Tag Archives: Bad Medicine

Team Sky have slipped, but not fallen. A review of the ‘scandal’ as I see it

I told myself I wouldn’t bother writing about this whole Team Sky mess. Not this close to Christmas. Not with two children under four both hyper and my wife’s present still to buy. Yet here I am, rattling away on the keyboard in an attempt to squeeze in some thoughts before Christmas. After that, I’m not sure I’ll care enough. But there has been so much outrage that I wanted to give my own perspective to some degree or other.

If you’re still reading now then chances are you know the background and the details, so I’ll spare you a run down. Suffice to say, it has been an ugly year for Team Sky away from the racing. In fact, on the bike it’s been quite memorable. Another Tour victory, and their first Monument win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But the year draws to a close with their reputation on the line and a scandal at hand. One in which they have prolonged by failing to present an adequate response.

I must say though, I find it hard to call the whole mess a scandal in the traditional sense of the word. Knowing where the sport has been before, and all that.  An ugly situation for sure, but classified by your own personal perspective of it only. And that’s the difference with this one. In the old days it was a full-blown back and white objective doping scandal. This is more a subjective shade of grey; one of ethics and morals and where each individual sees the invisible ethical line in their own mind. With no violation of the rules taking place, where does Sky’s failure in ethics sit in proportion to your own standards? Or do you care about some fictional line if they haven’t broken the hard line that is the letter of the law? As such the outrage here is subjective to what you think is and isn’t wrong from a moral point of view.

Unfortunately though, Sky have created a mess far bigger than it ought to be by trying to wrangle their way out of it. As such it has now become a PR scandal. Not only an issue of Team Sky’s TUE use, the timing of that use and the jiffy-bag sideshow, but how they’ve handled the crisis. Not only a scandal about falling ethics but also about their failing transparency. Instead of being open an transparent as they promised they would be, they hoped it would all go away by dodging the questions. And no more so than with this jiffy bag. The silence of what was in it was deafening. And then on Monday, Dave Brailsford revealed it to be Fluimucil, an over the counter product not on WADA’s banned substance list. Why wait until they were in front of a Parliamentary hearing (the need for which at the expensive of the British tax payer, itself debatable) to finally come clean about something like that? The sudden reveal leaves people wondering why they didn’t say what it was to begin with? It also leaves others failing to believe them. Being pressured into it this far down the line has made it look worse. The optics are awful. And that is where this scandal is at.

Of course, that said, if this is were the benchmark for a scandal in cycling now lies, then the sport has come far. Cars full of EPO at the border, or a doctors fridge full of blood bags this is not. Still, it hasn’t been pretty and reputations are at stake.

As for me, there is no doubt Sky slipped up in comparison to their own high standards, but not by enough for me to hang them. From a PR perspective they made a right mess, but this is not a PR blog and I am no PR analyst. I prefer the cycling aspect of what happened in 2012 and what has happened since. In that regard, to me, Sky remained within the physical rules. They applied for and received a TUE by the protocols in place at the time. Some suggest Bradley Wiggins did not need that TUE for health reasons and that he got it for a performance enhancing benefit. But that is speculative at best and I am not in the business of speculating without facts. He may well have needed it, though in the end it was up to the UCI to reject the application. Why they didn’t, we don’t know. Still, this is something that Sky might want to explain further themselves in a bid to help clear the air.

But let’s be clear…the idea that Sky have abused the TUE system is false. From what we currently know, their TUE use has been minimal by comparison to some. TUE use has fallen at Sky in the five years since this affair. The TUE system in general has also tightened at UCI and WADA level, though the case could be mad for tightening it further. But take Chris Froome for example, he has only applied for two TUE’s over the years and never during his three Tour de France victories. They say that mud sticks and that might be the shame in all this. But if you can look above the mud, you begin to see a difference. If there is an underlying issue within Sky, that continues to this day, then it has yet to reveal itself. And I see no evidence of it.  If the Wiggins’ TUE application sat wrong with you, you can at least admit there has not been a repeat pattern. That isn’t to say Sky are in the clear though, far from it. Questions will continue and if they want to remain on a higher ethical standard, they need to start giving more direct answers.

Applying for TUE’s at all, is enough to suggest an ethical slip to some, and on that basis even Chris Froome has taken heat. The belief being that TUE use in any regard is not good enough for a team like Sky. But the TUE system is there for a good reason; it’s the abuse of it we have to be wary of.  And if our ethics make us strict on that, then we must be wary of abuse from any team. Then to other fans, being ethical is not cheating by the letter of the rules of the sport. But as I have said, ethics are subjective.

