Another one bites the dust

July 19, 2012

[one day late, I didn't have a connection yesterday]

Another Tour, another doping case. Or rather, several of them. After Di Gregorio (who looks like he is about to scream a la Edward Munch in the photo accompanying this article about the case) and the USADA five upheaval, we now have Frank Schleck.

Will it ever change? Here is the problem:

  1. There is no doubt the peloton has gotten cleaner in the past five years.
  2. There is equally no doubt that there are still some who have missed the memo and some new problems have been cropping up (training on far-away islands, micro-dosing, etc).
  3. To solve it, the sport needs decisive action.

But who will act decisively? As I have mentioned before, the deafening silence from teams and federations is chilling. In April I said this:

Why aren’t teams speaking up about what they want in the anti-doping fight? They pay the most for the biological passport, and the program doesn’t seem to catch too many people anymore. So I would expect teams to say one of two things. Either they say “we’ve done it, we’ve solved the problem, we spent a ton of money on it and we’re proud of the result” or they say “hang on, we’re paying all this money but not catching the cheats”. Instead they say nothing, giving the impression they don’t have a vested interest in the success of the program. Or that they define success differently.

Nobody stands up to say “this is where we stand, these are the problems, these are the tough steps we’re taking to solve them, and off we go”. I fear there are three main reasons:

  1. Too many people have too “colorful” a past to take charge on this issue.
  2. Too many people in cycling know about too many skeletons in other people’s closets, and so everybody keeps everybody else in check through fear of mutual annihilation.
  3. There are so many connections in cycling that getting on your soap box here will burn you elsewhere, even if you have nothing to hide.

This Schleck case is a perfect example. I will examine that tomorrow so if you don’t want to miss that, subscribe here!

20 Responses to “Another one bites the dust”

  1. lukascph Says:

    Training on far-away islands – subtle, subtle. ;)

    But on the main topic, what you say sounds very likely. People won’t believe an ex-doper (or just someone with a shady past) posing as an advocate for clean sport – just look at David Millar, who despite doing the best he can is not believed by some many years after; I won’t make any judgment on who’s right in that case.
    The “clean” riders (and staff) will mostly have something – anything – in their closet that they don’t want out in the open. Everybody does. It may be a huge thing for some, and a minor thing for others, but if others have blackmail on you, you don’t get on their bad side.

  2. SvelteSoutherner Says:

    In practice, the Biological Passport serves to make sure that riders receive very little benefit from doping. There is major analysis showing far more consistent parameters since the Passport program began. Has the program caught many cheats? No. Has the program leveled the playing field for clean riders? No doubt.


    • I fully agree with that. And the nice part is that once the playing field is more level, not only can clean athletes can compete, the pressure for the next generation to turn dirty also diminishes.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The sideburns always give it away.


  4. This is another case that really frustrates me. I still don’t trust the labs completely (had a looong discussion for months with the retired head of the US Navy’s NCIS lab in San Diego about the Landis case), and I’m still left wondering why an athlete would take a diuretic to mask something or lose weight when it’s become more clear than ever that hydration strategies, LEGAL hydration strategies, are paramount. You wouldn’t take a diuretic with that in mind, would you?

    Let’s see what other uses Xipamide has in the market or in society, and let’s really look in to better control of the supplement industry. You’ll remember the 2002 scandals before and after the SLC Olympics, when there were contaminated supplement cases. DSHEA is a joke (who else but a Senator would write a law putting the onus of enforcement on the government, then strip it of funding so that the FDA or whoever can’t do their job), and let’s reserve judgment on this case, on its’ own merits… please. If he cops to it, then I’ll eat my words, but the athletes, while responsible for what they ingest or inject, can’t be entirely responsible for every single item they consume – there has to be some level of trust in the safety nets… otherwise we’ll end up eating out of ziplocs and ending more careers early as we all bite out nails to the nub, worrying about a false positive, or a true positive about which we have no control.


    • I don’t get the diuretic either in all these cases, I also always assume that hydration is paramount. As for contaminated supplements, I would say the chance of that is minuscule.

      For sure team doctor Andreas Goesele ensures that all supplements are tested, pretty standard procedure for the Swiss Olympic Crossklinik. And there would normally be a team rule that riders cannot use any supplements unless they are first tested.


  5. Consider Tom Zirbel’s case as a recent example of unknowing ingestion of something that has doubtful benefits.

  6. Tom Says:

    Gerard – what is the real impetitus for the teams to get behind a serious no-doping scheme? It seems, for now, they can have it both ways without the lack of harsh impunity.


    • The real impetus is long-term prosperity for the sport, but it’s hard for humans to take the short-term hit for long term prosperity. True for cycling, the environment, the economy, etc, isn’t it?

