Friday, July 02, 2010

Cycling’s Winter of Discontent

Cycling’s Winter of Disconten
A survey of 10 years of doping and innuendo: 1997 to 2006
Editorial by Michael Akinde, originally published at the Daily Peloton.

“Now is the winter of our discontent”
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

“Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell, Rode the six hundred”
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

The credibility of Cycling, as a sport, has reached its nadir. Operation Puerto and the debacle of this year’s Tour de France was the final spike in the coffin to Cycling’s reputation. The panicked suspensions, the rhetoric of the UCI, and the witch-hunt against those thought to be involved in the affair, are the final flailing death throes of that reputation.

Through it all, however, there seems to be a lack of understanding of why Cycling’s reputation has ended up where it is today. For years, a majority of professional cyclists, team managers, and cycling officials have reacted with outrage when faced with questions about doping; unable or unwilling to understand why they too end up being suspect. But the sport did not reach the point it is, in one afternoon on June 30; it has been on the path toward harvesting the fruits of Operation Puerto for many years.

In this article, we survey some of the key elements that have worked to bring the sport and its practitioners into disrepute during the past 10 years. It will paint a bleak picture of the sport; a sport where few, if any, avoid being tarred with the brush of doping suspicion. Note, however, that unless explicitly stated, none of the names mentioned in the article can be assumed to have been doping. It is not the purpose of the article to imply that any Cyclist in particular has doped, but rather to illuminate the long tendrils that doping, and the suspicion of doping, has taken into the world of Cycling.

The Sport of Doping Scandals
For some, the Festina affair of 1998 may appear as the cataclysmic event that shook the Cycling world to its roots. This is an illusion; in fact, the first death from doping was attested in 1967, kicking off the first committed UCI anti-doping efforts [2], and a case almost identical to the Festina affair hit the cycling world in 1997.

During May of that year, NAS (the Anti-Drug division of the Italian Police), raided the Giro d’Italia and uncovered doping products in the possession of MG Techno-Gym, employer of such high-profile stars as Michele Bartoli, Gilberto Simoni, and a very young Paolo Bettini. In the room of one Luigi Sarti, soigneur to the team, the police found a great number of forbidden products, among them EPO and Synachten. The products, as the soigneur latter explained, were for the “free use” of the riders on the team *3. More than 260 ampules of forbidden products were seized in the possession of MG Technogym, but unlike the Festina scandal a year later, no riders were arrested, and the team was allowed to complete the Giro. But the scandal caused MG Technogym to pull their sponsorship and several employees, including Sarti and the team director Giancarlo Ferretti, were suspended for doping offences.

The 1998 Festina affair only dwarfed the MG Technogym episode due to the increased persistence of the French gendarmes. The French had no compunctions about dragging riders in for doping offenses, nor in carrying out repeated raids against the Tour caravan, the likes of which we have not been seen before or since. And the results were spectacular as two of the biggest teams in the sport (Festina of course being one, the other being TVM) were caught red-handed with doping products. The affair finally forced the cycling world to face up to the problem of doping.

Sadly, however, the scandals have never stopped coming, and in truth every year in the past decade has had its own major doping scandal.

1999: This year witnessed the interception of a DHL shipment of Amphetamine addressed to Gianni Bugno of Mapei (Bugno had ridden for the team in 1997-98 and was still attached to the team in a technical capacity in 1999); an inglorious end to the Cycling career of a great rider. The shipment had been sent to Bugno by another Mapei employee. It also saw Tour de France champion Marco Pantani thrown out of the Giro d’Italia while wearing the leader’s jersey due to a high hematocrit value.

2000: The “Perpignan” affair, in which large amounts of “Pot Belge” were seized near the French border, began this year. 25 athletes, doctors and pharmacists, including a former cycling team doctor where accused of participating in a doping network that distributed EPO and corticoids, among other products.

2001: This year saw the arrest of the former team doctor of PDM, Wim de Sanders and the discovery of an extensive doping network in Belgium (the so-called PDM affair). It also saw the arrest of Dario Frigo in possession of drugs during the Giro d’Italia. Frigo, coincidentally, Frigo was riding for Giancarlo Ferretti’s new squad: Fassa Bortolo.

