Flashback to July and Alexander Kolobnev tested positive in the Tour de France. It was the only doping scandal of the 2011 race and the media besieged the Château de Salles, the Katusha team’s overnight accommodation. Some riders and team staff went to police station, adding to the tension.
Except now the verdict has fallen and it’s far less dramatic: a warning and a fine of 1,500 Swiss Francs (US$1,700). We will get further details of the case in two weeks when the Russian authorities publish their verdict in full. But this is the lightest option possible, a small fine and no suspension. This suggests Kolobnev presented satisfactory evidence to prove he accidentally ingested the banned substance. But the case highlights a lot more.
RusADA is the anti-doping agency in Russia and there are questions over the process of the Russian Cycling Federation. There’s a timetable to be respected. On the 20 July the UCI issued a press release confirming the B-test positive and starting the hearing process. The rules state “the proceedings before the hearing panel of the License-Holder’s National Federation must be completed within 1 (one) month“. Now events took place in July, we’re in October now so why the long delay? We all want due process and you shouldn’t rush justice but the rules say “the National Federation shall be penalized by the disciplinary commission, incurring a fine of CHF 5000 for each week’s delay“.
Riders will also be asking questions. Following his positive A-sample Kolobnev left the Tour de France. Initially reports claimed different things but the settled version was that the Russian “suspended himself” from racing. But this wasn’t a neutral decision. Even the UCI seemed to take sides with their press release:
The UCI Anti-Doping Rules do not provide for a provisional suspension given the nature of the substance, which is a specified substance. However the UCI is confident that his team will take the necessary steps to enable the Tour de France to continue in serenity
As I said at the time, you don’t need to be a political genius to spot the first sentence contradicts the second, that Kolobnev was free to continue under the rules yet the UCI was waiting for his team to take the “necessary steps”, to get him away from the race. Now I can understand this but again the rules are the rules and I didn’t like the way the UCI chose to take sides and you can bet this worried many a rider. Rules are meant to stand above the gossip, prejudice and to withstand media storms and now if someone totally innocent is caught mid-race it seems the UCI might be after them. I suppose it depends who the rider is, if they are expendable.
Riders on the Katusha team have also signed an internal charter saying if they test positive they get fired and have to pay a hefty fine. If he has been given a doping sanction, albeit the mildest one, will the team rule be enforced? Certainly Kolobnev’s future career is uncertain, it is unclear if he will ride in 2012.
Initially a simple doping case, the story highlights more than the presence of a banned molecule. We have a rider with a light sanction and we’ll see if the UCI and WADA agree. The Russian authorities took their time – indeed Kolobnev was given an award by President Medvedev – and I wonder if the UCI dared to fine them; especially since the top man in Russian cycling Igor Makarov is now on the UCI’s Management Council. The story also gives riders legitimate concerns, seeing rules tossed aside in order to get Kolobnev out of the Tour de France was good for the Tour de France but undermines the rules.