Marianne Vos follows Ina-Yoko Teutenberg at the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen.
You don't hear too much about doping controls in women's racing. Part of the reason for that silence may be that they very often don't exist. Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that doping controls are relatively lax in women's cycling. In an interview with Bike-Pure, an organization who advocates for clean cycling, Marianne Vos called for increased out of competition controls and better testing at women's races. Said Vos:
Speaking to Bike Pure this week, Vos informed us that she had only received one out of competition doping control this year: "It is important that there are more out of competition controls (OOC). Of course I have controls in competition almost every week, but that depends on my results."
This isn't the first time that Vos has criticized the UCI for lax testing in women's racing. During her year as road World Champion, she publicly questioned why she had received only one visit from the vampires outside of race days and argued that as World Champion she should be subject to greater scrutiny. Riders Tiffany Cromwell and Amber Halliday offered similar accounts to Bike-Pure, and Halliday, who rowed at an elite level, expressed surprise at the comparatively relaxed testing regime in women's cycling. Team manager Stefan Wyman of Horizon/On the Drops, a British women's team racing in Europe, commented, "In fact when there is a test, it’s somewhat shocking."
To be sure, doping controls are costly. In men's professional racing, the pro tour teams contribute to the hefty costs of the bio-passport system. The teams' financial burden for the UCI's anti-doping efforts (which have now come under fire from WADA) runs into the six figures. Race promoters also contribute to the testing bill. In the case of the 2010 Tour of Gila, for example, the race brought in SRAM as a sponsor to cover the costs of carrying out doping controls.
In women's cycling, teams are often hard-pressed to pay their riders' salaries, secure sponsorship for travel budgets, and ensure that every rider has the equipment she needs. It's unlikely that the teams could shoulder the burden of paying for doping controls in the way that the top level professional men's teams do. Promoters, meanwhile, struggle to keep women's races alive and each season, races drop off the calendar. Sponsorship remains thin on the ground, and calling in an extra sponsor to cover doping controls isn't especially realistic.
But surely, the UCI could scrounge up a few pennies to pay for testing at its races and to ensure that the elite level of the women's sport is not a doping free-for-all. According to Vos, there were no doping controls at the recent World Cup race in Sweden. None. Anyone in the women's field at that particular race could have doped to the moon and back with no one the wiser. Clearly, from the comments of Vos and others, anti-doping efforts in women's racing rely on the honor system.
Some would argue that the situation is no real reason for concern. The prize money in women's racing is low, so too are salaries. The incentive that drives a rider like Floyd Landis to do anything possible to win the Tour de France doesn't seem to exist in women's racing. After all, there's no $1 million pay-off for winning the Tour de l'Aude or the Giro Donne. That view ignores the degree to which scarce resources can heighten competition. If there are only three slots on a women's team that pay a living wage, there's a pretty huge incentive to do what's necessary to grab one of those slots. If the prize list at a major race only pays out to fifth place, that's all the more reason to make sure not to finish sixth. If anything, the scarce resources in women's racing offer a powerful argument for strict doping controls, not the lax system currently in place.
If we've learned anything from women's sports, it's that women like to win. There's little difference between a top level women athlete and her male counterpoint. They will both suffer to here and beyond to acheive their goals. Numerous doping cases in cycling and elsewhere have also shown us that women are not immune to doping's siren call. All the more reason for the sport's governing authorities to step up and ensure fair play.
Photo: Jens Hagström