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Cycle Sport on Doping: A Year After the Wristbands

Off the top, I'll say I still enjoy Cycle Sport magazine, the only print item I read. Velo News, recognizing the realities of the straight news world, are more a website to me than a magazine (hope that business model works), but Cycle Sport remains an entertaining, professionally-done fanmag.

Not surprisingly, their Tour recap issue (the second one, now containing actual Tour recaps) dwells on doping, a subject Cycle Sport has devoted more than a few dead trees to lately. It might be simpler to count the number of articles which don't raise the subject; but the lead editorial pieces are in the "Review" section up front (and the cheeky "Broomwagon" section in the back, though that's just kicks and giggles). On page 20 we get "The Good News About Doping," a celebration of the few things worth celebrating, like the fact that some cheaters were caught. On page 36, it's time to look at "Where Do We Go From Here?," another list of suggestions to deal with the remaining problems.

The "Good News" piece comes off as a vehicle for celebrating their "I Support Drug Free Sport," the magazine's signature campaign to galvanize public outrage. My favorite paragraph:

Although generally well received at the time, there were doubters, those who attacked us for a futile gesture, even those who accused us of capitalizing on the sport's woes.

Hey, that's me! Or wait, maybe it was this piece where I committed both of the sins mentioned in the above quote. In any event, if I neglected to use the word "vapid" to describe the ISDFS campaign, I certainly meant to. But a year later, I think I can be a bit more generous: galvanizing public outrage probably counts for more than I expected, thanks to the media echo chamber that ran with every report of depressed ratings and disaffected fans during the Tour. Such stories aren't nonsense if their cumulative effect is to increase the pressure on Cycling to clean up the sport. Of course, public outrage predates Cycle Sport's wristbands, but I'll say now that they're not without some merit.

I still contend that Cycle Sport should be developing more of a manifesto if they want to effect real change beyond the public outrage piece. They have offered some ideas in the past, which I didn't care much for, but it's good to see them trying again with this month's "Where do we go" editorial. Let's review the key points:

  • "Riders have to be more responsible."

I guess they mean riders should think about the impact their actions have on the sport at large. This is a worthwhile message in a sport where one rider's testosterone patch can put 75 innocent people out of work. Self-policing counts, and from quotes like Jerome Pineau's standing offer to punch Christian Moreni in the face, I suspect this movement is underway. Merit: 7.5 (out of 10)

  • "Sponsors should be directly involved."

Pretty vague... I can't tell if "a sponsor should be directly responsible for riders' actions" means they should get beat up for the infractions or they should be more active in enforcing rules. The former is a poison pill for sponsorship; the latter is merely unrealistic. My two favorite sponsors are T-Mobile, a massive telecomm, and Rabobank, a bank. Presumably neither of these companies was founded with any natural expertise in cycling or the nuances of doping... but the team organizations they sponsor certainly know all about such matters. Sponsors should be invited to weigh in, as Rabobank apparently did on the Rasmussen case, but if they prefer to just give the money and build in some contractual accountability on doping, more power to them. Merit: 1.5

  • "Shake up the UCI."

On its face, something everyone agrees with, probably even a few UCI employees. The question is, how? The short format didn't allow CS to expand on the idea aside from "working with key players" and getting McQuaid to be "tougher in a crisis."

I find this pretty frustrating: this is probably the most important piece, and even a paeon outsider like me can suggest some half-baked ideas on how exactly this might be done. Yet nobody in the sport or in the MSM ever says how the UCI should be changed. Can we please get past calling for "change" and start saying exactly what needs to be done? Is anyone inside the sport brainstorming on this? Merit: INC

  • "Unify the anti-doping laws."

Here the editors call for unified criminal laws regarding doping practices by both riders and doctors, helpfully pointing out that while Italy, France and Spain have such laws, the UK, US and others do not. If this were even remotely realistic, I would give this a pretty solid merit score: my hunch is that a cyclist's super powers are of little use in prison, other than the ability to take a ferocious beating. So as a disincentive, this could work.

The problem is, how on Earth do you ask the US criminal justice system to add crimes against pro cycling to its list of concerns? We have drug gangs shooting each other and the odd innocent bystander on our streets. I've lived in two major US cities now where (by my guess) some 90+ percent of the crime against innocent people (break-ins, property theft, violent assaults, etc.) are committed by addicts and other participants in the drug underworld. In these and other cities the cops are woefully underfunded; on the national level, the DEA barely makes a dent in the trafficking. And you're asking this system to start going after sports cheaters? I will never, ever, ever support this idea, as long as there's a single meth addict running around hitting people on the head for pocket change. Sorry, cycling can fund and prosecute its own solutions. Merit: 9.0 (fairyland); 0.1 (real world)

  • "Make races easier."

We've batted this one around before. Nobody thinks it will eliminate cheating by guys going for the win, but it does tend to reduce it among the rank-and-file. To the extent riders are cheating just to get out of bed the next morning and race again, this helps. But that's a pretty small piece of the puzzle. Merit: 4.0