Two more high profile professional cyclists have tested positive for doping during a time when we are led to believe that there has been a change to the culture in the professional peloton.
I have to say that I believe in the changes. A zero tolerance policy from teams like Sky and Orica Green Edge feels a harsh approach but has helped restore confidence in the integrity of leading teams. With the doping debate more open and honest than ever, the tide has turned against the omerta culture that has been so widely reported and young cyclists are now empowered to speak out against drugs in the sport.
It is no longer the norm for riders to receive a medical bag after each stage in a Grand Tour. The concept of athletes
using needles to self administer “vitamins” dished out by shady “doctors” is alien to riders coming in to todays professional ranks. And with these changes must be shift in the peer pressure and social norms that made it acceptable to use performance enhancing drugs because “everyone else is doing it”. I suppose my point is that if the culture has changed, then all the excuses we have heard from Tyler Hamilton and others in cyclings doping generation are no longer valid.
So having normalised a “clean” culture, how can anyone possibly excuse Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio for their postive tests for EPO? No. I don’t mean excuse them because I don’t see or hear anyone doing that. What I think I mean is this. How can those riders ever contemplate coming back to this sport now that they have bought it in to disrepute again, just after it has hauled itself to its knees after the darkest days any sport has ever seen.
Regardless of talent, work rate, experience or commercial value, these riders mustn’t ever be allowed to pull on the garishly coloured lycra of a professional cycling team because of the damage they could do by being accepted back in to the peloton. Young, clean riders need to see a zero tolerance of proven, malicious dopers.
This zero tolerance approach of course brings in to question the validity of the tests and the impact of the detected substance. Does a positive test for traces of metolazone (a diuretic named in the 2013 WADA banned substance list) constitute the same gravity of offence as a positive test for EPO? Probably not, so is a tiered punishment system required? But that approach is undermined by the fact that some substances are taken to mask the traces of other performance enhancing substances.
What if some of these performance enhancers really can be accidentally ingested through contaminated beef? Should
athletes lose their career for traces of banned substances that could enter the food chain without their control?
It’s because of the ambiguities in every case that WADA, the UCI or whoever wants to take control, should have a proper hearing panel that reviews the evidence with the opportunity to finish the careers of the dopers. It shouldn’t be “three strikes and you’re out” because Di Luca doesn’t deserve three bites of the cherry. If a rider is clearly guilty of doping to improve their performance (and let’s face it, why else would they be taking EPO?) they should not have the opportunity to cheat in that sport again. In the words of (a younger) Bradley Wiggins: “You are a bunch of cheating b******* and I hope one day they catch the lot of you and ban you all for life”