There’s a worrying story over on cyclingnews.com about the lack of anti-doping testing in the Tour of California, and also in the Tour of Utah or USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado too. Specifically there were no blood tests and the story says this was because the UCI pulled out of a deal at the last minute with the US authorities, thwarting their plans for comprehensive testing. Read the piece first to make sense of the following.
The last minute change where the UCI sent USADA away worried me at the time, something was wrong. But the cyclingnews story says the motivation behind this was a petty political spat between Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the UCI President Pat McQuaid. McQuaid took offence to the notion that a governing body could be conflicted when it comes to running anti-doping controls. Sadly this idea is valid both in theory and practice.
- In theory: for example someone trying to promote a new race in China has an interest to promote the sport rather than bust cheats and fill the newspapers with scandal.
- In practice: we can see how, for example, the Contador positive case from 2010 was only announced after it was flushed out by the German media.
Now let’s be generous to the UCI and, for theoretical purposes, assume Daniel Benson’s piece is mistaken and that the UCI’s motivations for replacing the American anti-doping controls with UCI ones were quite noble. This still doesn’t work: we end up with the three biggest races on the US calendar going without blood tests. If a deal over the Tour of California fell apart why wasn’t something in place for the Tour of Utah? Even being kind it’s hard to make this look good.
Let’s not fool ourselves, the absence of blood tests doesn’t mean these races turned into a supercharged festival of doping. Nor is blood testing perfect, it doesn’t catch everyone or everything; but there are arguments that it’s reduced a cheat’s room to manipulate their blood. So for whatever reason the sport needs good testing, it’s a form of insurance against scandal and a way of giving riders, fans and sponsors a degree of confidence. Therefore scrapping effective anti-doping measures looks bad and it’ll make more cynical people question the race results.
But if this is the result of petty turf wars and personality disputes my worries are compounded by a large factor. Ironically if the UCI stopped blood testing then this proves the very point made by USADA’s Tygart that the fox can’t guard the henhouse, namely that the UCI can’t always be trusted to manage anti-doping.
On the other side of this I’ll raise a point nobody’s mentioned yet. This news has come out in the middle of the Tour of Beijing. Just as the UCI tries to prove it can run something, here comes news to suggest it can’t. And we’ve had the leaked sponsor threat letters too. And maybe someone is going to explain just what is (and what isn’t) happening with the anti-doping controls in Beijing. A barrage of bad news is bound to make the UCI squirm just when many are watching its business in China.
There’s a James Bond film where 007 is told of a death threat. He asks who would want him dead as a means to identify the threat only for his boss M to reply “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless“. It’s similar with the UCI, it’s no secret some have an interest in destabilising the incumbent management for their own gains. But there’s a similar “endless list”. Sadly it includes many exasperated fans, frustrated by serial bad news, the refusal to properly address conflicts of interest, managerial bungling and more. The UCI isn’t all bad but it is too accident prone and this isn’t just bad luck, there’s a catalogue of poor judgement and widespread mission creep.
It’s not been a good week for the UCI. First the existence of letters sent out to scare team sponsors is reported, now it seems they’ve bungled anti-doping for major pro races in the US, and seemingly for all the wrong reasons. Maybe there’s an agenda behind the bad news?
All the same journalists and bloggers are exposing worrying practices at the top of the sport’s governing body. That some big races went without testing was a mistake and I’m interested to hear the UCI’s side of the story. We never got an adequate explanation of the last minute change to the promising scheme implemented by USADA and now the news of no blood tests needs to be explained too.
Finally if you read this blog for more than scrutiny of the UCI then I promise some more positive items are on the way. A preview of Paris-Tours is coming that will cover everything from the race favourites to the local wines.