the Omerta is dead, long live the Omerta

o·mer·ta 

n.

A rule or code that prohibits speaking or divulging information about certain activities, especially the activities of a criminal organization.
Lance got fat

 I awoke the other day to read that Chris Froome had said something that sent me into a 30 minute bout of head shaking, so frustratingly indicative was it of all that has been and still obviously is wrong with professional cycling. I originally intended to write this article yesterday but I was having some trouble working out just how to start, and, to be truthful, I still am.

What did he say? Most of you will have read it but just in case you didn’t, here it is, in all its technicolor profundity:

“I genuinely believe people want to stop talking about doping now. They want to have someone to believe in.”

Did he mean that we are so sick of finding out that riders are doped up that we truly desire the sport and (as history has revealed) most of its participants to clean up so that we can finally stop talking about doping?

Perhaps? Maybe? Possibly?

No.

It was in fact the paving of the way for another round of ‘the sport is way better now than it ever was’ – the same stuff that we, suffering with our cauliflower ears, lumpy from all the damage they’ve taken, have been listening to for years.

“We can’t force people to believe, it’s going to take time,” he said, which may  remind you of similar words that emanated from the slippery lips of the zero-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong.

Remember this?

“You should stand around and believe… There are no secrets… Hard work wins it.”

Darn tootin’.

Froome did though give a nod to the ‘un-believers’ when he said that he understands “why there are still a lot of critics, cynicism and doubters out there. Of course, no-one can actually know 100 percent if I’m clean or not, except me.”

So that is good, that there was recognition as to why people doubt, but the first line quoted here completely counterbalances that, and then some.

People want to stop talking about doping now,” he said, which sounds to me far more like ‘Can all the rest of you let it go now please?’, which is the last thing that we need right now. This line of thinking, the ‘Let’s move on’ line, it implies a few things. First off, that those of us who do talk about new drugs, both illicit and unbanned, and about the need for greater incentives not to dope – those of us who ‘talk about doping’, you could say – actually want to talk about doping.

Which isn’t true. I’d much rather be spending my time and yours talking about a great ride, a new talent or widescale improvements at the UCI, but I can’t do that often because there is still a persuasive case to be made that drugs are still used widely in the pro peloton. There is also the very real fear that if we don’t take this unique opportunity to work out this problem, by starting to work out how it began, who did what, and how to remedy it, then we will slide right back to where we were.

Why is that a real fear?

Remember Tommy Simpson?

Remember a bunch of dead young pros in the early 90s?

Remember Festina?

Remember Puerto?

Remember Oil for Drugs?

All taxtbook examples of the sport ‘realising’ it had a very real problem, and then doing absolutely sweet FA about it.

‘Move along now, nothing to see here.’

No, nothing at all. Just a few dead bodies, ruined careers, men now in their 50s and having multiple strokes and other serious ailments, and a whole lot of frauds.

So, how long, in reality, have ‘we’ all been talking about doping? I mean, really talking about it, out in the open, as we are now, here and in other places on the web and in the cycling magazines.

10 years?

5?

No, it’s been about eighteen months. Since the word came out on LA and the federal investigation. That’s a year and a half, roughly. 18 months in which we have had a glorious opportunity to really get to the bottom, or somewhere near (cos it’s a hell of a way down there), of this huge problem.

How long though have dopers been taking whatever chances they can to beat their fellow competitors?

Since 1886. That was the year that the first recorded death of a cyclist, who had been taking (then legal) substances to be faster, occurred.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doping_cases_in_cycling

So, all apologies to those out there like Froome who are getting a little tired of people talking about doping, but heck, many of us are just a little tired of doping.

I get it though. These guys just want to ride, they just want the same opportunities that LA and the others had, to ride without suspicion, and, if they are to be believed, to ride clean. Problem there though is this: that’s what they said too. We’ve had so much wool pulled over our eyes that we’re in fear of the smell of mint sauce.

[Disclaimer: this does NOT mean I am saying Froome is not clean, just acknowledging that there is a precedent here].

And you know what? These guys are operating at the highest level of a sport that right now is in dire need of a strong voice from inside the peloton, and until we get one, or until someone, like Cookson maybe, really does sort all this out, then they will just have to put up with the doubters. The sport is in need of a man (unfortunately it has to be, women just don’t have enough exposure) of unique ability, one willing to stand up to the pressure from within and without the peloton to keep quiet, who can then unite those other riders also committed to riding clean, and bring in the UCI and the anti-drug authorities, and – crucially – the fans – to form a power great enough to tackle this problem head on and with real resolution.

Is there anyone within the ProTour peloton to do this? If there is, he’s doing a good job of biding his time. And it won’t be Froome, I can tell you that much.

Back to my list of opportunities the sport has had to make changes. Will we be adding a new one  in 5 years or so? This one:

Remember Tygart vs Lance?

If Froomey and Cavendish and a few others have their way, then yes, we probably will.

