Christophe Bassons Given One Year Doping Ban

I can reassure readers that the 20 October is a normal day in France. The first day of April is reserved for poisson d’avril jokes. The news that Christophe Bassons has been given a one year ban for missing an anti-doping control is no laughing matter.

How did this happen? Should he banned? Here’s a look at the case, the rules and more.

On 1 September Bassons was riding the French MTB Marathon championships but abandoned. Here’s what he told L’Equipe (my translation)

I quit the race with 20km to go. When I stopped someone from the race asked my name, noted my number and then told the race officials. I know it was a mistake not to have waited until the end of the race to see if my name to see if my name was going to appear on the list of riders to control. I started driving back to Bordeaux and it’s some after two and a half hours after I quit that I get a phone call from the race timekeeper saying I need to give a sample. It was too late to get back to the race

Normally the lead riders are tested and then others are picked at random, often using a sack with numbered balls inside or other random methods. It seems Bassons was one of the chance picks and we should assume a low probability a conspiracy to pick his name out of the hat whilst officials knew he’d gone home.

A ban seems harsh but it is the rule. If a rider is called for an anti-doping control and then skips the test then they receive an automatic full ban. Here is the WADA Code (my emphasis):

The following constitute anti-doping rule violations:…
2.3 Refusing or failing without compelling justification to submit to Sample collection after notification as authorized in applicable anti-doping rules, or otherwise evading Sample collection

Note this not the same as an out-of-competition test where three missed tests invoke a ban. Instead this an in-competition test and fleeing this means a ban.

It has to be this way because let’s imagine a rider who has is “glowing” with banned substances in their body only to hear they’ve been called for a control which will find them positive. Guilty, they flee to avoid the test. Normally riders are not notified of a test until they cross the line but the recent USADA decision includes evidence that some riders and teams were able to find out who was going to be controlled in the closing stages of a race. The WADA Code specifies a two year ban.

dura lex sed lex
The law is hard but is the law

It is almost impossible to imagine Bassons skipped the test out of precaution or fear of testing positive. Tired, he simply wanted to get started on the long drive home. This is a man with courage in his veins. But thankfully the rules don’t care for our subjective interpretations and opinions. The athlete who waves a get-out-jail-free card because of his charity work or another who claims he rushed home to nurse a sick puppy is saved whilst less creative fugitives get burned alive. The rules have to be black and white.

In fact Bassons has got off with a reduced ban. Normally the automatic penalty is a two year ban and the WADA Code specifies this can be reduce by up to one half (my emphasis):

10.5.2 No Significant Fault or Negligence: If an Athlete or other Person establishes in an individual case that he or she bears No Significant Fault or Negligence, then the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility may be reduced, but the reduced period of Ineligibility may not be less than one-half of the period of Ineligibility otherwise applicable.

So whilst the ban is cruel, the French Federation have applied the maximum reduction possible. The race itself didn’t have a duty to tell him to stay as normally the identity of riders to be controlled is kept secret until the race is finished.

It’s tragic that of all people in the news this week we see Christophe Bassons banned for a year. But this doesn’t change much, he has such a stock of credibility that few would imagine him skipping a test for anything other than an admin error or simply fatigue. For many it’s the equivalent of an anti-mafia crusader getting a parking ticket.

Good luck to anyone trying to have a pop at Bassons because of this as it’s likely to backfire. The silver lining to the cloud is that no rider is above or beyond the rules. If only this was always the case.

Photo: Velo Silex and thanks to ex-FFC President Daniel Baal for the “dura lex” quote.

47 thoughts on “Christophe Bassons Given One Year Doping Ban”

    • The key is that he is not innocent.

      Sport is a game played under a set of rules. One of the rules of the cycling game is that at the end of the event, a number of participants will be asked to pee in a cup. His number came up, and he didn’t follow the rule. He is being punished according to the rules for a rule he failed to follow. So he is not innocent.

      • 99% of the people who race only skim through the rule book when the have to. Knowing the rules well is like training, a necessity if you want to improve your chances of winning an also boring. I have constantly been surprized by even pro riders ignorance of some basic rules. A rider who can compete for his country SHOULD know better…

    • He broke the rules, that much is clear.
      But I think we should be careful with the anti-doping zealotism.
      Decreasing the false negatives in the testing system almost always increases false positives, whether it’s through lower detection levels or whereabouts systems.
      Every time a person who didn’t use gets sanctioned for not complying with the rules, the following message is sent to young riders:
      “You can get convicted even if you don’t use, just because you made a mistake. So you might as well use, win, and then get caught. It’s better than not use, loose and get caught.”
      I don’t see a lot of attention for that side of the coin these days.

