Friday, July 27, 2007

You Asked For It

So...I guess this has been a crazy Tour. And considering that I have a number of unanswered emails in my Inbox from friends and family asking me "WTF?", I figured this may be a good opportunity to maintain my well-earned reputation of spotty correspondence and get some thoughts out there in a completely public and impersonal forum. Sorry kids but it's all about efficiency right now.

While it’s impossible to cover everything, here are a few of my thoughts on the proceedings:

First of all, doping is something that I have unfortunately grown accustomed to. I obviously don’t like it, but I realize that cheating is a function of human nature and there will likely never be a truly “pure” sport when there is this much coin involved. It goes on in every walk of life…cycling is just under the microscope more often.

Some newer issues for me involve the way this whole “cleansing process” is being handled. By the UCI and ASO, WADA, the teams, the media and even the riders themselves.

For example, when you kick out the leader of the biggest race in the world based on the Italian TV testimony of a former racer who says he saw him in the Dolomites when he should have been in Mexico…you pretty much tell everyone that they are fair game to be taken down by speculation. That is SCARY. With the money at stake for these Pros, the prospect of shady leaks and hearsay being a determining factor in who is and who is not allowed to race (to earn a living) is very real. That’s horrifying.

Imagine if Baseball or Football wouldn’t let people play if ANYONE within shouting distance of a journalist said that so-and-so was on the juice or cheating? Regardless of hard proof. There wouldn’t be a game played in either league. FOR THE LAST FIFTY YEARS!!!! And the cost associated with leveling the Hall of Fame buildings for each sport would be astronomical.

I guess proof is kind of unnecessary at this point. Who needs a positive test or a completed B-Sample analysis? Especially when the Labs are in cahoots with the Race Organizers and whoever else willing to pay them more than their piddly annual salary for a juicy leak? You think these frogs in the Labs don’t have a stake in this? No leak money if there isn’t a positive, right? And the bigger the name…the bigger the stack of small, unmarked Euros right?

Now, I’m not being pessimistic here…I’m being rational. This is human nature we’re talking about. There has been a pretty clear precedent for this type of activity in all those dusty old history books. Throw in the multi-million dollar pissing match being waged by the UCI and the ASO and the riders all of the sudden become chess pieces in the INFINITELY more corrupt world of big business. Do you think these organizations care if a rider is falsely accused and loses everything? I can’t say for certain, but considering the UCI’s history of doping prosecution and the ASO’s shareholder interests…I’ll say no, they don’t. Especially if it makes the “other” organization look bad and strengthens their own side in the battle for dollars.

Honestly, I have to wonder if Rasmussen (who, I admit, does have a suspect history within the whispery rider-world) was something of a pawn in all of this. He may have been a “Man In Black” or a downright cheater, I don’t know, but with regard to the Hard Data he played by the rules of the game. He pushed them to their limits but he stayed within them nonetheless. Does that make him a deserving winner of the Tour?

Well…I can’t say…but the clock said so. But apparently, the clock is not the only judge in the Tour de France. Even though just a few days ago the ASO, the UCI and Rabobank all spoke in support of him. Not so fast Chicken.

One of the things that I find most disconcerting is the willingness of the organizations, the media, the teams and even a fair amount of the riders themselves to immediately presume that someone is guilty. Prior to a B-sample test, prior to the rider being formally notified and even prior to a positive result. I understand that more often than not, where there is smoke there is fire, but I also seem to recall of a number of historical circumstances where smoke-based prosecution didn’t turn out very well. For anyone.

Having entire teams pulled from the race because one guy may or may not have cheated is just plain stupid. And really pretty childish. Once again, I understand the notion that one must be accountable and realize that their actions will affect others, but…when has this type of behavior EVER mattered or determined whether or not someone was going to break the rules? Yeah…probably not since 5th grade. In the ADULT world, all it does is unfairly punish those that have followed the rules and make them more bitter about the whole process. The bottom line is that those that feel they need to cheat…will cheat. Whether their classmates get mad at them or not.

The team-wide expulsion also completely ignores the fact that most of these guys “compete” with their teammates more than they do with anyone else. How much more money do you get from Cofidis or Astana if you make the Tour team? I don’t know…but I bet it’s a bigger chunk than you get riding the Tour of Austria, wearing the exact same jersey. The teammates are going to likely be the last guys to know if one of their own is cheating. They’d probably be better off telling someone on another team that they won’t be fighting for a roster spot with. How can those within the SPORT not understand this? Punishing the team as a whole is the definition of cutting of your head to spite your nose.

Once again, imagine if this were another sport. “Umm, yeah, sorry New York Yankees. How about you guys leave the World Series because we think that Jason Giambi may have taken some performance-enhancing drugs at some point? You okay with that? Sorry Jeter. Sorry Rivera. Giambi may or may not have done something, but just to be safe, we’d like it if you left for an indeterminate amount of time.”

Or better yet…can you imagine Steinbrenner pulling the team because he thought someone had been on the juice? But then again…I don’t think Steinbrenner is a French name. Can you imagine The Boss running a French cycling team? He’d fire everyone in about 4 days. Joe Torre and Johann Bruyneel could be brothers from different mothers though. Super cool cats, the both of them. Lots of similarities there.

