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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

Before coming out to Australia, he was asked if he was worried about the reception awaiting him. The 31-year-old replied: “It isn’t something that concerns me. I was under scrutiny for a long time, but now I am calm because I have complied with everything they wanted.

“Before,” Valverde said, “I raced in France and many other places and I was always loved by fans and my fellow riders.”

You complied with everything, did you? You were always loved, were you? You might want to speak to David Millar about that, Alejandro, because when he returned, the reaction, inside and outside the peloton, was quite polarized, and remains so to this day.

Do I want cheats to go jump off a cliff? Do I want them banned for life? Do I want to see them dead?

Not at all. Everybody makes mistakes; everyone deserves a second chance.

But what I do want is for those who are found guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”, according to the definition and letter of the law, is to admit fault and seek forgiveness. Not pass off some flaky answer and say that they were always loved, and that nothing concerns them. That is pure BS. And if they are truly unconcerned, then perhaps they don’t deserve a place back in the pro peloton, for this is a place for people that deserve to be there. For those who follow the rules.

We have all been through too much to simply remain unperturbed.

There is still no WADA-validated test for autologous blood transfusions. There is no WADA-validated test for plasticizers (it can only be used as corroborating evidence). For those countries (such as Spain) that do not have a national anti-doping agency, doping infractions are handled by their national cycling federation, which is a conspicuous conflict of interest – or as author of ‘Rough Ride’, Paul Kimmage, told me at last year’s Tour de France, “a complete joke”.

Since the introduction of the biological passport program in 2008, less than 10 riders have been sanctioned.

While approximately 4,500 blood tests, in and out of competition, were conducted last year, the biological passport peloton of 955 riders means that, on average, riders were tested just under five times (4.71, to be precise); anti-doping scientist, Michael Ashenden, called the “gaps in the [blood] profiles” a concern. Clearly, more funding is required to allow for greater frequency of testing, and for the UCI, the legal resources to prosecute.

But, there is hope.

Wrote Wiggins back in 2008: “We are coming to the end of that era when riders consider some degree of drug usage if not the norm then certainly not strange. The younger generation of riders is much less tolerant of dopers, as are the new sponsors. Change or die.”

He firmly believed that “within seven or eight years the Tour de France and the sport will be entirely clean, and I sincerely hope I will be just about clinging on and riding well enough to be part of that, perhaps riding in a GB national team and helping lead out Mark Cavendish or some other young British sprinter. The greatest irony of all is that a drug-free Tour de France will be an immeasurably better event to watch.”

Wiggins, quite clearly, is doing much more than just hanging on. And he is now part of the formidable GB national team, a.k.a. Team Sky, alongside his mate Cavendish; two of the best riders in the world.

Was Eddy Merckx right when he told me the other day, “I think [the peloton] is 95 percent clean”?

I’m not so sure about that. But what I do know is that last July, we saw one of the best Tours de France in more than 20 years. Not since Greg LeMond beat the late Laurent Fignon in a final stage nail-biter at the ’89 Tour had we seen such drama, such an animated three-week spectacle.

What we see, I believe, is the light at the end of the tunnel. But we’re still in the tunnel.

Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan

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