31 July 2013


*The label is clear, so if you do not want to read about doping anymore, then return tomorrow when I will be writing about bikes or travel again. Last time I visited this topic was October 2012. It's about time to address it again.

What is a generation?

1a : a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor.
1b : a type or class of objects usually developed from an earlier type.
2 : the average span of time between the birth of parents and that of their offspring.

This generation is about 2 years old. 

It's like fingernails on a chalkboard every time someone uses the phrase "the new generation" of cyclists. I hear this phrase a lot. I also hear: “Our sport is much cleaner now.” The problem is - memory. It is impossible for fans to erase memory as recent as two years and consider it as old or worthy of classifying as a previous generation. Especially when our Doper cups are refilled and overflow every few months with news of yet another doping revelation.

It is convenient to focus on lab tests from 1998, it makes it seems like so long ago - certainly at least a generation, wouldn't you say? 1998 was 15 years ago. Yet we know for certain that Armstrong doped through his last Tour de France win in 2005, followed by a steady stream of convicted dopers who kept us busy across the years including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Floyd Landis, Vinokourov, Petacchi, Ricco, Hamilton, Valverde, Alberto Contador, Frank Schleck and so many many more.

The topic of doping always seems to pop up in conversation about cycling, but mainly with those who don't know a great deal about the sport, for those of us who do, the recent revelations in the French Senate report on doping were not that surprising, what we watch for are the reactions, the reverberations; the resulting path to change.

The Ones That Got Away With It

Bjarne Riis confessed to doping 11 years after winning the 1996 Tour de France. Never testing positive, denying it for years, he finally admitted to doping, had his Tour title stricken only to have it reinstated a year later, and never paid a price. He now owns and manages Team Saxo-Tinkoff. Alexander Vinokourov has a healthy career as General Manager of Astana, the same team he used to ride for when convicted of doping.

Andy Rihs and Jim Ochowicz have dirtied their names over "alleged" financial doping, and "allegedly" backing many dirty riders over the years. They continue business as usual at BMC. Axel Merckx's name was on the French Senate report last week listed as suspicious. He remains directeur sportif for the Bontrager Pro Cycling Team.

Team Garmin-Sharp is currently run by an after-retirement-confessed-doper who has seen little to no punishment - Jonathan Vaughters. Far from coming to peace with his past, Vaughters struggles to affect change in the sport while holding a steady paying job with the team. He is quite vocal about anti-doping while housing sentenced/paid the time (6mns-2yrs) active cyclists Tom Danielson, Thomas Dekker, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, and David Millar.

Andreas Kloden continues to ride with RadioShack-Leopard, somehow under the radar.  Matt White stepped right back into his role with Orica-GreenEDGE without barely a missing beat. I am personally baffled how popular Jens Voigt somehow skirted around his Crédit Agricole and CSC years, surrounded by dopers, seemingly unscathed, but want to (almost need to) greatly believe in his innocence.

Paolo Bettini, Oscar Freire, and George Hincapie were all riders with titles and contracts throughout the "era of doping" who conveniently retired at just the right time. 

We just celebrated Rui Costa and Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar) at this year's Tour de France - two historical dopers. We celebrated with Stuart O'Grady on his magnificent 17th Tour de France and Team Time Trial win only to find out a day after the Tour ended that Stuey was going to retire, and then in surprising timing, that Stuey was a doper; a doper who recently stood up and voiced his opinion about how dopers were ruining the sport. Oops.

In my own opinion, perhaps the saddest is Chris Carmichael. Some saw him as a front man, a veil of deceit that Lance Armstrong hid behind using Carmichael as a "coach" screen, a charade of distraction that saw Carmichael "unjustly enriched" through promoting his own lucrative coaching business. He has never had to pay the real price. While Johan Bruyneel deservedly became the symbol of all things bad in the sport.

Now Management and Staff are paying the price 

Vladimir Ekimov was a prominent member of the US Postal Team, a team now proven to have doped throughout its ranks, but he never tested positive. Eki has a nice job as general manager of the Russian Team Katusha. Eki himself was responsible, in some strange twist, in laying-off Erik Zabel as the teams Sprint Coach after Zabel's name was included on the recent French Senate report.

Erik Zabel had just days prior resigned from his position on the sport's Professional Cycling Council (UCI). A lack of honesty is what bit him. His previous admission had been acceptable and he was welcomed back into the sport as a staff member on a couple teams, but it seems a doping confession should be complete and not partial. Bobby Julich (now with BMC) lost his job with team SKY in 2012 as a result of the USADA/WADA fallout and his confession, which now appears to have been complete because his name is also on the French Senate Report. No matter, Team SKY has a no tolerance for history or active doping.

Typically it was the rider who suffered, management and staff seemed to get away with barely a scratch, but now they are being gleaned from the sport. Jeroen Blijlevens, Sport Director of Belkin Pro Cycling, left immediately after news of being included on the 1998 list of positives. The technical director of the Vuelta a Espana, Abraham Olano, was also forced to resign last week.

So much for any hope from Truth and Reconciliation making an impact, no matter if you confess or someone forces your confession - you could be on the street, and fast. Laurent Jalabert (JaJa) the beloved figure of French cycling had a strong career as a French TV host, but lost face just before the Tour de France this year when news of the report was leaked. He saw his announcer and personality status crumble.  

