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Opinion: The elephant in the room

  • By Anthony Tan
  • Published Jan. 15, 2012
  • Updated Jan. 16, 2012 at 2:52 PM EDT
Alejandro Valverde, winner of the 2010 Tour de Romandie and former leader of the UCI world rankings, drew a two-year ban from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Photo: AFP (file)

“The sport of road cycling has been going through the most difficult and important phase of its history. This is the purge that we have all called for and it is a painful process. The testing – by the teams and the UCI – is the most stringent in the world in any sport, and big names are being hit time and time again.”
– Autobiography of Bradley Wiggins, ‘In Pursuit of Glory’, first published 2008

Saturday evening, as I made my way up a flight of stairs from street level and into the foyer of the Adelaide Hilton, Alejandro Valverde of the Movistar team was there, apparently on his phone.

We exchanged furtive glances but eye contact was made. I had not spoken to him at any length since April 23, 2006 – the day he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a few days after he triumphed atop the Mur de Huy to win La Flèche Wallonne – but I’m sure he knew what I was, if not who I am.

Above all, he certainly knew what I was thinking.

What are you doing here? From a moral point of view, do you even deserve to be back in the WorldTour? Why haven’t you admitted to your links with Operación Puerto and collaborating with Dr. Fuentes? What happened to the pledge made by ProTeams not to hire ex-dopers, upon returning to competition, for at least two years? Or is it that as phony as a fart cushion?

Legally, Valverde has every right to be here – back racing, and back in the WorldTour. And if I’m honest, I didn’t feel quite as strongly when, in August 2009, Alexandre Vinokourov made his return after a two-year ban for blood doping, caught at the 2007 Tour de France. He, too, has not admitted responsibility, only remorse, which I guess is better than nothing.

For his do-or-die exploits, Vinokourov, unlike Valverde, captured the hearts of the cycling public, including mine. I felt betrayed at the time, but still, I wanted to see him back. Juxtaposed against my sentiments on Valverde, I realize this makes me somewhat of a hypocrite.

Though at least Vinokourov has attempted to atone for his past misdemeanors, albeit in a roundabout sort of way.

Movistar, on the other hand, and from what I’ve read, have not made one mention of Valverde’s indiscretions since they decided to sign him up. In that respect, they’re doing a Grade-A job of upholding omertà, the code of silence anti-doping bodies have been trying so hard to break, ever since ‘L’Affaire Festina’, circa July 1998.

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