Paul Andrews

This Day in Doping: Alberto Contador?

In Bicycle Racing, This Day In Doping on July 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm

VeloNews: Contador ducks doping questions. Who knows what to make of this? Contador has to be annoyed at second-guessing his performance. But he’s not a very engaging figure, either. I’m not saying he acts like he’s guilty, but somehow these guys always seem to have Barry Bonds syndrome. As much as you may admire their accomplishments, you can’t root for them because they seem a bit unreal.

That’s partly why I’m a big Andy Schleck fan. As good as he is, he also seems more human. You can tell he’s suffering out there, and it’s harder for him. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which you can’t help but admire.

I keep hoping the doping is behind us. All the signals are there, the international crackdown seems to continue apace. But when you have doping suspects like Lance and Bruyneel hanging around, especially on the same team, I suppose anything is possible. When Lance says he won’t race for anyone but Bruyneel, you are tempted to wonder what secrets the two of them share.

I respect Greg Lemond’s work in this arena and his constant bird-dogging of the issue. Greg it seems to me has worked out a legitimate, accurate approach involving VO2 max and other biological input for determining rider performance. But Greg isn’t a medical scientist any more than the rest of us and has a vested interest of course (although it seems largely personal).

In the TT in question, it should be noted it included a pretty stiff climb that would favor Alberto’s specialty. OTOH my understanding is that the late starters faced more headwind. As with any doping issue, there are always conspiratorial and non-conspiratorial sides to the race.

What we can say for sure is that the database is growing. News reports during this year’s Tour of “nothing was found” miss the point. Every time a search is conducted, or a sample taken, the database grows. Doping forensics must be a wild and fascinating science, but it also must constantly adapt to new methods of subterfuge. And that takes time: Riders are being penalized today for abuses that took place a year or more ago. What happened? The database, and more sophisticated analysis techniques, caught up with them.

For a recent case in point, Danilo Di Luca’s positive test from this past Giro d’Italia. Check the comments.

Here’s what a poster at BikePure had to say about Di Luca’s disconcerting betrayal:

Bike Pure works through positive measures. We believe that the sport has enough to cope with without us pointing the finger. But today speaking as singular, not part of Bike Pure, I blame the UCI – not The Killer. I think the UCI must accept that the system is not identifying the cheats, stop pouring money into it and concentrate on either displaying the actual results of all riders, leaving it open to scrutiny and free from criticism, or dump it as a poor method of weeding out the cheats and move to other methods, perhaps the much proposed, yet much ignored Vo2 max testing.

Data is one thing. Politics is another. Right now, most people who watch the doping scene feel politics dominates because of the huge money involved. As long as Lance or Alberto or whomever brings big dollars and attention to the sport, any doping allegations are going to be downplayed. And cycling officialdom will resist “outside interference” in the form of independent investigations, because officialdom sadly knows the truth, or suspects it, and understands that the truth can only damage the sport, especially in the pocketbook. One yearns for a journalistic investigation, but the publications with expertise in the sport also have close financial ties to it, undermining incentives to expose.

All the above said, we will not know if this is the first “clean Tour” in years till well after Sunday’s final stage (assuming no one is tossed out sooner). Let’s keep our fingers crossed. I’d rather see a clean Tour than the alternative, even if a Contador disqualification would give the win to my man Andy, who god help us had better be clean himself!

  1. I wish that people would stop assuming that every good cyclist is doped to the eyeballs. Cycling has the toughest testing programme of any sport, which has a lot to do with why there are so many people caught. I am not saying that a lot of pro cyclists use banned substances, but that these people are caught.
    Contador and Armstrong, along with every other TDF rider are subject to a huge number of tests, both in and out of competition. There are random tests at any time of year, and if the rider isn’t available when called in for a test, it counts as a positive.
    So let’s leave the task of determining the drug cheats to the anti-doping authorities, and get on with watching the tour.
    As to the comment “as longas Lance or Alberto or whomever brings big dollars and attention to the sport, any doping allegations are going to be downplayed.” Rubbish! The more dominant and popular a rider is, the more doping is going to be alleged, even if the only “evidence” is that they went really fast! Why can’t we allow these athletes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? A lot of resources are devoted to catching drug cheats, especially in cycling and especially in the TDF, so let the process run its course.

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