Monday, October 4, 2010

More Doping In Pro Cycling

Alberto Contador press conference
It was reported last week 2010 Tour De France winner Alberto Contador and 2010 Vuelta a Espana runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera are now suspected of doping due to positive in-competition drug tests.

There have been other recent announcements made by the UCI involving other riders suspected of doping this season, but I can't keep track of them all because there are so many.  Then there is the Floyd Landis  thing from May and the subsequent grand jury investigation into whether or not other US cyclists have committed any crimes by doping.  This obviously puts Lance Armstrong in the cross-hairs.  I'm sorry that this may offend, but I believe Lance is as guilty as they come.  And it's too bad, because the good he has done outside the sport is substantial.

Ezequiel Mosquera
The thing that drives me crazy about all of this is that it's straight up, enabled, unapologetic cheating.  And to try and hide the cheating, the behind-the-scenes stuff that comes with it is nasty, dirty and sad.  It's plays out so crooked that it's easy to forget that the players are professional athletes, "doctors" and "scientists" as opposed to meth dealers and street thugs.  Take Contador - he wasn't that well liked before these allegations broke.  Now he is going to take another hit to his credibility.  But what was he doing when these positive tests first surfaced in August?  Moving over to Team Saxo Bank to race for Bjarne Riis, another admitted doper.  On what planet does this make any sense?

Academically, I get doping - the second guy does it because the first guy did, and thus feels like he has no choice.  And the first guy does it because he's afraid that if he doesn't, the second guy will.  Add to this that sponsors pay big money for one thing - results.  It's a pressure cooker.

I guess what I don't understand is why it can't be cleaned up.  Actually, I think I do understand, but I hope I am wrong.  The UCI is engaged in a game of political double speak.  Doping is wrong - it runs contrary to everything we as a society believe about sport.  But doping is OK - Epic battles up the roads of the Alps and finishing sprints in excess of 70 KM make for good TV and happy sponsors.

I'm caught up in my own game of double speak.  I cringe every time I read a new report of doping.  Yet I am watching the World Championships as I write.  And I watched every second of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana this year.  As much as I am against doping, I can't get enough of the excitement of cycling races.

I don't know where this is all going.  Cheating is nothing new - cyclists used to jump trains at the Tour.  And the UCI is compromised, that's for sure.  Yet since I generally distrust the typical "World Organization for X" anyway, I could make an argument that WADA is fighting back more to make a political point than to affect change.

Why do the doping scandals play out like a bad James Bond movie when in baseball stories like this pass through the news cycle and are left for debate by sports talk radio hosts when it's time to debate Cooperstown nominations?  My guess is that this is because cycling as a whole has managed to make itself guilty before proven innocent.  Because too much has happened already. So why don't we call it like we should see it?  I'm all for due process, but how about harsher punishment - Is two years enough?  "Life" sounds good to me.

I don't know the exact mechanics of the relationships between the UCI and the Pro Tour teams.  But I do know this - an issue even remotely close to a cycling doping scandal would never be allowed  to get this out of hand in the NBA or the NFL, especially if it was this endemic.  And by the way,  I don't see much evidence of declining attendance, diminishing revenue and lack of commercial opportunities in these two leagues.

This issue is way more complicated than a ten or eleven paragraph blog post, and I'm no expert anyway.  But I've been a sports fan for years and nothing "dirty" that has come out of sports bothers me like the dirt coming out of cycling.  Maybe it's because I am a little more bought in to cycling, but this all leaves me with a sense of unease I won't get the next time I see a picture of Jose Canseco, that's for sure.

17 comments:

Matty O said...

It is sad is what it is. No one can just perform to their NATURAL abilities anymore. Because of that you never know who the actual winner of the event really is.

It seems the Olympics do an ok job at catching all of this crap, yet none of these other organizations can?!

I guess just follow suite right?

Luke said...

I would kill for the genes and support that these athletes have, and it therefore kill me when they dope. If I had their abilites and support I would be happy and stop with that.

GREAT POST-This is one of the best and deepest post I have read in soem time.

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Lance has actually tested positive several times, but has never been punished. That being said, the current case against him is based on spurious comments made by a convicted doper, Landis. Jeff Novitzky, the federal investigator, is wasting taxpayer money by chasing Lance. Doping in sports is not a federal crime - if Lance is arraigned for crimes, it will be for racketeering, fraud, perjury, etc. Whether he doped or not is up to the UCI to investigate and clear/convict.

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Oh yeah, and AC is lucky he didn't get mad cow disease from that "tainted beef."

TRI714 said...

Great post. it is very said. It's almost like you wait for the shoe to drop every time a race ends just to see Who did what. And like you I watch every cycling event out there.Sometimes days later on tevo. But I watch and love and support. I just think it's wrong.

Joe said...

I also cringe whenever another one of these doping cases pops up -- especially one of the magnitude of Contador's recent test. And I've given up deciding whether or not I believe in Lance's innocence -- I've come to the conclusion that he is probably the most compelling athlete of my lifetime. He is definitely entertaining, which is much as I want out of anybody else on TV.

