Doping is more than just Postal
This week I got hit hard with a virus that I swear I caught from this European journalist who was sitting in front of me coughing and hacking all day at the Cyclo-cross World Championships. I tried to write Monday, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. As I waited for my brain to kick back into gear I turned to the TV for a distraction. Which isn’t always the best thing to do.
I’m always overwhelmed by all the cable channel choices. Scrolling through the on-screen channel guide I’m unable to pull the trigger on anything. However, there’s usually “Top Gun” playing on a channel somewhere, so I watch that and call it a night. This is where we’re at with these numerous doping cases. So many choices I don’t know where to start!
Much like the television show “The Office,” different countries have their own version. The UK version is considered the best because it was groundbreaking. One of the original team-organized doping scandals that caught the media’s attention was the Festina team doping scandal. However, if you want to go “old school” with your doping scandals dig a little deeper - back to the 80s.
The eighties were magical times when neon-colors were the scheme of choice and shifting your gears could require you to reach for a lever on your bike’s downtube. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics rolled into my town. USA Cycling national cycling coach Eddie Borysewicz organized blood transfusions, known as blood doping. Technically this practice was not illegal, and it was banned the following year. However, not before four of the seven blood transfusion recipients medaled.
Not really a big scandal, more of a moral breach of sporting conduct. Because something is legal, but ethically wrong, does that make it right? That’s a question only you can answer. Moving on ...
Recently a soigneur admitted that when he was employed by PDM in 1988, seven out of eight riders on their Tour de France squad used banned substances. This is the guy who carried the team luggage and massaged riders and was also administering doping products. Reading this article I’m amazed that whole teams didn’t get sick because of some screw-up due to a person with dubious medical experience. Oh wait ... hang on ...
The nineties were the hey-day of EPO. And one team that was leading the peloton with team-wide organized doping was PDM. Known by the civilized title “The PDM Affair,” it showed how organized team-wide doping could go terribly wrong.
During the 1991 Tour de France the PDM team withdrew due to “influenza.” Drug use was suspected and according to a French doctor their fever was “typical of an overdose of EPO.”
From here we have continued drug infractions. The Festina team got popped in the 1998 Tour de France, but the big spin-off show for doping was the US Postal Service team. As we all know, under the leadership the now disgraced Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel they elevated doping to a form of art.
The Giro d’Italia also had its fair share of doping drama. During the 1999 Giro d’Italia, Marco Pantani got the boot from the race. The 2001 and 2002 editions saw the yearly tradition of police raids continue with more riders ejected from the Giro. But let’s fast forward to the latest, yet oldest doping story we now have in cycling, Operation Puerto. This is “The Walking Dead” of doping cases. No matter how many times it appears to be dead, it rises back up to take another bite out of people.
Operation Puerto dates back to 2006 and was the code name for a Spanish police operation against Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Turns out he was involved with doping about 200 professional athletes - including cyclists, tennis and soccer players. Now after many stops and starts to Operation Puerto several professional cyclists have given testimony admitting to doping. Remember, back in 2006 doping in Spain wasn’t illegal - now of course it is. However, a workaround to this troubling lack of enforcement is that Dr. Fuentes is being tried under the law of endangering public health. Like mobster Al Capone who went to prison for tax evasion rather than the many murders he was suspected of, “endangering public health” is the only option they could use that would stick.
Riders are giving statements regarding their involvement in Operation Puerto. Some have been quite revealing. From Jesús Manzano, who admitted to having used a long list of doping products, to Joseba Beloki and Isidro Nozal who both refused to give the court permission to analyze their DNA so it could match it with the DNA in the seized blood bags. Yeah, nothing suspicious about that. Move along people, there’s nothing to see here.
In addition to the US Postal team doping we have the Rabobank team’s organized doping. Perhaps naïvely I have written that team-wide organized doping was a thing of the past, but after talking to a few people, reading more evidence and rider testimonies I’m no longer that hopeful. The Australian government uncovered doping which the Australian Anti-Doping Agency (AADA) claims has ties to organized crime. I suspect Armstrong’s only remaining non-stripped record (Best Doping Program EVER Award, which I hear came with a nice plaque and coffee mug) might be taken from him. Geez, the poor guy can’t even call himself the best cheater anymore.
Now we’re left deciding if truth and reconciliation is a good way to figure out this doping quagmire. The problem with truth and reconciliation is that while getting that sense of guilt off your chest, in some countries doping is a criminal case and those who admit to taking Performance Enhancing Drugs may be prosecuted. So truth and reconciliation might sound good, just not that practical in the real world.
The opposite measure could be we start 2013 at ground zero, realizing we can’t make up for professional cycling’s dirty past no matter how many panels, breakaway leagues, and independent commissions we cobble together. We can only move forward and those who are caught from here on out face a first time ban of four years, a second infraction is a lifetime ban. The accused rider still has the right of appeal, but they’re sitting on the curb unable to race until the case is settled. (Of course I’m still in favor sacking the top of the UCI management, namely current president Pat McQuaid and UCI Honorary President Hein Verbruggen)
Is it harsh - yes it is. On the other hand harsher is the fact that those who have doped have robbed clean athletes of victories. It’s time to fight for the rights of those clean athletes.