Should Luis León Sánchez Be Suspended?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Luis León Sánchez has been on “non-active status” since February after his team started an investigation into media reports he was linked to Dr Fuentes.

Months later and he’s taking his Blanco Pro Cycling team to the UCI to try and settle the matter of his informal suspension. The issue goes beyond this rider and shows us how different teams are struggling with ethical issues.

Team Blanco has started an investigation against rider Luis Leon Sanchez after stories in the media about his possible involvement in the case-Fuentes. Until there is clarity about the outcome of the investigation is Luis Leon Sanchez is not included in a selection of Blanco.
- Press Release, 2 February 2013

At first it’s easy to salute this precautionary measure. It’s the hallmark of many professions that people are suspended from work in the event of questions over their ethics or performance. A surgeon suspected of malpractice is likely to be suspended. The same for an accountant facing charges of fraud or a school teacher accused of hitting a pupil. The precautionary principle can be seen around the world. It can be unfair on the accused as it puts the job ahead of the individual and a suspension can wrongly be seen as guilt pending any investigations or hearings. But it’s certainly a strong protective measure.

It’s not the first time this has happened. In recent times BMC Racing suspended Mauro Santambrogio and Alessandro Ballan after the media linked them to an investigation – still ongoing – into a pharmacy in Mantova. The pair were stopped from racing in 2010… and then again in 2011. There is a recent precedent with Carlos Barredo. The Spaniard was suspended by the same team last year when under the Rabobank name. Barredo had been suspected of “irregularities” with his UCI blood passport and was suspended from racing. But it was not until mid-October that the prosecution began.

But if the suspension sounds like a good idea, it’s questionable too. Yes Sanchez keeps his job and his salary but he can’t get kilometres in his legs, nor earn precious UCI points. But for me the problem isn’t the suspension, it’s the unilateral aspect. Teams might be taking action to protect their image but it can backfire. In simple terms Blanco’s suspension is reminding the world of past events and leaves a question mark hanging, like the Sword of Damocles, over Sanchez. Should the thread that holds this sword be made of media reports? There’s also the issue of money, he is an expensive rider and tied to the team for two years. It might not be their motivation but if the team can cut him free they can save on cash. Should they find a new sponsor for next year then ejecting Sanchez could free up a reported €800,000.

Next other teams might behave differently. Lampre-Merida have reached a deal with Michele Scarponi. We can say each to their own but suspending a rider is a big deal. They can sit at home on full pay but missing out on races has long term effects on race fitness.

In Vino veritas?

Other teams can find media stories and simply ignore them. The image above is from the USADA files and is apparently a record of money paid to a company linked to Dr Michele Ferrari. If this Blanco stop a rider because of possible links to Doctor Fuentes, have Astana applied the same precaution with manager Alexsander Vinokourov and rider Andrey Kashechkin?

We can imagine another team faced with ethical issues over a rider but who keep quiet and let the rider carry on racing because they’re delivering valuable results which help in the search for a new sponsor. You don’t need a vivid imagination. In 2005 the UCI had suspicions about Levi Leipheimer and asked Gerolsteiner team boss Hans-Michael Holczer to stop him from racing. But Holczer declined because he was trying to find a new sponsor and feared the scandal would kill his chances.

By now we can see a range of outcomes and even a team honestly investigating is limited by the time and resources it can dedicate to investigations. So we end up with a asymmetric system where a rider might have a questionable past but his present employment status can depend on which team he rides for.

New ethics
Many teams have subscribed to the ethical code of the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC). This says riders should be suspended in the event of a positive A sample as a precaution but there’s nothing about media coverage. The MPCC has been boosted as teams look to import an ethical code above and beyond the UCI rules and the Wade Code.

Moving in the right direction?

It’s hard to go much further than the MPCC rules. For example can teams agree a policy to suspend a rider in the event of media or courtroom allegations? Probably not, there has to be evidence. Perhaps it could be reasonable to suspend the rider for, say, a month. This gives enough time to weigh evidence and ask questions but doesn’t not leave everyone dangling.

