“Mark Cavendish misses doping test” screams the latest Twitter update. And, with that, thousands of hearts sink simultaneously, fingers turning to Google in search of further details. Surely not Mark Cavendish? The Manx Missile? Road cycling’s world champion?
First reported by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport and later confirmed by the Team Sky rider himself after a wave of speculation, Cavendish admitted to missing an out-of-competition drugs test ahead of the 2011 Giro d’Italia. But the story is a non-starter.
“I was with a film crew from the BBC and Giro d’Italia on Mount Etna,” said Cavendish. “It was a simple, genuine admin error. Of course, I totally understand the importance of testing in sport.
“I was tested by the UCI a couple of weeks before that and twice in the fortnight after and had around 60 tests in all last year. It’s part of the job. And it’s my job to make sure that I don’t miss another.”
Miss another being the key phrase. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Whereabouts rule requires elite athletes – across any sport signed up to the WADA Code – to state their whereabouts for one pre-determined hour (between 6am and 11pm), each day. The thing is, a rider does not qualify for punishment unless three tests are missed.
Cavendish is an outspoken doping critic but his name has been called into question by the leaked ‘test’, although Team Sky and British Cycling boss Dave Brailsford was quick to support his rider.
“There is absolutely no doubt about Mark’s integrity,” said Brailsford. “I am totally satisfied that he made a genuine mistake. He is tested regularly and is a powerful advocate for testing and ensuring that sport is clean.”
Missing one test is like forgetting to pay your electricity bill. A mistake, yes, but worth reporting? Never. The Whereabouts rule has attracted criticism for breaching athletes’ human rights but, for WADA, it is a key tool in the fight against doping and allows athletes to be tested without prior notice and outside of competition.
Mistakes happen and Cavendish’s missed test came at a time when he was training, between races and splitting his time between his home in Quarrata, Italy, and Essex, where his girlfriend, Peta Todd, lives. He would have been warned, and rightly so, but the crime here is that a single missed test has been leaked and a name temporarily tarnished, if only by media headlines and not the facts.