For me, Team Sky are a clean team at their core. In applying for TUE use, even for a legitimate reason, they have proven themselves not to be beyond absolute reproach, but I have seen no evidence that Sky have gone beyond the line as I see it. If anything in 2016 they have happened to fall closer to the level of the rest.

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A word on the Wiggins/Sky TUE ‘scandal’

I wanted to ignore it, but I’ve felt obliged to put something on record. It’s not that it isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter. It does. It’s just mind numbing. It’s the racing I’d prefer to talk about. Yet I must say something. I will of course skip the who, what, when, where and why’s. If you’re still reading this come the end of the second paragraph, you’ll already know that.

Yes, I am referring to the ‘Fancy Bears’ hack of athletes private medical data. And in this case the cyclists caught up in it. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, and their Therapeutic Use Exceptions (TUEs).

Wiggins was the biggest one. If anything Froome came out looking good…two uses of a TUE, both of which we knew about anyway. He’s had none since 2013 and has done the best of his winning since then. At the 2015 Tour, Froome fell ill and should have had a TUE, but refused. He even put out a statement condemning the abuse of the medical exceptions.

Wiggins though…he’s in the hot water.

Wiggins received TUEs for corticosteroid shots because severe pollen allergies exacerbated his asthma. He received three triamcinolone acetonide jabs shortly before key grand tour races. The Tour in 2011 and 2012 (which he won) and the Giro d’Italia in 2013.

Now it isn’t the use of the TUE by Wiggins that is the problem per say. And I’d love to see the records of other top riders for I bet he’s far from the worst offender here. This drug has performance enhancing qualities, but the TUE program is there or a reason. If you’re ill, you can get help. If Wiggins needed it, then so be it. It’s the timing of the injections that raises concern. It’s that Team Sky were operating under a stricter set of self imposed rules regarding this stuff, or so we thought.

Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky’s boss, has said they would win by going as close to the line as possible, but not over. The line being the line of cheating. But when the line becomes blurred, how do you know exactly where it is? You could say the line is where the rules say it is. But Sky never gave off the impression of pushing such boundaries. Is there such as thing as very clean, kind of clean and sort of clean without being dirty?

Of course, we must be clear that Sky’s use of TUE’s has been minimal. They have far from abused the system and must get credit for that. And this is something that happened back in their earlier days. Call them naieve but a lot of their ‘mistakes’ appear to have come about from those days. Still, it raises an alarm…or at least the need for questions to be answered.

And there in lies one of the reasons this has dragged on so long. So many questions remain unanswered. Not least about the timing of Wiggins’s treatment. Did he only need these injections before his biggest races?

There’s talk that Wiggins took the shots because he didn’t want his allergies hampering his performance. But should TUE’s be awarded for preventative measures rather than only once you are sick? Did Sky weigh this up and go ahead with it anyway?

With these questions still up in the air, the saga rumbles on. This should have been put to bed and the attention should now be on how to improve the TUE process. Indeed, that’s another discussion that needs to be had. Things have improved, of course, since the Wiggins days. It’s a three man panel now who accesses whether a rider deserves one rather than one-man before. Still, there is no doubt more can be done, the regulations can be tightened further perhaps.

That all said. There are positives to take from this whole thing. By historic cycling standards of scandal, this is a storm in a tea cup. It isn’t pretty, but nor is it on the EPO or blood doping Richter scale of yesteryear. In that sense, this little hullabaloo shows how far cycling has come. If this is the best the hackers could come up with, then we’re not in the worst shape. And believe me, the hackers would have loved to have had greater dirt. Their modus operandi was to seek revenge for Russian athletes banned from Rio. The reaction of the Russians was to say this proved everyone else was at it too. As though TUE use was on a scale of systematic doping,  threats, intimidation, and switching samples through a hole in the wall of the lab in Sochi.

If this is it…if this constitutes a cycling scandal in 2016 then we’re not too bad off.

Elsewhere

It’s been a busy couple of weeks of cycling news from an actual racing angle. A number of one day races in Italy and Belgium as well as the Eneco Tour in the later nation. Peter Sagan stood out, winning two races at Eneco, finishing 3rd overall and winning the European road title. It’s been a heck of a month for the Slovak in his return to road racing from the mountain bike.

