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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Is it possible to stop doping in the Tour de France (Guardian)

Tour de France
Is it possible to stop doping in the Tour de France?Luuc Eisenga and Pierre Ballester
Wednesday July 4, 2007The Guardian

Luuc Eisenga, Technical director for T-Mobile team
You can never be 100% sure that every rider will be drug-free. We already have heavy penalties for people who do cheat but, for example, there are countries where the death penalty is in force yet terrible crimes are still committed. But in an ideal world it will be possible to eradicate doping. And if we did not believe that was so we would walk away from the sport. That is why T-Mobile is calling for a better control system and for riders, teams and organisers to take on the responsibility of taking steps to create a new world in cycling. We genuinely believe that we can succeed.

There is evidently a doping problem or else we would not need to change anything. In the past year alone we have seen fallout from allegations surrounding the Operación Puerto investigation in Spain and the positive drugs test by last year's champion, Floyd Landis, and more admissions of doping.

We need to restore credibility to the sport. That is is one of the most important considerations in terms of sponsorship and marketing. We cannot fool around with the audience. We have a responsibility to the riders who want to compete in a clean and fair way, to organisers and journalists, and especially to the general public who deserve to be able to trust in the credibility of the competition.

That is not to say it is not a painful process at times. T-Mobile has restructured its management team; the former Tour winner Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla and a team manager, Rudi Pevenage have been removed over alleged links to Operación Puerto; two doctors no longer work for the team; the Ukrainian rider Serhiy Honchar was released before this year's Tour after blood tests showed abnormalities; and several former riders confessed to doping. But it is a process that I would refer to as consolidation - one that will take place throughout cycling. Some teams will not be around in three or four years because they have to make a choice of which direction to go in. Not everyone will make the same choice as T-Mobile. There is a situation within cycling that is not right and everyone involved in the sport needs to understand that has to be resolved.

T-Mobile have a zero tolerance policy on drugs. Before a rider can be under contract he undergoes a thorough vetting process. We assess performance levels and analyse blood samples to ensure he wants to race on our terms, and Bob Stapleton, our general manager, will also have conversations with riders that leave them in no doubt over our ethical stance. If riders choose not to be part of our team we have no problem at all. We don't want riders to come to our team for the wrong reason.

Once under contract, we give riders every tool for success, excellent training facilities and coaching, and ensure they have the right people around them so they have no reason to go down another route. In terms of drug testing we have a team of experts come in to carry out the tests rather than do them in-house. People can see the process is transparent.

It is possible to argue that every other professional cycling team needs to adopt a similar policy to ourselves to bring about a drug-free environment but that is part of the process of change. We should never be led in the wrong direction because others may be cheating. I would rather come second in a fair way than win unfairly.

Pierre Ballester, Journalist and co-author of L.A. Confidentiel: les secrets de Lance Armstrong
There is a big change sweeping cycling at the moment, with Christian Prudhomme , the director of the Tour de France, taking responsibility for eliminating drugs from the sport, the first time that somebody has taken such a stand against doping. But I am still quite pessimistic because the problem is inherent in cycling. It got into these bad habits a long time ago. I think the stance by Prudhomme has come too late. I want the best for his efforts but, having spoken to him, he knows how difficult his task will be.

In France there has been an acute awareness of doping since the Festina affair 10 years ago. In the beginning the many confessions came only from French riders. When the French then complained that they were the only ones taking the fight against doping seriously, people said they were jealous because they were not good enough to win races. Since then the extent of doping has become clear as guys from Spain, Germany and Italy have admitted to it. Despite that, however, doping remains a taboo subject and it is still difficult for riders to come forward.
And the real question is whether anyone in the sport really wants it to be free from drugs. In whose interests is it? The sponsors? Do they care or are they interested only in winners and having their brand associated with the Tour? Most team directors and riders simply want to be left in peace to do their jobs.

And the public? The public in France are certainly aware of the problem but their opinion is that the show must go on.
We also have former professional tour riders who doped who are now in positions of legitimacy where they are responsible for condemning riders for doing so. And there is an ambiguity over the role of team doctors. They are responsible for looking after the welfare of riders but also prepare them to win events such as the Tour de France. These should be distinctive functions.
Up to the end of the 1980s, doping focused on testosterone and amphetamines but since the mid-80s it has been about blood doping, erythropoietin and its substitutes. This works in a different way so whereas before it was easy to spot the questionable performances, the one stand-out guy who then disappeared, since then many ordinary guys have become very good.
And the science of doping is increasingly sophisticated. The race between doctors and those who try to prevent doping will last forever. Every professional sport has a doping problem at a high level because money is involved. Everyone is human and if they can cheat and lie to win then it will happen.

The conclusion from this is terrifying: we cannot get rid of it. Doping is the cancer of our sport . It has been like an exorcism recently with people pushed to admit involvement. There have been so many recent allegations and confessions surrounding Cofidis, the 1996 champion Bjarne Riis, Ivan Basso - it seems as if the sport is surrounded by doping. Now riders are being asked to sign an ethical document condemning doping in order to take part in the Tour but that fails to acknowledge the mentality of a professional cyclist. However, the document also requires them to undertake that they will surrender a year's salary for anti-doping violations, and money is the reason for doping, so hitting the wallet is an astute move.


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