I’m about to get a bit preachy, so all have been warned.
Recently I went into detail about my non-use of doping in my career and how it affected me. The response to the opt-ed was overwhelmingly positive. It was something I wanted to talk about for a while, but I wasn’t quite sure how exactly I’d put that message out there. The story I wrote was all about me, because I was talking about my personal journey in dealing with doping in cycling; but now I’m going to take on the sport in general and how we can move towards to a clean sport.
If you haven’t been held up at Hotel Fontanals Golf in Puigcerdà, Spain hiding from doping testers for the past week you have surely read about the USADA’s Reasoned Decision, all 1000+ pages, against Lance Armstrong and subsequent confession of several others.
Before we get started I want everyone to watch at least the first minute of this video.
That my friends, is why we all love to ride a bike. 100% pure grade, bike-loving two-wheeled fun! That kid doesn’t think about doping, he rides his bike for the love of riding a bike. A self-fulfilling circle that is nothing but pure fun. Most of those who have come forward and confessed to doping agreed that they didn’t plan to dope, and some approached it with extreme reserve. I want to help bring our sport away from doping and to the awesomeness of the moment that kid was experiencing, pure clean joy on a bike.
Lance doped … for several years … using several different dangerous and powerful drugs
No arguing that point now. There’s about 1000 pages here on the USADA site outlining everything in soul-saddening detail.
But that hasn’t stopped these gems of quotes coming from the peloton from the likes of guys like Samuel Sanchez.
“We still need to wait to see what’s the final decision taken by the UCI (cycling’s governing body), and see what it rules,” he added. “The UCI has said all the time that it works on today’s cycling and not in the cycling of the past.”
And there’s Alex Dowsett; “I don’t think it matters. He is still a legend of the sport. A guy who had cancer came back and won the Tour de France,” he told the BBC. “I think it’s not really important and I really don’t think it matters.” While Alex did backpedal his sentiment later on it still goes to show you the influence and pull of a guy like Lance (even in retirement). Some of it may be a Pavlovian-style response to the question of Lance; but its roots are in knowing, that for many, Lance was a golden meal ticket in the sport of cycling. I won’t even go into how crazy Jesse Sergent’s comments were in this article.
What really is troubling for me is the way the confessions of Christian Vandevelde, Tom Danielson, David Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and Michael Barry have all be praised as “being brave” and done so for the “good of the sport”. The official Slipstream statement on the matter was:
“They have made another brave choice, to speak honestly and openly with the appropriate authorities, to confront their own pasts and cycling’s past and to accept the consequences, all in a continued effort to help the sport evolve.”
I’m sorry, but none of those riders made any “brave choice”. They made a very easy and self serving choice … not to go to jail. Each of those six riders had previously been called before federal prosecutors in 2010, each gave sworn testimony and when it came time to tell their tale to USADA, each had a federal agent there to ensure the testimony they gave was the same as their federal disposition. Vandevelde was quoted as saying, “There was no hemming and hawing and no guessing of ‘What should I say?’ — you just said it all”. There is nothing brave about not wanting to go to jail and I’m willing to bet each of those six would have kept their secrets if no external influence was thrust upon them.
Each one of them had something to lose by coming forward. Just look at the way guys like Brian Smith and Christophe Bassons were cast out as pariahs of the sport. All the riders had seen the vilification and ostracization of Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton when they told their tales of doping within the sport.
Each of the riders has in some way said they had no choice in the matter, that they were compelled to dope for one reason or another. Sorry, each of them had a choice and they choose wrong. Scott Mercier had the choice and he left the sport. He choose the truly hard path (one I understand) of not knowing what could have been.
Instead of making the right choice, they doped … not only that, they lied, continually about it for years. Michael Barry went on to beat the drum of clean cycling after doping (and by his own admission received pressure to cool down the ‘clean cycling’ talk, points 74 and 75). David Zabriskie flat out denied Matt Decanio in a Salt Lake Tribune article saying,
“It’s not the way these guys think it is,” he said. “They’ve never reached this level. . . . They’re just bitter they didn’t succeed and they don’t know why and they are searching for a reason.”
Turns out Decanio was right all along …
Barry is repenting more than most, but then again, he’s retired, so it is probably a bit easier. He wrote this recently in a NY Times article;
“ Those of us who doped and lied and those who were accomplices and witnesses remained silent for a long time in a misguided attempt to protect our jobs, our reputations, our teams’ sponsorships and the image of the sport. It was wrong. We followed a code of silence guarding an unhealthy culture. Riders, staff and officials must not fear speaking the truth.”
It’s a start, but words will do little to change the past.
They all profited from their years of doping, but are they going to face stiff penalties … NO. Instead they are given off-season, 6-month suspensions (and for Barry and Hincapie the suspension became effective after their retirement). Call me a hard-liner fascist if you like, but that is getting off easy. I mean, what are we back in the 80’s again with slap-on-the wrist doping bans?
It appears Omertà-Pharma Quick-Sack just dropped Levi from their team. So at least one rider is going to see themselves with some real consequence to their actions. Another point having not been brought up was the fact that this is now Levi’s second doping sanction. That should usually mean a lifetime ban from the sport (or at least a longer sentence). But I guess this fact has been lost in the landslide of information and names. Truth be told, his positive for Ephedrine in ’96 now seems like a very small drop in the doping bucket of his doping past.