This coming weekend is another big one. The final monument of the season: Il Lombardia. Vincenzo Nibali won’t be fit enough in time to defend his title and the list of contenders is long. As wide open a field as we’ve seen in a while. My pick is Romain Bardet. The young Frencham is in good form and is due a big one-day victory. An outside tip might be Greg Van Avermaet. The Belgian showed his new found pedigree on hilly circuits at Rio and in Montreal and could find a way to shine. It will be a good watch.

Rider of the week (last week):

I missed last week. There was various 1.1 ranked races with various winners. Italians done well on home soil. Sagan won the European road championships. Jonathan Castroveijo won the European time-trial title. But I went with Rendon Gaviria who took a 2nd and a 1st over two days in one-day races in Belgium.

Rider of the week (this week):

The Enco Tour dominated the schedule this week; won by Niki Terpstra. But he didn’t win any stages on the way. Peter Sagan did though. He won two and was 3rd, 6th and 8th in three of the four others. He finished third in GC, losing out on the final day. He gets the prize.

Rest day 2 musings: Chris Froome and ugly bias he fights against

It’s a day of rest at the Tour, but as we know all too well, there’s no such thing really. The riders won’t even get a day away from the saddle…a couple of hours spin is required to keep the legs turning over, to ensure they’re ready to go once the racing begins again in earnest tomorrow. And begin again in earnest it will surely do as they head into the high Alps.

They need only look back to the day after the last rest day when on the first climb of the Tour, into the Pyrenees, Chris Froome came out swinging and many were caught stiff. As a result many contenders seen their Tour hopes die that day and it’s left Froome in complete control. Indeed, many believe his victory in this years Tour is now a formality.

Still, while Froome’s fight on the road may be under control with just five days to go, off the bike, against accusations in the media, condemnation on corners of Twitter, and abuse at the sides of the road, the fight has never been more intense.

Just two days ago things sunk to a new low on stage 15 when it was alleged by Chris Froome himself that a spectator (let’s not call him fan) threw a cup of urine in his face. That Froome didn’t put his race on hold to climb off and beat this imbecile senseless is all the credit to his restraint, composure and focus on the race itself. Whoever it was, I hope they find him, arrest him and block his anonymous Twitter account! It was nothing short of disgusting.

Froome himself has laid some of the blame at the feet of the media, in particular the French press. Not that they were directly responsible, but that indirectly their accusations and innuendos about his performances have led to a discontent amongst a small collection of people at the roadside.

Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just a small collection of idiots on Twitter and a smaller collection on the road sides of France amongst the hundreds of thousands that line the route and the millions that follow from home. Still, its the noise of the few and the actions of the several that appear to make the headlines and direct the narative.

They are influenced from somewhere, and so Froome is likely correct when he points the finger at elements within the media. When the likes of Laurent Jalabert is making the accusations you cannot help but feel the hypocrisy. This is a man who has doped himself, who is no more so or less so a cheat than Lance Armstrong, and yet it is only the American, and not Jalabert who sits in the commentary box, who has been told he is not welcome at the Tour when he showed up a few days ago to ride a charity event one day ahead of the race.

When ITV challenged Jalabert on his past and his remarks about Froome, the French hero scrambled for the sanctuary of the French studio, refusing to answer the questions. Which in itself only highlights the man he is when you see Froome at the press conferences answering any questions asked of him. Jalabert, when he broaches this subject and is then called out on it, reminds us that he is merely relic that belongs to a past generation and not a bastion for questioning the ethics of the Yellow jersey in 2015.

Indeed, Jalaberts reaction to ITV compared to that of Froome to the media hoards reminds us how much cycling has changed in recent years and in a funny way actually stands Froome in good light.

That said, I can’t help but ask the question of whether Chris Froome is the most persecuted man in sport? A man of which there is zero evidence against. In what other sport is someone condemned daily while going about his winning? Can you imagine the likes of Roger Federer, Rory McIlroy, Lionel Messi, LeBron James or Lewis Hamilton being criticised so heavily, having people continually condemn them on social media and have spectators throw urine or spit at them in passing? It doesn’t happen. And remember that while cycling has a dark history it has done a lot more in the fight to clean itself up than any of these other fine athletes respective sports.

Now that isn’t to say Froome deserves a free ride. I use the words ‘condemn’ and ‘insinuate’ a lot here for a reason. It’s important to draw the distinction between condemnation and questioning. Media asking Froome questions about doping or his performances are a by-product of cycling’s history, something Froome accepts is his cross to bare thanks to the likes of Armstrong, but rather than listen to his answers and look at the lack of a positive test, a covered up test, a backdated TUE, or a disgruntled former employee or rider (of which Sky has plenty) to perhaps give him the benefit of the doubt, some people simply ignore what he has to say because their minds are made up. Or, are being made up by the way the likes of Jalabert and other so-called ‘experts’ on Twitter project Froome.

