I like cycling. All forms of it. I like road cycling and I like track cycling. I like mountain biking and I like cyclocross. I respect people who ride bicycles instead of cars when they can (and it has nothing to do with global warming hysteria; in fact, one day I’ll write about a theory I developed while drinking beer one afternoon which proposes that “The more hysteric you are about global warming, the more petrol you burn as fuel” or the TMHYAAGWTMPYBAF theory) and I like people who build bicycle frames from metal tubes.
Liking bicycles so much, you would expect I appreciate bike races on all terrains and in all forms. And I do. Except, being a road cyclist myself, I find professional road racing less and less attractive, both to watch and to recognise as a sport worthy to be called a sport in the commonly accepted sense of the word.
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Watching modern Tour de France isn’t much more exciting than watching long distance running. If it’s a flat stage, the breakaway will go from the gun and no one will care about it for 3-4 hours. The cameras will then switch between showing a few guys riding tempo and the rolling peloton 10-15 minutes behind where absolutely nothing happens. You will see a lot of footage from a helicopter of the beautiful French countryside and hear Paul Sherwin tell you stories about every church and castle he spots on the ground (does he really know all this stuff or prints it off the Internet before each stage?). With 20km to go, the domestiques will be told to start the chase and guided by their managers from the team car via radio pieces, will catch the breakaway 1km away from the line which is where the real race starts and will be finished one minute later. Exciting? I don’t think so. And if you live in Australia, you’ll have to wait until 2am to watch 30 seconds of racing. At least in long distance running, you can watch people fight each other from start to finish and no one will let you go because your sponsors want to see their logo on TV.
Mountain stages used to be a battle field of professional road racing. Not anymore. The same script is played out in the mountains as is played on flat stages. Once the customary early breakaway goes, the mountain passes that used be to feared by every professional rider in the peloton are ridden at a steady pace that doesn’t bother too many riders and even some sprinters are comfortable with. You patiently wait until the last climb hoping to see the slaughter to begin as soon as the climb starts only to be fooled once again. No one’s going to do anything. Yes, they will ride hard and everyone except a few will be dropped but you’re not going to see a fight road racing used to be so famous for. Occasionally, one or two of them will accelerate as if shot from a catapult only a few seconds later to turn their heads back as if asking, “Pardon me but did I hurt anyone?”
Why would anybody want to watch this sort of stuff is a mystery unless you’re like me and are hoping against all odds to witness something like a stage to Morzine-Avoriaz in 2006 when Floyd Landis pulled the greatest escape in the history of cycling and won the Tour. Of course he failed a dope test later and was stripped of his win but we didn’t know that when we were watching The Escape, did we? And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose jaw remained dropped the entire time Landis was on the run that day with Oscar Pereiro equally shocked seeing the yellow jersey flying away from him.
And this brings me to another Tour de France winner who might turn out not to be a winner at all, or at least not a winner of the Tour’s 2010 edition, Alberto Contador.
At this point you may be thinking I’m about to start a long lecture about how clenbuterol, a banned substance Contador was busted with, might have ended up in his body. I won’t and I hope you’ll understand why very soon even though I still have a few words to say about this so called “case”. As I said above, professional cycling can’t be taken seriously anymore as a sport when a circus like this one we’re all witnessing now is going on.
Let me briefly recall the situation here for clarity’s sake.
Alberto Contador, during 2010 Tour de France, turns up a positive test for a banned substance, clenbuterol. UCI keeps this under the carpet (perhaps even literally) for more than a month and only makes an announcement when a German journalist learns independently about it and contacts the UCI before going public with this information. Contador then gets temporarily suspended until his national federation decides what to do with him.
Now, under the current anti-doping code, once the A sample is found to be positive for a banned substance and then confirmed by the B sample, the athlete is pronounced guilty of a doping violation.
Unlike the court of law, the anti-doping code does not seek to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused. A single positive sample, confirmed by another, is the de facto verdict of guilt. Nothing else is required.
This is a very important, key concept missed by so many today who discuss this case on cycling forums, blogs and in news articles. Once the positive result of a doping test is established, the burden of proof shifts to the athlete to prove, under the anti-doping code provisions, his innocence from this point on. WADA doesn’t have to do anything else, in this particular case and under its own code, they’ve already done their job, there’s nothing else to prove.
Contador, on the other hand, who claims traces of clenbuterol found in his sample came from a steak he ate the night before the test, has to provide the evidence of this claim. This, in my opinion, is an impossible task.
If I were on the CAS panel, there would only be one question I would have liked to asked Contador:
– How do you know clenbuterol came from the steak?
Because, you see, there’s no steak to examine. He ate it. He needs the steak if he wants to avoid anti-doping sanctions because, under section 10.5.1 we find, quote:
If an Athlete establishes in an individual case that he or she bears No Fault or Negligence, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated … the Athlete must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system in order to have the period of Ineligibility eliminated…
Please note two very important points here:
- an athlete must establish “No Fault or Negligence”, and, once this is established,
- an athlete must also establish “how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system.”
How can Contador satisfy these 2 requirements without the steak he ate, or at least the source of the steak (e.g. a farmer who uses clenbuterol with his cattle) I don’t know. Without this, he simply can’t know where the substance came from.
Note also the code, if you want to read it, nowhere states WADA has to prove anything at all except conduct the testing under the established guidelines. It’s not their job to provide evidence in order to contradict or undermine Contador’s claims about how clenbuterol entered his system. They’ve already established his guilt. It is Contador now who has to prove he is not guilty. The CAS’s job then is to examine the evidence Contador presents and decide if it proves clenbuterol came from where he says it did.
This is why I find this so called “case” a circus with WADA and UCI attempting to establish clenbuterol presence in Contador’s sample was due to an earlier blood transfusion or some other “maybe”, “if” or “probably”. Why are they doing this? They don’t understand their own anti-doping code? Of course they do. Maybe there’s no trust in the anti-doping system? Maybe they feel a positive doping test is not enough to sanction as big a star as Contador?
Whatever it is, the show goes on and it’s becoming more grotesque every year.
What do you think?