Tagged: UCI

The Aussie conundrum, new UCI anti-doping regulations and their failings, and an African breakthrough

This article originally appeared on The Roar

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Can you feel it? It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean the Tour Down Under. It’s the buzz of a new season, the sharpening of the knives, the shaving of the legs, the thrum of the media and the froth of the forums!

Bring it on.

One thing that caught my eye last week was a statement from Matt White, sport director at Orica-GreenEdge.

“Porte is the strongest rider in the world right now and he’s my tip for the race,” said White. “He’s the favourite and having seen him on the bike first hand, I can say that he’s absolutely flying.”

We all know that Porte had a season last year that’d stink up an outside toilet for half a decade, flitting between too few high notes and altogether too many lows.

Porte said as much in an interview with The Courier:

“Anyone who follows cycling would know I had a shocker of a season last year,” the 29-year-old said.

“I was pretty good here (at the road nationals) and at the Tour Down Under, but that was about it for me – my season finished up at the end of August.”

Fair play to him for getting his mojo back but I was struck by the thought: who on the World Tour roster apart from the Aussies is ‘flying’ right now?

Seriously, and not to sound denigrating, but it’s not too hard to be ‘the best in the world right now’ when now is January – you just have to be the best Aussie and you take that mantle by default.

Sure, there are always some non-Aussie riders who arrive for the TDU in smoking form but they are few and almost always the usual suspects, and you can be sure, apart from maybe Andre Greipel, that they won’t be going great in the European mid-season.

I’m aware that the Aussie cycling season follows in large part the Aussie weather, but might it not be time for the Australian National Road Race Champs to be held in line with the European national champs?

To require a World Tour rider to be in top shape in January and then to try to hit those heights in May say, for the Giro, or in July for the Tour, well, there are only so many times in a year a rider can be in top top form.

Or maybe the guy who wins the Australian nationals is in pretty good shape but not great shape? Is the competition being devalued somehow, now that so many of the national contenders are based in World Tour teams?

I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me.

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The new UCI rules regarding doping were announced and were in large part met with a kind of wearied shrug of the shoulders it seemed, by both the press and the fans.

Some of the changes were expected, such as the 4-year ban for ‘serious’ cases of doping (but what is ‘serious’? Clenbuterol and platsicisers in the blood? Cocaine ringing the nostrils on the start line? Or EPO track lines on the arms?) as WADA had already brought them in back at the end of 2014.

Yet there is a proviso in there that states that anyone that admits ‘promptly’ can have the 4 years dropped to 2. Not sure how that will change anything, except leaving us with more calculated ‘admissions’ of guilt that change nothing.

Teams will be charged 5% of their annual budget is a second and third rider get busted for doping, which is surely too little. If three positives result only in a 10% fine then the fans – myself for sure – will feel conned.

One interesting change is the ‘banned associations’ ruling. This states that riders can be banned for associating with any banned individual in any capacity, meaning that Frank Schleck’s excuse that he paid banned doctor Eufemiano Fuentes 7000 euro because he ‘just kinda did’ will be a enough to see him banned.

But again, whilst moving in the right direction, how about taking out all former banned riders who now work in management, and applying the same rules to those now working with riders who were not actually banned but who were heavily ‘associated’ with doping and characters involved in doping other riders?

Maybe because, well, we’d have almost no management left? Probably.

That old line about ‘well they were all doing it’ is still left with the shreds of validity because there has never been an official counter to it. Why? Because the UCI facilitated it, the management encouraged it or even forced it in many cases, dopers bullied those who would not do it and drove so many of them from the sport. It wasn’t a case of ‘they had no choice’ – never. The had a choice. But those who were inclined to cheat, who lived to cheat, were allowed to not only be left alone but to actually thrive.

And those who did refused? Take it or leave it and be mocked as you walked away, that was the rule.

There are too many caveats in the new rules to make this whole thing effective in the way it could be, in the way it should be.

