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Next Doping Battles Drawing Closer

While the Classics season has been refreshingly free of doping news (not to mention positive tests), Cycling's next confrontation with its biggest menace seems to be drawing nearer, highlighted by several developments:

  • Today, Liquigas has renounced the AIGCP. Details are short, and in Flemish, but presumably this has everything to do with their announcement yesterday of having signed Ivan Basso for 2009. From their press release, "[t]he programme that we had adopted is outdated. There are other needs." Presumably one of those needs is to NOT have Basso's suspension doubled, per AIGCP and Pro Tour edict, so he can get back to making sponsors a boatload of money at the Giro.
  • Another skeleton is rumored to be coming out of his closet: Vino may want to race the Olympics. Team Chef has all the details in the diaries. Personally I'm skeptical, if only because he's been blowing off the testing system, which should seriously complicate any planned return. But the Kazakh federation continues to act like Vino was the victim of some western plot, and their capacity to embarass the sport this summer is a wild card.
  • On the teams side, we published a Belgian rumor yesterday that High Road isn't invited to the Vuelta, to which Frinking has added more confirmation... but no quotes. Sometimes the Belgian press gets a bit ahead of itself, so I'm still not sure it's true. But if the Vuelta is set on punishing High Road for past transgressions for ex-riders, then this strikes another blow to the sport's stability.

All of these items have in common a struggle to confront the sport's ugly past as races go on in the future. Nothing has been done to address the inevitable tension between the riders' rights to serve their punishment and get on with their Cycling lives, and the races' desire to present a product that's immune to suspicion. This has left teams wondering what the repercussions are for signing exiled stars like Basso, a huge talent even when he trains on nothing more than mineral water. Liquigas' action today might start the conversation... or catch them in the middle of an all-out brawl.

Basso's return date is far enough away for the teams and races (and UCI?) to huddle over the winter and come up with a plan. The current, unofficial blacklisting "policy" might keep Michael Rasmussen in obscurity, but it won't work on more serious talents like Basso or Andrey Kashechkin (or Landis?). Cycling needs to set the terms for allowing the convicted dopers back into the sport, so everyone knows the rules, so races don't keep excluding the Astanas and High Roads on murky logic, and so fans will have some sense of whether it's time to forgive and move forward.