You don’t have to go far on social media to find those who are desperate for Froome to be cheating; their entire existence is based on the need for it to be so. They don’t want to question him, they’re beyond skepticism, even past cynicism and into that realm of downright condemnation. It’s as though the downfall of Lance was the worst thing that could have happened as it ended their reason for being and as such they’re looking for someone else to fill the void. Froome is that someone else despite the back story not being remotely the same.

While Froome is dodging spit and urine and taking a beating on social media, the likes of Contador and Valverde are getting a free ride. That isn’t to say people should be spitting at them, of course not, but they get cheered and there’s little in the way of pseudo-science-analysis of their power data, speculation of their heart-rates and body weights, each and every day. Should Quintana go out and beat Froome on an Alpine stage, will we see the same level of speculation into his data? I can almost bet you that we will not. And don’t tell me this is just because Froome is in Yellow, because it’s not. At the Giro this year, which Contador won, he was nowhere near under the same scrutiny as Froome. Indeed, even though he came second to Contador in last years Vuelta, the heavy questions were still reserved for the Brit. You can say, well ‘the Tour is the Tour’, but even Nibali got a free pass in comparison to Froome in 2015.

Sadly, it leaves me asking the question I wish I didn’t have to contemplate: If Froome wasn’t British riding for a (wealthy) British team, would he still be treated this way? Evidence suggests not.

The simple fact is, Froome has had to deal with more than he deserves. I’m not ashamed to say I like Froome. He comes across as a classy individual off the bike and a fine athlete on it, and in recent years I’ve have become somewhat of a fan (though I found myself in a conflict of interests when last week himself and Nibali had a spat as I too am a fan of the Italian and wish he could have pushed Froome closer this year!)

I was hoping for a competitive third week of this Tour in which his rivals put him under pressure and made a race of it all the way up to the top of Alpe d’Huez but now, after what’s been going on, I would quite like to see Froome rip the rest of this race apart and annoy those that are, unashamedly, biased against him just that little bit more. Or indeed, to sit on the wheels and mark the moves and end any drama left.

Of course, that won’t happen. Froome has an ability to forget about it once he leaves the media scrums; his focus so single minded on the task at hand which is to win the Tour. This steely determination and focus was nevermore so highlighted than by his ability to ride on without missing a beat after that cup of urine was thrown in his face.

While I bring attention to the issue in this blog post it is once again worth highlighting that those taking the agenda against Froome to the extreme on the road sides and to obsession on social media are in the minority, thankfully. Hundreds of Thousands on the road and millions at home watch and enjoy and question with common sense and as such I likely won’t put a lot more energy into the ‘agenda against Froome’ subject between now and Paris.

It is meant to be a day of rest, after all.

The Benefit of the Doubt: Another tour, and winner, worth believing in

My last article that looked back on the tour had the following paragraph inserted into it:

And it was again a Tour that looked normal…something we’re forced to analyse in this post-EPO-crazy era. The champion was simply better than the remaining contenders but far from unworldly, and the return of the French to the podium for the first time post-Festina affair ’98 was a welcome sight. If you still cannot give the benefit of the doubt to the bulk of what you seen in this Tour, especially after what has been a handful of promising years now, then I’m not sure what it will take, outside of your own participation.

Well, against my own urges, I thought I’d expand a little and do the very thing that I said we’re now forced to do and analyse this tour from the perspective of the dark (yet receding, I like to think) shadow that lurks near the bright lights of the Tour. ‘The Darkness on the Edge of Town’ as Bruce Springsteen might call the subject of drugs in cycling…always out there and occasionally in need of addressing.

Thankfully, in recent years, it looks as though analysing a Tour from the perspective of drug use is giving us a healthy outcome if done objectively and the hope is that if it continues this way then we’ll eventually reach a point where it won’t require much scrutiny at all. We all know that some people will always try to cheat, regardless of the environment around them, but seeing the pendulum swing from the majority in a broken culture to a minority in a working system culture suggests that at last the sports appears to be getting on top of the battle against drugs and the riders are not feeling that it is a requirement to success.

These men will continue to defy our own limited potential…to rise up to a level of endurance that is hard to comprehend suffering; it’s why we watch…because we know we could never do it ourselves, and yet there’s something beautiful in the suffering; the countryside of France rolling by our screens as a back drop and the glory in what these men go through in order to finish Paris, let alone win the thing.