It is better but it is not enough, not by a long shot.

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Finally, some great news: MTN-Qhubeka are going to the Tour de France!

Yes, the African team received one of five wildcard invitations Wednesday from race organizer ASO and they are going to the big boys’ party in July. Amazing! What an achievement that is.

Shame their kit is the worst in the history of cycling but you can’t have it all I suppose. Don’t they know vertical black and white stripes have a slimming effect? What cyclist needs that? Sometimes there is a reason why no one ever tried something before…

Mtnkit2

But it’s not surprising that the team is thrilled (if not with the kit), after being founded with this very dream in mind, back in 2007.

General manager Brian Smith said:

“The team is different and the Qhubeka foundation makes a difference, that’s why I took the job on. When I stood in front of them at the team camp in South Africa, I told them that I’d help them reach their goal.

“The Tour de France invitation … It’s emotional. I shed tears realizing that this team is coming along. I’ve seen how Qhubeka makes a difference in the townships. This will make the world ask, ‘What is Qhubeka?’ And it will give so much brand awareness.”

Yeah, what is Qhubeka? As they say these days, google it.

Well done lads!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astana: that’s 3 strikes, get them out

Cycling can learn from baseball (and I don’t mean in finding new tricks for hiding needle marks)? No, how about we borrow the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ concept? Because if we did, we’d be free from the shambles that is Astana.

In case you missed the news, a third Astana rider has been popped for le dopage within 3 months of the first. llya Davidenok has returned a positive A sample from a test taken whilst a stagiaire riding the Tour de l’Avenir for Continental Team Astana this August. Young Davidenok’s drug of choice, it seems, is anabolic androgenic steroids.

These are the steroids of choice for bodybuilders, used to increase strength (5-20% as reflected in various studies) and increase lean muscle mass whilst cutting fat, but they do not appear to affect endurance performance. It would be possible of course, that Davedinok was on other drugs that would helped with his endurance, but that they had already passed through his system.

But that would be a very cynical view to take. Banish that thought.

So, three guys with the same outfit.

Nice work lads! I was originally impressed with the stupidity of the Iglinsky brothers for getting busted within a few weeks of each other (because, seriously, to get busted these days you have to be breaking the rules of micro-dosing, and with EPO having a half-life in the blood of just 5 hours, well, you get the picture), but now it seems that a low IQ, coupled with a propensity for cheating, are common on this squad.

Strike one, strike two, striiiiiiiiike three! Yer out!

Right? Um, well…. No.

Vincenzo ‘BrassNeck’ Nibali explained today why three positives on one team within three months of each other was not a problem at all, just in case you had the cheek to ever entertain that ridiculous idea.

“I don’t think there are big problems for Astana’s licence,” said the 29-year-old.

“The incidents that happened concern the Iglinskiy family, it’s a separate thing. As a team we can’t respond to what two brothers got up to. As for the last one (Davidenok), he’s not one of ours, he’s part of the Continental team and is not managed by us but by someone else.

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed and it’s also my responsibility to give more clarity on my part. But there is great serenity in the team in terms of my way of racing and my sporting seriousness in these years.”

So, all ok. Phew. Serenity now!

(Nibali in the back seat…)

And here I was thinking it was a proper disaster over on the weird blue and yellow bus. Apparently, it was never thus. As long as the two guys that get caught within days of each other are related, it has nothing to do with the team. Next we’ll be hearing that Davidenok is a second cousin, and all will be swept right under that bulging Kazakh carpet that’s already reminiscent of a boa that’s just swallowed a large wild pig.

Vino's yet to pay the fine for that hat

Vino’s yet to pay the fine for that hat

Imagine a football team or a rugby squad that had three positive tests in a month, two from first team players and another from the youth academy. Would the same bilge be dished out by a teammate – as is here by Nibali, whose disingenuous claptrap is doing him no favors at all – in that situation?

