What's Cool In Road Cycling

Comment: Show Us Your Bald Spot

You almost have to feel for Roberto Heras. The same day Heras gets a two-year suspension for doping, a pro hockey player stickhandled his way out of the penalty box. Having tested positive for a banned masking agent found in the hair-loss drug Propecia, Jose Theodore is pleading his innocence on the basis that he has been taking the hair loss treatment for years.

O.K. – so show us your bald spot.

Sport At Two Speeds?
Following his positive test, Theodore applied for and was granted a therapeutic exemption and will not face sanctions from the NHL. While he managed to skate around this one, another erstwhile balding counterpart, American Olympian and skeleton racer Zach Lund received a one-year ban for ostensibly guarding his locks with the same substance. Confused? The discrepancy in the rules raises some obvious questions on the various levels of anti-doping regulation in the world of sport. So what does this have to do with cycling?

Festina Affair
What turned out to be one of the most exciting races of the decade, the 1998 Tour was dogged by a doping bombshell that exploded before the race even started. A chance inspection uncovered a trunk-load of doping products, leading to allegations of widespread organized doping. The entire race was ridden on edge, with rumours the mighty tour would be cancelled, followed by the eventual expulsion of the Festina team from the race.

Every tour is marked by abandons as the grueling test takes its toll on the worlds best athletes. But this tour made orphans of the riders, cast into the roadside coliseum to fend for themselves against disillusioned fans. The media didn’t help – except for the voice of Steven Roche.

Your Bags Sir?
Roche was doing colour commentary for Eurosport. His insight into the race as a commentator was of course hors categorie. But that aside, Roche told the riders story. ‘Cycling is carrying the bags for professional sports’ he said. A cop out? Not really. Roche wasn’t in denial. He was simply stating what remains true to this day. Pro cycling has amongst the most stringent testing and most onerous penalties for doping of any sport.

Let The Games Begin
Meanwhile back at the games, no less than 12 Olympic cross-country skiers have received five-day health suspensions for failed blood tests. IOC grand pooh-bah, Jacques Rogge, in an effort to avoid legal problems and protect the Olympic brand, was quick to point out that the athletes did not fail doping controls. The athletes of course resorted to the usual ‘high altitude or dehydration’ themes to explain their levels – remember that the next time you decide to go up an elevator or take a whiz. But five days – why does a cyclist get a two-week suspension for the same thing?

Who Cut The Cheese
Something smells here – and isn’t cycling. That’s not to put our heads in the sand. But if anything, cycling could be looked to as an example for the standard of testing and sanctions that other sports should be held to. It’s time the so-called ‘organizers’ of elite sports, be it league sports or international events, establish a consistent and level playing field in the area of testing and sanctions. In the meantime, cycling should quit carrying the bags for the rest of the sporting world.

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