  7. LD Says:

    man…… the whole thing is a mess. I think the UCI is culpable (I mean really….. Lance’s “donations” ?!!), the riders, the staff, on and on….. I believe it has cleaned up but I also believe doping methods are more sophisticated. I also think the labs make mistakes and I also think riders unknowingly ingest illegal substances. Pro cycling is close to the tipping point. With wins being bought and other time honored traditions like team collusion the thing is a freakin’ circus. I absolutely love the sport but it is in danger.

    • Anonymous Says:

      I understand all points being made. No lab can test 100% accurately and no one person knows EVERYTHING going into their bodies. And people cheat. And coaches cheat. And sometimes coaches don’t tell athletes they cheat. All great points…. But to get upset over BUYING a win?? LOL Name one sport that DOESN’T “buy” their wins! Wow… bikers are actually working hard and earning a living from the meager 20 years that their profession lasts. GOOD. FOR. THEM.


    • Here’s the irony. The other sports don’t even test for most of this stuff, soccer and tennis can’t even detect blood transfusions for example. And so they don’t have any “problems”, even though it is abundantly clear how effective many of the same products are in those sports.

      That’s not to excuse what happens in cycling, just to say that in today’s sports, you’re in real trouble not when your athletes use doping, but when you catch them and the media reports on that. The media doesn’t tend to report on a lack of tests, only on positive tests.

  8. justacyclist Says:

    In other sports, it is not only that “The media doesn’t tend to report …” but that the media is often complicit in supporting the doping that is occurring. This is apparent when media representatives use code words in their description of the players and their actions.

    For example, a tennis player may be described as having worked exceedingly hard in the gym during the off-season and has acquired a really strengthened body now reflected in the power of his serve. The person doing the reporting knew that the player’s off-season was actually less than 3 months. Other experience would indicate that the change in the player’s body in such a short time span could only occur with the use of enhancements but the media reporter chose to emphasize that the effect only occurred as a result of hard work.

    In another example, in NFL football, I listened to a media person extol the virtues of a player who in his first 5 years was non distinct as a running back but in his last 5 years was a star who set and broke team and league records. According to the media person, in his tenth year of professional play, the player could “see the field and sense movement better than at any previous time in the player’s life”. A reporter for Outside magazine experimented with the use of testosterone as he prepared for an athletic challenge. One of the effects that he described was seeing better.

    Several years ago, I saw reporters for CityTV go into the dressing room of the Toronto Maple Leafs and report that there were no performance enhancing drugs apparent in the dressing room. The female reporters acted foolishly and with giggles and laughter said that the players were too scrawny to have used such drugs, as if performance enhancement is used only for body building. As I pointed out in an email to the TV station, they neglected the most obvious reason for its use in hockey – the quick recovery. With professional leagues like hockey adopting longer seasons with more consecutive nights of play the players are more likely driven towards seeking aid to recovery. Completely overlooked was that something like a testosterone patch could easily be hidden.

    These are some of the instances of reporting that i have noted.

    Since the media does not try very hard, I think its non reporting is endorsement for the use of performance enhancement drugs. I don’t have “facts” but my guess based on anecdotal stories is that the quiet acceptance of drugs is resulting in more use by people who are not dependent on sports for income, the amateur athlete and even the junior athlete.

  9. Evan Shaw Says:

    So is the future of cycling anorexic 6’3″ 152 lb sideburns? 3% body fat? Wiggins weighs within a few lbs of Evans who is 5’9″ ! This is NOT healthy and frankly a bit sickening.


    • Well, that’s a BMI of 18. Not that BMI is an accurate indicator of anything, and for sure this is on the low side but still, it’s not entirely freakish … I hope, as those were exactly my weight and height when I first raced.

      Look at it another way, if he weighs the same as Evans and each could put out the same Watts/kg (and why wouldn’t they), Evans would beat him handily in the aerodynamics department.

      Or maybe you’re saying the side burns are a bit sickening?

      • Evan Shaw Says:

        Gerard as always enjoy your perspective and genuinely fantastic humor! More precisely iy is his % body fat which he says is below 3% Below that figure the body starts to malfunction. This is what creates anorexic changes in body and brain chemistries. Just saying where are they going with this now that HGH EPO and Testosterone are only micro helpers?


        • I know what you mean, and this is something that has always bugged me about cycling. In the end it’s about Watts/kg in the mountains, and the mountains decide the grand tours. So shed the “useless weight”, meaning the weight that is useless for cycling but not necessarily useless to be healthy, and you win. That has nothing to do with Sky’s scientific approach, this is back of the napkin logic. In its essence, the winning formula in the mountains is not a healthy formula. It’s not a healthy sport at that level, then again what sport is. But it’s a slippery slope. You go from a harmless principle of trying to take a dump in the morning before you start the stage to taking daily enemas to clean out your bowels (not so healthy but probably legal) to God knows whatever the latest drug is.

  10. Evan Shaw Says:

    Perhaps cyclists are now stallions to be given diuretics to shed water weight and god knows what else. The sideburns do have to go though. You are right.


  11. [...] Another one bites the dust [...]


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