It might, but no one would buy it. But cycling is different you see. We are infected like a piece of rotting flesh by a culture that constantly and immediately apologizes for those responsible for this never-ending trail of cheating. And lo, if Astana wriggle free from this one who would really be too surprised by that?

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed,” said Nibali as he rubbed a dollop of metal polish into his gleaming neck, completely ignoring the fact that the in latest infractions in Astana’s grubby ‘past’ was uncovered just hours earlier.

Let’s hope he gets that myopia seen to soon or at this rate, he’ll be falling off his bike at every corner.

In all seriousness, if ever there was an instance of a rider having the right to demand to move off a team that has been shown to produce dopers, it is here and now.

Nibali won many admirers for his ride in the 2014 Tour de France, and there was a groundswell of opinion that he may have been doing it clean too. Or cleaner. So where does that go now? Why, it has to be asked, would he not distance himself from all this rather than spew out statements that a five year old could contradict within seconds?

Upon hearing the news that the UCI was thinking of reviewing Astana’s ProTour license, Alexander Vinokourov, former doper himself and the man behind the team jumped off the merry-go-round, spat his dummy out and proceeded to have a full blown tantrum right in the middle of the playground.

“I don’t see why the team should have to pay for the stupidity of two [er, three – cp.] riders. The rules are the same for everybody and the commission will decide if we are working correctly or not.”

Let’s hope so Vino, for it would make a change to see a cycling commission do the right thing.

He then spoke of his own suspension for blood doping, saying that he felt that he and his team were being punished still as a result of it.

“I paid for it with my two-year suspension. I can’t pay for it all my life,” he said.

Well, let’s add the doping past (that he never admitted to in any case), along with the fact that the UCI, on August 20th this year, charged him and Alexander Kolobnev with bribery after Vino allegedly paid Kolobnev 150,000 euro to throw the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the fact that he has now three doped riders on his current squad and, well, it’s all a little more serious than the 2007 positive.

“Maybe I was too naïve about the Kazakh riders on the team sometimes. It’s been a big lesson. When you’re a manager you have to be very strict with your riders,” he said, blissfully unaware of the ridiculousness of that statement.

How can a rider who once doped (and is from Kazakhstan!) be ‘naïve’ about riders from Kazahkstan on his own team? And was it just the Kazakh riders, Vino? Roman Kreuziger’s recent doping brouhaha (of which he was cleared by the Czech authorities but which the UCI and WADA will appeal) stems from his time at – you guessed it – Astana.

Quadruple KerPlunk.

dodging the dope tests - a nerve-wracking game of skill!

dodging the dope tests – a nerve-racking game of skill!

Here is the point that Vino is missing. He was a professional rider and a very successful one. Then he was shown to be doping and thrown out for two years. Then he came back and won the Olympic road race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Then he moved into management with Astana and became even more wildly popular in his home country, where, it is rumoured, he will one day run for president. And he’s loaded.

What in that story does not tell you that doping pays?

What in the Alexander Vinokourov StoryBook would suggest to a young rider that it is worth taking the chance? Two years out does not seem to big a price to pay for the riches, the wins, the success, the love. And even if you do get kicked out for good you can still find many a team willing to pay you top dollar for your ‘experience’.

The UCI it seems, might finally be ready to flex its muscles. Let’s hope they follow through, because this is a mess that needs cleaning up, and it is one that they are largely responsible for.

 

The Froome TUE Palava: Every side letting the fans down

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Many would have never heard of a TUE until last week, other than the one that brings you closer to FRI, but in the past seven days or so ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’ has entered the lexicon of cycling fans the world over.

Reaction to the news that Sky applied for and received an exemption for glucorticosteroids on Chris Froome’s behalf just before the Tour du Romandie back in late April has been mixed on cycling websites and forums.

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Women’s Cycling: doing it for the love, and one dick too many

When Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell won the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad classic she had every right to be delighted – and one reason not to be. She’d just cemented her name on the European scene with what was arguably the biggest win to date in her career, trouncing Megan Gruanier of Rabobank in the sprint to seal a brilliant victory.