Conclusion
Suspending a rider linked to scandal sounds like a good idea. But if Luis León Sánchez was using Doctor Fuentes for doping then like everyone else who’s been caught, he needs to be prosecuted and banned. But if there’s no evidence he should be cleared to ride. Justice needs to be done rather than delayed.

I can understand Blanco’s stance and in many ways welcome it although the incentive to ditch him and his contract can’t be ignored. Let’s hope this is not the case but the possibilities only highlight the systemic problems within the sport. Ethics are like tactics and up to teams to develop rather than subject to a collective approach and we end up with variable justice by team.

This story goes beyond one rider and one team. The MPCC is one way to group the teams together and raise the ethical standards through a shared approach. Perhaps the UCI needs to incorporate more of these rules, just as it adopted their “No Needles” policy? But going further and agreeing grounds to suspend a rider just because of bad media coverage is tough. Does a story in a newspaper count, is it ok if the newspaper is a tabloid? Surely a formal hearing has to take place instead of trial by media?

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{ 29 comments }

Ronan April 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm

It’s an interesting issue, but (in the absence of a unionised peloton) the right to delpoy an employee in any given race and at any given time rests with the employer.

I don’t see a problem with different teams having different policies, just as different companies ahve diffrent policies for employee misbehaviour. Once the rules are clear and prescribed to each employee, they know the consequences of their actions in advance.

The Inner Ring April 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I tend to agree but what of these rules, and how can they be written down? It’s here that it gets more difficult.

Champs April 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

If Sanchez is cleared, what then of his salary, reputation, and loss of points opportunity? Something tells me that they won’t be prorated, and if he doesn’t get to race this season, what is his value to any team for the next?

If Sanchez is found guilty, will his team suspension count toward the time served? I’m thinking of Valverde, who had a de facto three year ban thanks to CONI.

BC April 16, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Blanco are his employer, as I have said before there will be conditions of employment in his contract. This is a team that have paid a high price for their very poor previous record under Rabobank sponsorship. They must have evidence and fairly strong suspicions – we know how his name on the Fluentes list was uncovered, even if he continues to deny. The telephone recording and the evidence that follows from that link are somewhat more than substantial. It is NOT the team that is responsible for progressing this matter, but his Federation or the UCI. From both there has been nothing but silence. If Sanchez wants to leave the team I am certain that Blanco – who remember are still searching for a sponsor to continue next year, would not stand in his way. One would assume that he is suspended on full pay. To allow a rider who is strongly implicated in one of cyclings largest doping scandels to continue riding, could result in the end of the team.

Nick April 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I’m wondering if it would make things clearer if there were more transparency from Blanco about the process? If they said, “Here are the facts that we believe implicate Sr. Sanchez, here are the steps we are taking to verify those facts, and here is exactly where we are in the process of determining whether Sr. Sanchez should be terminated or reinstated.”

Leaving it all at, “We’re currently investigating,” is just too grey. It could mean nobody has looked into the case in months, or that a crack team of people are sorting through thousands of documents.

Chrisman April 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm

History tells us there is no smoke without fire. Sorry LL Cool Sanch, I see a buttload of smoke here and, as a cyclist, you have no right to claim ‘the benefit of doubt’. Sorry champ, 2 years, no arguing, and be thankful it isn’t more

Doubter April 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Smoke/Fire? Aren’t you the guy who shouted down all the speculation about Sky practices based on no concrete facts and your 100% accurate knowledge of all the Sky/Team GB riders???

Guess as long as it’s not a Sky rider, he’s definitely doping.

Chrisman April 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Show me evidence linking a Sky rider to Fuentes. That’s smoke.

Espresso April 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm

You can see why they suspended him but not why it’s lasted so long.