There was a time when the Tour appeared all too alien, but while it will always remain on an elevated pedestal of natural human performance…that pedestal is at least back on earth and among many examples, the final climb to Hautacam highlighted this perfectly.

Vincenzo Nibali won there. He attacked early, near the foot of the climb and rode solo to glory, hammering home the final nail into the coffin that was everyone elses dreams of winning this Tour. It was as much an act of defiance against anyone who still thought he wouldn’t have won had Contador and Froome finished as it was an attempt to secure further time over any rival.

You could almost hear the calculators clicking when Nibali sprang his attack…the ghost of, and the time of, Bjarne Riis’s ride up this mountain in 1996 looming large. And yet, 18 years down the road from that infamous day, an uber talented climbing specialist, on modern equipment, under modern training and nutritional techniques, lost 2 minutes and 45 seconds to the time put down by a 32 year old Riis who had gone from career domestique to superstar in the matter of a couple of years.

Of course — and in the interests of balance — analysing times on a climb on separate days, never mind separate years, when wind direction and strength, temperature, humidity, relevance of the stage, difficulty of preceding stages, length of the stage before the climb, speed of the racing on the lower slopes, and many other factors can vary dramatically reduce it to an inexact science, especially when there is no certainty that the times themselves are accurate.

But when you look back at Riis’s ride and then at Nibali’s on video, the differences are striking. Riis rode that climb steady on the lower slopes dropping back through the group to analyse his rivals before launching a short attack. He then dropped back to the group and once more went to the back, looking at each of his opponents before a second attack. They were well into the climb before he settled into a punishing rhythm that took him to the stage victory. Nibali on the other hand attacked early and rode the climb as though it were a time-trial. No start-stop attacking; no playing with his rivals.

The Tour came up this climb two years before Riis’s big win and that time it was Indurain eating up his rivals; only Luc Leblanc could hang onto his wheel and out sprinted him to the line. Their time was still more than 2 minutes faster than Nibali. Four years after Riis in 2000 the Tour again came back to Hautacam, and this time it was Lance Armstrong who won with a time more than 1 minute faster than the Italian. On each occasion, times aside, the performances were spectacularly different from that of Nibali’s in 2014.

Naturally, as in any walk of life in which fame and fortune lie as a reward for glory, there will be those that will try take shortcuts to the top, but once upon a time the shortcut was a requirement…the other road simply didn’t go to the summit. Times have changed however, they test for more now…they simply test more now. They have the biological passport starting to reap its rewards and it’s hard to find any champion from the days of yore who remains untainted by a positive test, a link to a scandal, or an admission (forced or otherwise) of guilt. And every rider now understands that their urine and blood samples will be stored away, good to be re-tested should any new breakthrough in testing for any as-of-yet unknown substance become available.

Which brings me to another point: There’s no sign that any unknown substance has hit the peloton. Back in the early 90’s when EPO first made its appearance, the speeds soared. Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon both spoke about the sudden rise in speeds. LeMond and Fignon were all but 31 and 32 years of age respectively by the 1992 Tour and yet both looked like old beaten up men, no longer able to hack it with the young lads as Fignon finished 23rd and LeMond abandoned. Challenging one another to win the Tour just three years before, they were suddenly left behind. To put it in perspective, Alberto Contdor is 31 now, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour aged 32, Cadel Evans won it at 34, and Jean-Christophe Péraud has just finished second this year aged 37. The idea that LeMond or Fignon should have been finished in their early 30s to these sudden accelerations seemed bizarre, but it is now obvious why in hindsight.

The speeds of races today however have not suddenly shot up skewing who should and shouldn’t be fast. The average speed of this tour as a whole was 40.69 km/h, the 4th fastest on record, though it must be remembered that a large majority of the ride down the east side of France that incorporated about nine stages was with a tail-wind.

That aside however, the three Tours faster than this one came 8, 9 and 11 years before and it was barely quicker this year than it was twenty some years before, which bodes the question, not whether that is a bad sign that they’re still as fast as dirty Tours, but if drugs were still rampant today then, coupled with improved technology, nutrition and training, why aren’t they going even faster still? History would suggest that if drugs were still rampant 14 years into the 21st century, and especially if some new product had hit the peloton, then speeds would be 1 or 2 km/h faster than ever before.

But they’re not.