The win brought her the spotlight her talent deserved and gained her a reputation for being a no nonsense rider who could mix it with the best in the sport. Surely, a win like that will have brought in a nice little pot in prize money? Well, not quite.

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Rogers’ Giro stage victory leaves me underwhelmed

This article originally appeared in PezCycling News.

giro_ditalia 2.3

Let’s cut to the chase. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers is a divisive figure and many would have watched the finale of yesterday’s Stage 11 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in a slightly perplexed state, unsure whether or not to cheer on the Australian’s undoubtedly impressive solo break that culminated in a handsome victory.

Much of the blame for that uncertainty lies in large measure with the UCI, given that of the three incidents involving Rogers that have led people, rightly or wrongly, to suspect that the rider in question may have knowingly doped in the past, the world’s governing body has been directly at fault in two.

The first of these ‘incidents’ came in May 2013, when the French sports newspaper L’Equipe published a list that had been leaked from the UCI that was laughingly labeled ‘secret’, which contained the name of 40 riders, ranking them according to the level of suspicion with regards to doping.

Rogers warranted a ‘7’ on the scale, which was defined him as having supplied values that provided “overwhelming evidence of some kind of doping, due to recurring anomalies, enormous variations in parameters, and even the identification of doping products or methods”.

Was there any action taken as a result of this list? None. Not by the UCI, nor the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), nor by any team or rider in the form of litigation against the UCI or L’Equipe.

Everyone kept mum, and it was business as usual the very next day. Had the list been leaked to try to ensure a clean Tour de France that year? Was it an attempt to name and shame riders into cleanliness? Why were no blood values ever released to support the claims made? Why did not one single rider ever speak about the list?

Too many questions, and absolutely zero answers. It was a screw up by the UCI of rather mammoth proportions, and it left the cycling public more confused than ever as to the state of their beloved sport whilst simultaneously guaranteeing a smudged question mark over any remarkable performance by any of the riders high up on the list.

As in yesterday, as with Rogers.

Next cock-up for the UCI where Rogers was concerned came when he tested positive for Clenbuterol on the 20th of October, 2013 at the Japan Cup, after having been in China previously. We all know about this little cherry-bomb of a drug and China and there’s little need to go over that too much.

However, it’s worth noting the UCI’s inconsistency in dealing with Clenbuterol cases. Alberto Contador and WADA dragged the sport through the mud for months before he was finally banned then cleared then banned then stripped of his titles won during the period when he was riding but shouldn’t have been and yes, it is all very confusing.

Rogers and other riders who returned positives after racing in China have been cleared whereas Chinese rider Fuy Li, formerly of Radioshack, was suspended for 2 years for a positive test for Clenbuterol.

In the case of Rogers, it seemed that there would be little to gain from taking minute amounts of the drug and most felt that he had indeed ingested contaminated meat. However, having said that, the UCI must decide what level of Clenbuterol deserves a positive ranking, and thereby apply the full sanctions to anyone over that limit.

The riders too must take full responsibility for the food they eat, and any rider with any trace of Clenbuterol below any limit set by the UCI should automatically be banded from racing for one year. This will send out a clear message that the ‘I didn’t know what I was taking’ defence is unsupportable in the current climate.

The fans deserve more. They deserve to know exactly what is going on and the UCI must establish a rule of consistency to bring back the trust of the public with regards to doping in our sport.

This needs to be done because I am sure that many of you out there were in a similar boat to myself, watching something on the road into Savona that left you uneasy and unsure of how to react. I also apologise for taking up perfectly good column space with 700 words on doping, but having read several articles on the stage this morning it was obvious that there was yet again a glossing over of what is the most pressing issue that our sport faces.

