However much ESPN botches its cycling coverage (including billing today's evenhanded coverage by calling Floyd Landis the "foul icing on Cycling's tainted cake"), its saving grace is occasionally putting its coverage into the hands of non-idiots. Andrew Hood is one such person -- known for his even-handed work, mostly at VeloNews. And if my memory serves me, I recall he was a gregario on the old 7-Eleven squad, so he should understand the sport.
Today, Hood proposes a number of steps which might -- just might -- have the potential to save Cycling from drugs.
OK, first, I'm not agreeing with the premise that Cycling is facing oblivion, though things are bad. Also, Hood isn't the inventor of these ideas, just rounding up the suggestions floating out there. So my headline is a bit tongue-in-cheek.
But a number of his points sound like they have a great deal of potential merit. Let's break em down!
1. More out-of-comp controls
Pros: EPO, for example, is only detectable for a short time but has long-term benefits. Random tests might catch enough people off guard to scare off a number of dopers.
Cons: Tests are expensive, presumably tracking down athletes is too. And they already test out of competition, without scaring many dopers off. Absent a massive increase, the benefits are uncertain.
Rating: below average -- unrealistic costs, uncertain benefits.
2. Test closer to race time
Pros: guys will dope after giving their sample, in the hours before a race or stage starts.
Cons: hm, guys riding with bandaids?
Rating: Good -- why not?
3. Lighten the load
Pros: less incentive to dope? For eternity riders have been pointing the finger at ruthless race organizers for making the competition too hard for the unaltered human body.
Cons: aimed at the middle to back of the pack, where a lot of anonymous doping occurs (supposedly) just so these guys can make it through and do their jobs. People cheating to win will still cheat to win.
Rating: Poor. Probably a humane gesture but won't dent doping.
4. Amnesty for Confessed Dopers
Pros: Now we're getting someplace! In criminal law, the principle is that people can earn some leniency for confessing and saving the prosecutor resources, as well as providing the public a sense of closure. Well, in Cycling the resources to be saved once a positive is found aren't such a big deal, but closure is a huge problem. Also, David Millar's behavior demonstrates that confession often comes with remorse, which the sport could use a dose of.
Cons: Lighter penalties lessen the discouragement? Pshaw, mostly just the truly sorry who confess. Wrong message to kids? I'll take care of my kids' messages, thanks.
Rating: Excellent! No downside to it.
5. Doping Tax
Pros: More $$ means more of all enforcement tools. And expense of controls is a huge issue. Also, by taxing riders and teams, you might actually get these folks to take a little more ownership of the matter. OK, that's a bit theoretical.
Cons: It'd have to be a progressive tax in order to avoid pricing out some little guys. Likely to generate some resentment in countries where wages are taxed at 50% or something. And even if you think spending more would actually result in better sponsorship later, those sponsor dollars aren't spread out very evenly or fairly.
Rating: Good idea only if done right.
6. Third party controls
Pros: Hiring an outside entity to control testing gets the UCI out of the conflict of interest in promoting the sport while being asked to tear it down.
Cons: Gotta be careful empowering those outsiders or you'll have detectives rifling through riders' underwear drawers.
Rating: see #5.
7. Back-testing and sanctions
Pros: my favorite idea!! The idea is that you could be sanctioned now for a test you gave years ago that's been reexamined under a new method. Probably the biggest factor in a decision to cheat is handicapping whether you'll get caught. Well, riders presumably know (from their suppliers) how today's tests work, or more importantly, don't work. But tomorrow's tests are a complete mystery, and if you're looking at banishment as soon as a better test comes along... that's a pretty strong deterrent. Riders would lose essentially all control over their risk factor, except maybe the older riders, but if doping were stopped early on, chances are you wouldn't get 30-somethings dabbling in drugs for the first time.
Cons: A non-starter without #5 too. Ten years' worth of samples from 2-300 guys is a lot of tests... and these blood vials don't test themselves.
Rating: yes! yes! yes! Find the $$ somewhere. Even if the sport only occasionally did this, simply creating the possibility of banishment for a back-test would be meaningful.
8. Penalize teams
Pros: Greater responsibility means more self-policing. Teammates might pressure each other not to dope if, say, one gregario's indiscretion could cost you a spot in the Tour and untold million$.
Cons: There's a chicken-and-egg dynamic to this, similar to the argument about going after the pushers before the users. The riders should bear the greatest responsibility, particularly where the action in question is often so easily hidden.
Rating: Not bad. Even if it's a bit arbitrary to punish whole teams, this might be one of those freedoms riders should be willing to sacrifice in the name of winning the war.