The sport has yet again been brought into disrepute, this time by a repeat offender, how can we get back to a place where we can believe in our top riders, where what we see are genuine performances. It’s going to be a rocky & troubled road.
The current riders
The only chance we have of retaining any credibility in the sport, as the riders all say, the new generation of riders are in fact clean. But we cant say this is going to be the case, there’s always going to be bad apples, riders who try to do a bit of DIY doping like well-known idiot Riccardo Ricco, who kept his own blood next to the strawberry yoghurts & an old piece of stilton. He probably wouldn’t drink his chocolate milk after the sell by date, but proceeded to re-infuse a load of dead blood cells into his body, stupidity doesn’t even cover this, how he’s managed to survive to this point in his life is anybody’s guess. Ricco is an extreme example, but surely there will be plenty of others willing to take big risks if the majority of the peloton are following most of the rules, could that make a small percentage take extraordinary risks to become stars? Dope controls and testing procedures therefore need to be increased, even if the overall level of doping is reduced, otherwise you’re opening the floodgates for things to get very bad again, very quickly. The UCI & WADA really need to stay on top of this, but if they don’t start working together, it’s not going to happen, the UCI needs to change its structure.
We also have a number of riders proclaiming that it’s not anything to do with their era, this isn’t winning many fans over. Even Bradley Wiggins, who should know better, claimed that he’s never ridden against Armstrong in one interview, a glance over the 2009 top 4 Tour riders would surely raise some eyebrows to that claim. Andy Schleck is also saying it’s not his generation and things have changed, meanwhile his brother Frank is serving a doping ban from the 2012 Tour & previously was found to have paid Dr Fuentes several thousand euro’s for interval training, Dr Fuentes is famous for being a gynecologist & a blood specialist, not a master of interval sessions. The Schlecks Directeur Sportif in 2012 was Armstrong’s manager during all his annulled Tour victories, the DS who brought the Schlecks to prominence was Bjarne Riis, known as Mr 60% who went crazy on EPO to destroy Miguel Indurain. So somehow we don’t believe the Schlecks. Then we have the favourites for the 2013 Tour, Wiggins, Froome (he seems quite smart in all this, he’s keeping his mouth shut), Van Den Broek, Contador, Van Garderen, Evans etc. We all know about Contador and steak-gate, but ex US Postal rider Van Den Broek has admitted he used a doctor who is now under investigation for blood doping, he claimed he needed to see him as he needed information of what was & wasn’t on the WADA prohibited list, he could have just used this link? So a good many of the potential top 10 riders have links to dubious pasts, dubious doctors (the Sky Dr Lienders debacle) & dubious statements, if there is a new generation coming through, it’s intertwined with the old generation, it’s those people who still run the sport. Everybody likes Jens Voigt, but in his vast career he claims he’s never seen or heard anything, having ridden on CSC & Leopard Trek, even if he’s never touched the ‘hot sauce’, he’s complicit to the system by claiming nobody’s said anything to him. That’s the remaining problem, nobody’s seen anything until they themselves are implicated, nobody wants to ruin their career prospects by dishing too much dirt, if they keep their heads down then perhaps nobody will mention them.
Somehow there needs to be an end to blood vector doping from doping products like EPO, these are the things that do actually turn an ordinary pro rider into a Tour winner, along with blood transfusions. Once that happens we can return to the time before 1990, since then riders who were naturally talented were perhaps forced to be absent from even pursuing pro careers, we maybe never saw the best talents on the last 20 years, they could have been hidden in the amateur ranks, unable to get the interest of the big teams. Those teams were busy recruiting ‘good responders’, riders with a naturally low hematocrit levels (HCT, the percentage of oxygen carrying red blood cells in the blood), so they could boost them massively. Consider that Armstrong was reputedly a rider with a historic HCT value of 38%, the rules allowed him to boost that to 50% without anybody asking any questions, while a more physiologically talented rider with a 48% HCT could only boost an extra 2%, that era changed the winners to losers and the losers to winners, just with the use of one drug. Spare a thought for the Colombians and other high altitude dwelling riders, they virtually disappeared over this time period, unable to boost at all with EPO as they had naturally high HCT values over 50%. I’m basing a cleaner peloton on seeing these riders returning to the top ranks of pro teams, we have a number of Colombians now racing at Pro-Tour level, this is a good sign.
If you want to read more on HCT, then there’s a very good interview with Michael Ashenden on this link.
What happens next
Without adequate testing for micro-dosing EPO, or a viable test for blood transfusions, riders will always find ways to cheat the UCI’s bio passport, whether or not they’re given any assistance. So things need to change in cycling, the responsibility lies with teams, sponsors, riders & fans. We can’t expect superhuman performances, we can’t expect 80kg riders to climb with the best Colombians, we can expect to see disastrous bad days in grand tours and riders blowing spectacularly. This is what we saw in the 80’s, that was as real as we can expect, the drugs they used didn’t make anything like the same differences to riders. The testing must increase, blood transfusions eliminated and the bio passport to become more extensive, or our sport will forever be a testing ground for the latest medical product, it can’t go on like this, we can’t have another Armstrong.