All this was brought about by a victory by a man on a bike – something that should be so uniting and beautiful, and yet, thanks to the incompetency that has gripped the UCI for far too long, was not much short of utterly confusing. Rogers though also shares some blame for the doubts, as he is yet another rider who worked with the infamous Dr. Ferrari in his career, between 2005 and 2006.

“It was a mistake,” he said at the time, hand-winding the gramophone upon which that old record was playing.

What else happened? Ah yes, Cadel Evans was again so comfortable that he may as well be racing in his slippers and wearing a smoking jacket. He will win this Giro, if his luck holds out, and if you can find a more deserving winner of a Grand Tour in the past few years, I’d like to know his name.

Evans is all gumption and very little style, but his aggressive tenacity is hugely impressive. All those years I thought he was the most boring man in the room, he was probably just the cleanest…

Rogers may well owe Evans and BMC a pint too for his win. Evans is not a sentimental man but it looked for all the world like he sent his teammate to the head of the race in those final 3km to slow down the chasers that fancied their chances of reeling Rogers in.

In the end though, the Australian veteran won, and, in the end, I’m still not sure what to make of it all.

 

 

 

the Giro needs a helping hand

logo-Giro

Last year’s Giro d’Italia started with a star-studded field, with the 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky rolling up to the start alongside the eventual winner, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.

Mark Cavendish took five stages and the Points Classification, becoming only the fifth rider to win the competition on all three Grand Tours. Wiggins limped out of the race after Stage 10, complaining of a chest infection, though anyone who witnessed any of his rides could see that he was suffering from more than just that.

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USA Cycling, Steve Johnson and the Empty Appeal

Steve Johnson of USAC

Steve Johnson of USAC

this article originally appeared on The Roar

America leads the way in many spheres, from obesity to arms stockpiles, jacked-up baseball players to serial killers, and it has just gone and set another benchmark that the (sporting) world should sit up and take notice of – or rather, its cycling federation has.

Or at least I thought it had. Then I dug deeper and found that, yet again, we have a situation of the wrong people trying to make the right noises whilst doing very little whatsoever.

Sound familiar? A little like the UCI? Well after all, this is a cycling federation we are talking about…

One of the great oversights in the struggles and tussles that have gone on within the sport of cycling in regards to doping over the previous few years has been that, in general, the people who care about the direction that the sport is headed in and want it to face up to its dark and depressing past have felt that their voices have been marginalized, ignored and, at times, forcibly silenced.

For years world cycling’s governing body and its presidents, and infamously its most high profile rider, either looked the other way when anyone voiced concerns or suspicions of banned drug usage or went out of their way to ridicule and bully the doubters and accusers to the point where they were left isolated from the sport they’d grown up with.

We all know the Betsy Andreu story, the wife of former pro Frankie Andreu whom Lance Armstrong called “a crazy bitch” (but not fat, you’ll remember) as he duked it out with her over her allegations that he used several banned substances.

Former World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke retired at the age of 29, explaining in her heartfelt letter that she was leaving a sport that was infected by cheats, stating that “I have been robbed by drug cheats.”

Graeme Obree, former world hour record holder, was forced to leave the first and only top-level European pro team he signed a contract with within weeks of joining them after he refused to dope, and when he made that news public he too was shunned by those in charge (the only people, in fact, with the power to have started to implement change in the drug culture of pro cycling).

These are three of the most famous examples of the marginalised, but for every Graeme, Betsy or Nicole there are hundreds if not thousands of clean riding individuals who have been left out in the wastelands by the cycling authorities’ refusal to allow their voices to be heard. Disenchanted, many, like Nicole, have walked away from competitive cycling.

And so I awoke to read that USA Cycling has just set a precedent that every cycling authority in the world can follow, if it has the gumption and the wherewithal to do so. And if they do and if the information gleaned is acted upon properly then perhaps, just perhaps, those who have borne witness to the dark practices that have for so long infested this sport will be heard, leading to getting more of the cheats out and the ‘good guys’ back in.