  1. I really feel sorry for the rider; seems like he was simply tired and wanted to go home, but I understand that the rule has to be followed.

    Question: Are riders who get injured and have to abandon during a race subject to the testing too? Just wondering…

    • The rule covers every rider. Depending on the severity of the injury that caused the abandonment, it might qualify as a compelling justification to NOT submit to Sample collection. But abandoning due to a painful saddle sore, for example, or a bruised tailbone might not meet the threshold of compelling justification to not piss in a cup.

  2. You agree to play by the rules are when you sign the license application. Too bad the UCI and those who ran the TdF back in 1999 didn’t enforce them like this – the entire BigTex scam might have been avoided? I still remember when that news came out and wondering how the hell Tex could be let off the hook for what was clearly a violation of the rules, as I thought TUE’s MUST be declared in advance. Even if the RX provided later was perfectly OK (which we now know was not the case), it was presented AFTER the positive dope-test and Tex should have been out of the sport for a couple of years. How ironic that Tex’ big enemy (in Tex’ mind anyway) gets snared by the rules while Tex himself became rich and famous beyond belief.

  3. I am sure Bassons will accept his ban with more dignity than Contador, Vinokourov, Valverde , or any of the other whiny, self-pitying cheats who are not fit to clean the mud off his bike.

  4. This does seem like a bizarre turn of events. As the other Tom notes, missing a test is a breach of the rules and so the punishment has to be applied, just like with any of the other rules of competition.

    There’s an interesting philosophical point about missing tests though; a clean athlete forgetting to show up and a dirty one deliberately avoiding a test are two very different things, but without the test it’s all but impossible to say which of the two scenarios has happened. It’s good to see that the punishment reflects this though.

  5. Wasn’t there a similar situation with Jonathan Page at a cyclocross race a couple of years back? I think he DNF’ed the race and left early due to an injury, and then missed the random test. I don’t remember all of the details, but he was cleared. I would hope that Bassons has the same luck on an appeal.

  6. Seems fair enough, break the rules get a punishment.
    Who’s to know if any rider missing a test is clean or doped up?
    This way is the fairest, better a few honest riders get bans than a load of dopers go free.

  7. Dura lex, sed lex.

    I hope he sees the bitter humour in this (“rode the tour these many times, caught in a missed test on a MTB rce”). And may the French and other federations actually apply the liability principles properly and fairly.

    I’m looking at you, Msr. Bauge.

    And maybe, for these administrative things, we can get a timely report? That’s 6 weeks of delay. Same with Rasmussen (Alex, not the chicken) – so much delay and wavering.

  8. How long are they expected to hang around even if they finish? He said he didn’t get a call til 2.5 hrs after he even abandoned(with only 20k to go). They’re supposed to just wait around on the off chance they might get chosen for a sample? Seems like better communication when he left would have avoided it, but oh well.

    • In the past, I have served as the “DOC” (doping control officer, a representative of the race organization assigned to work with USADA & the officials) at several UCI races in the US.

      Competitors are not expected to wait around; the list of riders to be tested is posted near/at the end of the race, usually near the official’s stage, sometimes in duplicate at the testing location. It is the rider’s responsibility to check the list, though it is usually done by the team staff. In rare circumstances, there is a slight delay in posting the list.

      Chaperones are often assigned to locate and escort riders (you see them on TV rushing to the race winner, etc.). However, finding random riders is difficult, unless you know where they are parked.

      There is no obligation for anyone to call/text a rider or team director, as to their selection for testing, or testing alternate; responsibility for checking the list lies solely on the rider. In fact, contacting them has been frowned upon. Often we have been prohibited from announcing the list of random selections on “Radio Tour”, the official raced radio network. I and my colleagues have however excused ourselves from the presence of UCI and USADA officials, and made these calls, which was prudent in circumstances like Bassons’. The fact that he got a call was probably more an anomaly than the norm. Unfortunately, it was too late for him to do anything about it.

  9. What on earth is going on with those 6-month bans then? Ok, they admitted it. They are good people. Now give them a 1 year ban to relax a bit. There are all sorts of deviations on this %$&* rules.
    I’ m sure Bassons will just laugh and accept the price. Let Dave, Tom, Levi and the others, do the same (remove the laugh).
    It would be nice to get something good out of it…

    • Building on Peter’s point above: If Basson’s were dirty, could he have traded information on other dopers (like Danielson, VDV etc) for a reduced 6 month sentence? Or are different rules in effect here?

