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Editor’s note: VeloNews contributor Steve Maxwell and his TheOuterLine.com partner Joe Harris sought out Professors Paul Dimeo of the University of Stirling in Scotland and Verner Møller of Aarhus University in Denmark to pen an opinion piece about the state of anti-doping efforts in the sport of pro cycling. The following is an excerpt of their column.
A note from The Outer Line: Although most participants in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of pro cycling and the mainstream cycling press may not be too aware of it, there is actually an ongoing and robust discussion in academic circles regarding the effects of anti-doping regulations on elite sports. Indeed, there is a significant community of scholarly practitioners around the world who are actively researching and debating the longer-term effects of anti-doping programs, conducting regular global conferences on the topic, and writing interesting and provocative papers and books.
Two of the primary observers and critics of existing anti-doping approaches are Professors Paul Dimeo of the University of Stirling in Scotland and Verner Møller of Aarhus University in Denmark. This duo has produced a number of recent papers essentially arguing that in the wake of the systematic doping scandals of the past, a sweeping anti-doping hysteria has created what economists refer to as “moral panic” — a perceived crisis which threatens the existing social order. Worried that these scandals could effectively destroy the sport, its leaders have often and impulsively addressed the doping problem in zealous, arbitrary and even irrational ways. Møller and Dimeo argue that differing objectives and an uncoordinated alliance between WADA, national anti-doping agencies, law enforcement authorities, sports organizers, and the media has led to an often confusing and disastrous situation — resulting in an array of unintended consequences, inconsistent and inequitable application of the rules, and a situation where anti-doping efforts may actually be doing more harm than good.
This perspective may seem improbable or dubious to some. And it is a somewhat politically perilous position to take in today’s environment of moral outrage about past doping practices; it is often much easier today for previously fawning fans or journalists to “pile on” to Lance Armstrong and his compatriots, than it is to step back and objectively look at the underlying situation and current approaches. But Møller and Dimeo’s thesis is interesting and worthy of closer examination. In their recent paper “Anti-Doping: The End of Sport” they review the era of the Festina and Puerto scandals, and make the argument that anti-doping approaches must be more rational, consistent and compatible in order to protect the competitive spirit of sports. The Outer Line has recently had an extended discussion with Professor Dimeo, and he has worked with Professor Møller to provide the following brief summary of their primary ideas and findings.
Many people within pro cycling are now saying that the war on drugs in cycling appears to be won; the conventional wisdom is increasingly that “things have turned the corner.” It appears that we’ve had a clean winner of the Tour de France for the last four consecutive years. There have been no major new drug busts or cheating scandals for several years. It no longer appears possible to dope with impunity, as so many riders did a decade ago. Today’s riders say that omerta is an anachronism, and that they don’t face the same no-win decisions that their elders did a decade or two ago. And all stakeholders within cycling are certainly eager to promote this new vision of a cleaner sport — to help attract new sponsors, larger audiences, and more television coverage.
One hopes that we have indeed turned the corner, and that the various international and national anti-doping organizations — WADA, USADA, UKAD, and so on — formed over the last two decades have finally begun to have a lasting impact on addressing this problem in cycling, as well as in other professional and Olympic sports. But we would argue that the agencies involved with anti-doping and the approaches employed to date to solve the problem are so overlapping and complex, so inconsistently utilized, and so inequitably applied that, in effect, the cure may be worse than the disease. We argue that anti-doping has gone too far and now poses more of a threat to the spirit of athletic competition than a solution.
We highlight a number of well-known examples in pro cycling to illustrate this argument:
- Although many might point to the USADA Reasoned Decision and the “Armstrong affair” as the death knell of the modern doping era, this case itself actually illustrates many of the problems with current anti-doping approaches. We are by no means Armstrong apologists, but we must question the inconsistencies of holding one person (or a few people) responsible for the sins of a whole generation, and more importantly, what this kind of witch hunt implies for the overall nature of competitive sports. Why have Armstrong’s Tour de France victories been revoked, while those of other well-known dopers’ victories remain intact? How far down the list of top finishers during the Armstrong years does one have to go to find a certifiably clean rider? It is well known by now that most of the runners-up during those years also had undeniable doping connections. Why has this punishment and sense of moral outrage not extended back to Anquetil, or to Merckx — who also tested positive for drugs three times in his career? We do not condone doping, but we believe that it basically spells the end of competitive sport if we insist on erasing victories when, at any point in the future, it may be found out that the winner was cheating. Cheating has always been part and parcel of sport, and we have to find a way to live with it and try to moderate it in order to maintain any competitive structure for elite sport at all.