You may still be unsure, forever scarred by the past, or you may have had questions, but this Tour has answered them about as well as it could be expected and while we’ll never know for sure, or at least not for many years, certainly not enough to put our mortgages on it, at the very least this Tour and its champion have earned the right to the benefit of the doubt and such a step in recent years is a big positive for the direction in which cycling is heading.

Thoughts on Truth and Reconciliation

Last week two cyclists -– one a former drug cheat, the other a current day pro believed to be as clean as they come -– were speaking out for and against the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) process for the sport of cycling. To think about it immediately you would imagine the drug cheat would be the one against it with the clean cut modern day pro desperate for the cheats that came before him to announce themselves so his generation could move on with their careers. But it isn’t so simple. Lance Armstrong is the retired/banned cheat; Mark Cavendish is the current pro.

To Cavendish it is the egos of the cheats that will ensure they don’t come clean and it’ll only open the door further on cycling’s skeletons, something that he and his fellow professionals will be left to deal with. He no doubt fears that sponsors and TV networks could walk away if more and more scandals are unveiled and further bad press heaped upon the sport. In Armstrong’s view the sport needs a T&R to move forward. He believes that to throw the door open on the said skeletons would be to clear it out once and for all and save the problems coming out in drips and drabs for the next decade, something that would be worse for cycling and its sponsors and TV networks.

I suppose it is safe to say that both have a point and the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, as ever.

The only way I see a Truth & Reconciliation process working is if it happens quickly and at one go. Have everyone who has raced in the last twenty years meet for a private interview with the UCI and talk about what they experienced. Take those interviews and produce a complete document … a documented history of doping in cycling 1993-2013 as seen by the cyclists themselves and release it for us all to consume in one go. The bad press it would generate would be huge of course but it would be limited to the time it takes for the mainstream media to get distracted by something else allowing the sport to press on. Present it over a winter so that come the new season we’ve gotten over it and are ready to enjoy the racing rather than be distracted by it.

We could read it, digest it, learn from it, ensure the same mistakes are not repeated and then move ahead. The riders would have cleared their conscience at the same time and everyone would feel better.

Right?

Well, not so fast. How would you get everyone to willingly come forward? Is a retired professional who may have taken drugs but who never got caught taking drugs going to come forward and tell the truth? And what about active riders who tell the truth are they served with any form of punishment?

Lance thinks they should be and he thinks the punishment should be equal. Or in other words, that people like him shouldn’t be landed with life-time bans while those who testified against him get six months on the UCI naughty step. Armstrong must see the possibility of a T&R as his ticket back into competitive sport -– albeit sport that is well down the rung from the professional cycling he once competed in. He knows that if he’s offered a shorter ban -– one equal to the rest –- then he has plenty to tell them. It’s why he’s been coy on certain subjects in which he has been interviewed on. To have told it all to Oprah would have been to leave all his cards on the table and to leave him without a invite to any potential T&R party.

Lance is right though. The punishment should be equal. Where I differ on Lance is that there shouldn’t be any punishment at all. If there’s punishment to be dished out, a T&R would become impossible. Go back to the retired pro who may have cheated but was never caught. Why would he come forward if he risked getting results stripped? And what of the active pro? Would he want to open up on his transgressions only to serve a ban, receive a fine and risk unemployment for it?

Of course you could put in place some condition that if you are later found to have lied or if you didn’t tell everything (or anything) that a large penalty awaits you. But then again, the retired pro from yesteryear only has his reputation to gamble –- they can’t fine him or ban him -– so he might think it worth the risk whereas the professional of today would have more pressure on him. It only skews the playing field in similar way to which drugs did in the first place despite the illusion that it equaled it.

As someone once said, between the idea and the reality, falls the shadow. The idea of the T&R is great, but the reality of pulling it together is different altogether.

So what do they do?

Well, if they can’t pull everyone together for one big weekend of truth telling then the only thing they can do is let us make up our own minds and move on with our lives and our enjoyment of the sport.

Let me explain.

Most cycling fans by now have a fair idea as to how bad the sport got in what I now like to refer to as ‘the era’ -– that time between about 1990 and 2010 when blood doping become prevalent. In fact, we have more than ‘an idea’. I think it’s safe to say we know fine rightly that almost all of them were involved in some form of blood doping or another then -– certainly anyone with any degree of big-time success -– but that in recent years a corner has begun to be turned and steps have been taken to move things forward.

That isn’t to claim doping has been purged from cycling. Where there is money to be made and success to be gained there will always be cheating. Every sport has issues with performance enhancing drugs and probably always will to some degree or another, but should cycling continue to be singled out? Yes there will be some out there in the peloton still cheating, but you’d be deluded to think that it’s as bad as it was and that steps haven’t been taken in both testing and the culture of the peloton to change things.

