Friday Group Ride #134


I don’t really want to talk about doping in the way that we normally do, debating the merits of lifetime bans or declaring open season for all illicit products, slicing and dicing the moral code riders ought to ascribe to. We’ve done that.

I don’t have the answer to the problem anymore than anyone else does, not Paul Kimmage or Michael Ashenden or Anne Gripper or Andrea Schenk. We, most of us, feel passionately about clean sport, and those who don’t mostly cast themselves of too practical a mindset. Humans will cheat, they argue, and may well be correct.

All of that aside, I have found it interesting over the last few weeks to see dominoes begin to fall across the top level of the sport. Yes, USADA sanctioned Lance Armstrong after he chose not to defend himself against their allegations. The UCI struggled to strike the right tone in response. The whole structure of the sport began to shift.

Tyler Hamilton has a book coming out, which details much of what happened in his own somewhat tragic career, and that implicates himself, many former teammates and major players in the management of the sport at both team level and within the UCI.

One event that shocked me this week was Jonathan Vaughters going on the Cycling News forums and outing some of his riders as former dopers, including Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, given his own recent confession in the New York Times, but the timing and venue seemed suspect. Were the riders aware he was going to spill the beans?

Is this just where we are in the process of truth telling? Suddenly everyone is talking.

You expect this from characters like Jorg Jaksche, Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni, but we’ve moved into some new territory with recent statements from Johann Museeuw and Sylvia Schenk. Given all the recent information flooding into the open, journalists are turning up the heat on figures like Bjarne Riis, who has confessed his own transgressions as a rider, but has left, perhaps, too much still unsaid.

People are speaking out. More people are asking hard questions like, is the UCI even capable of cleaning up the sport? It is one thing for fans and marginalized journalists to say these things. It is another entirely for people like Schenk, once a member of the UCI management committee and Museeuw, a respected rider from the EPO era, to say them. Now the questions and confessions are coming from the inside. People are emboldened. The calculus is changing. But is it changing enough?

This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Have we finally reached the watershed moment in confronting cycling’s doping history? Or is this just a strange conflagration of events, more stumbles down the wrong path, toward the status quo?

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31 comments

  1. Hank

    We can hope, after Festina and Puerto failed to have any effect on cleaning up the sport (thanks to the UCI) – that this Armstrong investigation has finally triggered the end of Omerta. That might finally bring down the doping enablers at the UCI and in the sport’s management. It’s to soon to know, but we are certainly closer to that possibility then we have ever been.

    For all those that complained about the Armstrong investigation being about ancient history it is having a bigger impact on the current doping infrastructure of the sport then all the anti-doping efforts of the last decade combined. It has to be the most bang for the buck of any action taken by any anti-doping authority in recent history. Chapeau Tygart. Many of the names coming under pressure now like Riis were not even part of the Armstrong case. It looks like before this is over there will not be much left uncovered of the corruption in pro cycling.

  2. A-Trav

    And who to award Lance’s titles to, as all the runners-up are dopers as well? Should they be rewarded for doing what he is being punished for?

  3. peter lin

    Perhaps it’s best to vacate all the grand tour wins in the 90’s up to 2007. That “might” send a clear message to everyone that moving forward every must ride clean.

  4. Hank

    A-Trav

    The French Federation suggests they are awarded to no one and left vacant. The point of the investigation is not to figure out who would have won some past race -that’s impossible after the fact. It’s about going after doping when you find evidence of doping. The ‘who are you going to award the yellow to’ is a red herring. The races were corrupted and there should be no award.

  5. Eto

    Robot,

    I believe the former. There is no going back. There is an odd parallel to the Arab Spring… at some breaking point, the status quo needs to change. This appears to be as good as it may get.

    Like the fall out of revolutions the results may not be what everyone was hoping for. If the UCI does not reform itself or is forced to be reformed by a legitimate body, then the progress towards the ideal of clean sport will have been foiled.

    It was facinating to hear Vaughter’s logic and rationale behind how he has dealt with employing, motivating and managing his team of some, past dopers. If there is anyone that deserves to be heard it is him.