The Inner Ring April 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Maybe they are waiting for news from the Puerto trial? But as BMC discovered with the Italian courts things can take months or even years and go nowhere.

Bundle April 16, 2013 at 10:48 pm

But of course Luisle was Fuentes’ patient, and of course there’s a bag of his blood under the code name “Huerta” under custody Barcelona. And this has been known for years. So there’s nothing to investigate with regard to Puerto. Rabobank knew all about it when they signed his last contract, so their not letting him ride smells of nothing other than hypocritical PR.

AK April 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Simple DNA test should sort that out in no time.

Bundle April 17, 2013 at 7:31 am

Or a simple declaration by Fuentes, like he offered to the judge, who said she wouldn’t allow sport authorities to know whose blood it was.

Alpen April 17, 2013 at 7:35 am

Nothing is simple when it comes to Puerto. Everything rests on whether the bags are turned over to the Spanish ADA after the trial. A trial where Fuentes is constantly dropping hints to media sat nearby as to who might be in his naughty list. And of course you can add to that a ‘Classico’ rivalry b/t the Madrid and Barcelona Wada accredited labs….this one doesn’t end anytime soon. Purgatory continues…

RooBay April 17, 2013 at 1:41 am

Staggering that nothing has been done about Vino and Kashechkin. Those two need to be publicly derided in the press (and at races).

Astana – what a joke of a team. Specialized – what are you thinking?

BarkingOwl April 17, 2013 at 2:15 am

I’m not sure what the Ferrari receipt proves as it is from 2006. This just confirms what is now pretty much now known, that Vinokourov and Kashechkin were doping during this period. They were subsequently caught at the 2007 Tour and have since served their suspensions. Am I right?

Anonymous April 17, 2013 at 6:24 am

Agreed. They have both served suspensions. I guess it is just how unrepentant they have both been about it all. Remember Kashechkin is the one who tried to argue that his out of competition doping test that caught him was a breach of his human rights !! (what a loser) http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest/348283/blog-andy-jones.html

Also, I don’t recall either of them assiting authorities and coming clean about who helped them, how long they were doping for, etc. Of course, this doesn’t prove guilt but Vino has been on some of the most doped teams in the history of the sport (Casino, Telekom and Liberty Seguros). Add to this all of the grubby emails that have surfaced that seem to insinuate Vino bought Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2010.

Astana as a team has always looked very dodgy from the outside with numerous questionable associations. After all it rose from the ashes of Libery Seguros! Just look at who their current DS is – Giuseppe Martinelli, Pantani’s right hand in his darkest doping years. Matt Rendell’s “Death of Marco Pantani” makes interesting reading on that front.

I do not have any personal knowledge of the practices of Astana, Vino or Kashechkin and I base my views on what I have read in the press. No matter which way you slice it, the optics for both of those riders and that team is highly questionable (at best). Specialized needs to get its head read.

The Inner Ring April 17, 2013 at 8:32 am

They were using Dr Fuentes in the 2007 Tour. Under the WADA Code each incident is treated as a separate incident. For example get caught in one race and you are banned, then get caught again later for another incident and you are banned a second time.

The UCI is supposedly investigating and awaiting any news from Padova. It just illustrates how some teams suspend and some don’t.

Michael April 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Vino and Kashechkin where both caught doing blooddoping and where both sentenced to a 2 year suspencion.

Vinos was shortened to one year because he stated that he would stop his carrier and when he restarted his carrier after that year the UCI lost at CAS when they wanted to prolong the suspension till two years

Doubter April 17, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Astana?
What about the rest of the Pro Tour teams.
Every.Single.Team. has dopers on it.

Your favorite rider…..yeah, that one…….he doped, too.

