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What to do with the drug cheats

it’s not going to go away

It’s difficult to come up with five attractive solutions to this problem – we’ve been here so many times and it’s as old as cycle racing itself. Much of what the peloton gets up to is shrouded in secrecy and there is no doubt that the UCI, the teams, the Doctors and the race organisers are just as much to blame as the riders themselves – especially as most of them were, once upon a time, racers too.

The fact that more accurate testing has meant riders have had to resort back to blood doping, something that had gone out of fashion because EPO was so effective, shows that the peloton has run out of ideas. Add-in the depressing fact that the majority of riders have been implicated by someone or other at some stage in their career, might suggest that the sport is at crisis point and hasn’t got a clue about a solution?

The majority of you would like to see a lifetime ban, fair enough. But for a first offence? No benefit of doubt? No second chance? What if it was a ‘set-up’?

And if one rider is guilty, aren’t they all in some way, responsible?

We’re not saying all of the peloton, the ‘establishment’ and the ex-riders are drug cheats, but the ‘honour amongst thieves’ type secrecy just perpetuates the problem. They all know what’s going on and they are all looking for an edge on their rivals, so even the clean riders know more about the drugs than most of the Doctors – and it’s not just the vulnerable (like Marco Pantani) who make mistakes. Many intelligent riders (like Alex Zulle) have confessed and tried to return – yet the peloton continues to ride and race with these riders who have been caught – why?

After the recent news that David Millar has been banned, Tyler Hamilton has been tested positive (yet he still denies it), Richard Virenque has been ‘redeemed’ and Johan Museuuw has been suspended – surely we need to address this problem in broader terms and with a more imaginative approach?

How about a sin-bin type ban or a UCI points deduction and similar suspension for the whole team? At present the teams can carry on racing if just one rider has tested positive, but is that right? Take away a rider’s UCI ranking points and eventually their contracts are worthless, let’s hit them where it hurts. As the survey shows, the risk clearly isn’t big enough if they can just return after a six month holiday with a clean slate, fresh legs and just be a little more careful.

On the other hand, perhaps the racing is too hard, the pressure too great and the goals too attractive? Many have said racing has to be made to be less strain on the team leaders and stars – the Tour de France is just too tough. So isn’t it time they had more rest days and less long and pointless flat stages?

It’s easy to be pious and naive about this, but lasting solutions will be hard to design and enforce. So before you decide read Will Voet’s book, Breaking the Chain and Paul Kimmage’s, A Rough Ride. You will see a different side to the pro peloton. It’s sad that the sport has cheats but when you know a little more about why and how they do it, you can begin to understand, even sympathise a little. It’s a crazy world where riders have to cheat, not to win, but just to make a living.


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