By Tick of
Those lyrics from the Beatles pop into my head at times of trouble, and
the irony of the last line helps things to look brighter.
Unfortunately, if we believed those words at the beginning of this year,
then we were sadly mistaken. It has gotten worse.
Cofidis started things off with a bang, with a story that took several
months to fully develop and eventually included the team's voluntary
suspension. Things seemed to revolve around soigneur Bogdan Madejak and
two former riders, Marek Rutkiewicz and Robert Sassone. Team doctor
Jean-Jacques Menuet's office was searched, but team manager Alan Bondue
declared his total confidence in the doctor. Riders Phillipe Gaumont,
Mederic Clain and Cedric Vasseur were also all involved in the
investigation, with only Vasseur managing to retain his job.
The French team voluntarily withdrew from all racing for three weeks in
May to try and get a grasp on what was going on. World champion Igor
Astarloa jumped ship during this period. Team doctor Menuet and manager
Bondue were both accused of providing riders with drugs and despite the
early declarations of support; both were dismissed by the team.
But theirs weren't the only names to be bandied about. Names were also
mentioned of specific riders receiving drugs, including one very big
name - Cofidis' other world champion, David Millar. Just before the
team suspended itself, he gave a now-famous interview referring to the
"idiots" and "nutters" who were spreading the doping stories, and
prophetically saying that if there was any truth to the stories, "they'd
have raided our homes."
That is, of course, exactly what happened. Some six weeks later, his
house was indeed raided and empty EPO capsules were found. He
eventually confessed to having used EPO for the first time in the 2001
and for the last time in the fall of 2003, just before winning the time
trial title. Fired by his team, stripped of his world title, his dreams
of 2 Olympics gold medals gone - that is David Millar now.
But meanwhile another team had managed to erupt onto the doping scene.
Little-known rider Jesus Manzano suddenly became very well-known when he
accused Kelme of forcing him to use doping substances. He supplied many
gory details, including how he passed out during the 2003 TdF because of
a new drug and how he thought he would die from a bad blood
transfusion. His story led to Kelme being un-invited from the Giro and
not invited at all to the Tour. Oddly, the story has more or less died
out since the spring.
Kelme was not the only one not invited to the Tour. In light of the
Millar/Cofidis affair, the Tour management let it be known that riders
who were under investigation or involved in a judicial proceeding would
not be welcome. Saeco's Danilo Di Luca was one of those on the
"unwished-for" list. He protested vigorously ("I'm under investigation
because they have nothing else to do") and even made his way to Liege
for the Tour prologue. The trip was in vain - he was rejected by the Tour.
During the Tour two riders were thrown out because they were under
investigation in Italy - Stefano Casagranda and Martin Hvastija. Their
removal raised more questions than it answered - weren't these
investigations known before the start of the race? And why were two
others, Stefano Zanini and Pavel Padrnos - both still under
investigation for the Giro 2001 raid - allowed to stay in the race?
Probably the most controversial doping-related action in the Tour
occurred when Filippo Simeoni decided to join a breakaway group in the
18th stage. He was quickly joined by Lance Armstrong, and since the
presence of the yellow jersey would spell the automatic death of a
breakaway group, the two were quickly back in the peloton. Armstrong
was greeted with smiles and cheer from many riders, while Simeoni found
mainly jeers and criticism. The ground? A long-standing feud over -
what else? - doping stories and Dr. Michele Ferrari. (Ferrari has been involved
in a doping trial in Italy - the court case is near completion.) Armstrong saw his action
as a way of protesting against hypocritical anti-dopers, while others
saw it as a naked display of power and the imposition of "omerta" within
the peloton: don't tell tales or this will happen to you, too.
Things quieted down for a while after the Tour, but the Olympics came
along and started the Swiss team Phonak on a disastrous journey. Oscar
Camenzind, in a desperate attempt to start-jump a stalled career by
winning a gold medal, took EPO. Bad idea - the doping commission had
been keeping its eye on him. He didn't bother with the results of the
B-test or even wait to be suspended, but announced his immediate retirement.
Phonak was on top again shortly thereafter, as Tyler Hamilton took the
Olympic time trial gold medal and then won the first time trial in the
Vuelta. Then the roof fell in - not just for Hamilton and Phonak but
for the fans and the whole cycling community. Hamilton was accused of
blood doping - having the blood of another person within his veins.
And not just once, but twice, with positive A tests following both his
time trial victories. The Hamilton has already taken many twists and
turns and no doubt more will come, as the story is far from finished.
Have there been more doping cases this year than usual? Probably not.
But undoubtedly more big names have been involved and major titles have
been brought into question. Many had hoped that the 1998 Festina TdF
affair or the 2001 Giro San Remo raid or the development of new tests
would put an end to doping within pro cycling. Obviously this has not
been the case and a final solution to the problem is not in sight.
Are things getting better? Or have they, indeed, gotten worse?