TheDude April 17, 2013 at 2:57 am

Rumor has it that Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse had a courtier named Damocles who was more or less a professional flatterer who lay around these opulent feasts saying nice things to Dionysius.
And once, he made a comment to the effect of, oh, how great it would be to be the king. And Dionysius said, oh, really? Well, if you want to know what that’s like, you can come sit in my throne, which Damocles did and Dionysius made sure that he was well supplied with opulent food and great service and cute waiters and beautiful perfumes and scented candles going. And Damocles was thinking to himself, how very wonderful then, it must be and then noticed that Dionysius had also hung above the throne a gleaming sword, which was suspended by a single horsehair. And he then begged Dionysius to be allowed to leave the throne and to go back to his subservient position as a courtier and obviously got the point, which is that anybody who gets to enjoy immense wealth, luxury and power also is living under a threat.

Scott April 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

The problem with using the Sword of Damocles as a metaphor for (alleged) dopers is that the story really says that Anyone who has fame, wealth and power is living under a threat that they can’t control. Jealously and greed is all round them – even legitimate, honest people in high positions find themselves under media scrutiny and public judgement.
Doped riders have built their success on something that would subsequently become the sword.
A better parable might be the House on the Rock – Doped riders have built a castle on the sand, while the wise man built on stone.

Patrick April 17, 2013 at 4:00 am

so far as the inconsistency between teams goes i guess this might be taken into account by any riders thinking of signing with blanco – they don’t support their riders whereas other teams have shown that they will support their riders until the relevant authorities can determine the truth. no there’s all kinds of politics behind that and clean riders shouldn’t worry too much but these days it seems everyone is at risk of allegations even if just because they’re riding well

it should be a moot point as said authorities should open an investigation as soon as any significant evidence comes to light and resolve the matter in short time. however we’ve seen time and again that these things take forever.

as bundle said, if there has been no new evidence since the team signed up sanchez then they have no grounds to restrict him

Stephen_M April 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

I think we can probably all agree on the notion that cycling is still in a complete mess? There never has been a ‘new era’; just a slow, painful transition that we’re part of the way through?

To continue the anologies above of the teacher, surgeon or accountant; I imagine they would be suspended when an actual complaint was made regarding their behaviour? Then the investigative process would start. I think LLS’s issue is that there doesn’t actually seem to be any formal process beyond innuendo in the press? Is suspicion enough? I’d like to think not. Blanco will have their own internal/private processes which might scope from riders being late for dinner, through to serious disciplinary issues. That’s their affair, not something to be aired in public.

I think what’s missing is any form of leadership from the UCI – their behaviour has created this mess (either through ineptiude or corruption, or sometimes both). We’re now the bizarre position that it’s federal agencies who are most active in ensuring fair sport, whilst the governing bodies sit on their hands and wait for the outcome.

Even without hindsight, if you were at the UCI in 2004 (Manzano) wouldn’t that have been the time to act? Interviews with Kelme, then led to the 1st Fuentes arrest in 06. I would assume it’s probably fair to assume that the UCI would know at least (if not more) than was leaked to the press around this? 9 years and the UCI have done…..

BC April 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I have to asume that the UCI are following the master plan they have adopted since the Festina affair. Do little or nothing and assume the problem will go away and be forgotton.
For this attitude riders and fans are left to suffer the consequence. I am afraid that we are stuck with a body that speaks plenty through its President, but shows little inclination to address the real problems in our midst. No change in leadership will see the situation continue until the next major problem erupts.

Scott April 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Look, if the UCI didn’t address the burning issue of maximum sock height, who would?
We have to prioritise here.

Anonymous May 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Anyone know what happened with this? Sanchez is riding the tour of Belgium so presumably something was sorted out.

The Inner Ring May 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm

There’s been no report of any resolution. But he’d been threatening to take the team to court and presumably this prompted something.

Anonymous May 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Thanks for the prompt reply.
Perhaps Blanco were hoping with everyone focused on the giro no one would notice if they quietly let the matter drop. Anyway lack of racing seems to have done him no harm as riding a solo breakaway he easily held off a strong four man group including Tony Martin.

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