Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My very own bike racing RANT

USA Today's Sal Ruibal is a great supporter and reporter of cycling and I always enjoy reading his articles. He's a very fair reporter and knows how to get a scoop. Today he's got some information on the Tour of California's new drug testing protocols. Give it a read.

(note: rant about to start...)

I'd heard through the grapevine last week about some of this information. I wasn't happy about it then and I'm not that happy about it now. Now before you run off and say that I want to stick our heads in the sand and have less testing that's not it. I have no problems with the extensive testing they are going to be doing in Cali this year. Actually, I stand up and applaud it. Way to go!

They are actually going to have testing before the race to get a norm reading, if you will. If that varies during the race...well...chances are you've been a bad boy. I'm all for that as long as normal bodily production is taken into account. I'm not a doctor so I have no idea if that last sentence is feasible or not, but just wanted to put it out there.

As they go through the race, each day's winner will be tested and the overall leader will also be tested (I think that's what they do in Le Tour, too). In addition, three random riders will be tested very single day. Bravo! Way to go Tour of California! Much better than last year's plan.

Now comes the part I, personally, am not happy about. I don't want to paraphrase, so I'll use Sal's words here because he's seen the plan and I haven't.

Teams have agreed to guarantee that all members, including coaches, trainers and support staff, are clear of any open doping investigations. The team's roster of riders will be submitted to USA Cycling (the national governing organization) and UCI to confirm that there are no "open investigations."

Sal goes on to write...
That exclusion rule has some teams worried. USADA guidelines say a rider can only be suspended if an offense is established. But without a clear definition of "open investigations" at the Tour of California, teams are concerned that overzealous officials could restrict riders without due legal process.

I bolded that last bit because it is exactly what concerns me, too. It concerned me last week when I heard it because the last I checked we were in the United States where, in theory, you are innocent until proven guilty. This last bit does not allow for that. It shuns people that could be truly innocent and doesn't allow them to make a living doing their job.

Yes, more times than not, it seems like in the last couple of years if you are accused of doping you've done it. BUT, there are a few times that this hasn't been the case at all. Riders have been cleared. Whether you choose to believe them or not is a personal choice, but some riders have been cleared. So, under this new rule in Cali, if you are under suspicion you are, in their mind, guilty and they do not want you at their race. Wow. Judge & Jury out there in Cali without knowing any facts.

I absolutely, without question think that drugs do not have any place in sport. I absolutely, without question think that there needs to be better, more consistent systems. I absolutely believe that those who have gone through the system and been proven to cheat should be suspended and not be able to ride in sanctioned races. I absolutely applaud Tour of California for most of their stepped up efforts in the fight against performance enhancing drugs.

However, I do not condone making potentially innocent men sit on the side lines because someone accused them of something. Maybe there is basis to that accusation, maybe not. It's also a very grey area. What constitutes a legitimate allegation being investigated by the "authorities"? Oy...this could be very messy.

I think that the whole sport has been so damaged recently and that races and officials need to find more consistency in their testing and rules. I don't think that keeping potentially innocent men out of competition is the way to do it. We saw that in Le Tour in 2006 - whole teams were kept out of Le Tour and then a few weeks later, "oops, we made a mistake". Seriously? Who compensates them for the wages lost and the sponsors' dollars lost?

Yes, sponsors are walking away from pro cycling because of the doping. But, let's face it, there have been false accusations. So now we are in the situation where a sponsor believes in their riders, but someone says they aren't clean so they are investigated and during that investigation races start excluding them from riding. The sponsor loses chances to promote their brand and their team during that time. Low and behold, that rider is cleared a few weeks or months later. The rider isn't the only one who loses out.

If this becomes the norm at races, you may see additional sponsors walking away.

We are in the United States, people. Innocent until proven guilty.

End of rant...


Kk said...

Brava Donna! Rant justified. Drugs bad. Random testing good. Benched by accusation very, very BAD. Cali crazy? Oh Cali my Cali, caution on the downhill, sand in the hairpin!

jmgorman said...

Donna, I understand your unhappiness with the policy, but it seems like it is pretty common practice in a number of professions. If a cop shoots someone - even if it appears to be completely justified, the officer is generally placed on administrative leave until an internal investigation sorts it out. Lots of hospitals do the very same thing with the relevant staff when there is an unexpected death. These riders have no legal rights to ride - the races and racing organisations make the rules. The key is that everyone is held accountable to the same rules and that they are applied without prejudice.

That being said, I think the passport system is going to produce a lot of false-positives and undue scrutiny until they get it figured out. For all of the testing that has been done, there still appears to be a tremendous amount of variation in the body's response to the stresses of riding at an elite level.

Donna T. said...

jm - thanks for the eloquent comments! Interestingly, you mention that the riders have no legal rights to ride....but they do have licenses given by the federations, not the individual races. It's a slippery slope no matter which way you slice the pie.

YES, you said much more clearly what I was trying to muddle through in the post when you say, "there still appears to be a tremendous amount of variation in the body's response to the stresses of riding at an elite level". I agree! I wonder how they are going to deal with that.

I'm the first to say that I hate when people put an idea or program down and don't offer a solution, which is exactly what I'm doing. So, I do apologize for that. But, I do strongly believe in innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.

I think this is going to be, yet again, a very interesting season with much debating of the issues!

Anonymous said...

until someone has the balls to look for money connections between sponsors (hello big pharma), organizers (in bed with big pharma), sanctioning bodies (on payroll of sponsors), we're in for more lies and make-m-up-as-u-go rules. thats why for me, the best racing in america is not toc, tog or any uci affiliated event - give me great divide, stuporbowl, monstertrack or any other grassroots blood and guts mashfest any day.