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Hysteria Builds as Stuttgart Seeks to Bar Bettini, DiLuca

Stories at VN and CN and even Eurosport. Still desperate for the pelt of a doper they can waive around, organizers of the Stuttgart Worlds have turned to a local court (?) for an injunction against the participation of reigning world champion Paolo Bettini and demi-favorite Danilo DiLuca. All over this action are the fingerprints of German TV network ZDF, who have threatened to pull the plug once again on Cycling if the race contains the whiff of doping. Instead, ZDF will help its viewers celebrate a purer version of human athleticism by showing Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia.

Sorry if I sound like Cosmo this morning (not that there's anything wrong with it!), but the anti-doping grandstanding around these races knows no sensible limit. The two riders' cases are completely different: DiLuca is under investigation in his home country and the Italian federation may block him at any moment - the universally accepted method for dealing with suspect riders. Given the number of potential issues, it'd be for the best if they did.

But Bettini is a completely different story. The Rainbow Jersey is accused of violating the spirit of the event by not signing the Pledge, even though he signed the partial commitment to clean sport in July (not the full Tour de France version since he didn't ride the Tour) and committed to providing blood samples if requested. Organizers and Pat McQuaid began carping about this earlier in the week, but McQuaid has already lost his challenge to Valverde and is openly admitting that the Pledge matter is no grounds for barring Bettini.

Bettini's name also came up in a TV report that he supplied testosterone to confessed doper Patrik Sinkewitz. No doubt German TV and the Stuttgart organizers are attracted to the version of the story where Sinking Joke isn't so much a doper as a willing dupe to the Evil Foreign Manipulator. Unfortunately Sinkewitz and his attorney have issued full-throated denials of the report.

The move against Bettini is a desperate act on the part of the organizers to show their anti-doping mettle. This is classic tough-on-crime grandstanding, where political candidates grope around aimlessly for a shady character to beat up in public, with no consideration of the merits of any case. Back in the real world, the sport officially (legally) insists on some evidence of guilt before presuming riders non-innocent. Failing to sign the bogus Pledge isn't enough, and being the subject of wild rumors isn't either. The German media has apparently become obsessed with doping in Cycling, and the hysteria has spread to the organizers of the World Championships such that they seem bent on making a sideshow of their own show. Unless the media have something concrete, I really wish they'd bug off and start sifting through the dumpsters outside the training facilities at Hertha Berlin or Bayern Munich or something.

[Incidentally, ZDF would pull the plug on its viewers but not the feed supplied to the rest of the world, according to CN. Apparently the feeding frenzy stops short of contract abrogation.]