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Fallout From Puerto - Dave Shields
By Staff
Date: 7/7/2006
Fallout From Puerto - Dave Shields

Fallout From Puerto
Dave Shields Author of the The Tour... "Doping is an incredibly complex topic, but in many ways itís yet another parable for life. Cycling is overflowing with them...The lessons we learn by tackling this challenge..."

By Dave Shields

I know Iím not the only cycling enthusiast who felt apocalyptic as the Operation Puerto revelations gutted the top of the anticipated leader board in the moments leading up to the 2006 Tour de France. As discouraging as the news was, the vast majority of fans want a clean sport. Ridiculous as it may seem, many of us like to imagine ourselves in the heat of the battle on the road. How deep could we dig? What tactics could we employ? Would we be capable of clear thought under such pressures?

It doesnít matter that all but a fraction of humans would need a motorcycle to ride anywhere near the action at the important moments. If it werenít for the armchair fantasy factor, pro sports probably wouldnít exist. Cheating destroys this connection. If the contest hinges on who has the best chemist rather than who has the most guts, everything has changed.

Regardless of the sport, fans have the right Ė even the obligation Ė to demand that the rules be obeyed. Fact is, those demands are beneficial to athletes, and even more so to youth on their way up. If we turn our back on drug issues, weíre essentially condemning the worldís brightest young athletes to a career where experimental therapies would practically become a requirement.

Although I know some disagree, I applaud the UCI for their aggressive stance against doping. We know that many non-cyclists are implicated in Operation Puerto, but several showcase athletic events have begun since this story broke (most notably, the World Cup and Wimbledon). The only sport that has pushed to have information released prior to their big show has been cycling. If early reports are correct, theyíve (the team directors and Tour organizers) acted on solid evidence to disinclude some riders and teams.  DNA matching an athleteís blood to units stored in a clandestine lab is about as incriminating as it gets. Now letís hope that the facilitators are ultimately punished along with the cyclists. If team management or others were condoning this, they ought to be shown the door.

Doping is an incredibly complex topic, but in many ways itís yet another parable for life. Cycling is overflowing with them. Thatís what makes it such fertile ground for writers. The lessons we learn by tackling this challenge have applicability in many seemingly unrelated spheres.

As to where cycling goes from here: I, for one, have found the first several stages of this yearís edition extremely enjoyable. There have already been many twists and turns, and I think things are setting up well for epic battles in the mountains. Iím cheering as enthusiastically as I ever was.

But I also expect to see real reform implemented so that we donít go through things like this year after year. In my view, itís time for clear, mandatory penalties for teams whose riders are found to be doping. From the Directeurs to the medical staffs and on down, teams need to take responsibility for the actions of their athletes, and they ought to pay a price, even if they were duped along with the fans. If this were the case I donít think it take long for the message to get out loud and clear that no team can condone sketchy behavior.

Iím also in favor of establishing protocols for retroactive testing, if scientifically validated. Letís fire a warning shot that lets cheaters know, you may be using stealth technology now, but weíre going to eventually be able to test for it.

Finally, itís time to feel optimistic about winning this fight. Operation Puerto served as strong evidence that with thorough testing in place, cheating with drugs has to be quite sophisticated in order to work. The more complex the system, the more people that have to be involved, and the greater likelihood that the authorities are going to find out about it. Once that happens the whole system will come crashing down just as it did in the Puerto affair. I wonít be the slightest bit surprised if the shockwaves bring down another ďdoctorĒ or two who have been experimenting with similar technologies. Thatís great news for cycling fans and fans of all sports, and very bad news for cheaters. Now, bring on Le Tour!

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. His sequel, The Tour, is receiving widespread praise for introducing doping issues from the perspective of the athletes. Heís often seen discussing these topics on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox News. By special arrangements with the publisher, personalized copies are available through the Daily Peloton by clicking here.

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