Tagged: doping

Rabottini suspended for EPO, and to think we almost had him at the Taiwan KOM…

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last year, when I was looking for KOM winners of the Grand Tours of recent years to invite to ride the Taiwan KOM Challenge, i received a mail suggesting i get in touch with Matteo Rabottini of Neri Sottoli.

Rabottini had shot to fame with a victory Rabottini on the stage to Piani dei Resinelli at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, taking the KOM classification. the following year he was 17th on the GC. he was young (25 when he won the KOM at the Giro) and charismatic, and looked perfect for the KOM.

(shortest video on Rabbo’s win i could find, excuse the music – sounds like cycling on drugs… oh wait…)

anyway, at the last minute negotiations fell through, can’t remember why, but did we dodge a bullet or what?

why? well cos the Italian just got the results of his B sample back, from a test taken on August 8th. and they confirmed he’s been on the EPO. for sure though he wasn’t on it when he won the KOM jersey.

fo’ sho.

he’s denying all.

at the time of the KOM classification win he laughed about having been given the nickname Rambo by his teammates. CyclingSnooze wrote:

‘“I’m not like Rambo”, joked Rabottini as he wanted to underline that he’s not naturally gifted.’

perhaps he should have underlined that he’s unnaturally gifted.

this is now the fifth time i have either raced against a guy who was later found to have doped or been in talks to get a guy to enter a race who was later found to have doped. i am not in a rush to get to number 6, but suspect it will happen sooner rather than later.

just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

Cookson, Astana, and the Death of Hope

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And the first rule of Twitter is that you should never tweet something you will live to regret. Not many people follow that rule but it is quite a good one, one that Brian Cookson OBE (Oh! Benevolent Entity?) was never taught, quite obviously.

The decision to award Astana a World Tour license for 2015 has elicited widespread anger from the cycling world and is a decision that even the most hardened doping apologists will have trouble defending.

After the Astana organization had five riders return positive tests for banned substances, the majority of cycling commentators believed it would be curtains for the Kazakh team, one that has had several other run-ins with the anti-doping authorities over the years.

Surely, went the thinking, there’s no way that a UCI run by Brian Cookson – the man who knocked Pat MacQuaid off his perch as president of the world governing body, the man who had promised to get tough on cheats – surely there’d be no way he’d allow Astana to keep its license?

Well… yes, actually. There was a way. He just said yes.

BRIAN_COOKSON

It involved ignoring the anger and general fed-upness of cycling fans and the few outspokenly clean riders out there, it meant that he’d have to face the opprobrium of the social media for a few days, and it would essentially cause anyone who gave a fig about doping to come to the conclusion that the UCI is not to be trusted as the overseer of this beautiful sport, but apparently that’s all in a day’s work for Brian Cookson OBE.

As you know I am no fan of the UCI and I lost faith in them many years ago. I don’t believe that the UCI has the best interests of the fans nor the vast majority of its members at heart. Yet even I was amazed by the news that Astana would not lose its license.

I’m not alone. Amazingly, ProTour riders are speaking out – well one, at least.

Peter Kennaugh of Sky tweeted:

“Riders who were only ‘trained’ by Ferrari I mean come are you really that stupid ? And do you think everyone else is to? What a joke this sport can be! The clean riders of the peloton need to get together and push these cheats out enough is enough.”

Kennaugh’s tweet avoided calling out the UCI and Cookson which may be smart with regards to his job, but there’s no hiding the fact that the decision is what prompted his tweet in the first place.

Cookson for his part has said that Astana will be under probation, which must have Vinokourov quaking in his boots.

Now, it could be that the UCI is fearful of banning Astana after the debacle of last season when they had their decision not to give a WorldTour license to Katusha overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If that’s the case they could at least have made the symbolic gesture. What this move has done is to strip, mangle and burn the last bare shreds of the UCI’s credibility in the eyes of right-thinking fans.

Early rumors that stated that Vinokourov was seen entering the UCI HQ with a carrier bag full of Kazakh bank notes have been quashed, but other rumors that the basement car park has been rigged with high explosives have yet to be either confirmed or denied.