2002: The year saw the arrest of Panaria rider Antonio Varriale during the Giro d’Italia, as well as the suspension of an AG2R rider during the Tour (due to him being involved in the Perpignan affair). The biggest scandal of the year, however, was the “Rumsas affair”; the arrest of the wife of Raimondas Rumsas, third in that year’s Tour de France, with a car full of EPO, testosterone and growth hormones.

2003: The Museeuw-Landuyt affair again turned the focus on Belgium, were yet another doping network was unraveled. It also saw Rumsas test positive for EPO.

2004: The so-called “Cofidis affair” almost closed down Cofidis and results in World Time Trial champion David Millar being stripped of his title. Jesus Manzano testifies to extensive doping on the Kelme team. The Italian police, not willing to be outdone, carried out raids in 29 Italian provinces uncovering large stockpiles of doping products in Operation “Oil for Drugs” (more than 138 cases investigating cyclists for doping were opened although no charges have as yet been produced from the case; still ongoing). For an encore, Olympic Time Trial champion Tyler Hamilton tested positive at the Vuelta a Espana, along with team mate (and second-placed in the Vuelta), Santiago Perez.

2005: The “Cahors” affair opens with initially 7 people arrested (most notably former TVM rider Laurent Roux) and 83 doses of Pot Belge seized. The case cracked open an extensive French doping ring, with the subsequent conviction of no less than 23 people. Toward the end of the year, another unusually high-profile doping positive rocked Cycling; the Vuelta a Espana victor Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO.

2006: Presumably, the reader has no need to be reminded of Operation Puerto (which stripped the Tour de France of four of the top five seeded riders of the 2005 Tour), nor of the now disputed charges of a positive test for Testosterone of the Tour de France winner Floyd Landis.

We can conclude, very simply, that the initiatives of the Cycling world have done nothing to lessen the number or reduce the severity of doping scandals in cycling over the past decade. In fact, if history is any guide, the one thing we can be sure of regarding doping is this: 2007 will bring us fresh new doping scandals.

The Sport of Questionable Ethics
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about ethics in the sport. In particular, this has been a major feature of the negotiations around the establishment of the ProTour. It often seems, however, that Cycling is only interested in talking about ethics when the spotlight of the press is on the sport.

The Festina affair was the end of the careers of Voet, Roussel, and many other Festina personnel, but the MG Technogym case was much kinder on its protagonists. Luigi Sarti was soon back to work at Cantina Tollo; his two accomplices in the doping ring, another soigneur and a mechanic, were also soon back at work. The mechanic went to work at Amica-Chips; in 1999 investigators identified EPO in the waste left behind by the team. The soigneur went on to work for the Mapei team of Patrick Lefevre. Recall the 1999 case against Gianni Bugno? The sender on the package of amphetamines was none other than this same soigneur, Tiziano Morrassut.

Cycling history of the past decade abounds with similar examples and downright strange decisions. Consider the strange case of Nuno Ribeiro, fired from Liberty Seguros in 2005 for a too high hematocrit value, but subsequently re-employed on its sister team LA-Liberty. Kelme was excluded from the Tour in 2004 based on the accusations of Manzano but Cofidis, center of an even greater doping scandal, faced no such obstruction. Phonak was initially denied access to the ProTour based on the ethical charter, but Ferretti’s Fassa Bortolo saw admission without any questioning, despite Ferretti’s history of systematic doping on MG Technogym and multiple doping cases on Fassa Bortolo.

In 1998, Dr. Nicolas Torrados, team doctor of ONCE, was arrested in possession of forbidden substances, and the next year Alex Zülle testified that ONCE practised systematic doping on a scale similar to Festina. Despite this, it was none other than ONCE team manager Manolo Saiz that was chosen as the chairperson of the Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP). In spite of multiple doping-related irregularities on his team throughout 2004-2005, it took a long time before he was replaced as the president of AIGCP. His replacement as chairperson is Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevre. Incredibly, it seems the AIGCP does not consider it a problem to have their spokesperson talking to the public about ethics and the fight against doping, while his own team employs as Publics Relations spokesperson a former rider who is still serving out a suspension for doping.

Granted, the legacy of the past is flattering to few within the Cycling world; directors, masseurs, riders, agents, and even within the governing bodies of the sport; everywhere one finds the presence of people who have either been involved with or accused of doping. Without a doubt, it is important for Cycling that the past be left in the past, but looking to the future without taking history into account invites the asking of embarrassing questions, and puts great question marks on the credibility of the sport.

Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Cycling community do not match the unilateral anti-doping attitude that the Cycling world claims to pursue. In a world where political life is increasingly dominated by spin doctors, it seems perverse to encourage the study of public relations; yet some of the public relations blunders of Cycling with respect to doping are so elementary, and so gross, that one is tempted to do so.

The Sport of Misguided Loyalty
If the “ethics” of Cycling are questionable, the reaction – or more frequently lack of it – from riders when faced with news of their competition doping is more so. Given the small size of the cycling community, it may be understandable that riders do not wish to denounce what may have been (and will again) be close colleagues. Regardless of the reason, however, silence will always be interpreted as complicity.

Normal people become angry when they realize they have been cheated. That cyclists rarely express anger when faced with evidence of doping, speaks volumes about the attitude that still seems to rule the peloton with respect to the act. It is, perhaps, inevitable that misunderstandings arise when people of different cultures interact (a person that might appear angry and agitated to a Russian, might not seem so to a Frenchman), but the general impression left on the public seems to be that cyclists don’t care whether their competition was doped. The conclusion drawn by the public from that impression should be obvious.

The impression of the public is only strengthened by the reaction – frequently angry – that the sport reserves for riders who speak out about doping, and break the so-called “omerta” (code of silence). Manzano, Gaumont, and Simeoni are the most recent examples; each in their turn was reviled by large numbers of their fellow riders for speaking out; and each in turn has had their words subsequently upheld by subsequent events.

Actions speak louder than words and the actions of the cycling world speak more of collective guilt, than of innocence. Loyalty to one’s fellows is both understandable and laudable; if the cycling world wishes to regain credibility, however, it is needful for it to comprehend that loyalty towards doping is not. As in all walks of life, many dangers threaten the whistle-blower; first and foremost threats against that rider’s career. As Operation Puerto clearly demonstrated, Cyclists as a group have almost no rights as employees, and little recourse when they get caught up in the power struggles of the organizations. Until the sport has mechanisms in place to encourage Cyclists and to make it viable for them to participate actively in the fight against doping, the current unhealthy system will continue, with the predictable consequences in terms of the credibility of the Sport.

The Sport of the Doping Suspect
The past decades have quite literally turned Cycling into the sport of the doping suspect. Cyclists protest that it is possible to win even the great races and be clean; it is frightening however to consider how many of the sports champions have ended up having their career blackened by doping accusations. For the purposes of this article, we will consider as doping accusation only either a positive test or an open admittance of doping or an investigation into alleged doping by that rider by the authorities; essentially the same criteria used, however unfair, to exclude riders from the Tour this year. It is also worth noting that in many of these cases (all those were there exist no positive tests or admissions), no charges were ever leveled by the UCI/National anti-doping authorities, usually due to a lack of evidence.

Let us consider, first, the podiums of the Grand Tours. Of the fourteen riders to have stood on the Tour de France podium over the past 10 years (1997-2006) all but four have now faced serious doping accusations [4]. For the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta Espana, the numbers are similar; four of eighteen [5] and six of twenty-one [6] respectively. In short, two out of every three riders who get to stand on a Grand Tour podium has had to defend themselves against public charges of doping or doping-related connections.

Looking only at the winner’s step, the statistics for Grand Tour riders become even more depressing. For the past ten years, there hasn’t been a single winner of the Tour de France who hasn’t been the target of doping investigations. In the Giro d’Italia, only one winner has escaped being named in a doping investigation and in the Vuelta a Espana, only two. The statistics are slightly better for “Classics” riders; though even here the numbers are far from flattering. Looking at the list of winners for the monuments of Cycling, one finds thirteen of thirty-one riders having been named in some form of doping connection [7]; more than one in three.

Obviously, it is possible to win “clean”. But it is perhaps not so strange that many people equate “winning” with “doping” in Cycling when we look at such statistics. Even if the press reports are frequently one-sided, filled with unsubstantiated rumours reported as facts (several of the incident during Operation Puerto are perfect examples of how the press will print “facts” about doping, no matter how thin the supporting evidence), and driven by sensationalism, the root of the problem is still the responsibility of the Cycling world itself.

