Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Hopefully, this post will be read. Likely, it will languish on the interwebs unnoticed and lonely. In the off chance that you are a real human and read this post to its conclusion, I'm interested in your opinion and feedback. Disagree with me? Think I'm a misguided? Let me know in the comments section. And please, make your comments anonymous.
I’ve largely kept my head out of the doping game. Yeah, Pharmstrong jokes are easy to make, but I like to leave the accusations to the Cyclingnews.com forums. Reputations are too important to impugn on heresy and Internet innuendo. However, the recent Chicagobikeracing.com posts regarding an impending drug bust have aroused my interest.
The calculus involved in doping must be complicated. As one contemplates injecting himself with the product, he likely weighs the health risks, expected performance gains, monetary costs and odds of getting caught. Some might not even pause, but I’d like to think most do.
For the pros, the decision likely becomes a monetary one. And as is so often the case, greed rules the day. For the master cyclist, I’m not so sure what the thought process is. Perhaps ego is the motivating factor. Maybe it’s fear—of aging and finally slowing down.
Regardless of my rambling, it looks like USADA is acting on the confession of former pro cyclist doper turned pusher, Joe Papp. In coming months, expect a number of pro, elite, and masters cyclists to be busted for doping on behalf of Papp’s testimony.
(Papp is highly active on the Cyclingnews.com forums in the Clinic section. He also posts regularly to Twitter.)
Papp himself has an interesting story. In 2007, he was suspended for using synthetic testosterone at the 2006 Tour of Turkey where he won several stages. At the famed Landis hearings, he provided testimony regarding the benefits of testosterone for cyclists.
Explaining why he testified a the Landis hearing, Papp said, “By testifying here outside of clear conscience, and helping next generation of riders see that they have a choice. I don’t gain anything and I lose a lot.”
In reality, it appears Papp’s motives were not completely pure. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to distribute performance enhancing drugs” while he was offering information against other athletes suspected of drug use, according to Cyclingnews.
As he claimed to be helping to rid cycling of dopers, Papp was actually providing riders with drugs—something few articles explicitly mention. They ignore the timeline, making Papp a hero. The reality is gray. Like with all men, the truth goes beyond hero or villain.
One Race, Two Wins
But the Papp story gets even more complicated. And it takes another turn for the confusing with the lifetime ban from cycling semi-local hero/villain Duane Dickey recently received.
On Chicagobikeracing.com, an anonymous poster with the handle "VeloDoc (Project 5)" writes “sucks when it happens to a genuinely nice guy.” All over the Internet, praise is heaped on Dickey. His doping conviction is ignored, rationalized, or dismissed with the anonymous clicking of keys.
I cannot comment on Dickey’s innocence or guilt. USADA claims he possessed and used EPO, possibly supplied by Papp. Additionally, he refused a sample collection. If USADA cannot be believed, then all sports—not just cycling—has an issue. So for the sake of this article, I will assume USADA’s claims have merit.
(And I realize the issues that this assumption brings.)
What is most disturbing about this case is the phraseology of "VeloDoc." “When it happens” implies Dickey was forcefully injected with EPO. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Dickey, like the rest of us, has free will. He chose to posses and take EPO.
And this statement is about more than Dickey.
On Free Will
Perhaps USADA is totally wrong. Maybe this is all one big mistake. Regardless of that, doping is a choice. And if Tyler Hamilton taught us anything, it’s that being a nice guy has nothing to do with doping.
Heck, if Cyclingnews.com’s Clinic forum is to be believed, Hamilton’s wife arranged the doping logistics and then may have had a fling with Lance. But hey, that’s Cyclingnews.com’s Clinic forum. So Tugboat, I’m sorry if the above turns out true.
(Sorry, I'm not providing the link to that one.)
Who Will Be Busted Next?
To return to the Papp situation, one should doubt his testimony. If history is any guide, he is an opportunist. However, his evidence should not be disregarded if it can be corroborated. I, for one, hope it isn’t. Likely though, it has been. And it appears to have great relevance on American racing.
Tweeting about the 2010 Tour of Utah, Papp wrote that McCarty had earned a 5th place. On the stage, he had actually finished sixth. Ahead of him were Levi Leipheimer, Francisco Mancebo, Ian Boswell, Darren Lill and Phil Zajicek. Papp’s Tweet (screw you NYT, I’ll use Tweet as a word) implies one rider who finished ahead of McCarty was a doper.
Again on Cyclingnews.com’s Clinic forum, Papp points toward Zajicek and Lill as the likely dopers. According to speculative posts by other members, Leipheimer and Mancebo are assumed to be part of more sophisticated doping programs. Ian Boswell is assumed to be too young to dope. Lill then becomes a suspect, but is ruled out based on the timeline of Papp's pushing. This leaves Zajicek, who is claimed to have been busted at the “Tour of Qinghai(?) [sic] when he took a legal decongestant (not on the banned list) which metabolizes in the body into an illegal substance that was detected in a test,” poster “Rupert” wrote.
Again, the above is pure speculation by a potential random Internet waco. However, the claims on the Cyclingnews.com forums have often been substantiated. And Papp’s commentary seems to support the above quotation.
Let History Be Your Guide, Lemmiwinks
The year is 1998 and the Tour de France is in shambles. The discovery of doping products in a Festina team car leads to the reopening of an investigation into the TVM team. Before the Tour is over, the existence of a systematic network of doping is revealed.
In one race, the veneer of plausible deniability is shattered.
The year is now 2010—12 years since the Festina scandal. And cycling is still plagued by the dopage. But is seems that the basic issues still remain. Dopers, when caught, deny and fail to implicate the networks. The anti-doping organizations are not trusted. Fans believe in cover-ups and some of their fears appear to be founded.
Meanwhile, bloggers write about theoretical limits on performance (FTP must be less than 6.2 watts/kg, for example). Yet their numbers are flawed. They fail to take into account the climatic conditions and weight difference for each rider. (According to Andrew Coggan and others.) In one swoop, an entire cadre of riders is assumed guilty. Perhaps some are clean?
There is no easy way out of this quagmire. And if I knew the answers, I sure as heck wouldn’t be blogging about them. But some things clearly have to change in cycling. That much I can say.
For starters, dopers must be stigmatized in the style of The Scarlet Letter. The attitude toward them cannot be “oh, he’s a nice guy.” Frankly, it doesn’t matter if he’s the nicest guy in the world. He’s a doper. Ergo, he’s a cheat. Cheats don’t deserve respect or inclusion. Look what baseball did to Pete Rose after what he did to the sport’s integrity.
(Please, don’t get into the whole baseball doping thing. I’m speaking only of this case. And don’t bring up his one night back into the field. That was a poor decision.)
USADA/WADA must have credibility. When another Landis gets busted, there can be no question to the integrity of the system or the tests. A doping positive must be difficult to dispute. The organizations must be impartial and trustworthy.
USADA/WADA must have some accountability. At the CAS, athletes should be able to dispute cases and actually win—if their arguments merit victory. As much as every cheater should be caught, nobody should be falsely banned. So this means no more leaks to the L’Equipe.
Catching dopers must go beyond urine and blood tests. Clearly, they are easy to defeat. Informants should be used. And doping cases should be investigated by the police whenever and wherever possible.
The networks must be taken down. Behind every doper, there is a pusher. The people who supply the drugs must be found and stopped.
I’m no fool. (Well, I actually am.) I know my recommendations will not be easy to implement. In fact, they may be impossible to achieve. But as more doping cases are announced, the future should be on our minds. Our actions should be guided by our vision and values, not retribution, fanaticism or revenge.