Allegedly.

It could be a combination of things, the Katusha factor, the power and wealth of Astana (they are backed by a national government), and it could be, one online commentator suggested, to do with Vinokourov’s contacts.

In The Telegraph’s online version, one reader wondered if the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling).

Thehamst wrote:

I suspect the head of the MPCC has had a major say so in this. Astana management and Roger Legeay go back a long way; all the way back to doping at Credit Agricole in 2008 actually. The same Roger Legeay banned for doping himself now in charge f the Movement For Credible Cycling – you really couldn’t make it up.

What is intriguing with regards to Astana not being denied a World Tour license is that another team, Europcar, was just denied one for 2015 (despite a fantastic Tour de France) on financial grounds.

“Regarding Team Europcar,” said Cookson, “it is of course regrettable that the team has not been able to secure sufficient financial guarantees to remain in the UCI WorldTour, but I very much hope that they can continue as a Professional Continental Team.”

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So, why not find some ‘financial irreguralities’ with Astana? If you can’t kick them out for bringing the already tarnished image of the sport further into the gutter, then make something up.

Also interesting to note was an interview with Cookson just two days ago in which he stated that cycling was not the only sport with doping trouble, and trotted out the old line about how cycling was doing way more than those ‘other sports’.

“I have always held the view that doping was not a practice solely restricted to the sport of cycling.

“In my view there are two groups of sports: There are those that have a doping problem and are actively trying to do something about it, and I would like to say that we are in a leading position on that.

“And there are those sports that have a doping problem and are still pretty much in denial about it. And sooner or later they are going to have their problems.”

Yawn.

To be honest Brian yes, we know other sports might have doping on a similar systematic scale as we have in cycling, but that argument doesn’t wash. You’re in charge of cycling, not table tennis.

However it is interesting to wonder what FIFA would do if say Barcelona suddenly got busted for a string of massive doping positives.

They’d probably say it was an isolated case, that it didn’t involve the management, was not systematic, that the players were very sorry, and that generally the sport was clean.

Sound familiar?

The truth of the matter, for me, is that the sport these guys at the top do is not the same sport I do. It is also not the same sport that 99.99% of cyclists around the world do.

We don’t cheat. We don’t think about doping ourselves. We don’t accidentally fall on srynges of EPO or drink our own blood by the baggie-full.

What we do do however, is love this thing called cycling.

Against our own better sense, we still tune in for the Tour, the Giro, Roubaix and the World’s. We still love the sight of the peloton coming through the clouds to summit on Ventoux, riders strewn about hither and tither, love seeing the fans – people like us – by the roadside, cheering them on.

We are the guardians of the history of this sport. We are the keepers, the rememberers, the people who make it live and breathe.

We buy the kits, we buy the books and the DVDs. We go to the races. We get up late at night when the family is all sleeping and pay our subscription to get 120 channels even though there’s only one we want to watch.

And yet we are nothing. We are disrespected and barely acknowledged, unless it’s to wring money from our pockets and to thrash the faith from our weary hearts.

This decision and the statements that have followed it from Cookson show that, again, and all too clearly.

Welcome to the world of the UCwedon’tknowf*ckingWhy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astana do not exist in a bubble – this is evidence that ZILCH has changed

ever notice how when a politician gets busted for something naughty, like – well, fraud is ok, they can do that, nepotism, check, that’s acceptable, dereliction of duty in the face natural disasters, no problem, rigging the courts to allow their relatives to get reduced sentences, all fine there, facilitating white collar crime, check, fine on that count, bailing out thieving bankers, that’s all kosher, invading sovereign nations for oil, yup, ok there, uh, remote bombings of villages and murder, ah yes, doing their duty et cetera on that one…

ok, um, struggling here for a really terrible, awful crime that politicians actually get busted for – ah! like leaving some semen on an intern’s dress?