Even disregarding rumours in the press (as has been done here), far too many of the sport’s Champions have been involved in investigations related to doping. Even if this may be no fault of the rider, the damage done to the sport remains. “No smoke without a fire” is a thousand year old proverb that is ingrained into the very fabric of human society; with so much smoke, it is inevitable that public perception will travel in the direction it has gone today.

Cyclists continue to affirm that winning “clean” is possible. No doubt it is. Winning with a clean reputation, on the other hand, appears to be a significantly harder proposition.

The Sport of the Doctors
Cycling as a sport is inextricably linked with doctors. In a sport which demands extreme performance from its practitioners, good doctors and the right training can be of huge importance. As the sport practitioners body balances on a knife-edge between optimal performance and unhealthy overspecialization, the sports physician plays an important part in maintaining the balance. But the sports physician himself has to balance on the knife-edge, for in elite sports – and particularly in Cycling – suspicion is never far away. Unfortunately, cause for suspicion is not unfounded.

“Clean cycling is an illusion”, Francesco Moser commented in L’Equipe in 1999, at the same time admitting to having used blood doping when he broke the hour record in 1984 shortly before blood doping became illegal. His coach at the time was Francesco Conconi, former chief of Bio-Medicine at Ferrarra university.

Prof. Conconi has had an extraordinary career. On August 14, 1980, Prof. Conconi submitted a proposal to CONI (the Italian Olympic Committee), proposing that select Italian athletes be “assisted” by the staff of the university to improve their performances. He noted the sports that would benefit from such assistance as cycling, canoeing, rowing, long-distance skiing, speed skating, swimming, and wrestling. CONI accepted the offer.

According to the Head of Research of CONI, Sandro Donati (then an athletics coach for Italy and approached to participate in the programme), this assistance was basically blood doping. With his research funded by CONI (more than 2 million Euro over the years [8]), Conconi was able to achieve spectacular results with the athletes working with him, culminating at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics where Italy sensationally emerged as a powerhouse in long-distance skiing (with a total harvest of 34 medals). It would later be documented that many of these athletes registered hematocrit values of greater than 50.0%; a strong indication of EPO use and measurements that today would have had them suspended from competition[9].

By the early 1990s, Cycling was one of the most professionally organized sports and this professionalism offered a useful venue of approach for doctors with such spectacular credentials. Prof. Conconi and his staff went to work on Gewiss Ballan; a team which today is almost synonymous with doping (not least because of abnormal hematocrit values recorded for the riders on the team in the period 1994-1995). Two of Conconi’s assistants, a Dr. Michele Ferrari and Dr. Ilario Casoni, were responsible for the team. In addition to the teams connected to the Institute, a large number of the stars of the 1990s were clients of the doctor’s at the institute.

As Sandro Donati experienced, Prof. Conconi had extremely influential connections. Among them was the then President of IOC’s medical committee, Alexandre de Merode, who appointed Conconi as a member of the medical committee and gave him funds to work on a test to detect the use of EPO; a decision that set back anti-doping efforts several years. In gratitude, Conconi had the University of Ferrara confer an honorary degree on his patron. Another influential patron was the President of CONI itself, Dr. Pescante, who managed for two years to suppress a report by Donati that strongly indicted Conconi and doping in cycling.

By 1999, however, Conconi’s patrons could no longer protect him, and criminal proceedings were started against Conconi and his assistants. Extensive documents were confiscated, and formed the basis for the Ferrara case. In 2003, however, the investigating judge had to dismiss due to the statute of limitations [10]. During the time Conconi operated, doping was not a crime, and the relevant evidence that could have convicted him for sporting fraud was simply too old to be usable in the Italian court of law. Conconi walked away a free man; but the evidence against him was such that the judge took the unprecedented step of judging Conconi, and his two colleagues Ilario Casoni and Giovanni Grazzi, “morally guilty” of the promotion of doping in sports.

Conconi’s shadow (and that of the Ferrara institute) over cycling was, and continues to be – extensive.
The most famous of Conconi’s assistants is without a doubt Dr. Michele Ferrari. His list of clients reads like an all-star cast of the sport of Cycling [11]; most notably, of course, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, but also including top sprinters, hour-record holder and Giro and Vuelta winners. Among the evidence in the Ferrara case, there were reported papers with prescriptions by Ferrarri for DHEA, IGF1, and Eritogren (EPO); and when the separate case filed against him went to trial in 2004 (Ferrari had split from Conconi in the later 1990s), the verdict returned against him was guilty on two counts (“sporting fraud” and “abuse of medical license to purchase doping products”). Further legal battles led to the judgment being overturned this year. Ferrari, like his one-time mentor Conconi, was able to fall back on the statute of limitations and escape a conviction due to the slow-moving Italian anti-doping efforts.