    Fascinating.

  6. Big Mikey

    Robot, I was astounded when JV made those comments. It has to be the first time an active DS mentions that his riders had previously doped, right?

    Not sure what exactly is going on, but things are changing for sure. But the more light that is shone on the problem, the better off we may be.

  7. scaredskinnydog

    sigh…I wish this was the moment when we put stories about todays riders and races ahead of stories about past dopers, cause I’d much rather be commenting about Dombrowski or Tejay or Talansky etc.

  8. Dave

    I don’t know that “clean” sport is possible – any sport. I guess that I’ve become quite cynical and feel that every major sport is just as tainted as cycling in the wild days of the 1990s. For heaven’s sake, a race walker popped at the Olympics – he wasn’t using EPO because he was driven by the promise of millions of dollars for winning.

    The same factors that drive cyclists to dope (extremely competitive people who often feel that they have to do it simply to take the field against others who are doping) are present in all sports where pharmaceuticals can give an edge. I also think that the presumption of innocence/burden of proof and the ability of doping to evolve to evade detection conspire to ensure that smart dopers will not be caught. Look at Marion Jones for track and field – she was only caught by being unlucky enough to caught in the spotlight of Barry Bonds and Balco.

    So, I wish that I knew whether there was a way forward – it’s hard to see one from where I stand.

  9. bigwagon

    If you are going to confess to doping in your career, you might as well do it during a period of time when 90percent of the news coverage is focused on Lance Armstrong. When there is a tidal wave of confessions coming from riders past and present of both major and minor importance, at some point it becomes so overwhelming that most people will just throw there hands up in confusion or disgust and just start to ignore it, so maybe it is a smart PR move to try to bury it in the avalanche of admissions.

    But I hope at least USADA is paying attention, because if the floodgate of investigations and suspensions doesn’t come soon, it will only prove to many people that they really were only motivated by a vendetta against Armstrong and a few others.

  10. bigwagon

    Also, when USADA and WADA finally succeed in clearing all the dopers out of sports, maybe they can hire themselves out to the IRS to put an end to tax evasion. And on their off weekends, maybe they can do something about marital infidelity too.

  11. Souleur

    to say cycling has ‘gotten rid of dope’ is like saying politicians are clean now too…

    I’ve been taught to never say never, but this one is pretty safe, cheating and doping will never leave cycling…nor any other sport where the advantages are there

    better…by far, but never behind us

  12. jorgensen

    To keep it in perspective, remember Newt was philandering around while prosecuting Clinton.

    I am coming to the conclusion that it is hopeless, legalize it all.

  13. Rod Diaz

    Disagreed with legalizing it. I think, in absolute terms, riders still cheat. But the fact that they are objectively riding slower up the mountains means that the enhancements are smaller.

    I like the statement of Vaughters that maybe we’ll reach a point where the doping controls only allow for a minimal enhancement that is not insurmountable by training. So there’s some progress here, from 2001 to 2012. Whether this is a blip or a trend, we’ll see.

    I’m not an LA hater (though his fans would claim the opposite). What I really want to come out of all this is to have an idea of how much the existing system has allowed (enticed?!) doping, and protected its superstars. I don’t think saying that the UCI has massive conflicts of interest is a lie. I would mention, besides the doping rules examples (e.g. why did Lance was exempted from the 6 month biopassport baseline for his return?)the asymmetrical application of equipment availability rules (2 years + for the Kask TT helmets for GB) and “stickers”, and the promotion of revenue-generating races self-promoted in lieu of established events. Ask how happy the Aussies are about their calendar changes.

    I would also rather speak about the exploits of racers and how the new talents look bright. But in the absence of a trustworthy systems based upon reliable authorities, extraordinary performances will be called by some “extraterrestrial”. That happens when we don’t trust.

    I’m very cynical about cycling since Pantani. I did trust Lance for a bit, but then it got to unbelievable to me. The corollary of this is that when Contador puts a gutsy move 50+ km from the finish it doesn’t remind me of Gaul… it reminds me of Landis. And that is sad.