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well, ever notice how when something like that happens we are encouraged by the fine and never subjective international media outlets and the other *still good* politicians to see the perpetrator as one bad apple in an otherwise rosy apple cart?

or how the same thing happens when young men and women in war zones placed in charge in jails go off on one and take degrading images of their captives? how we are asked to believe that the individual erred but that the system as a whole is essentially ‘good’ and correct?

ever consider how that might be bollocks?

well the same thing is going on right now in cycling. exactly the same mechanism rolls into action. (mechanism, not ‘crime’, let’s make that distinction).

wait – are you on about Astana? well come on, they’re Eastern Europeans

uh huh.

they’ve always been at it, that lot.’

do go on.

and Nibali, he’s Italian isn’t he.’

ok.

well just sayin’, the sport IS cleaner but this lot are just proper bad plums.’

as were, Festina say? or the Spanish?

well yeah.’

and half of Garmin?

and Armstrong, Tyler, all them boys?

well they had to do it to survive...’

uh… huh.

we read about another doping case here, another there and we think – because we are desperately hoping that the bad days are behind us – that it’s an isolated case. this, despite the fact  – and i’m not just on about Astana here – that there are positive tests every week in the news.

the dots are there. Astana have, remarkably, in a very short space of time brought a bunch of dots, marker pens and paper enough for everyone to get connecting.

Astana brought Vino with them, he is dodgy as a 47 pound note, we all know that. he’s like the thinking man’s Ricardo Ricco.

has also been the likes of Zabel coaching, Vaughters managing, Bruyneel and systematic doping over more than one of his teams, Kim Andersen and his ludicrous past (8 positives and counting), Rabobank, Sky using the dodgy doc, guy after guy just ‘visiting’ Ferrari, Carmichael still loaded and respected, editors and their journos refusing to join those little dots, and still – STILL! goshdarnit! – we are supposed to think these cases are ‘isolated’?

even Nibali can’t get us to believe that one.

Dr Michele Ferrari, centre, was, according to Usada, in charge of supervising blood transfusions

i remember watching him win the Tour and thinking ‘man, please be clean’. and now you tell me how we are supposed to believe not the wild notion that he is above suspicion but that he shouldn’t be – and deserves not to be – questioned about what is going on?

the Italian media broke the story that Astana met Ferrari then went on to categorically state that their Tour winner was not implicated in doping and that indeed he never met the Doc, a claim Nibali has stated more than once in the past, but this whole palava brought back the memory to me of this article on the venerable Cycling Weekly, which said that Nibali did in fact meet Ferrari, and trained with him, wearing all black kit.

the article quotes Ferrari as saying that he sued the claimants, and was awarded an out of court settlement. but you know, smoke + fire + blog = oxygen for the flames. and hey, this is cycling. and yes, it is that ridiculous. if they’d only just start wearing bibs only and smashing each other over the head with step-ladders, it might all make more sense.

in any case, His Nibs is looking not very well right now. what a mess.

of course, if one of our Grand Tour winners from 2014 was to be busted it would merely be an isolated incident.

look the other way folks, there you go, nothing to see here, move along.

and the sport IS getting better, every day, in every way.

right?

what to do about Astana and Nibali?

DoctorNurse (aka Stephen Nurse-Findlay) commented on my article from last week about Astana & Alexander ‘ChimneySweep’ Vinokourov and my call from them to be turfed from the sport.

i was going to leave my reply as a comment too but realised that it might be worth posting. here it is, with DoctorNurse’s initial comment first.

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from DoctorNurse, Dec 1st, 2014

“Is banning ASTANA the best option? I mean, for sure 5 (count ‘em *5*) doping positives is a massive amount for any one organisation in spite of their protestations of innocence…

BUT, I was rather looking forward to seeing Nibali defend his title against the est in France this Summer, and was also looking forward to seeing if Aru is the real deal in Italy this spring. Do you think that we should eliminate the best(VN) and brightest (FA) of Italian cycling from contention for the action of a few seriously misguided dudes on their teams?

I mean, where would Nibali go? Who could afford to pay his salary, plus the 6-7 dudes he will requires? You have any ideas?