6 comments

  1. muhua33

    ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”

    Although Froome’s new fishnet skin suit could indeed be considered a form of transparency, it is not the kind I had hoped from Team Sky. Froome needs to understand that there is a big difference between not wanting to talk about doping and not wanting to have to talk about doping. I think we are a long way from not having to talk about it and the pro riders need to come to terms with this.

    I’ve followed pro cycling less and less each year because of comments like this. While they are becoming better with the shut the f*c% up about doping message (now it’s the fans don’t want to talk about it instead of Talansky berating cycling fans for not giving riders a blank check of belief), the message is still the same: stop talking about doping. That’s the last thing we need to do if we want to the sport to change for better. Didn’t we learn that doesn’t work back in 1999?

    Good article.

  2. MikeB

    Where do you balance allowing Walsh free access to riders and the team bus on a scale between PR stunt and genuine transparency saying in effect ” if walsh cant find anything wrong, there probably is nothing”. What else can sky actually do?

    On another tack it is clear that the riders knew what was going on, and were doing similar things at least until recently. For a doping culture to flourish there has to be an effective jungle telegraph: so how does the telegraph work? Who are the hubs for information? How can they be infiltrated? Are riders openly discussing doping between themselves? Omerta is only a concept outside the peloton. Within it, there has to be communication surely: and is that the weak point?

    • gillan

      Walsh wasn’t given ‘free’ access. Walsh was given enough access to allow Sky to allow Walsh to write the story they wanted written i.e. that Sky are clean. Its a bit like Saddam’s WMD, do you really think he would have been attacked if he actually had them :-). Likewise the release of Froome’s data in the summer…all we got was his post transformation data…what use was that??? So what can sky actually do? Give us Froome’s data from before the Vuelta ’11 for a start….

  3. P K

    So…….you’re saying Froome is part of the ‘Omerta’ which is saying he’s part of the grand conspiracy to cover up doping, which would infer that he dopes. Just trying to see the logic, I’m sure you’ll correct me. It wouldn’t be an incredible stretch to make an un-founded accusation (you’re kinda on the doorstep) here’s an angle for ya….I (me, P K) personally think the whole “finish bottle” thing deserves more scrutiny, ‘cuz that was an expensive if not unnecessary trip back to the car if it wasn’t a finish bottle.

    Foorme says “people” are sick of talking about it, but really I would think he mis-spoke and meant to say he (Chris) is sick of talking about it. I can imagine he gets asked multiple times DAILY about doping. So is he tasked with being the new “role model” for cycling by default? If so that ain’t gonna work out, refer to the NBA, NFL, etc. for why sport stars shouldn’t be role models. Does his contemporary tour winner status come with the job description of “dope troll”? ‘cuz I think others have already claimed that title.

    People like talking about doping for many reasons, some use it as self-promotion and can seemingly make a career of it. Others like to think they’re “in the know” making themselves the winner when it comes to “bench racing” and yes, it would seem pro bike racers only talk about doping to shield their guilt (if we use the past as an example)

    Why do I feel frustrated that most of this “talk” is just that – talk, and nothing more. Why don’t people want to take some action instead of just talking? I’ve offered the idea of fielding contributions for an independent testing fund, am I gonna have to go down this road alone?

    • crankpunk

      I’m saying that comments such as he made reflect a desire for people to hush up about doping, and a lack of comprehension as to why people still are and how what it that he’s saying will be viewed by some – such as myself. At the very best, it’s naivety, at worst, it’s another rider telling people to be quiet and ‘move on’.

      Whether he meant ‘I’m sick of talking about it’ or ‘people’, makes little difference. The

      Yes, he is a rider and not a rule maker, and its parents that should be role models, not athletes, but this neglects the fact that youngsters do look up to these people. And no one can deny that we are living in exceptional circumstances, as cyclists and cycling fans, in which everything people thought was true has been shown to be a lie (LA, Ulrich, the Tour top ten for some 15 years etc). These riders, who do very well out of the sport, have just got to realise this also and get on with it.

      I’m not a campaign organiser. Why don’t you set up this fund and then I’ll be happy to help promote it? Contact the other people that write about doping and get their names behind it.

      And those finish bottles – another good example of why we need to talk about doping. Not many people know about this and other ‘legal’ doping. We have to start somewhere…

      • atlaz

        Well I think Froome has a right to say something like “I understand why people ask about doping, but my answer doesn’t change, I don’t dope, never have, never will and I’m not really interested in rehashing the same old discussion with every journalist who interviews me” because he doesn’t have to speak for anyone other than himself. However, riders (including Froome) saying everyone should shut up about it altogether and just believe are clearly on some sort of drugs anyway because, as you said, it’s how the sport sleepwalked into this particular nightmare.

        Finish bottles are an interesting case though. At what point do supplements of any type slip into the area of doping? Would it be better to have an acceptable substance list rather than a banned one so that all supplement manufacturers would have to speak directly to WADA or the UCI or the IOC (you get the idea) to get their product certified. I can totally understand that a rider may want to have some painkillers/anti-inflamatory drugs to take the edge off after a hard stage but if they can also hand them out during the race… well…

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