RAGE: Is Cycling Losing Its Focus? (Part 1)
In CyclingRevealed's ‘First Impressions' summary of the final stage of Tour 2006 we talked of the rage in Floyd Landis' eyes at the end of his now (in)famous great escape on Stage 17. We saw that rage bubbling up again after he finished his Tour winning time trial on Stage 19. Unfortunately Floyd's performances are now very much in question after failing a drug test taken after his Stage 17 win. Now we are faced with the prospect of an ugly and long drawn out legal battle as Floyd tries to prove his innocence. The Landis case has created great rage within our sport and it would seem that collectively we are losing our focus.
Here at CyclingRevealed we were greatly depressed by the news of Floyd's drug test result. It seemed that having followed what we all believed was a clean Tour we were once again deceived. Why should we continue following a sport that is digging itself deeper and deeper into the muck?
From our own reader's letters and after surfing other cycling web sites it is clear that tolerance across cycling's fan base is turning to rage. No longer do people want to spend time reading long clinical and legal descriptions related to cycling drug cases. No longer do people want to tolerate the less than professional rantings of WADA and the UCI. Everywhere fans are saying that they are turning all of this off and will no longer follow the sport.
Yet through all of this one senses that emotions fired up in the heat of the moment will soften with time. In our hearts we love our sport and do not want it to be destroyed by cheats, lawyers, politicians and the sensationalizing media.
One can only imagine the atmosphere at Phonak's team headquarters right now. They, more than any other Pro-Tour team, have been hit with a string of high profile drug cases. On August 15 th Andy Rihs announced that the Phonak team would not continue beyond the end of the 2006 season and that iShares (the planned successor) will not take over sponsorship for 2007. Rihs stated that after years of being dogged by drug scandals he had “simply given up”! The team riders are now free to search elsewhere and cycling has lost a Pro Tour team and (formerly) enthusiastic sponsor for good.
When the news of ‘Operacion Puerto ' broke one of the first names to be linked to the case was the Liberty Seguros team manager Manalo Sáiz. Shortly thereafter five of his riders were also implicated. Liberty Seguros promptly shut down their $8 million sponsorship of the team.
In Spain 13 riders from the Communidad Valenciana team were linked to ‘Operacion Puerto '. The Valencian government, which sponsors the team, withdrew its support and the team now looks as though it too will disappear.
Days before the 2006 Tour was due to start the top five riders from the 2005 Tour were all linked to ‘Operacion Puerto '. Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich both suddenly fell from grace and were prevented from riding the Tour. Basso is now experiencing the wrath of his team manager, Bjarne Riis. Ullrich was fired from his team.
We can understand why the media latches on to what they consider ‘shocking' news. Sensational headlines and sound bites that can easily distort a story are good sellers. It's all about them making money. This is a reality of our modern society and there is not much that can be done about it except demanding the release of such news with genuine, substantiated facts.
What is appalling though is when our own cycling community starts trashing the sport and individuals without any evidence. Normally we enjoy the work of cycling historian Les Woodland but in an article he published on the web this month entitled ‘The Clown Prince of Cycling ' he all but trashed Rudi Altig. The big German sprinter/roadman was a leading rider during the 1960's and spent much time riding for Jacques Anquetil's team. Unfortunately Woodland succumbed to the current fashion of bad mouthing a rider without any evidence to support the accusations. By inference Woodland not only put a blot on Altig's character but he also smeared an entire generation with the same brush.
Such journalism not only destroys the legacy of famous riders but also erodes the history and legacy of cycle racing as a whole. Why anyone who supposedly supports cycling would do that is a vexing question.
At CyclingRevealed we do not condone sticking our head in the sand but rather writing only what is believed to be hard facts.
Rage without Proof
The most disturbing thing about the whole mess that cycling faces is that sponsors and fans are being duped by media sensationalism and political infighting between the leaders of WADA and the UCI. Test results are apparently routinely leaked with only partial facts. Worse still, people are accused by association rather than conclusive evidence.
Two of the most disturbing and disgusting situations to emerge from the ‘Operacion Puerto ' affair is that the five accused Liberty Seguros (Astana) riders and the 13 accused Communidad Valencian riders have all been cleared by the Spanish police. This news barely made a ripple in the media who continue to focus on unsubstantiated accusations facing the likes of Basso, Ullrich and Landis.
Nobody seems concerned that two teams have been decimated by what have now turned out to be unfounded accusations against 18 riders. Their sponsors have been lost for good and countless others are turning their backs on the sport. Also nobody is talking about the shock wave effect that the accusations created beyond the two teams. Most notably the remnants of the Liberty Seguros (now Astana) team did not have enough riders left to participate in the Tour. Consequently a genuine GC contender like Alex Vinokourov was denied his chance to compete (as were his teammates and those other riders initially accused).
With the Spanish courts withdrawing rider names from the ‘Operacion Puerto ' dossier we can only wonder if Basso and Ullrich have also been wrongly accused.
Like Caesar reigning supreme at the gladiatorial games, the UCI and WADA proffer their symbolic thumbs up or thumbs down to determine the fate of athletes caught up in their web. The legal profession is having a field day launching into the uncontrolled arrogance displayed by both WADA and the UCI. Both organizations have extensive rules and regulations related to the issue of drugs. However it appears that everyone is duty bound to abide by them except for WADA and the UCI.
When the UCI announced that an unidentified rider had tested positive at the Tour the information was based on the results of an ‘A' sample and before the ‘B' sample had been tested. Releasing information about ‘A' sample results is in clear violation of the UCI's own rules that determine that such information shall be kept confidential until the ‘B' sample results are available. Even worse the UCI made public that the Landis ‘A' sample tested positive for an exogenous source before the ‘B' sample had been tested.
UCI President Pat McQuaid stated that because the UCI had been harshly criticized for not coming clean quickly with important riders in the past they had decided on an immediate release of the Landis sample findings. With this action McQuaid admitted to violating the UCI's own rules and as a result violated Landis' right to due processes.
hen it comes to the now infamous French laboratory that tested the Tour riders samples there are more very disturbing legal issues. The samples at the lab are supposed to be anonymous and are only identified by a code number. However it seems that the lab does know who the samples belong to and their very close links with the newspaper L'Equipe provides the channel to ‘leak' their findings. If it is proven that the lab does in fact know the origin of their test samples then not only Landis, but other accused athletes will have a golden legal opportunity to defend themselves.
RAGE Part 2