Given your experience and background, it would be interesting to hear your recommendations as to what could be done in addition to your well articulated opinions on what has already happenned…”

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It surely is the only option. What message does the sport and, critically, the UCI want to convey – and never mind to the fans, the TV companies, the sponsors or anyone else – to the teams? That even this is acceptable? No, they have to be turfed out.

We need regulations in place for this very scenario – multiple positives from a single team. Indeed, we need serious and enforceable penalties in place for a single positive on a given team. A fine and a reduction of UCI points perhaps, as well as maybe a ‘strike’ against the team that could be cancelled after say 3 years, unless the number of strikes increase. Three in three years and you’re out? Maybe.

But five in three months? It’s mind-numbingly negligent at very best.

Should Astana be banned for good? Or for a decade? Or for four years? If, long before now, the UCI had enacted some meaningful criteria by which to judge and punish these teams that return multiple positives, then maybe we’d all be OK with a ten-year ban for the Kazakh outfit.

(I’d be almost fine with that, for the record).

Nibali: between a rock and a hard place

Nibali: between a rock and a hard place

It also brings back into focus (not that it should ever be out of it, in my opinion) the problem of having dopers in management positions. I can’t think of another profession where people who have been found to be corrupt are then welcomed back as overseers, trainers and managers.

Bent coppers coaching new recruits? Crooked lawyers teaching the bar? Footballers who’ve found to have influenced games for cash allowed to manage pro teams?

Never happens, so why in cycling? Cos so many were corrupt? Well that tells us that we need to stop this more than ever then.

About Nibali and Aru. If we had rules in place such as those I mention above, then perhaps the riders would use their collective clout and really and seriously get behind the anti-doping movement. Why can’t a guy have a clause in his contract that says he can leave if the team and/or other members of that team act in such a way as to damage his or her reputation or image?

Why not let him go to CAS to sort it out?

If you have this then surely the teams would do more to properly crack down on doping and they’d be signing riders who had better reputations than these guys who keep popping up year after year. No need to name names here, just look at the peloton over the past 15 years.

Do this, and maybe we’d edge closer to getting a clean peloton.

The dominant message still being conveyed by having guys around like Vino, Hincapie, Vaughters, and by still having measly 2 year bans and no criminal penalties is being heard loud and clear: cheating pays.

To the question of where would he go – well, if we had real movement on these points then maybe he wouldn’t have to change teams cos crap like this would be far less likely to happen. As it is though, maybe we need a top guy getting ripped like this, hard though that will be on one rider, to wake the rest of them up.

I mean, Nibali sounds clean, he does, but he’s been going to work every day in a crack den for the past 2 years.

What, is he really shocked? I rode with Astana development team guys over three or four years on the UCI Asia circuit and I knew enough to be very dubious about what I was seeing.

Nibali is asking us first to believe that there is no connection between the 5 positives (remember two were brothers so that’s why they doped, and the others were on the Conti team so, zero connection there either, right Nibs?), and then he’s asking us to believe that he was either just incredibly naive enough to join a team and not to have known or inquired about their reputation, or to believe that he is just plain thick.

Either way it doesn’t look too good for him right now.

Imagine a rider going to a team for an interview and the rider asking what kind of independent testing procedures the team had, before he asked about how much cash he was gonna get. Imagine every team proactively chasing guys known for being clean, or at least above suspicion. (I sound like John Lennon here with all these ‘imagines’.). Sure, there’ll still be cheats, but at least give the clean guys a chance by enacting something close to the regulations this sport actually needs.

I think of all the guys I know that are clean that are seriously good riders and how they had to deal with Nibali’s conundrum long, long before they even got close to racing in a Tour de France, never mind winning one.

Get this sh*t done for them and for the kids who are out there dreaming.

They have to come first.

imagine all the pipe dreams...

imagine all the pipe dreams…

Groundhog Day at Astana HQ: Vinokourov to star in classic comedy remake!

groundhogday_blog

Bill Murray was brilliant in Groundhog Day, playing the cantankerous Phil, the weatherman who woke up every day in the same day, trapped in a town he hated, a fate that drove him to several failed suicide attempts.