But that’s where the similarities between American Sports and European pro cycling seem to end. And even though it’s frustrating to watch juiced-up freaks go undetected or unnoticed in Baseball and Football while Professional Cycling is actually making efforts to clean itself up, at least we have the hope of a more legitimate product in the end. The harder you look, the more you find. The cleansing process could certainly be handled in a more professional and intelligent fashion but at least it’s happening.

Needless to say, cycling’s hands are pretty dirty right now but at least it has acknowledged the funk. I just hope that the “cleansing process” (and I use that term with all of the historical weight it deserves) does not claim too many innocent victims.

7 comments:

CK said...

“when you kick out the leader of the biggest race in the world based on the Italian TV testimony of a former racer who says he saw him in the Dolomites when he should have been in Mexico…you pretty much tell everyone that they are fair game to be taken down by speculation.”

If he hadn’t missed his June drug tests, his whereabouts wouldn’t have mattered.
Rasmussen is a season pro, he should have been well aware of his responsibilities to Anti-Doping agencies.

I’m just sayin.

Jeremy T. Arnold said...

True dat.

And I am certain that he WAS well aware of his responsibilities. To the letter. And to the point that he actually found the whole "2 per Agency" loophole.

2+2 does not always equal 4. Must be the new math.

But at this point in time...there was not a complete breach of the anti-doping rules and there is no concrete evidence of him being in Italy that I am aware of.

Hopefully his travel records show where he was and we will know if he lied. But for now, it seems to me that the leader of the Tour de France (and 2-time defending KOM) was booted because an ex-pro said he saw him somewhere he wasn't supposed to be.

Guilty or Innocent...that just doesn't sit well. It may prove to be the right thing in retrospect but it just makes me uneasy. It's speculation. And livelihoods are at stake on all levels.

I'm sayin' the Chicken found a loophole and exploited it. It's not exactly a great example for the kids but he's actually giving them a sobering glimpse into the "real" world. A CEO would get a big bonus for that move if it got the shareholders into a better position.

Rasmussen is a smart guy, he'll do just fine in the business world or government. He may not be popular but I don't think he ever cared about that anyway.

Now let's see that Passport documentation eh?

dr-nitro said...

I feel your pain, JT.

I've been getting bitch slapped around at OV's place trying to make an argument that this fight needs to be won by professional organizations acting professionally, using cold hard evidence.

I sucks to see the media cover this irresponsibly, reading things like the T-Mobile anti-doping regimen does not work cuz one of its riders was caught. That whole thing stinks, but WTF? You can't stop people from trying to cheat. You can catch them. And apparently, catching them leads to people saying that the sport sucks more than others.

That French lab needs its accreditation pulled, cuz what comes out of there is suspect. I want a lab that catches cheats, not calls L'Equipe every time they got a juicy tidbit. Landis may have doped, but we have no way of knowing because of how sloppy the work is. And, even though I suspect that Vino did, as much as that sucks, it sucks more that in the back of my mind, I would not be surprised if it is some plot cooked up by Pound to skewer cycling just to show that he is doing his job.

The Chicken, I spoke to a Danish Disco boy the other day, and he said that staying out of contact so long is inexcusable. And I thought that he fessed that he was in Italy, but now he is saying otherwise. But yeah, in the end, there is a lingering doubt. Rabobank should have been keeping an eye on its riders, and should not have been so blind with the hopes that he would bring them glory to realize that his problems should have excluded him from the Tour. I'm sorry, but going missing for a month before the Tour these days is simply unacceptable.

But hold one, another leak is looming. It involves a Columbian. If I could only read Flemish. Soler zou positief zijn from hln.be.

Keep focusing on the beauty. Have a laugh. And not to put too much pressure on you, figure out how to save this beautiful sport. Oh fuck it, just laugh clown, laugh.

dr-nitro said...

Soap opera continues. Looks like the Belgium report was nothing but a rumor.

blue squirrel said...

well done, i agree. personally i think that ras was robbed. none of US know anything about what he did or did not do, we only get our facts from very loose media outlets. all i know is that he did not test positive at the tour, nor fail any tests [ever]. so he should still be in yellow [by the rules], what happened in june should have been prosecuted in june, not in july. but that is just me....

p.s. dutch NOS did a report that relatives and news journalists say he was in mexico, who knows.

dr-nitro said...

Seems a fairly easy thing to clear up with either a passport stamp, airline tickets, or something else. At the end of the day, I think that most of the responsibility lies with Rabobank.

And, thinking off the top my head, one would think that Rabobank, or De Rooy, did not make this decision lightly. They had a sure Tour victory. I suspect that there had to be something more there to throw it away. But that is the problem with all of this, as the post is making, that the state of affairs is not following a clear set of rules, but more like a set of eat your young rules.

Must say, though, I'm happy for Contador. Like his style more. Would have been nice for him, though, not to have the asterisk by his name (Tour marred by a bunch of crap).

Olaf Vanderhoot said...

All the teams withdrew themselves from the Tour this year, didn't they?

and, did the teams make the announcements of the positives, as well?

I should probably track that info down ... but, meh - can't be bothered.