Two points I'd like to make -- I HATE HATE HATE it when mainstream US media reports on doping in cycling. They never present cycling in its proper context and they tend to only cover the sports greatest controversies. It burns me up when the local talk radio blowhards stop babbling about the latest disappointing Cubs season to spend 5 minutes railing on yet another dope cheat on a bike. No discussion of the fascinating morality play between Schleck and Contador at the TdF, no talk of Taylor Phinney's 20 yr old legs powering him past all the country's best pro's and then taking the U23 world crown -- just bitching about another renegade biker. I could see how that pervasive negative attitude towards cycling could resurface on the roads as drivers blast past us going entirely too fast and getting entirely too close. It might be a stretch, but I certainly don't think it works in our favor.

My second point is more quantitative. I've worked in labs for years and spent 2.5 yrs doing HPLC -- the kind of analytical test behind a significant portion of the drug testing we hear about. Two words determine our ability to accurately test for a drug -- assay sensitivity. This sensitivity is entirely based on the chemical composition of the compound of interest. Some are easier to detect to others. From some reading I've done it seems that because Clenbuterol has been around for years we have assays so sensitive that we can detect amounts below therapeutic doses. You might have heard about trace amounts of pharmaceuticals being detected in water supplies of a few US cities -- it appears this Clenbuterol test can detect similarly low levels. Its up to WADA/UCI to set thresholds for drugs like this and they've always seemed a bit too distracted by whatever scandal is going on to accurately and properly regulate the types of testing being carried out. Like Lance -- I don't know about Contador's innocence or guilt, but I would like to see a bit more scrutiny directed at this and other forms of testing.

Caratunk Girl said...

It sucks that these athletes, who have the most amazing abilities (naturally) feel they have to dope to compete...it seems that it is so much more pervasive in competitive cycling...Matty O's point about the Olympics is a good one...I think anyway.

Jill said...

I think these endurance cycling events are a test of human strength, both physical and mental. We WANT to believe they are clean because we want to be in awe over what they accomplish. I guess I'm just a believe in the good, until I'm shown otherwise. What bothers me about this latest allegation is that he claims it was tainted meat. These guys work their tails off and are on very strict regiments...no way in hell did he go off his diet to potentially screw it up with something that wasn't provided to him by his team/coach. I hate the lying...just fess up.

Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

This really sucks for those striving to do their best, naturally, and always falling short because who knows what everyone else has up their sleeve. These people get too much money from sponsors to play dirty. AND unfortunately, it taints every future victory... everytime someone wins, the first thought is "did they dope?" You doubt before you can even celebrate their victory.

Barbie said...

I think it's an extremely sad state of affairs when individuals have to feel so under pressure not just from themselves but from their coaches, peers, media, sponsors and fans to have to perform at a certain level. And if they don't they are seen as a nobody. I think we need to look at what we are all doing that makes them feel that they have to do this.

DRog said...

Im so out of it - didt even know this was happening again. Actually is shocking, or at least suprising they are doing it again with the scrutiny and visibility of this issue. REminds me of when Rafael Palmeiro teestified before the Senate Committee denying steroids...only to test positive months later.
-Derek

Jennifer said...

I understand completely- doping keeps the sport in the spotlight, bad PR is better than no PR. Nobody would even know of the UCI if it weren't for doping.

On a side note, I would call Contador a wiener, but I am not sure he has one.

Colleen said...

I once heard from someone very involved in the pro cycling community that "if you are winning, you are doping". It's sad but true!

And even more sad, I agree that even though it's bad PR, it's PR. :(

Chris K said...

That's why I'm just a runner. Clean sport :-)

The Green Girl said...

I never understood it because it just seemed so unethical and dishonest to me. Then I learned awhile back that they did this study and something like 80% of professional athletes said they would take an illegal substance if it would enhance their performance in a competition.

At that point, I decided I'm not even close to that competitive so it would probably be nearly impossible for me to even fathom what is going through their minds.

Big Clyde said...

I guess I am late here, but I wanted to share a few thoughts that keep poking at me. Is it possible to take a step back and apply the doping thing to musicians? When Hendrix and The Beatles were "experimenting" or "recreationally" doing drugs, there could have been good arguments made that the drugs temporarily improved their music or creativity. Yes, it was illegal, but in the rear-view mirror, we still marvel at their performance during those times. If asked during an interview, they might have downplayed or denied it, but we did buy their albums and continue to love what they produced.

So, now I see Armstrong and the rest and wonder if that big machine didn't drive them to "experiment" with new "performance enhancers" that everyone else was doing around them. Maybe they knew it was blatantly wrong, or maybe those doctors and coaches were also a bit confused by "trace amounts" of chemicals. I don't even know what is in the pills that they give us on race day, but I take them, assuming that they are okay.

I guess the whole thing really saddens me too, but I am trying to be more accepting of the times that we are in and when I see how well we tolerate it in the entertainment industry, I wonder if I should be holding athletes to a different standard.

Glenn Jones said...

What's the saying? You're not cheatng until you're caught? Enforcement should stop all of these shenannigans just like it did in baseball. Doping did stop in baseball, didn't it?

Love the new look Patrick!

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