And remember, this isn’t the testing of the Armstrong era when they couldn’t test for EPO and when they did little out of competition testing, but rather an anti-doping era that should be the envy of the sporting world. It’s time to accept the past is for what it was, that confirming what we know means for little and stripping results left right and centre would be to try and pretend that it never happened.

The younger generation of riders -– the vast majority at least -– are coming in with a different attitude. Even the old hands who might once have dabbled in the dirty stuff in a time when the culture of the sport left them with little choice if they wanted to make it -– like Ryder Hesjedal, Tom Danielson, David Miller, and so on –- have left it behind and turned over a new leaf. Heck even Alberto Contador looks a shadow of the former all-conquering grand tour rider we knew before he fell afoul of some bad beef at the 2011 Tour.

It all adds up to whether a T&R into the history of something we already know about is going to serve today’s peloton well if all it amounts to is another scandal and another opportunity for the mainstream media to point the finger at cycling as a joke sport despite the changes that have occurred in recent years. Can it be handled any other way? The more I think about it — the more I think of the impossibility of getting it all done in one foul swoop with everyone involved in the process — the more I doubt it.

Some people want a T&R not so much for the good of the sport but because they love a juicy scandal. Nothing would interest them more than for it to be dragged out over weeks and ideally around the same time of the Tour de France. Some people have become obsessed with the subject of drugs in cycling. Yet these self same people will watch other sports without raising so much as an eyebrow. You can see why Cavendish is also saying that other sports need to do something … why should it be cycling that is doing everything? An element exists on the likes of Twitter or comment sections of cycling related websites who care little for the sport itself but get off hardcore on the subject of doping in cycling. It’s pathetic and it’s what could ultimately drag down any potential good in a T&R session.

As a cycling fan first and foremost, the last thing I want to see is another scandal for the sake of another scandal. Not because I would prefer to ignore it, but because I don’t quite see the gain of going looking for it?

Heading into 2014 there’s so much to look forward to in the sport. It’s time to enjoy the racing like we can enjoy our other sports, to allow it to entertain us as it so often has this past season, and to let the anti-doping control worry about catching the cheats. If the last decade has taught us anything it’s that more often than not if you’re cheating, you’ll eventually get found out.

Yes, feel free to question what you see now and going forward, but don’t let it dominate your enjoyment of the sport. Truth and Reconciliation of cycling’s history is all well and good in theory if it ultimately draws a line in the sand allowing us to move on, but what it’s more likely to do is leave some with more questions unanswered and leave those seeking a cycling scandal with more wood on their bat with which to beat the sport. Cycling is a beautiful sport that brings so much more than just drug stories and scandalous speculation, and now more than ever it should be treated as such.

Hesjedal also used drugs … years ago

It’s been over a week now since the Ryder Hesjedal used performance enhancing drugs bombshell dropped on the cycling community and upon the Canadian sports landscape. At the time I remember being surprised, but hardly shocked. Surprised that it could be this good Canadian boy who we know has rode for the Garmin team this past five years, but not shocked because this is a rider who did, after all, ride in ‘the era’.

The revelations that Hesjedal may have used Performance Enhancing Drugs came by way of the latest disgraced former cyclist turned tell-all-athor, Machael Rasmussen, who claimed that he showed Hesjedal how to use EPO. He confirmed that he never saw Hesjedal use the drug and so it left the door open for Hesjedal to use that famous cyclist-caught-in the-headlights tactic and to deny, deny, deny. But full credit to the Canadian. He didn’t try hide from it, he didn’t threaten legal action against Rasmussen, but instead came out later the same day and held his hands up. He admitted that in 2003 he used EPO but has not used it since … certainly not during his run at winning the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

Hesjedal’s statement in full:

Cycling is my life and has been ever since I can remember. I have loved and lived this sport but more than a decade ago, I chose the wrong path. And even though those mistakes happened more than 10 years ago, and they were short-lived, it does not change the fact that I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since. To everyone in my life, inside and outside the sport – to those that have supported me and my dreams – including my friends, my family, the media, fans, my peers, sponsors – to riders who didn’t make the same choices as me all those years ago, I sincerely apologize for my part in the dark past of the sport. I will always be sorry.