Dr. Carlos Santuccione is another colleague of Conconi and Ferrari from Ferrara institute. Allegedly known as “Ali the Chemist”, Santuccione was suspended from acting as a physician from 1995-2000 by CONI. Despite this, he was a much sought after person among several high-profile stars of the sport [12] . His name appeared in the Ferrara case; and he was subject to additional investigation in 2001. In 2004, the large scale operation “Oil for Drugs” struck in 29 Italian provinces against a doping network that Santuccione is suspected to have headed. Huge amounts of doping products: testosterone, anabolic steroids, EPO, Aranesp, blood transfusion equipment, et al., were seized, and investigations were opened against 138 athletes (15 of them professional). The case led to further arrests, among them a member of the Italian Cycling federation. Today, Santuccione’s license is suspended, although most of the riders who were his clients remain active while the investigations grind on.

Dr. Georges Mouton [13]was Belgium’s most famous Sports Physician, even belonging for a little while to the Tour de France society. In 2000, Danish Cyclist Brian Dalgaard admitted on TV to having been supplied with doping by Dr. Mouton , and the doctor has been under near-continuous investigation since then. In October 2004, the Belgian press reported that Mouton is suspected to have in his charge at least 40 doping “dossiers” (among them a dozen German professional cyclists) [14] . Surprisingly, even here we find a connection to the Ferrara institute; Dr. Mouton allegedly worked together with Dr. Ferrari as sports physician for Frank Vandebroucke. Upon the exposure of Dr. Fuentes in Operation Puerto, Dr. Mouton went public to speak out in his support: "Doping is not inherently bad in the way specified. The demands on the riders are bad. I only help my patients to deal with those demands, as I would help a manager. I find it immoral that I cannot treat a sportsman the same as any other patient." [15]

Dr. Eufamenio Fuentes presumably needs no introduction. At the center of the greatest scandal yet seen in the sport, no less than 58 sportsmen from Cycling (and supposedly even greater numbers from other sports) have been suspected of working with him, though as the waters muddy, it seems as if (as often before) a few scapegoats will be made to bear the responsibility of the majority. It is the blood transfusions provided by Fuentes that have garnered the most attention, but the operation uncovered in Spain allegedly also involves sale and distribution of doping products over the internet. And clues from Operation Puerto, it seems, may lead law enforcement on to similar doping networks in Belgium, Germany and Italy.

The Ferrara Institute had one more notable scion that we have yet to mention: Dr. Luigi Cecchini. Cecchini was placed under suspicion in the Ferrara case, as prescriptions for anabolic steroids, hormones and other doping products issued by Cecchini were allegedly found in the Bologna pharmacy central to the case. No charges were raised; however, as the public prosecutor felt there was too little evidence to secure a guilty verdict by Italian law. Cecchini’s name has again appeared in Operation Puerto, as he is suspected of being an accomplice of Fuentes; an accusation that has made many of his clients announce [16] that they will no longer work with the doctor. Unlike the other doctors, Cecchini has never been caught in wrong-doing outside of the Ferrara institute. However, his clients share in two conditions that cause the public to group Cecchini together with his more notorious colleagues.

First, the majority of the cyclists who use these sport physicians are notoriously shy of revealing their connection to the doctors. This in itself is something that tends to arouse the suspicion of the public against these athletes; obviously, if there is no reason for suspicion, should there be any grounds for secrecy? Second, is a curious fact: mention any Champion of the sport for the past 10 years, and at least 9 out of 10 times you will find that he has been a client of one of the five men listed above.

When one factors in the remarkable past of these doctors, the connection between Champion and Doctor inevitably leads to suspicion in the public. And this is a cycle that feeds on itself; the more notorious the doctor becomes, the more reluctant the cyclist is of being public about his relationship. And the more reluctant the athletes become, the more suspicious the public becomes.