Playing Rita, the love interest, was Andie McDowell. Phil tried day after day (quite literally) to bed her, using each identical day to find out more about her likes and dislikes so as to present himself as her perfect (and very fake) man to finally get her under the covers.

21st Century Flops have just issued a press release announcing that they intend to re-make the film, starring none other than our favorite Kazakhstani flat-capped chimney sweep, Alexandre Vinokourov!

Vino in his last film role, the box office hit 'It weren't me Guv'nor!'

Vino in his last film role, the box office hit ‘It weren’t me Guv’nor!’

Vino was deemed to be perfect for the role after experiencing a Groundhog Day-type experience of his own, waking up every day to find that yet again an Astana man had been busted for dilly-dallying with banned substances.

With no less than five – count ‘em – five men who wear the Astana colors testing positive for banned substances in the last two months, it’s an achievement that has to go down in cycling history and surely confirms that Astana are the biggest bunch of f**kwits currently in the business.

And let us not forget young Roman Kreuziger, who’s also been suspended for returning ‘unusual’ blood values from testing done whilst at Astana.

So let’s call yesterday’s positive for Artur Fedosseyev of Kazakhstan the sixth, not bad at all. To use baseball terminology, Astana have knocked that one right out of the ball park and into the car park – the one where Brian Cookson’s car sits.

Six broken windows now Brian – how are you going to respond to that I wonder?

Reports today state that Vino has suspended the Continental team that the last three positives have emanated from, which is interesting considering that he and Vincenzo Nibali have gone out of their way to claim that the World Tour team has absolutely nothing to do with the Continental squad.

“People have to understand that they [the Astana Continental Team] have nothing to do with this team Vinokourov told Gazetta dello Sport. “ The only thing we have in common is the jersey and the name.”

And the doctors and at least one DS. The teams share the services of one Dmitri Sedoun, who is a direteur sportif on both teams.

Poor Vino, it’s really coming at him from all sides isn’t it. It is worth remembering that Vinokourov was dogged by rumors of doping in his career and actually suspended for blood doping in 2007 and that he has just been charged with bribery for his alleged payment of 150,000 euro to Alexander Kolobnev in 2010 for throwing the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.

(And who says crime doesn’t pay? The fools.)

He made a comeback from his doping ban to become the least applauded winner of any Olympic road race ever, when he won in London in 2012.

Vinokourov should be ok though in spite of all this, proving that a Kazakhstani cat really does have 23 lives. Back home, Kairat Kelimbetov, president of the Kazakhstan Cycling Fed, has resigned and has been replaced by Darkan Mangeldiev, a close friend of Vinokourov.

So despite all travails his path to the Presidency of his homeland still looks clear, and he does have the remake of Groundhog Day to look forward to, which is some consolation.

Playing the role that Andie MacDowell filled so well, love interest Rita, will be Cycling Fans – leaving us finally in no doubt whatsoever that Vino really is trying to screw us.

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Interesting video here featuring former KCF president Kelimbetov talking about Astana at the 2014 Tour de France. Iglinsky (busted) gets singled out for praise, whilst Vino is mentioned as ‘a rider who only comes about once in a hundred years.’

Not too sure that is true Kairat, because we’ve had Ricco, Pantani, Armstrong, Ulrich, Virenque, and on and on and on. Check out the Alternative History of Cycling and you’ll know what I mean…

Italian cycling is the dirtiest and most corrupt, right? Think again…

*use Google translate please on the Italian websites featured)

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The Italians. Reel off the names of the heroes of Italian cycling and it reads like a Who’s Who of serious heavyweight dopers.

Mario Cipollini, Ivan Basso, Danilo di Luca, Francesco Moser, Riccardo Ricco, Emanuele Sella, Michele Scarponi, and of course the great imbiber, Marco Pantani. Let us not forget also Graziano Gasparre, busted for transporting a veritable drugstore about under his skin.