Although I stopped what I was doing many years before I joined Slipstream Sports, I was and am deeply grateful to be a part of an organization that makes racing clean its first priority and that supports athletes for telling the truth. I believe that being truthful will help the sport continue to move forward, and over a year ago when I was contacted by anti-doping authorities, I was open and honest about my past. I have seen the best and the worst of the sport and I believe that it is now in the best place it’s ever been. I look at young riders on our team and throughout the peloton, and I know the future of the sport has arrived. I’m glad that they didn’t have to make the same choices I did, and I will do everything I can to continue to help the sport that I love.

The question now is: Do you believe him?

The natural answer among many cycling fans will be, no way. No way did he simply try EPO in 2003, experience the benefits and then just leave it behind. And that is probably true. Hesjedal likely continued using it for a while, but still within what I like to define as ‘the era’ – that being the days when performance enhancing drug use was rampant in the sport. In 2008 Hesjedal joined the Slipstream team – now known as Garmin – and that has long since been known as a team that promotes clean riding within. Sure it has hired its fair share of former users of PEDs, but it offers them a fresh start if they do indeed ride clean and abide by their own internal testing program.

To me this story of a week ago changes little. It’s not something I didn’t know about cycling in 2003. What matters is whether Hesjedal has been racing clean in the present day and that’s something that you have to judge for yourself. I like to believe that in 2008 when Hesjedal signed up with Jonathan Vaughters’s outfit, that was the absolute latest point in which he would have stepped over that line.

The sport is trying to move forward and with that in mind I’ve little interest in looking way back into a dirty past.

Shock, Horror: Riders took drugs way back in 1998

That long anticipated list of riders who retroactively failed drug tests from the 1998 Tour de France was published today at the ruling of the French Senate, and from it 18 names have shown up as having had traces of EPO in their system with 16 more being listed as ‘suspicious’. The names contained nobody that will have shocked you — not that anyone being on drugs back then should be taken as shocking — and so has left me wondering why on earth, fifteen years down the road from that ugly Tour, did we need this coming back to haunt the sport?

Where were you in 1998?

It was a time when bands like the Spice Girls and Boyzone were topping (and some might say destroying!) the music charts, and ‘Armageddon’ was the big box-office smash. I was sixteen years of age back then and heading down to Dublin to watch the opening stages of that years Tour de France. A long time ago, but not long enough for that French Senate.

The world has come a long way since those days. I know I have and I sure as hell know cycling has, yet once more it is being dragged into the mud for past problems. I have long since come to terms with the fact that almost all of them were on drugs at some point during that era so I’m not sure the need to drag it all back out into the open again some 15 years later and especially just days after a fine Tour de France has taken place. All it serves to do is ensure more negative press around a sport that has gone a long way to try and to put things right.

In the time that those aforementioned bands faded away only to be replaced with some that were just as dodgy, cycling went about fixing a lot of its problems. Sure the Lance Armstrong era that followed it did the sport no favours, but we’ve since seen the implementation of blood testing, out of competition testing, a where-abouts program, and the biological passport. What other sports can say the same for all of that?

I fully understand that there will always be cheats in cycling to some degree or another, but it’s clear the sport is in a better place now, that those cheating are fewer in number than ever before and that they will eventually be caught. Cycling is the leader in anti-doping within sport and should be held up as an example to other sports that are clearly still stuck were cycling was in 1998.

If you’re wondering why it’s always cycling on the end of this kind of subject, then you’re not alone. Where is the French Senates re-tests of their French football team that won the World Cup that same summer? Double standards prevail and cycling remains pinned to the top of the totem pole of standards.

And, for the sake of record — and because like with a car crash, we can’t look anyway — here’s the names from the list:

Positive:
Andrea Tafi, Erik Zabel, Bo Hamburger (twice), Laurent Jalabert, Marcos Serrano, Jens Heppner, Jeroen Blijlevens, Nicola Minali, Mario Cipollini, Fabio Sacchi, Eddy Mazzoleni, Jacky Durand, Abraham Olano, Laurent Desbiens, Marco Pantani, Manuel Beltran, Jan Ullrich (twice), Kevin Livingston (twice).

Suspicious:
Ermanno Brignoli, Alain Turicchia, Pascal Chanteur, Frederic Moncassin, Bobby Julich, Roland Meier, Giuseppe Calcaterra, Stefano Zanini, Eddy Mazzoleni, Stephane Barthe, Stuart O’Grady, Axel Merckx.

Does it really make a difference to what we just enjoyed these past few weeks? No, I didn’t think so. Only Stuart O’Grady from that list was still active and he just retired yesterday ahead of this so-called revelation.