The letter, in full, reads:

Recently, UCI President Brian Cookson announced the formation of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) to investigate historic doping in cycling and allegations that the UCI has been involved in previous wrongdoing. As we all know, doping is not limited to the sport of cycling, but cycling is among the most aggressive sports in developing new levels of drug testing, and the new leadership of the UCI recognizes that we, as a sport, can only prepare for a better future by learning from the past.

The CIRC is a vital part of the process to bring integrity to every level of cycling, but this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to. Therefore, I am appealing to any USA Cycling members to come forward with any information that can assist the CIRC in its inquiry. This is your opportunity to take responsibility for our sport and help it become a sport in which we can have the utmost trust and confidence.

Below are important links to help you learn more about the role of the CIRC as well as an email address to contact the commission with any information you may have that will aid their investigation. I strongly encourage your full cooperation for the betterment of cycling.

As always, please feel free to contact us directly with any questions you may have about this process.

Sincerely,

Steve Johnson
CEO & President, USA Cycling

Bill Peterson
Chair, USA Cycling Board of Directors

We, the cycling public, should push for this exact same appeal to be made in Australia, the UK, Italy, France, indeed anywhere where competitive cycling exists.

But… then I remembered the name Steve Johnson, and started to check him out online. Then it started coming back to me. Johnson has ties to Thom Weisel, longtime Armstrong supporter, and to Armstrong himself, and to other shady characters who litter the American cycling landscape such as Jim Ochowicz.

Thom Wiesel with some dude in yellow on a bike that used to be loved and adored by millions, I forget his name...

Thom Wiesel with some dude in yellow on a bike 

I found this from the SF Weekly from September 2005, which succinctly sums it all up:

Johnson, the widely quoted USA Cycling official, appears to suffer from a serious conflict of interest between his organization’s role as a doping cop and his personal, institutional, and financial ties to the diversified business world surrounding Lance Armstrong. Financier Weisel is Armstrong’s longtime patron, employer, investment manager, and friend. Weisel is also Johnson’s longtime patron and friend and the founder of a nonprofit entity that employs him.

And then there’s this little fact: Johnson essentially works for Armstrong. In addition to serving as chief operating officer of USA Cycling, Johnson is executive director of the USA Cycling Development Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit organization founded by Weisel, who serves as president of the board of directors, according to the foundation’s most recently available IRS returns, filed in 2003. According to the foundation’s current Web site, the board of directors now includes Lance Armstrong.

“This whole thing isn’t a big deal for Americans,” Reuters quoted Johnson as saying of Armstrong’s doping troubles last week.

Reviewing the excellent Wheelman by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell on Red Kite Prayer, Padraig sums up my feeling on all this perfectly.

It is my hope that Thom Weisel, Steve Johnson and Jim Ochowicz receive the scrutiny they deserve. When I think of the harm done to cycling by the doping of the last 20 years, guys like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer seem like small potatoes compared to the disservice done the sport by Weisel, Johnson and Ochowicz, and yet there’s no discussion of banning them from the sport. Justice is rarely just, huh?”

And yet here is the same Johnson, sending out his appeal that aims to “bring integrity to every level of cycling”, yet reminds us, like a teacher scalding a spoilt child, that “this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to.”

‘If we want it to?’ It’s what we’ve wanted all along, Steve. I can think of one way that you personally could help us to claw back some of that ‘integrity’ in an instant, and it will involve you putting a few treasured momentos in a box.

Sometimes you just have to step back and applause the bare-faced cheek of these guys. Quite spectacular.

 

 

 

Dr. Conor McGrane on the UCI’s Independent Commission

by Dr. Conor McGrane

Brian Cookson seems to have delivered on his election promise to set up an independent commission to investigate the UCI’s actions during the doping crisis which included the Armstrong era. In Dick Marty, Peter Nicholson and Ulrich Haas he has appointed a heavy weight group of politicians, sports lawyers and even war crime investigators.