- There are numerous situations where this tendency toward anti-doping hysteria has effectively overwhelmed the rules of the sport. Bad decisions have been made — based not upon logic or the regulations of the sport, but upon presumptions, concerns about public image, or perceived credibility issues. A prime example is the forced withdrawal of leading riders — including Basso and Ullrich — from the 2006 Tour de France. This decision was made on the basis of their suspected, but not proven, involvement with Operation Puerto. This deprived fans and sponsors of the best performing riders. Moreover, it undermined one of the essential features of sport — that top races should be a competition of the best talent.
- Another example of perception concerns outweighing the actual rules of the game is the case of Tom Boonen, excluded from the 2008 race due to an out-of-competition positive test for cocaine. This should not have led to a ban because — whatever one’s opinions about recreational drug use — cocaine is only banned within the competition timeframe. These decisions were taken based upon public perception and image concerns — not the rules of the sport.
- Indeed, it often seems that pro cycling is transforming from a sports competition into a credibility contest. Consider the expulsion of Michael Rasmussen from the 2007 Tour. His dismissal, as well as the exclusions in 2006, was not conducted in the spirit of fairness, and none of these riders, at the time of the event, had actually been caught breaking any rules. Suspicion was apparently preferred to proof by the anti-doping agencies and race organizers, who too often seem willing to bend the rules on a whim.
- Another example where cycling authorities followed their preferences rather than the rulebook was the 2010 case of Alberto Contador’s positive clenbuterol test. This may also be a case where the capabilities of rapidly advancing analytical technology got ahead of both the rules of the sport and general logic. The level of clenbuterol found in Contador’s blood was 400 times less than the published WADA minimum standards. Nonetheless, his victory was revoked, and perhaps worse, it took two years just for a decision to be made. Contador’s disqualification made Andy Schleck the winner — and Schleck’s reaction is illustrative of the fundamental threat that the current approach portends. “I battled with Contador in that race, and I lost,” he said. “My goal is to win the Tour de France in a sportive way, being the best of all competitors, not in court.”
We cite these examples because they controvert the important sporting dimensions of tradition and progression. We should be able to refer to the record books to see who has won, and we should be able to check the improvement in performance times. We need, fundamentally, to know for certain that the athlete who wins a race is actually indeed the winner of that race. Yet, the decision to identify certain known dopers and rewrite the history books undermines these dimensions of sport. The consequence is a lack of certainty as to who won anything. The fact that the 1999-2005 Tour de France titles have not been reallocated is a farce. However, any detailed analysis of the top ten finishers in each of those years would show how hard it would be to find a definitively clean rider to award the title to — so reassigning the victories would also be a farce. This simply demonstrates how detrimental current anti-doping practices have been to the Tour de France, and it is further underlined by the blatant inconsistencies in the administration of the winners list. Bjarne Riis is still the 1996 winner, despite admitting to doping, but the UCI apparently thinks this goes back too far in time. Armstrong’s 1999 victory has been eradicated but Marco Pantani has kept the 1998 title, won partly because of the Festina scandal, even though he too was a known doper. There are numerous other and well-known examples of this sort of directionless administration of the rules.
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LONDON (AFP) — Former Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) were named to the Great Britain team for the world road championships in Ponferrada, Spain.
But while Froome, who recently came second in the Vuelta a España behind Alberto Contador, will spearhead a nine-man team in the men’s road race, Wiggins will only feature in the time trial.
Froome, the 2013 Tour de France winner, is joined on the road race squad by Geraint Thomas (Sky), Pete Kennaugh (Sky), and David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), who is due to retire at the end of the season.
British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton said, “I’m pleased with the teams we’ve selected for the UCI road world championships. Across the board, we have some real podium contenders.
“For the men’s road race, Chris proved he’s in good shape by coming second at the Vuelta and I’m pleased David Millar will be leading the team in his last outing in Great Britain kit.”
The lineup for the men’s road race in Ponferrada on September 28, the final day of the competition, is completed by Steve Cummings (BMC), Luke Rowe (Sky), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), and Ben Swift (Sky).
Wiggins, who won the Tour de France in 2012 before claiming the time trial gold medal at the London Olympics, will compete in the September 24 race against the clock, alongside Alex Dowsett.
Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) leads the six-strong women’s squad, which also includes two-time junior world champion Lucy Garner (Argos-Shimano) but does not feature a competitor for the time trial.
Great Britain team for the road world championships in Ponferrada, Spain
Men’s elite road race: Steve Cummings, Chris Froome, Pete Kennaugh, David Millar, Luke Rowe, Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, Simon Yates
Men’s elite time trial: Alex Dowsett, Bradley Wiggins
Women’s elite road race: Lizzie Armitstead, Alice Barnes, Hannah Barnes, Anna Christian, Lucy Garner, Annie Last
BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet won the Grand Prix de Wallonie, riding out of a select breakaway group and winning the final sprint with the peloton breathing down his neck.
“It’s a beautiful place; it’s one of the most beautiful places in Wallonia,” said Van Avermaet. It’s a very hard race, especially toward the end where it comes to the Citadelle. I just wanted to deliver [for my team].”
Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol), Van Avermaet, and defending champion Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) were out front with three kilometers left.
The lead group of four hit the base of the final climb, the Citadelle de Namur, and Bakelants attacked.
Vanendert gave chase and welded the group back together, bringing along Van Avermaet. Schleck was tacked onto the back of the group.
The chasing peloton was close behind in the final sinuous kilometers of the climb to the castle, with Tinkoff-Saxo driving the pace.
With 1.7km left, Bakelants went again, and Van Avermaet again closed the gap.
Vanendert countered with 1.4km left, as the peloton appeared to make the catch, but the Lotto-Belisol rider’s effort stretched the gap again.
With one kilometer left, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) leapt from the field to make an attack of his own.
However, Van Avermaet was ready, countering the move, and leading out sprint. None of the other contenders could overtake the Belgian in the final sinuous meters of racing, and he rolled across the line victorious.
Gallopin finished second, and Bakelants was third.
“I recovered perfectly toward the end,” said the winner. “We had a good atmosphere with the [breakaway] quartet. It worked out very well for me.”
Looking ahead to world championships in Spain, Van Avermaet said, ” [It is] good timing of course, I was ready in North America, that was good for my confidence and so is this ahead of the world championships.”
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MADRID (AFP) — Fresh off finishing third at the Vuelta a España, Alejandro Valverde will lead Spain’s quest for glory on home soil at the world road championships in Ponferrada.
The 34-year-old, who penned a new three-year deal with Movistar on Tuesday, will line up alongside Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez, who finished fourth in the Vuelta, for the road race on September 28.
Spanish coach Javier Minguez has also selected Jonathan Castroviejo, Imanol Erviti, Ion Izagirre, Jesús Herrada, Dani Moreno, Luis León Sánchez, and Dani Navarro for the 254.8km road race, which encompasses 14 laps of a hilly 18.2km course.
Castroviejo and Markel Irizar have been selected for the 47.1km individual time trial on September 24.
The post Valverde spearheads Spain’s world championships squad appeared first on VeloNews.com.
MILAN (VN) — Italy’s world championships team is taking shape this week at a trio of one-day races, including Wednesday’s Coppa Agostoni. Head director Davide Cassani is guiding a national team and following the races daily to have a close inspection of his possible riders, 11 of whom he will name Thursday.
“Vincenzo Nibali was very good and showed good condition after a long stop. He showed that he is ready and convinced [of] his chances,” Cassani told Tutto Bici website. “Filippo Pozzato gave an important signal and took a strong second place behind Elia Viviani.”
Viviani won yesterday’s Coppa Bernocchi with the help of Cannondale teammate and worlds favorite Peter Sagan. The Italian is rumored to be joining team Sky in 2015, but he will not join the national team for the worlds in Ponferrada, Spain, September 28, because he failed to show strongly earlier in the year with no wins in the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.
Cassani will also be unable to rely on Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who has faded since winning a Tour de France stage in Nancy this July. Instead, Pozzato and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) could lead Italy in the case of a possible, and likely, sprint into Ponferrada.
This year’s 254.8 kilometer course features 14 18.2-kilometer circuits, each with two small climbs and a five-kilometer descent to the finish line.
Pozzato has had a difficult season and after missing the Tour de France, said that he considered retiring. With second place yesterday, and a good Eneco Tour earlier this August, he appears to be on track for the Italian team. He looks skinnier than ever and hungrier than ever.
“Cassani was clear with what he wanted, a signal,” Pozzato said. “I’m good and I’ll give my best if I race the worlds.”
If the worlds turns into one of attacks and counter-attacks, which Italy wants, then Cassani said that he would support Nibali and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar). Nibali placed second in 2012 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and third in Milano-Sanremo. He showed yesterday that he is capable, despite a 50-day stop since winning the Tour de France.
“I wanted to try something,” Nibali said, who attacked with four kilometers remaining Tuesday. “I’ll try again in Tre Valli, which suits me better.”
“Nibali impressed me,” Cassani added. “I’ll wait for more from both him and Pozzato in Tre Valli, the most important race of these three and the one that’s nearest to the worlds on September 28.”
Nibali, Visconti, Pozzato, Nizzolo … Cassani must still come up with five other cyclists to wear the blue national jersey. Out of the 16 he named already, he will decide Thursday which 11 will receive airplane tickets to Spain. The final nine will be decided in Ponferrada in the days before the race.
Davide Formolo (Cannondale) is racing only in his first year, but in Canada he was the first to respond to Gerrans’ attacks. Cassani could take the 21-year-old to support Nibali and Visconti’s attacking plan — and to learn. Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Alessandro Vanotti (Astana), and Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing) could race as the Squadra Azzurra’s workhorses, and Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) could captain the team in Spain, where, unlike WorldTour races, the UCI does not allow two-way radios.
Cassani, however, will confirm his roster Thursday.