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Phil Gaimon Diary: Florida takes grassroots steps against amateur and masters doping

  • By Phil Gaimon
  • Published Aug. 3, 2012
The Florida Clean Ride Fund is bringing doping controls to a local race near you in the Sunshine State. Photo: AFP | London 2012

Editor’s Note: Phil Gaimon, 25, is a Velo magazine columnist and third-year pro racer for Kenda-5-hour Energy. He has an English degree from the University of Florida, and owns online stores at podiumcycling.com and sharethedamnroad.com. Phil’s previous blogs

The doping problem at the highest levels in cycling have been well-known for years now, and those in charge have taken plenty of action accordlingly. In the last few years, though, we’ve seen a rise in the number of doping sanctions among masters and amateur cyclists, and more recently, in gran fondos.

While we all await news of Strava dopers, Joe Papp has reportedly helped the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency build cases against two dozen masters riders. In 2011, Nick Brandt-Sorenson, the national road champion for men 30-34, received a two-year suspension. Michael Miller, 42, got eight months for a positive test at masters track nationals, and Michael Diamond, a 63-year-old from Saint Augustine, Florida, took a two-year suspension when he refused to take a test at the state time trial championships in November.

Other suspensions among the amateur/master ranks in 2011 include Juan Pablo Dotti, Roger Hernandez, David Clinger, Joshua Webster, Peter Cannell, Alberto Blanco, Andrew Tilin, and Lisban Quintero. With only one current professional and one retired pro (the infamous Joe Papp himself) receiving sanctions in 2011, compared with these eight amateurs, it’s clear that the doping war in the U.S. has a new front. With two out of those eleven names coming from Florida, the Sunshine State in particular has been hit hard, but the Florida Clean Ride Fund, a donation-based nonprofit, hopes to turn that around, providing funding for random USADA testing at local races.

It’s well-known that pros are drug-tested frequently, and that the winner of a major race usually goes straight to doping control from the podium, but pros account for only a small percentage of riders in the US. Amateurs, juniors and masters are tested at national championships, but for the most part, these categories have been spared from the urine and blood tests. Is USADA remiss in neglecting these categories? Annie Skinner, USADA’s media manager, says it’s a matter of economics.

“Like all organizations, there are limits to our resources,” she said, “and our goal is to use those resources in the most effective manner possible.”

Testing just three samples costs about $2,000, plus travel expenses and hotels for the testers, so while amateurs are rightly frustrated about possible untested dopers in their ranks, if you look at the prize money and salary at stake for pros, they have a far greater incentive to dope than any amateur. One can also fairly conclude that a lower-category rider that does take the doping route would probably rise to a level where they would be tested.

Skinner admits that cheating is not limited to elite-level athletes, but catching amateurs is tricky, because part-time athletes might not stand out for targeting like a pro would. Still, anywhere there’s no deterrent, cases are likely to rise, just as it did among pros in the past when testing was less frequent or less sophisticated.

Everyone has heard rumblings about the Cat. 3 that destroyed the group ride after years of getting dropped, or the master that works 40 hours a week and still laps the field at the training race. We’ve even heard of racers bragging to their friends about the HGH or testosterone their doctors prescribed. USADA’s 877-PLAY-CLEAN hotline has weeded out a number of these “doping for pride” cases nationwide, but they typically only act on the most credible phoned-in tips and obvious cases, leaving many athletes dissatisfied and frustrated.

The Florida Clean Ride fund aims to fill this testing gap. Founded by Floridian masters racers Jared Zimlin and Ryan Saylor, and funded by in-state sponsors and racers, local-race dopers are facing regular testing for the first time.

“We could see that if testing was going to happen, it would have to be financed by the competitors. The success of our fund so far is a testament to the will of local cyclists who want to see clean racing, and the beauty of it is that now the riders can be responsible for each other,” said Zimlin.

The protocol for the fund’s testing is the same as it is at the big races. All tests are conducted by USADA, and the Florida Clean Ride Fund does not choose who gets tested, or when and where testing takes place. Zimlin makes it clear that, “our role is purely to raise a budget for USADA to use at their discretion in Florida. They handle the details.”

Will they catch anyone?

“That’s not really the goal,” said Saylor. “We’re about providing education and resources for riders that they might not have had access to previously, and hoping to be the deterrent that amateurs and masters have never had. We’d love to see help similar organizations start up in other states.”

The Florida Clean Ride Fund is breaking ground as the first grassroots drug testing program, but USADA is watching closely, and providing discounted testing, in the hope that success in this project could be duplicated by like-minded athletes across different states, disciplines and sports.

The non-profit Florida Clean Ride Fund is dependent solely on donations and sponsors, and hopes to raise $25,000 for 2012. Donations are tax-deductable, accepted through Paypal on the fund’s website.

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