What's Cool In Road Cycling

Reader Commentary: The Drug Story

– By Stephan Esleben

The news of positive drug tests in the Giro is all too depressingly familiar, and the prospect of Gotti, Frigo or Casagrande winning the Giro is not an attractive thought, but the truth of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of cyclists do not take performance-enhancing drugs. The problem is confined to a relatively small number of professional riders, some of whom regard positive drug tests as an occupational hazard. The fact that big names test positive is very serious given their position but we should try to avoid getting in a blind panic about it.
It is unrealistic to ever expect the sport of cycling to be free of drugs considering the demands and rewards of the sport, cyclists are all too human. When society as a whole is awash with drugs, both therapeutic and recreational, it would be a small miracle if cycling were unaffected, but we should bear in mind that the UCI conduct thousands of tests annually, the vast majority of which are negative. They are also continually improving testing procedures, thereby increasing detection rates and reducing the incedence of drug use.

Perhaps the key to lasting improvements , a
“cleansing” of the sport, is for the most powerful players in the sport, the trade teams- the employers of professional cyclists- to introduce, in close consultation with the UCI, a charter or code of conduct which every professional cyclist would be required to sign: no signature, no licence.The charter would be a legally binding document, a contract, stating the rights, responsibilities and obligations of employer and employee, it would also be explicit on sanctions for drug-related offences, they would be severe, perhaps a lifetime ban for a positive test. Whatever the actual provisions in the charter are, the aim would be to convince the civil authorities that everyone in the sport takes the drugs issue seriously.

The overriding aim is to reach a modus vivendi with the civil authorities which would remove the need for spectacular razzias. This is not special pleading, professional cyclists are not above the law, equally they are not criminals because they are professional cyclists.

One aspect of the civil authorities` fight against drugs which should concern all cyclists is their increasing willingness to resort to methods more appropriate to dealing with very serious criminal activity than to combatting drugs in sport: spectacular dawn raids on cyclists` hotels and homes; plans in Belgium to introduce random testing of cyclists, including amateurs ( schoolboys ? juniors ? ) out training; Frank Vandenbroucke led away in handcuffs, more closely guarded than the Belgian paedophile murderer Marc Dutroux. Does anyone really believe that this is the best way to fight drugs in cycling? Does it not help instead to create (or, dread thought, reinforce) an image in the public`s mind of all racing cyclists as drug-taking criminals? Is the response proportionate to the offence ?

he sport of cycling is more than one hundred years old, it is immensely popular and gives enormous pleasure to millions of people. It will take more than a few , admittedly serious, drug scandels to destroy it, but it is important, in reacting to the inevitable problems in cycling , to be realistic, to keep things in perspective, and to avoid the extremes of complacent shoulder-shrugging and hysteria.

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