroyed but the team doctors and in some scary cases the team veterinarians (Dr Mabuse anyone?) are in the the main, getting away with it. Which is why it was so so gratifying to see Stefan Matschiner get prison time recently for helping Bernhard Kohl, among others, to blood dope. Of course, "among others" hides a multitude of sins including the fact that cyclists were not the only ones supposedly re-transfusing their own blood. Remember, in Operation Puerto, track & field athletes, soccer and tennis players were all allegedly in the net yet it was only cyclists, including Ulrich and Basso, who were named. Don't get me started.

So Bertie (not the Colin Firth Oscar nomiated Bertie, the other one) is getting a year, and that smacks of preferential treatment. Listen to the arguments. It was only 50 pg/mL, clearly accidental, let's get the guy back racing as soon as possible. After all, he did threaten to retire if banned. If Contador is seen as the future of cycling by the powers that be, then that's no good. Here we have a champion everyone likes, we must do what we can to keep him.

Implicit in those statements is Contador's post-sanction return, none-the-less. There has been a remarkable discontinuity in the treatment of post-santioned dopers. OK, so Basso could come straight back in to the highest levels but that was a couple of years ago and times have changed. Have they? Vino, straight into the Astana A-squad and won the '10 la Doyenne. Not all's bad; he was booed in the finishing straight! Petacchi, who still doesn't know how to use an inhaler properly, welcomed with open arms, back in the ProTour (or whatever we're calling it now, World Tour I think) and working to get his tally of wins back up after being stripped of a years-worth of results. Di Luca gets a Katusha contract right out of the ban. Rasmussen on the other hand, guilty only of not being where he said he would be (I'm not standing up for him in any way but compare to Di Luca who was caught red-handed with CERA in his system) can't even get the UCI to return his calls. His assertion that there was a UCI "black-list" of formerly-banned riders seemed like sour grapes once upon a time, but is unfortunately soundng more like UCI policy! Landis, even when flying the Floyd Fairness Fund flag high and proud, was lucky to get a gig with Rock Racing, alongside Oscar Sevilla and Fransisco Mancebo; let's just say Rock Racing's bad-boy image wasn't all down to their "rad" Primal jerseys. It was the French Foreign Legion of cycling, with Sevilla and Mancebo not so much exercising their right to ride for a foreign team as it was trying to stay one step ahead of the UCI and Puerto! Landis' case is probably the closest to Berties; current TdF winner with drugs in his system. No ifs, ands or buts over what and how much. Was there testosterone? Yes. Was there clenbuterol? Yes. Landis is ridiculed and summarily drummed out of the business whilst the UCI appears to be trying to cushion Berties' blows.

And what about Fuyu Li? Who? The Chinese cycling champion (as in ITT national champion). He was also caught with clenbuterol last year. Also, in the minuscule 50-100 pg range. You could be a cynic, but perhaps Fuyu Li's problem wasn't the Clen as much as it was not having won a couple of Tours yet. Do we ever hear any moral-wringing ( and wrangling) arguments from the UCI on Li's behalf? Any splitting hairs over the performance-enhacing meaning of 50 pg of clenbuterol? Do we ever hear the UCI equate the Li and Contador cases? Hey, both vanishingly small amounts of a drug of questionable efficacy? Nope. Contador gets his blows cushioned by both his national and international federations whilst Li gets tossed under the bus; just another bad boy with PEDs in his system. Fu Yu indeed.

No, the rules are the rules. It shouldn't matter how many Grand Tours he's won. He did the crime, let him serve the time; and by time, we mean two years. If we don't, then cycling's whole crusade against PEDs, already on shaky ground, will be exposed as gutless. Open to abuse, depending on who you are, not what you've done. This isn't pour encourager les autres; Contador shouldn't have coming more than someone in the same situation, he should be getting the same. And if cycling's latest great white hope retires in a fit of pique because of it, then so be it. We picked the wrong great white hope. At least we won't be seeing that stupid victory "gesture" for a while.


Oh, I copy-and-pasted those images off cyclingnews,com; they're their IP, not mine.

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