Interestingly the UCI is fully funding this commission, one of the reasons I believe the one proposed by Pat McQuaid fell was that he wanted WADA to part fund it.

There doesn’t seem to be any guarantee of amnesties or reduced bans for those who co-operate and I suspect we all have mixed feeling on this.

Over all though it looks a strong group with a wide ranging remit and a large amount of independence.  They aim to report within a year and we should all look forward to this although I suspect many involved with the sport will do so with trepidation.

In parallel to this, other processes are ongoing.

The MPCC (of whom I am very proud Cycling Ireland was the first national federation to join) continues to examine the practices of medics involved in the sport. Not only do they look at WADA restricted drugs but they also look at the workings of other drugs. Recently they asked member doctors to stop prescribing the painkiller tramadol in competition. This is something that Sky’s doctor has said they used to do but have now stopped in competition and indeed was something I personally prescribed but have now stopped as well.

v_roger-legeay-le-dopage-ca-suffit-1362253328

The honestly of Sky’s doctor on this issue was something I found refreshingly open and honest and something to be applauded.

It also opens Pandora’s Box on other drugs permitted under WADA but about which there are concerns.

Cortisone in its many forms remains a useful drug in treating inflammatory conditions but is also a drug which can be abused.

There is also a drug used to treat high blood pressure called telmisartan which has reputed fat burning properties. I have heard anecdotal evidence it is being used in pro cycling (and presumably other sports). It should have no place other than in treatment of high blood pressure and again is something which needs monitoring.

I suppose my point is again that outside of banned drugs there is a large grey area where drugs which have a useful role in treating illness are being used in healthy athletes with the aim of improving performance.

The fight against doping is not just about avoiding banned drugs but also about avoiding inappropriate and indeed unethical use of others.

If we want fair and open sport then we need doctors who are bound by ethics somewhat above and beyond that of simply avoiding the use of banned medications.

We have a long way to go but with the UCI making moves in the right direction, organisations like the MPCC bringing issues like the above out into the open and doctors in teams starting to speak out openly and honestly, I see genuine hope that we are starting to change the culture of pro cycling.

There is however no room at all for complacency…

Encouraging signs to now from Cookson’s presidency, though time will tell

By Shane Stokes

This week’s news that Brian Cookson will ensure that the UCI looks into the matter of a long-running appeal for compensation from the widow of a pro rider who died in a race in 2005 is encouraging, even if the final outcome is not yet certain.

The Italian Alessio Galletti competed for Lampre, Saeco and Domina Vacanze during his career, and was in the colours of the Naturino Team when he collapsed during the Subida al Naranco event. He suffered a heart attack and died, leaving behind his wife Consuelo, their nine-month-old baby Marcus and their-then unborn son Manuel.

The insurance company which had backed the team refused to pay out compensation, claiming that only accidents were covered and not death from natural causes. In 2007 the Italian riders’ association wrote to the UCI appealing for its help, pointing out that the governing body had signed a convention dealing with the insurance riders should have.

The UCI answered by saying its legal department was looking into the matter. However, according to the Italian Professional Cyclists Association (ACCPI), it then ignored all further correspondence and has done precisely nothing in the six years since.

After the ACCPI issued an open letter to the new UCI president Brian Cookson, he moved swiftly.

“Many thanks for your email and the information you have provided about the sad death of Alessio Galletti in 2005 and the impact on his family,” he replied the same day that letter was publicly released. “Professional riders are central to our wonderful sport of cycling so please be assured that I do take this very seriously indeed.

“I will make sure that the UCI investigates the details and we will get back to you with a more substantive response in due course.”

The final outcome to that will become apparent over time but the fast response and tone of his answer suggest that the UCI might finally be moving to resolve the matter. If so, it will add to other encouraging signs which have been seen since Cookson took over from former president Pat McQuaid at the end of September.