The shadow of the Ferrara Institute looms large over the sport. Given the knowledge that the public views all of these men with extreme suspicion for their connection to doping in the past, it is hard to understand that any cyclist at all worried about his reputation would want to be connected to any of them. More than anyone else, the doctors in Cycling have been the focus of doping cases; for this reason as well, the reputation of a Cyclist gets associated with the doctors he works with.

The Sport of Doping Controls
Critics of Cycling have often commented that the regime of doping controls in the sport is insufficient; the protagonists of the Sport, on the other hand, rebut these charges by pointing out that no other sport has such a comprehensive anti-doping program as Cycling.

The evidence does seem to indicate that Cycling has the best anti-doping program of all sports. A recent WADA report that showed how Cycling was the sport with the most positive test (proportionate to the number of tests) caused a great deal of furor this summer; it however also conclusively shows that Cycling is the sport that performs the greatest number of doping tests of any sport, by a wide margin.

Strong as the anti-doping program is, however, it should be clear that it is ineffective at containing doping. Law enforcement agencies continue to throw up indications of widespread doping networks operating in the sport, but only a fraction of the riders exposed through such investigations are ever caught in the doping controls. The case of David Millar is one example of doping that went on for several years with no one the wiser. The cases that are coming out of Operation Puerto may perhaps bring to light many more. Many anti-doping experts have pointed out the challenges facing the doping testers; the essence of which is that doping even with products that can be detected (such as EPO) is perfectly possible, as long as the athlete knows what he is doing. And then, of course, there are the doping methods that can not be detected at all.

A recent report by M. Zorzoli et al. [17] is quite interesting; in it, Zorzoli reports on the blood values of an anonymous rider strongly suspected of doping. Despite being certain that the rider is doping (due to the blood values registered for the cyclist), it takes the anti-doping authorities more than a year of targeted testing before they are able to finally clinch a positive test for the cyclist. One suspects that had the rider been careful, or lucky, enough, he might never have been caught.

It does appear that in today’s world of Cycling, it effectively takes human error by either the rider or his accomplices, for a rider to test positive for doping. Somewhat cynically, one might wonder: when some riders caught positive in a doping test argue that the tests are fallible, are they speaking from personal experience having cheated those same tests in the past?

It is often argued, based on the volume and results of the doping tests in Cycling, that doping is much less of a problem than is claimed by the press. This is probably true, insofar as that it is often claimed that everyone dopes. Nevertheless, there is little question that the doping problem is serious; far more serious than the organizations in Cycling seem willing to admit. Operation Puerto made that blindingly obvious, but Zorzoli’s paper from 2005 ought to already have been an eye-opener.

In it, Zorzoli details statistics from blood tests performed by the UCI in the period from 2001-2004. While the average Hematocrit of riders falls from 2001 to 2002 (presumably a result of the introduction of the EPO test), it soon recovers to rise in 2003 and 2004 past the 2001 average. Clearly, the effect of EPO testing has been very short-lived, with hematocrit rising again as new ways to avoid positive tests (e.g., micro-doses, etc) were discovered.

More alarming, however is the reticulocyte results detailed by Zorzoli in the paper. A low reticulocyte count is a strong indicator that the athlete is either very, very sick – or that some form of blood doping (most likely blood transfusions) has taken place, particularly if the hematocrit has also increased. Where 2002 has 1 sample out of 2351 taken with an extraordinarily abnormal reticulocyte count (<0.2% reticulocytes), 2003 has 41 samples out of 2073 showing similar abnormal results. Looking at the sample set, the total number of low reticolucyte results indication suspicious activity rise from from 2.1% in 2001 to 9.5% in 2004. In short, it seems likely that the handful of blood transfusion cases that we have witnessed over the past four years are only the tip of the iceberg, with a significant percentage of riders possibly making use of blood transfusions. Not an idle suspicion, given that – like EPO in the 90s – autologous blood transfusions cannot be detected.

When we consider as well that networks such as the one uncovered in Operation “Oil for Drugs” (2004), Operation Cahors (2005), and Operation Puerto (2006) all also carried out a brisk trade in more “traditional” doping products such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones, EPO, etc., it is clear that the problem of doping is not just limited to a small number of athletes.