    Rod

  14. Jack

    Well Jonathan has always been outspoken against the current cycling regime and he’s certainly been trying to blow it apart. He was leading the group attempting to create a new federation based on american sporting teams and revenue sharing (trying to create a more stable source of team income). I wasn’t surprised that he outed his own riders as the only ones he outed were the ones that rode with USPS. And I would think that he would have let them know his intent. What really is amazing is that USADA now faced with all sorts of new tales is not seeking action (i.e. lifetime bans) on the new names who have/are admitted to systematic doping. Without any new action consistent action on the part of USADA they only look worse and worse for singleing out a certain group of individuals. Jonathan meanwhile should really be calling and thinking the boss for giving Jonathan this opportunity to become relevant (certainly his cycling team is not revelant in terms of winning any or competing at a high level). I say keep it coming Jonathan revenge is good and really people are begining to care less and less.

    what is interesting is that the journalist of cycling are focused on the fact that the powers from this year tour are equal to or greater than past era’s. a sign that one can ride clean with great power or wiggins is also participating in doping.

  15. Nelson

    I believe if there were more cases with current riders testing positive, or testing positive “during” their event/sport/specialty, there would be more incentive for these pro’s (cycling or otherwise) not to dope/cheat. It would be a huge feat, but I think that would get the most bang for their buck.

    As you pointed out…Easier said than done.

  16. Hank

    Jack,

    The USADA did not announce a case against Lance the day after Floyd spilled his guts. It took more then a year before they knew they had a case.

    Now, Your complaining about a lack of action the day after the news breaks about new doping evidence? How do you know the USADA is not taking action? It takes months to assemble a serious case, verify reports and coraborate testimony and obtain material evidence.

  17. Wsquared

    When I read JV’s comments and the way they were delivered, I had to wonder if he posted in that forum after having a few too many glasses of plonk. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody had a few, went on line, got pissed off at something they read and went off on a rant they regretted later. From what he said afterwards in his Twitter feed, it sounds like these “revelations” were spontaneous, not planned in advance or discussed with those he implicated.

  18. Rod Diaz

    @Jack,

    I think your point of the USADA not issuing other sanctions is valid, and I’d be interested to find out what is the outcome of all this (I don’t expect any of these to be instantaneous, given that no evidence has officially been made public after LA declined to have arbitration).. The rest of your post undermines your point, though: “certainly his cycling team is not revelant in terms of winning any or competing at a high level<- Ryder Hesjedal (giro) Zabriskie (Nat. TT), Hunter (Nat. Road), CVV (US Procycling Challenge) might disagree with your statement.

    Also to note – systematic doping doesn't lead to a lifetime ban. Conspiracy to create a doping regime does. The charges are different for all those, and WADA has a history of being a bit lenient with those that cooperate significantly. I'm still waiting on the announcement for sanctions and levels of participation admitted by the 10+ witnesses (we still don't know even who they are officially!). But what I have clear from these is that the UCI and other authorities have been incompetent or corrupt in managing the sport.
    Also disagree with your statement RE: power ratings. 6.7 was the "magic" number in the early 2000's. Now it seem 6.1 W/kg. My source is Science of Sports plus the twitter reports on race information, for what level of confidence those are worth of.

    Why muddle a reasonable point with other highly debatable / easily discredited postulates? It is ok not to like Vaughters or Garmin. But do not let that cloud your rationale. It is also ok not to like LA, but that doesn't mean that all the charges leveled by the USADA don't need to be substantiated. It is regrettable that this ended in "nolo contendere" instead of having open discussions on the practices and evidence postulated.

  19. AK

    It seems that we must be passing through an important phase in this process. The dyke is overflowing, though the water may not actually break through. More will come out in the coming days, weeks and months, but this and all sports will at best only get cleaner, but never clean, I suspect. For me the question is will we get to the point where we are feeling good about the system, with the level of cynicism greatly reduced. I think that this is inevitable. The UCI will have to change after this. I expect it will be forced to clean house.

