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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
February, 2011

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

February 15: Update (2/16). Since I uploaded this post, I received a press release from Alberto Contador's team. It is at the bottom of this rant.

Oops! It looks like Contador has been cleared of doping charges by the Spanish Cycling Federation. After announcing earlier that the talented Spaniard would get a year's suspension, it's clear that severe political pressure was put on the commission delegated to decide what to do with Contador's Clenbuterol positive. Even Spanish prime minister Zapatero weighed in, tweeting that Contador should be cleared.

There was no new evidence to generate this change of heart. And so far there hasn't even been a shred of evidence or proof that Contador had eaten tainted beef, which Contador argues is the source of the Clenbuterol. The committee just went with the argument that a close reading of the UCI rules worked in Contador's favor and that after all, that Contador had really ingested the drug by accident. Hey, we're all people of good faith and intentions. So, Alberto will probably be on the line for the Volta ao Algarve tomorrow. And our sport drops another notch.

Spain has a long history of defending her accused dopers, going back to Pedro Delgado's positive for Probenicid in the 1987 Tour de France. The Spanish government made it clear that sanctioning Delgado would provoke an international incident. It turned out that at the moment Delgado was found to have the errant chemical in his system, the UCI had not banned it for professional bike use, it was only on the Olympic banned drug list. The long-drawn-out misery of trying to do something with the massive piles of Operation Puerto evidence still makes my head hurt.

So when I read that the Spanish had decided to clear Contador, I thought of the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies when a prosecutor said that Lord Astor had denied an affair or having even met her: "Well he would, wouldn't he?"

Well, the Spanish would, wouldn't they?

Team Saxo Bank -Sunguard press release:

Press Release concerning Alberto Contador

[15.02 17:43] The Spanish Cycling Federation finally clears Alberto Contador in clenbuterol case. 

Today Riis Cycling received the result of the final ruling of the Spanish Cycling Federation in the case concerning Alberto Contador.

During the 2010 Tour de France, Alberto Contador, while riding for Astana, returned an adverse analytical finding for clenbuterol following the analysis of urine samples taken on July 21st, the second rest day of the Tour. 
Based on the evidence in the case and the explanation offered by Alberto Contador about unintentional ingestion of the forbidden substance, The Spanish Federation have decided not to install any ban on the rider.
As a result of this ruling the preliminary suspension of Alberto Contador is lifted with immediate effect, and Alberto Contador is free to participate in competitions again. 

"First of all, I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through I have spoken in accordance with the truth. To both the team and the authorities I have explained, that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance," says Alberto Contador. 

"This decision is indeed proof that the relevant authorities do not find grounds for believing, that Alberto Contador has committed any intentional doping offence, which is absolutely vital for us. So I'm obviously happy on behalf of Alberto and the team. We take note of this decision and fully respect it, but we're also sensitive to the fact, that the parties of this case still have the right to appeal this decision," says team owner Bjarne Riis and states that the team will continue to do its utmost in the fight against doping.

"I really want to take this opportunity to emphasize again that nothing in our values has changed. We're still a team that strongly condemn all kind of cheating, including doping. But we will at all times also be a fair team. It is of great importance, that we don't equate conscious cheating and an accidental intake of a banned substance," adds Bjarne Riis.

Riis Cycling has always held a strong stance against doping in our sport. The team has been at the forefront of the fight against doping, implementing the first private anti-doping program to be certified by WADA. The origins of the UCI's current Biological Passport can be found in Riis Cycling's original anti-doping program. 

February 6: At the first race of the Challenge Illes Balears, the riders and teams were looking to provoke a confrontation with the UCI and refused to remove their race radios. The teams said they were just looking for a little respect, that the race-radio ban should not have been imposed without deeper consultation with the riders and teams. In addition, they trotted the same baloney they have been spouting for some time, that the radios are needed for rider safety. I won't waste your time refuting this stupid argument, which has been statistically demolished over and over again. This reasoning should have long ago been tossed in the garbage along with, "I passed every dope test, proving I was riding clean". Or worse, one rider said, "This is progress, we can't go back." Yes you can and you should.

Of course the team managers want to keep control of the race with their radios and many pros seem to like letting someone else do their thinking for them.

But they don't have to watch the sorry thing pro racing has become. They don't care about the quality of the product they are producing, they want to win today's race.

We spectators know bicycle racing is getting more conservative and more predictable. Breaks during flat stages are usually caught just before the finish. Riders are told by their managers to wait until the final climb before attacking. Racing is formulaic and boring. Toss in doping (remember also that the riders were at the forefront of the fight AGAINST controlling drugs in cycling. The code of omerta regarding drugs was a rider invention) and you have a sport that just lost an entire nation's TV audience. The German networks will not be carrying the 2011 Tour de France. If pro racing were really compelling, the German public wouldn 't stand for the loss of coverage.

The change in racing was really brought home to me as I wrote my history of the Giro d'Italia (should be published late this month or early next month). Bicycle racing used to be filled with exciting breaks, often with some of the greatest champions racing together to escape the pack. Fiorenzo Magni and Fausto Coppi (on different teams) took off late in the 1955 Giro and crushed the peloton, winning the Giro for Magni. Jacques Anquetil escaped with Italo Zilioli more than once, or how about a break of Vito Taccone, Enzo Moser and Zilioli? You won't see that stuff today, but it used to happed regularly and you would probably do almost anything to see it today if you could. Racing was better before radios, when there was the "fog of war".

It's impossible to defend the status quo when you know what racing used to be like. Get rid of the radios. Please UCI, don't listen to the riders and managers because they do not have racing's best interests at heart. They are like any other business entities, they are working for themselves. For once, the UCI is right.