I have been talking about doping in triathlon, cycling, and running since I started writing on this blog. I think that the act of actually writing about it helped me feel that I had a voice in the discussion while the reality was that the powers that be really didn’t care what the fans thought about doping and how it was shaping the perception of their sports. I don’t want to cynical about the whole situation, but really, it is tough not to be. When you have athletes who are looking for the latest and greatest performance enhancing chemicals and tricks and who are smashing old records not in small increments but in huge chunks, it is difficult to not doubt performance levels.
Late last week the Fed announced that they had dropped the investigation into Lance Armstrong. While there are plenty of fans out there who feel that Lance doped and there are many who do not, the challenge I have with this move is that it leaves so many questions unanswered. From what I have read, the perception out there is that Jeff Novitsky — the chief investigator who busted Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and Roger Clemens — was still setting up appointments for interviews related to the case. I am thinking that he was recently told that the investigation would the terminated. But why was it dropped? Was it because of lack of evidence and Lance was clean? Was it because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for the misuse of Federal funds while he rode for the U.S. Postal Team? Was it because Lance was able to twist some arms and get the investigation dropped? I doubt the last option, but the conspiracy theorists out there will hold to that one for a long time.
I wish they would have let Novitsky finish his investigation and then publish his findings. Why leave guys like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis hanging out there? They both have sworn under oath that Armstrong doped when they were teammates. There are plenty of former teammates who have come out and said they believe he was doping. But now, the public will be left to continue the debate. Those who feel he was clean as a rider will continue to defend their hero. If the investigation would have taken its course, then we could have seen some type of conclusion to this saga. Shame on whoever made this decision. Either clear his name or don’t, but let the evidence come to light.
Then we have the case of Alberto Contador. I admire the hell out of the guy as an athlete, but as an intellect, not so much. As you remember from my writing, he tested positive for a small amount of the banned substance clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France. It has taken almost two years for this case to come to a resolution, but the CAS has handed down a two year suspension that is retroactive to the 2010 Tour de France. I feel the panel that reviewed the case used their brains and decided clenbuterol was not present in his blood because he ate contaminated beef. Floyd Landis was busted for excessive testosterone in his blood and has come out and said that Contador probably used the clenbuterol outside of competition, drew blood for use during the TdF and when he replenished his blood on a rest day, the clenbuterol was again in his body, only in a smaller amount. Landis has come out and said he had a big doping program, so I tend to think he knows the tricks and strategies. This explanation rings the most true to me.
Throughout this process, Contador has been belligerent and even a bully. He will be unable to compete in the 2012 Tour de France, the 2012 Giro de Italia, and even the 2012 London Olympics. I have to say I am glad the CAS stepped up and handed down the suspension even though Contador may be one of the biggest riders on the circuit. I am not impressed with the reaction of other riders as they have heard about the suspension. Most have all said this is a misuse of power, even a travesty of justice.
Triathlon has had its share of doping too. Nina Kraft was suspended and stripped of a world title because she failed a post race doping control test. Michael Weiss, who won Ironman St. George in 2010 when I raced it, was suspended for two years after evidence was found that he had been blood doping. Bjarne Moller tested positive before Ironman South Africa. And there has been a groundswell in the sport related to accusations against top age-groupers of doping and cheating. In the ITU circuit, there are several athletes who have tested positive for this substance or the other.
If you think there is no doping or cheating in triathlon or cycling, you are really naive. There will always be those who are looking for the slight advantage that is going to get them the big paydays. They will ignore the danger and damage that doping will do to their bodies just so they can get that big contract. The system is currently set-up to catch an athlete once they have cheated and I don’t think there is much that can be done to shift to prevention because of the nature of doping. Out of competition tests are expensive for national organizations to complete and trusting a team to objectively administer and report doping violations is silly. You have to support and investigate to the fullest the claims made by guys like Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreu, Joe Papp, and even Floyd Landis.
What do you think? What is the best strategy to combat doping and ultimately cheating in triathlon and cycling?