Thursday, July 06, 2006

Performance enhancing drugs

In my case, a performance enhancing drug would be vodka, because it makes me THINK I'm doing better!

The latest drug scandal in professional cycling has elicited the usual accusations and denials in an almost ritualized performance. Everyone knows their roles. Everyone knows their lines. The story will play out in predictable fashion.

Yet there's something about this story that bothers me. In case you've been living under a rock, Spanish police conducted a 6 month investigation of alleged doping and brought charges against team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes of Liberty Seguros-W├╝rth (now Astana-Wurth). They found a coded list of clients that apparently included Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, and others. So far, 13 riders have withdrawn from the Tour de France after their names were found on a list of 56 riders.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) exists to combat doping. Professional cyclists are subjected to random drug testing year-round, and that includes the off season. Race winners, like Basso, who won the Giro earlier this year, are tested after every stage. Top finishers and other riders selected at random are tested too. And that's a good thing. Using performance enhancing drugs is a form of cheating, and I think everyone would agree that cheating should be eliminated.

Yet, despite all that testing, WADA did not detect any doping products in these athletes. They stepped in, along with the UCI, to assist the Spanish police. They did not detect any illegal substances used by Ivan Basso in the Giro, or by Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour of Switzerland. WADA had to piggyback on the Spanish cop's investigation. It makes me wonder if WADA is merely ineffective or grossly incompetent.

Dick Pound heads WADA. His dire warnings and predictions on the future of professional cycling are a ruse to divert attention away from the failure of his agency to detect cheaters. With any other organization, a failure of this magnitude would lead to a massive examination of their shortcomings, yet there's been no evidence that WADA has done so.

Cycling's image 'in the toilet'

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) chairman Dick Pound says cycling's image is "in the toilet".

Pound warned the sport that it risks losing competitors unless it acts after the pre-Tour de France doping scandal.

"The image of your sport and flagship event is in the toilet," Pound told Five Live's Sportsweek.

"You've got to do something about it or the risk is that your sport will be ignored by everybody, marginalised by others and it won't be sport any more."

In all, 13 riders were withdrawn by their teams the day before the Tour de France started on Saturday after being on a list of 56 implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

Cycling generally has been pretty close to clinical denial about the extent of the problem

The 13 included two of the sport's leading stars and pre-Tour favourites, German Jan Ullrich and Italian Ivan Basso, who have both protested their innocence.

But Pound believes the knock-on affect of such negative publicity could affect the numbers taking up cycling.

"Under these circumstances, if I had a child who showed some potential in this, I'd say 'it appears that if you want to get to the top of this sport you've got to use all these drugs, so why don't we find some other sport for you'," he added.

"I think cycling generally has been pretty close to clinical denial about the extent of the problem in this sport and now this is open for the entire world to see.

"I think if they resolve to actually do something about it they have a chance to take some steps that they haven't been able to in the past."

The latest doping investigation is the biggest scandal to hit the sport since the Festina affair during the 1998 Tour de France, which brought to light the use of the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO) among riders.

Seven-times King of the Mountains winner Richard Virenque was handed a nine-month ban after admitting to doping offences.

Last year's Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras was also banned for two years in November after testing positive for EPO during the race.


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