Gasparre was busted for amphetamine, EPO, HGH, testosterone and cocaine.

If you’re gonna do it proper, Graziano, do it proper!

anyone got a straw?

Gasparre: anyone got a straw?

Il Campionissimo, the great Fausto Coppi, is the greatest rider in a fine tradition of snorters, poppers and needle heads from the Old Boot, and he wasn’t shy about admitting it.

In a TV interview back in the day, he admitted taking ‘la bomba’ [amphetamine] pretty darn regularly.

Question: Do cyclists take la bomba?

Coppi: Yes, and those who claim otherwise, it’s not worth talking to them about cycling.

Question: And you, did you take la bomba?

Coppi: Yes. Whenever it was necessary.

Question: And when was it necessary?

Coppi: Almost all the time.

amphetamine: the chemical diagram of choice for riders in the 50s... and 40s... and 30s... and 60s...

amphetamine: the chemical diagram of choice for riders in the 50s… and the 40s… and the 30s… and the 60s… how they got this down their throats i’ll never know…

There’s no doubt that then that there are some pretty high profile dopers in Italian cycling, and you will often hear people – particularly the English and the Americans – cite the Italians (along with the Spanish) as being the ‘worst for doping’.

But is that actually true? In the past few years surely the highest concentration of dopers have come from the English-speaking nations, in particular from the USA.

‘Ah but ya see, like Lance said, they were just doing it to catch up!’

Yeah and that completely justifies driving what has been called ‘the greatest fraud in sporting history’ – and that is even if you believe that guff.

Back to Italy and their innate need to cheat – cos that’s what we feel it is, let’s be honest here – take a look at this report in VeloNews from back in 2011:

Doping controls on Italian juniors’

Is it a sign that things have gone too far? Or simply an effort to nip the doping scourge in the bud? Officials from Italy’s anti-doping brigade at CONI carried out controls on junior cyclists racing in an event Sunday in northern Italy. The Giornale di Vicenza reported that officials took urine samples from junior riders 13 to 14 years old. CONI confirmed it tests up to 40 juniors throughout the racing season. Italian cycling federation president Renato di Rocco defended the practice, telling the newspaper:

We have to come to accept the fact that we have to start with prevention at the age of 13. The parents and society can have a guarantee that sport will be cleaner, that everyone is racing at the same level, something that’s been questioned for a long time now.

“But something must be said, with all honesty, that there are parents who put high concentrations of caffeine in the water bottles of their own children. It’s time we make a reflection and do all we can to prevent the next generation from entering the road to doping. It’s called prevention.”

I read this and I thought ‘Whoah, those Italians are doping their kids!

I’m sure you will agree, that is hardcore. My initial reaction though ignored the other vey important factor here, and that is that the President – no less – of the Italian Cycling Federation – no less! – was coming forward and saying that yes there was a problem, that yes, the ICF intended to do something about it, and that hell yes, parents of young kids who were coming into the sport deserve to “have a guarantee that sport will be cleaner, that everyone is racing at the same level.”

Is this happening in America, where some very questionable characters still dominate USA Cycling?

No.

(If need be, google Steve Johnson or Thom Wiesel or, alternatively, just read this from me. For some real fun though, go read about American juniors being doped way back when by Chris Carmichael – damn, what a GREAT coach he is, deserves every penny of that wonga he sits on…).

Is this kind of an early, grassroots prevention plan that they have in Italy being presently undertaken by the UCI?

Not that I know of, and certainly wasn’t under Pat MacQuaid.

Even if the kids aren’t doping, and let’s hope they aren’t, this is exactly the kind of thing that this sport needs. I know it is terrible and awful to say that we need to test juniors and oh my goodness please let them be kids for just a little while longer but if this is all part of a system that educates them against doping later and means that parents have peace of mind that there kids aren’t going to be thrown to the wolves once they move up the ranks then yes, do it.

Italy isn’t shy at taking the lead on anti-doping in other respects either. You may remember that the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) went after Alejandro Valverde for doping when everyone else was happy to look the other way, it seemed.