Frankie Andreu is now directeur sportif of 5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda, an American UCI Continental Team, although Frankie paid a high price over the years for his unwillingness to continue doping while on the US Postal Team and his subsequent confession, he has worked hard to regain a job in this sport. I can't say the reaction to doping is fair, but neither is doping. I can't say I dislike all past dopers, because I do not.

I think Bernhard Kohl is interesting. He was caught, confessed, retired, talks about it and now runs a bike shop. He retired in 2009, exiting by making the famous statement that it is "impossible to win without doping." I am guessing Bernhard is not perpetuating or covering up doping for himself or anyone else by running his bike shop.

Throw the bunch out!

Reading through these names and realizing there really is no sense in logic to the pattern of accountability or punishment or outcome to doping cases, I am about ready to take the Sky side of no tolerance and flush them all out. All the way to the top with the IOC allowing convicted dopers to compete in Olympic events, or to the UCI claiming this doping issue is in the past. It certainly is not, not as long as a heavily influenced and influencing governing body is in charge of regulating the sport it profits from advancing, and the league is structured on World Tour licensing dependent on performance.

The primary incentive has remained unchanged. Win. Winning means everything to teams and to individual riders. It makes a career. It makes a future for any rider, who can dope now, apologize later, and then become team management with a salary. As my brother asked me, "Is Ricco any different than Jonathan Vaughters?" Does attempted good deeds later make up for knowingly deceiving your fellow competitor? This question takes much consideration.

Cycling is a beautiful sport

I enjoy watching American Football, baseball, swimming, track and field, tennis and a number of other sports plagued with doping, but I relate to cycling because I can get out and ride on the same playing field and I can dream of traveling to the locations where bike racers race.

I like this sport in spite of the people in it. What if every person with a connection to doping in the past was wiped away? Following the team SKY approach of no tolerance, period. We could start fresh with the same incredible sport of cycling. We could appreciate the event, the equipment, the endeavor, the competition. Within one season we would all have new heroes to follow and cheer. More Kwiatkoskis, Bakelants, van Garderens or Talanskys. And the Sponsors could get all the ad impressions they desired without worrying about harming their corporate image.

Are they doping or not?

This is not as confusing an issue for long-time fans as it might seem to be. History has hardened me, I am not falling for the latest campaign of a "Next Generation." I chose to take this on a case-by-case basis, instead of dividing riders by age group. I don't believe this sport is totally clean, certainly not when our reigning Olympic gold medalist is Alexander Vinokourov, a medal earned in 2012.

There are too many unclean people running it with far too much to gain with an approach that has worked for them in the past. Cleaning house, or truly impactful financial punishment are the only approaches that will change this sport (without the IOC terminating the sport of cycling all together). Honesty is exacting respect, but without significant changes, this is all talk and short term memory.

Am I still a fan - sure. 

It is not as simple as saying I am not expecting a clean sport, but more that I know that man is fallible.

Truth is, I am happy enough when I see true human suffering in a give-it-your-all competition. Cycling offers me that; but I can barely watch a stage in ignorant bliss these days without someone interdicting, "he's a doper." I follow the five-rules of cycling: Don't believe too much; be in the moment of battle; it's okay to be disappointed in your fellow-man; know that life is not fair; move on. And by all means don't blame others for what you should have known. And remain enthusiastic, because this sport is a guaranteed roller-coaster of you love him / he done you wrong.

Definitely worthy of a country song.

If you are going to look at every rider and label him as a doper upon success, or if you are going to look at every race as if it were fixed, then I believe you are diminishing your own joy of sport. We each have to come to terms with this reality, we shouldn't stop questioning, but need it override being able to watch sport and suspend disbelief?

The best written articles I have found to explain the current state of recent developments: French Senate names 1998 Tour de France dopers; O'Grady and Durand confess, By Simon MacMichael for Road.cc. And one by CyclingTips, today: Missing The Point discussing the steps to correction.

List of 1998-99 Positive:
Manuel Beltran, Jeroen Blijlevens, Mario Cipollini, Laurent Desbiens, Jacky Durand, Bo Hamburger, Jens Heppner, Laurent Jalabert, Kevin Livingston, Eddy Mazzoleni, Nicola Minali, Abraham Olano, Marco Pantani, Fabio Sacchi, Marcos Serrano, Andrea Tafi, Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel.
List of 1998-99 Suspicious:
Stephane Barthe, Ermanno Brignoli, Giuseppe Calcaterra, Pascal Chanteur, Bobby Julich, Eddy Mazzoleni, Roland Meier, Axel Merckx, Frederic Moncassin, Stuart O'Grady, Alain Turicchia, and Stefano Zanini.

"All cyclists dope"

I dislike this statement so much, yet I wish I could bust the myth that "All cyclists doped." I am not sure how I could even start to dismantle this belief. I don't like this excuse used to defend those who did cheat. I don't like this reasoning used to discredit the entire sport. All I know is that there is a chance that in the present and in the future, I could rightly say, "some cyclists don't dope."

If you watched the Tour de France this year, you too saw men who suffered, men who had varying performances day to day, men who suddenly ran out of gas ("sugars"), men who fell off the back, and men who looked absolutely wiped out after a stage. These are very good signs. Racing should never have a known outcome or be easy. 

“Our sport is much cleaner now, I want people to understand that.” ~ Jacky Durand

Yes it is cleaner. I don't believe 100%, but that's ok, I am watching change happen.

This is a GENERATION, this is hope.  Photo© by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Oh, um, and Jan Ullrich thinks we should reinstate Lance Armstrong's Tour titles ... because ... this doping thing is in the past now. All better.