The market for illegal substances – among amateurs and professionals alike – is huge and lucrative, and while it exists, there will be suppliers trying to supply it. In France, reputed for its tough anti-doping stance, the number of incidents involving the illegal trafficking of anabolic and doping substances (for sports in general and not just Cycling) more than doubled between 2002 and 2003 [18]. The same pattern has been observed in many other European countries. Is it credible that Cycling; alone of all sports, is reducing its doping use in a time when doping as a whole is on the rise?

One of the revelations from Operation “Oil for Drugs” was a diary, belonging to a professional Italian rider. The rider consumed, in one season (2001), 218,000 units of EPO, in addition to significant amounts of anabolical steroids, Gh (growth hormone), IGF3, and many other products. Most of the doping consisted of micro-doses; allowing the rider to fly under the radar of doping tests (in one case, the rider apparently dosed with 2000 units of EPO one day, yet passed the pre-competition doping test the next day without trouble). Despite this massive doping intake, the rider in question did not win a single victory during the season; he was merely a domestique on his team (which was one of minnow teams in the sport).

When even “insignificant” riders consume such large amounts of doping products it makes a normal persons head spin; when doping controls are more an annoyance than a hindrance; when police investigations continue to uncover huge doping distribution networks flourishing within the cycling world; is it any wonder that the public becomes cynical about its stars?

A Sport in Disrepute
There are many reasons why the sport of Cycling has been brought into disrepute, above and beyond the ones listed above. The above, however, are some of those that appear again and again when fans and critics of the sport come to discuss the ill repute of the sport.

It is fashionable to blame the press for witch-hunts, one-sided reporting and generalizing statements. Coverage of Cycling in the main-stream press could be more balanced, true; but ultimately the responsibility for the ill-repute of Cycling in the public falls squarely on the cycling world itself.

Despite a decade of anti-doping efforts since doping in Cycling became a public issue, outwardly it appears to the public as if little has changed, other than the cunning with which doping is hidden. If the public’s perception is to change, then each of the problems above will have to be addressed. To do so will require the combined efforts of all the protagonists of the Cycling world; the riders, the teams, the race organizers, and the organizations that govern cycling.

It will require an end to the internal squabbling and the guilt-placement game; activities that divert resources away from the critical efforts that will be required to clean up the sport.

Recommended Reading:
Cycling’s Winter of Discontent Part 2

Footnotes:

1. ZDF and ARD in Germany, DR in Denmark.
2. The tragic death of Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux.
3. O. S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Tavshedens Pris”, 1999. The initial explanation by Ferreti was significantly more exotic; he testified that all of the doping products were for his own private use, “to improve his sexual performances”, according to the police reports from the hearings.
4. The riders who have graced the Tour podium from 1997 to 2006 are Jan Ullrich (accused in Operation Puerto), Richard Virenque (convicted of doping in the Festina affair), Marco Pantani (failed hematocrit test in 1999), Bobby Julich, Lance Armstrong (target of multiple failed doping investigations), Alex Zülle (admitted EPO use), Fernando Escartin (investigated in case against Conconi), Joseba Beloki (accused in Operation Puerto), Raimondas Rumsas (positive EPO test), Alexandre Vinokorouv, Andreas Klöden, Ivan Basso (accused in Operation Puerto), Floyd Landis (positive Testoterone test), and Oscar Pereiro.
5. The riders on the Giro podium for the past 10 years are Ivan Gotti (failed hematocrit test 1998), Pavel Tonkov (failed hematocrit test 1999), Giuseppe Guerini, Marco Pantani (failed hematocrit test 1999), Paolo Savoldelli (investigated in the case against Ferrari), Gilberto Simoni (positive test 2002), Stefano Garzelli (positive test 2002), Francesco Casagrande (positive for testosterone 1994), Abraham Olano (positive test 1994), Unai Osa (accused in Operation Puerto), Tyler Hamilton (positive for blood transfusion 2004), Pietro Caucchioli, Yaroslav Popovych, Damiano Cunego, Serguei Gonchar (investigated in the so-called San Remo doping probe 2001), Jose Rujano Guillen (positive test 2003), Ivan Basso (accused in Operation Puerto), and Jose Gutierrez Cataluna (accused in Operation Puerto).
6. The riders on the Vuelta podium since 1997: Alex Zülle (admitted EPO use), Fernando Escartin (investigated in the case against Conconi), Laurent Dufaux (positive EPO test), Abraham Olano (positive test 1994), Jose Maria Jiminez (positive caffeine test 1994), Jan Ullrich (accused in Operation Puerto), Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (positive Salbutamol 2002), Roberto Heras (positive EPO 2005), Angel Casero (positive for Nandrolon 1996), Pavel Tonkov (failed hematocrite test 1999), Oscar Sevilla (failed caffeine test 2000), Levi Leipheimer, Aitor Gonzalez (positive test 2005), Isidro Nozal (failed hematocrit 2004), Alejandro Valverde, Santiago Perez (positive for blood transfusion 2004), Francisco Mancebo (accused in Operation Puerto), Dennis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Alexandre Vinokorouv, and Andrey Kaschechkin.
7. In the winner’s circle of the monuments of Cycling, we find Erik Zabel (positive for Cortisone 1994), Andrei Tchmil, Mario Cipollini (investigated in case against Ferrari), Paolo Bettini (investigated in the MG Technogym case), Oscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, Filippo Pozzato, Rolf Sörensen (investigated in case against Conconi), Johan Museeuw (convicted in Landuyt affair), Peter Van Petegem, Gianluca Bortolami (positive for EPO 1998), Andrea Tafi, Steffen Wesemann, Tom Boonen, Frederic Guesdon, Franco Ballerini (positive for Ephidrine 1996), Servais Knaven, Magnus Backstedt, Fabian Cancellara, Michele Bartoli, Frank Vandenbroucke (EPO, positive tests), Oscar Camenzind (positive for EPO 2004), Tyler Hamilton (positive for blood transfusion 2004), Davide Rebellin (investigated in the so-called San Remo doping probe 2001), Alexandre Vinokorouv, Alejandro Valverde, Laurent Jalabert, Mirko Celestino, Raimondas Rumsas (positive EPO), Danilo di Luca (investigated in Oil for Drugs) and, Damiano Cunego.
8. O. S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Danskerlaegen”, 2000.
9. It is worth noting, at this point, that the Italian sport’s federations were not alone in the potential abuse of EPO. From statements given by sports officials, it is clear that many national sports associations were approached by medicinal companies during the early 1990s, in attempts to institute organized EPO programs.
10. The statute of limitations is a statute in a common law legal system that sets forth the maximum period of time, after certain events, that legal proceedings based on those events may be initiated. In Italy, this has now resulted in acquittal for sporting fraud in several notorious cases.
11. According to papers from the Ferrara case (reported by Andersen and Jung), Ferrari’s list of client in the 90s included Rominger, Jalabert, Gotti, Zülle, A. Mercx, Cippolini, Savoldelli, Olano, Escartin, Tonkov, Chiappucci, Pantani, and Vandenbroucke. Lance Armstrong admitted to being a client of Ferrari in 2001 and officially terminated the relationship in 2004; three times World Time Trial Champion Michael Rogers as well as T-Mobile teammate Patrick Sinkewitz admitted to being a client during the 2006 Tour. Despite US Postal officially breaking off relations with Ferrari in 2004, at least one rider of the Discovery team was observed still working with Ferrari in early 2006.
12. The most notable of Santuccione’s clients is 2005 ProTour champion Danilo di Luca; others include Rebellin, Celestino, Bennati, Commesso, and Mazzoleni.
13. O. S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Danskerlaegen”, 2000.
14. Among the clients cited for Mouton in the 2000 TV documentary “Danskerlaegen” were Abdoujabarov, Dierckxens, and Streel (note however, that this does not necessarily imply that they are among the doping dossiers).
15. TAZ, 18.7.2006, Daily Mirror 19.7.2006
16. Among the riders who have been put in connection with Cecchini are: Hamilton, Basso, Cancellara, T. Dekker, Ullrich, Cunego, Petacchi, Casagrande, Bartoli, Cipollini, Tafi, P. Richard, R. Soerensen, G. Bugno and B. Riis. In August 2006, T-Mobile rider L. Gerdemann announced the end of his relationship with Cecchini.
17. M. Zorzoli ”Blood monitoring in an anti-doping setting”. In W. Schänzer, H. Geyer, A. Gotzmann, U. Mareck (eds.) Recent advances in doping analysis (13). Sport und Buch Strauss, Köln (2005), pages 255-264.
18. European Union Organised Crime Situation Report, 2004.

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