July 25, 2007

Cycling: is it really an example of a failed sport?

Well what a silly couple of days in Le Tour. Firstly pre-race favourite Alex “crash lots then stage fightback then crumble then stage another fightback” Vinokourov fails a blood test and gets both him and his team kicked out. Then after Cofidis form part of a protest to not start racing for a bit, one of their riders fails a drugs test and promptly gets himself arrested and his team kicked out. Now race leader Michael “I’m not a drugs cheat, I just forget where I am a lot” Rasmussen, having just won today’s stage, has been sacked by his own team for being dishonest about his whereabouts. And that’s before you mention the ongoing sagas of last year’s Tour de France “winner” Floyd Landis and this year’s Giro d’Italia “winner” Danilo Di Luca.

It’s laughable that something that considers itself to be a sport can be so ridden with competitors artificially enhancing their bodies. But I’m not going to go and have a rant about how drugs are bad and the riders are nasty people, as that would be too generic. Cycling, at least, is actually trying to something about it – it’s just so disorganised and haphazard. The incentive is there for riders to keep cheating, and with the money floating about you can hardly blame them.

No, instead I look at sports like baseball and golf. Baseball has probably the most apathetic testing system of any sport, and golf the laziest (i.e. it doesn’t even have one). Why should people stay clean when for such little risk they can reap massive rewards by injecting blood or other substances into their system?

Cycling is again looking very bad. For the second year in a row its showpiece event leaves a bad taste in the mouth because its main stars have been shown to be cheats. And I can see the trend continuing, because as the system sorts itself out more and more people will be caught out, until a new generation of cleaner riders prevail and then positive tests become the exception rather than the expected.

As for baseball, how can you possibly compare the achievements of Barry Bonds, who has been dogged by the BALCO scandal, to Hank Aaron? It’s more than noticeable that Marion Jones, since the BALCO details have come to light, has been running at best average and more accurately plain crap.

Some thought that when German TV ceased transmission of le Tour in protest at the pre-event failure of a drugs test by another rider it was an overreaction. Some today felt that the refusal to start cycling by the teams campaigning for cleaner cycling was an overreaction. Yes this is another Tour de France which is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but it’s not because cycling is a sport which isn’t trying to clean itself up. It just is playing catch-up from having not taken it seriously enough.

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I do think that cycling as a sport does an awful lot to try and sort out the drugs issue, but it’s all undermined by the teams and individuals who don’t seem to care too much about the appeal and reputation of the sport as a whole in the search for indiviudal glory.

    It’s interesting to note that the use of illegal substances has been endemic in cycling for years. This year is the 40th anniversary of the death of Tom Simpson on Mount Ventoux – he was found with pockets stuffed with amphetamines. When drug tests were first introduced into cycling the riders went on strike as a protest against an infringement of their human rights!

    But with all this in mind I think you are right to point out that other sports have a much worse record of tackling this. The Barry Bonds story is pretty dodgy and I would hate to think what the useage rates are like in American Football etc. Not that anyone outside of the US gives a gnats arse about those sports.

    The thing that surprised me yesterday was hearing from a member of the anti-doping agency saying something along the lines of ‘30 footballers failed drug tests last year’ – sorry, run that past me again – 30! Cycling is at least trying to put its house in order, and hopefully the public arena they are doing it in won’t kill the sport, but football needs to look seriously at itself as well.

    26 Jul 2007, 09:11

  2. I am seriously p*ssed off with the way BBC and others have been reporting this – lets get a few things straight!

    1. Rasmussen has not broken any of the UCI rules or been found guilty of doping on this tour. Its 3 strikes and you’re out for missed tests not 2. His team are obviously cracking down hard and have taken their own action. This is actually positive and should be applauded, but the BBC are reporting this as Tour Leads kicked out for drugs scandel.

    2. These teams and the riders are amongst the most tested athletes in the world – lets not forget that apart from the tour they are riding stage races and classics from Early Spring well into Autumn. At each race the winners and other random groups are tested. Only a very small number are being found to be doping. I’d hate to think of the problems in other sports which are ignoring the problem – football, swimming, skiing?

    3. Cycling is taking a very tough stance on this and is kicking teams of the tour (and other stage races) for one riders indescretion – this will hurt teams and they are therefore taking a tough stance as well. Look at T-Mobile and their publication of every riders results and standard tests. Any rider there who fails a test is kicked of the team and has to pay a year’s salary back to them

    Please lets stop assuming everyone is guilty as they have had a good ride – 2 positive results on this tour out of 190 starters. Its amazing what you can acheive with hard work – I’ve ridden a 25 mile time trial in 58:10 and trust me I was not doped.

    26 Jul 2007, 10:01

  3. Re: point 1 – i think the reason MR was sacked was not because he missed the tests but because he claimed to be in Mexico at the time and it turned out he wasn’t. THe team sacked him becasue he lied to them and they were basically looking for an excuse to get rid.

    26 Jul 2007, 12:20

  4. I am seriously p*ssed [sic] off with the way BBC and others have been reporting this

    It’s especially annoying when you consider the BBC’s in a rather similar position as the Tour, what with trying to restore trust and whatnot.

    26 Jul 2007, 21:57

  5. It’s hard for le Tour because they are seen as the flagship event of road cycling and thus all the scandals give the event a bad name as well, when the problem is the sport’s and not the race’s. Positive drugs tests in even something like the Dauphiné Libéré or the Giro don’t really attract any frenzy like a problem in the Tour.

    26 Jul 2007, 23:53

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