As the article on Podium Café stated at the time:

‘According to CONI, Valverde has violated section 2.2 of the WADA code, “use or attempted use of a prohibited substance or method.” Note that a ride need not actually use blood doping to violate the WADA code, but only “attempt” to use. The Basso case provide the precedent in this context. If CONI can prove its case, the violation carries a two year suspension.

‘In Italy, the Valverde case has never sat well. While Italian star Ivan Basso sat out for two years after conviction in the Puerto case, Valverde continued to win races. Few in Italy believed that Valverde was innocent in the Puerto case. The Spanish authorities have all along proved slow to act on the Puerto evidence. So, too, has the UCI.’

The UCI? Slow to act on a doping case involving a major star? Never!

Did the Spanish federation assist CONI in its case in any way? Or at the very least, let them get in with the case unobstructed?

No. They rushed to Valverde’s defence, as they did when Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol.

Valverde got a two year ban as a result of this, thank CONI, though he still protests his innocence, as any smart doper will, because fans prefer to be lied to and know it is a lie than to be told the truth as it will mean they’ve been taken for chumps.

Funny old world eh?

Still not sure about the claim that Italy is really not as bad as you thought?

Let’s move on then to Italian gran fondos and some information provided by Uli Fluhme, director of the Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) series.

“Italy,” Uli says, “is at the forefront of doping control in amateur cycling.”

How so? Well, let’s let Uli explain.

“A Gran Fondo in Italy means racing at the highest amateur level. Anyone who doesn’t make the jump from “dilettante” (elite amateur) to pro at 23/24 years old, races granfondo. Any other kind of masters racing is almost non-existent.

“Because cycling is extremely popular in Italy, it is also highly competitive. I’ve raced as an amateur in many countries around the world. Nothing comes close to the level of racing in Italy. While the first granfondo happened in the 70s, the real revolution came in the mid 90s with the introduction of chip timing.

Uli Fluhme

Uli Fluhme

“It allowed cyclists to compete in various categories throughout one big peloton. With that kind of competitiveness you get teams, team cars, sponsors, ex-pros – and of course doping. By the late 90s the level of racing at the front was so high that doping was the only explanation. More and more the regular rider and racer got fed up with granfondo superstars that raced like professionals – and doped for it.

“At first the bigger events liked the racing and the magazines talked about the races. But soon doping controls became the norm. More and more riders got popped. Thanks to a very strict antidoping law, the Italian police started crack-downs on doping rings that sometimes involved a pro here and there but most often dozens of amateurs.”

Hence those reports that come out of Italy and seem to make no sense to the rest of us about doping operations getting busted that come with a long list of amateur riders’ names. It’s not as simple as saying ‘well in Italy even the amateurs dope.’

It’s closer to the truth to say that these guys are doping because the prestige that comes with wining these races – and many are screened live on TV – is massive. You can see a similar trend in the USA in Masters racing. It is not the cash prize that so attracts these guys, but the lure of celebrity.

“In 2011,” continues Uli, “under the tutelage of the late Andrea Pinarello (he died of a heart attack at a race, only 40 years old), the Five Stars League was formed. It contained of the 5 most important granfondos in Italy.

“It had the following rules:

 1. Ex-pros are not allowed to race granfondo for a certain number of years

2. Pros can ride but not race granfondos.

3. The Top 100 riders of the previous year are subject to blood testing before each 5 Star League event

 [the TOP 100! – cp.]

“As a result, the speeds at the races dropped and many of the Top 100 riders disappeared from the 5 big events. Of course it didn’t stop all dopers but it was a good start. While the league does not exist anymore (trying to get the 5 biggest events at one table was probably too difficult), its spirit lives on in each of the event. Ex-pros are still not allowed to race for a number of years and doping controls continue to be done by the federation at numerous granfondo events.”

The number of names, the vast majority amateur, here on this list (in fact on the first page alone!) is impressive.

“The conclusion,” says Uli, “is not that Italians are all cheaters. The conclusion is that there is testing happening at races and events (Triathlon, Half Marathon, Gran Fondo) where other countries look away.