    Isn’t it likely that JV outed his riders because evidence of their history is likely to c one out in a USADA disclosure in the near future? Thanks actions soften the blow. Hearing it from their boss is significantly softer than hearing it from an anti-doping agency.

  20. rashadabd

    I think the report that the USADA releases to the UCI and WADA will help clarify a lot these points and put hings in perspective a bit. Once we know more about what happened and who was involved, I think the cycling community can start to heal (or just move forward) from all that has happened. The report and what happens with Bruyneel are key though.

  21. DavidA

    To bring up something said by someone in another dope-rant-blow-out, I wonder what Sean Kelly knows about with regards to doping and im so glad he remains and retains the old-school PRO code of silence.

  22. tinytim

    I think Vaughters release of content and it’s timing was spot on. The UCI isn’t giving up any info. so someone has to. The way the contract systems work, current rider are much too afraid to admit to anything cause next year or two years down the road they will be denied a contract and shunned by the peleton for being a rat. JV is taking the responsibility upon himself because no one else is willing to do it. There is just so much concern for self-preservation in the sport. Contracts are harder to keep than girl friends in middle school. Doping will always be lurking in the corner. But breaking down omerta will make dopers a small minority in the sport. There has to be an open dialogue with both riders and staffers being comfortable talking about doping before it can be truly phased out, kinda like a crack intervention (for a friend I know, of course).

  23. tinytim

    DavidA, that mentality (old-school PRO) is done. Think about how many riders careers were cut short or ruined beacuse of that tight lipped culture. Riders who saw doping and did’t say anything are just as bad as the dopers.

  24. Mike Krogh

    It can be the moment if everyone focuses on the opportunity instead of worthless distractions like who will be named winner of vacated titles. Who cares? Leave the record intact with an asterisk and people can argue about who the clean winner was for years to come. Makes for great fun.
    Sure, people will always cheat. But the system in place has nations, governing bodies, organizers, teams and sponsors who enable the cheats (and, of course, legions of adoring fans or minions.) What will give us the cleanest sport possible is when cheating is only a personal decision, not one that is encouraged–subtly or overtly–by the system at all levels.

  25. Cadenceminge

    Festina felt pretty cathartic at the time, too

    Cycling has turned so many corners that I can only presume it is on it’s 2nd or 3rd lap of a dodecahedron

    Cheating has always and will always exist in sport. The actions of USADA etc (however motivated) will possibly ensure that doping a) has to exist under a tightly controlled regime in order to stand a chance of avoiding detection and b) delivers only RELATIVELY small incremental advantages.

    And the actions of JV recently (again, however motivated) make it marginally easier for others to speak openly

    As sad and cynical as it sounds, in combination that’s not a bad outcome for cycling. Not perfect, but so long as the winners come over the line of a mountain top stage finish covered in snot and having to be helped from their bikes, good enough for me at least

    (I only meant to post the opening sentence…)

  26. Full Monte

    “… is the UCI even capable of cleaning up the sport?”

    I think an even more telling question may be: Does the UCI even want to clean up the sport?

  27. Eddy

    If there has been one active racer that has come out and said, “yes I doped”, without being caught in some manner, I have missed it. The people doing the talking are the ones that are retired, about to bew retired, or people we all knew were doping, simply admiting to what was already known. What about someone like Valverde, or Basso, or some guy we all thought was clean coming out and saying yes I did and this is who(DS maybe) helped me, gave or sold me the stuff and drove me to the (DR.?)(Sorry I still have a problem calling these frauds with medical degrees Doctors) It is kind of like the old joke, what do you call the person who graduated last from medical school? Dr. (What do you call the most sneaky, greedy, lying, low life, con man, crook that graduated from medical school? A Dr that helps people dope?) Sorry, off subject rant. I believe there were still people doping in this past Tour and this is who we need to talk, out their DS and team members that they know are doing so also.

    I know, “Good Luck with all that”

  28. CE Hoxie

    JV said what he said in his NY Times piece because he was trying to get out in front of the USADA evidence which he likely anticipated was going to be made public.

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