UCI President Brian Cookson

UCI President Brian Cookson

Others include the news that the Briton had a team of investigators on standby outside the UCI headquarters in Aigle and, minutes after his election, directed them to enter the building and to lock down computers, documents and any other information that could be of value in the planned Independent Commission investigation.

Reports suggested that a computer belonging to McQuaid was seized, although the Irishman contradicted this.

A second sign of decisive action was the decision to end the services of the UCI’s longtime lawyer, Philippe Verbiest, who had been part of both the McQuaid and earlier Hein Verbruggen presidencies. Also shown the door was UCI director general Christophe Hubschmid, who along with Verbiest had appeared to try to ensure McQuaid’s re-election.

Thirdly, Cookson came through on a number of election promises. At the end of October he published the salary he will draw from the UCI (340,000 Swiss Francs [approximately 275,000 euro/$379,000], and 110, 000 Swiss Francs less than he said McQuaid was receiving). He also confirmed an Independent Commission would be formed in consultation with WADA, with the purpose being a full investigation of the UCI, claims of wrongdoing by it and how it tackled doping in the sport.

At the same time, he and the UCI also pledged their support for the new women’s commission, headed by UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry, which has the goal of developing that area of the sport. That goal will include one hour highlights of the women’s World Cup races, to be distributed free of charge to broadcasters.

In addition to those measures, Cookson has confirmed that the UCI is working on setting up a new and apparently completely independent anti doping commission, thus separating the roles of policeman and promoter of the sport.

This measure is one which many feel is necessary for the credibility of cycling, and should lead to greater confidence in testing results.

So far so good, then. Cookson has been in office two months and has ticked off several of his pre-election promises.

Other goals such as reforming road cycling and developing a structure that increases long-term financial stability in the sport will take more time to tackle.

However Cookson told Bloomberg this month that he was opposed to the so-called World Series Cycling project which had been proposed by some as a way of introducing that financial stability.

He said he had concerns about the effects the planned new races could have on cycling’s traditional events; under the original proposal, some key races would be shortened, while other long-standing events could be reduced in status below those which would be introduced.

“The heritage of cycling is very important,” he was quoted as saying. “You could have, say, a race from Paris to Lyon but it wouldn’t be as exciting as Paris-Roubaix.”

It remains to be seen what measures will be adopted in the medium and long term.

There was however an area that some may have been curious about; while the World Series Cycling proposal had been waved away, Cookson said that the UCI was still speaking to a number of organisations, including BSkyB.

The company said in a statement that it “maintains an open mind about whether there’s an opportunity to extend its relationship with cycling as a broadcast partner.”

It is also a long term supporter of British Cycling and is the prime backer of Team Sky, two bodies which Cookson has had an association with. He was president of British Cycling from 1997 until earlier this year, and was also previously on the board of the company which owns Team Sky.

If BSkyB does indeed assume a bigger role in the sport, that could in theory lead to questions about potential conflicts of interest.

One question that fans would have is if the involvement of BSkyB could mean that cycling would become a sport visible via that company’s satellite channels only. If so, this would potentially reduce the exposure cycling would have, and could force those who are not Sky subscribers to pay out a large sum each year to watch the sport.

This is all conjecture, of course; it remains to be seen if BSkyB does indeed get involved in a bigger way, and how that would impact on viewing habits and requirements.

It is however a reminder that Cookson’s presidency will be judged on what happens months and years down the line, not in the first few weeks.

It’s impossible to predict the outcome, even if signs are encouraging thus far. McQuaid too had promising beginning to his presidency before things started to become complicated with the UCI-ProTour spat, various doping scandals and Lance Armstrong’s red-carpet return.

Time will tell if Cookson’s honeymoon period is akin to that of a couple that grows closer and stronger over time, or if it will be the initial rosy glow of a marriage which descents into something far less enduring.

The sport deserves the former, and so here’s hoping that’s how things play out.

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Shane Stokes is the editor of VeloNation.