“Look at the Granfondo Roma, where organizer and attorney Gianluca Santilli also works for the Italian Cycling Federation (Federciclismo) and is part of the amateur cycling committee in the UCI. He’s at the forefront of the antidoping movement in Italian cycling. One of his race rules is that a rider testing positive at his event has to reimburse the cost of the test. Furthermore, if he/she is part of a team, the team can be held liable as well. It’s a rule we also implemented at GFNY.”

the Gran Fondo Roma - quite popular, then

the Gran Fondo Roma – quite popular, then

And finally, another notable first that I know of in cycling, the Italian national team management decided back in 2009 to no longer select former dopers for the national team, a decision that saw them clash with the Court of Arbitration in Sport.

The British team adhered to this rule until the British Olympic Association rescinded its ban on the selection of former dopers, meaning that David Millar could compete at London 2012.

If an athlete cheated in any other way though – for example a marathon runner getting in a taxi at KM12 and getting out ahead of the field again at KM39 – would they be allowed back?

What exactly is the difference there?

Anyway, I’m wandering. Back to the Italians.

One forum commentator said back in 2009 when the Italians selected their World’s team and left out Basso that “It is ironic because Italy does have some of the toughest laws but most corrupt administrators.”

‘Most corrupt’ – not sure how to measure that, but yes, there has been corruption in Italian soccer, cycling and athletics (such as in this case , but do remember Carl Lewis et al before you start spitting feathers), but with all the evidence, noted above, to indicate a real attempt by the Italians to clean up their most beloved sport, can we deny that they are leading the fight against doping in cycling in several major areas any longer?

I think not.

Will Routley interview: “We are all part of this sport and we need people to believe in it again”

Will Routley, cracking fella, was fortunate enough to entice him over to Taiwan for the KOM Challenge just recently.

Will has been a pro since 2008 and just enjoyed his best year with Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies with a win on Stage 4 and the overall KOM in the 2014 Tour of Califiornia.

I caught up with him for a chat.

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Will takes Stage 4 at the ToC

Will takes Stage 4 at the ToC

crankpunk: You’ve been in Asia before, racing, how does Taiwan compare to other areas you’ve been?

Will Routley: I’ve race in Malaysia, Thailand, Korea and also China. Taiwan seems to be more affluent, it’s clean, there’s no glass or junk on the road, I feel at ease and comfortable here. Even in Taipei, I don’t fee the hustle and bustle of other places I’ve been in Asia. The overwhelming chaos is missing!

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another positive test: time for Astana to go

Victor Okishev, a 20-year-oldAstana rider, has tested positive for steroids from a test taken in May.

that is now 4 Kazakhstani Astana riders in the past few months.

Iglinsky, apparently not smiling now..

Iglinsky, apparently not smiling now..

when i rode the UCI Asia Tour there was a feeling amongst the peloton that the Kazakh riders generally were not all they appeared to be. it was a hunch, going off performances we had seen. at the very least the nation seems to have something of a problem, as does its national team, with the abuse of banned substances.

and mullets.

it must have nothing to do with their general manager and national hero (destined to be president too by the looks of things) being an unrepentant doper himself.

no, not at all.

Nibali, what have you got to say now? time to get out, some might argue. but where to? Tinkoff? Vaughters and Garmin? any of the other teams staffed by former dopers?

yet again, the UCWhy reaps what they have sowed, and we get to choke on it…

Nicole Cooke Exclusive on CP: “Bring in Lifetime Bans”

World's apart

World’s apart

Nicole Cooke says ‘no more heroes’ but, truth be told, she is one of mine. And to top all that off, she is so damn nice too. I met Nicole through her dad Tony, who responded to an article of mine which was on about how the bad guys get Gran Fraudos but the clean folk get nothing, like Obree and Nicole, and how much that sucks.

He sent me an email next day which said:

“If you’re interested in talking to Nicole perhaps I could set that up, I know her quite well.

Tony (Nicole’s dad)”

Brilliant.

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