As I discussed earlier, each one of those riders sang not through their own guilt, but out of fear of prison. Just go ask Marion Jones how well lying under oath worked out. No, each one of those riders needs to be given a two year ban. I know we want to encourage people to come forward, so yes, do give some leniency to riders who voluntarily come forward, but don’t let serial offenders off the hook. There are guys who have proven they ingested contaminated supplements that received more time than these six guys!
So enough ranting about USADA, LA and The Saintly Six. Let’s talk about reforming the sport we all love. If all this doping talk has got you down, watch the video posted above again.
How do we clean up cycling? I have 3 points where things can be improved.
- Further separate the UCI from ALL doping related testing
- Change the incentive to dope
- Power to the Fans
Firstly, we need to have a change in the way testing is allowed to happen. Currently the UCI is exerting its authority in testing (see the whole Tour of California, UCI spat for some reference) in ways that seem contrary to the interests of clean athletes. The UCI need to have 0% control over how the testing happens and leave that to WADA (with an oversight committee). They need to only act to enforce any bans handed down or if they feel the ban was not legitimate, act to protect the rider. This sort of separation will break the conflict of interest that is presented to the UCI when they control the manner in which riders are tested and sanctioned. If they give up the control they have over testing they free themselves from the conflict of interest.
Second, We need to change the incentive to dope. This will get long, as the incentive is so high, but here are my suggestions.
1) Doping Suspensions start at 4 years and can be adjusted as necessary given the level of deceit and circumstance. Longer bans are needed because the long-term benefits of doping, be it through changes in body type, muscle fibers or through access to better teams and support give doped riders an advantage. Just look at the easy return of several “reformed” dopers. They saw little negative consequence to their actions.
2) Financial penalties imposed against riders. I know this one has been tried before by the UCI, but it needs to happen again, and with enforceability. The penalty should be twice what your last salary was, plus prize money with all money paid into an anti-doping trust that uses the money to directly pay for more testing. This way dopers help catch dopers
3) Points and Financial Penalties for Teams. Teams need to hold some more responsibility for their riders. Why? Because at the moment teams have limited repercussion from a positive (yes they have some sponsor liability, but overall, no sporting liability). Teams should be expected to pay a fine, a fixed amount of cost, plus a “per-UCI point” gained fine; paid toward the anti-doping trust. They should also be docked all the points of the rider, plus a set amount of points to be carried over a two year period. This gives the teams more incentive to be more self-policing in their hiring and managing of riders. (also, a mechanism should be put in place for teams to out someone who is doping within the team and allows them to suffer less liability than a direct positive).
4) If you have been caught doping you can not work in any respect with cycling teams. We need to close the door to dopers and their continued presence. Riders like Andy Schleck keep repeating that it’s all in the past, but all the dopers of past are still in the sport, they just aren’t racing. They are managing teams like Rijs, directing professional development teams like Adriano Baffi, providing sprint and technical consulting like Erik Zabel, and building bike brands like Johan Museeuw. I could keep going but the list of ex-dopers in the sport would be a several part series. Sorry, but the doping past of cycling is not gone from the sport, it’s managing it.
5) More controls, at all levels of the sport. There needs to be more doping controls of the sport at all levels from the elite-amatuer (guys who are on the cusp of joining the professional ranks) to the World Tour. Riders need to be subject to more random out of competition tests, at non-specified times and true non-biased targeted testing. This is probably the hardest to do as the logistics of doing more testing and the cost would be rather difficult to achieve, but it will send a signal to riders that the net just become that much harder to slip past.
Third; We, as fans of the sport, need to realize the power we have to influence our sport. Don’t think we don’t have any power? Look at the outpouring of support to Paul Kimmage when the UCI decided to sue him. Over 2,000 people have donated over $60,000 total to the defense fund. Or what about when the idea was jokingly tweeted that in response to the closing of the AA Drinks women’s team that the fan’s should form their own women’s team, run for and with the help of fans? Well that small joking(ish) tweet caught wind and is becoming a reality. See, we as fans of the sport we love, we hold power.
We need to all stand up and demand that teams hire clean riders. We need to stand behind and support riders who are clean. Stand behind and support their teams. We need to demand the cycling industry support clean teams and riders. One advantage (and at times disadvantage) of cycling is we are a semi-closed financial ecosystem supported by the cycling industry which, in turn, is supported mainly by us, the fans of the sport. That means we have the economic power to get the industry to move it’s money towards clean riders and teams. We need to stop allowing winning to dictate alone a rider and teams value, but also their honesty and integrity as part of their sporting merit.
Do I think these changes will be easy to do? NO, but they are worthy of being pursued as much as possible. Let’s make this the winter real change. It will be a long road, but a worthy pursuit.
If any of the riders I have called out in my rant don’t agree with my assessment then please do contact me. I would love nothing more than to start an open and honest discourse on what we can do to help clean up the sport.
Sincerely, Gregg Germer – Co-Owner of The ChainStay