  10. It seems to me that whilst “the rules are the rules” and they should/could be enforced, either the standards for in-race competition needs to be stated quite clearly “if you abandon for any reason you still must check-in and check-out” or you will be suspended from sport etc or this suspension should be nullified.

    Making standard processes will help the athletes to understand the rules and standard processes will also be one more small step to assist ‘our sport’ from being continually trounced in the public forum i.e. media.
    If in fact the standard is know by all riders/teams then he was dumb and deserves the year suspension; I doubt this to be true.

    On another note, when is the last time you heard about a player missing in- or out- of competition in the NHL/NFL/MLB/NBA/FOOTBALL…. etc? Sadly, I believe that the bias against cycling is set and it will be a generation for the label of our sport being full of “druggies” to dissolve.

    • Bias against cycling? In the big-time, big profit sports you named ONLY the NBA is involved in the Olympic Games and the players who want to participate must make themselves available for testing just like any other Olympic athlete, above and beyond whatever the NBA itself does. Pro sports leagues can have whatever “tests” they like, enforcing their rules as ineffectively as, well, the UCI if they choose, as long as their athletes don’t compete in the Games. USADA or other anti-doping organizations have no say in the situation.
      This could be one of the bad consequences of setting up a North American pro sports style cycling league. The first thing they’d probably do is ditch the Games so they could do as they please without any interference from WADA….and don’t forget how the riders act in response to any rule changes, they fought dope tests for years, fought against helmets, etc. I fear this type of league would be more interested in profits and less interested in sporting values than…gulp….the UCI!

    • The rules are quite clear; it is just that riders sometimes forget about them, as checking the list is not at the forefront of thought when one abandons.

  11. What a stuffup.

    Sadly, I don’t think there’s any choice in this case but for Mr. Bassons to take it on the chin.

    However, it does seem like a problem with the procedures that riders who abandon could be on the list for a random test and not know it. What Mr. Bassons did is something that routinely happens at many, many races, even at quite elite levels as I understand it.

    Would it compromise the integrity of the testing procedure if there was a designated phone number to call when a rider abandons to find out if they’re on the list to be random tested?

    • As stated above, the responsibility lies upon the rider. Calling in might work, but then again, they need to be near the testing location, as there is a prescribed time limit to report for testing. If they left the race finish site, they blew their obligation as an elite rider subject to testing, and would probably not make it back in time. The bottom line is, you need to stick around.

  12. Christophe will take the ban with good grace I am sure of that. Would still love to buy you a beer should I ever be FORTUNATE to meet you.

  13. Didn’t Jonathan Page miss a test at a cross race a couple of years back and didn’t he get off with a reprimand and no ban? The federations seem to have some leeway when deciding what sanction to impose. Is that fair? Seems to me Bassons deserves the treatment Page got.

  14. typo? : ” I know it was a mistake not to have waited until the end of the race to see if my name to see if my name was going to appear on the list of riders”

    • For a man who works in anti-doping, was pressured out of the sport he loved due to doping and is an outspoken advocate against doping; you’d have to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one and take him at his word. It’s clear he didn’t know about the doping control because if you skip it in competition it’s irrelevant whether you’re clean or not, you’re banned.

  15. The one thing I always find odd about this ‘professional’ sport I love – is how few of the rules, the comeptitors actually know.

    Never mind major things like random drug testing – most dont realise that THEY alone are responsible for knowing the directions of a route and blame organisors/marshalls when they get sent the wrong way.

    Responsability is taken away from riders so much these days, in the professional ranks, that few seem to remember or even bother to check the rules they need to compete. I can imagine Bassons always having a manager telling him to go to control or wait in the van til its all over just incase.
    Few teams would leave the finish area until theyve found out who is chosen for control yet a typical MtnTop stage finish in a GT race is one where most do leave asap, some riders just turn around after the finish line and ride down again….they obviously know who has been chosen at random!

  16. Same thing almost happened to me. I was going to quit a race and turn off course to ride to our hotel, but just before I was going to do it, our soigeur’s van drove up and instead I hopped in and went to the finish. Then I was called to anti doping. If the van had not appeared then, I may have been banned too. When you are so cracked that you need to dnf, you aren’t thinking straight. Although I knew these rules, I didn’t think about them when I was about to quit.

  17. Scalliwags like Bassons, your days are numbered now that the UCI has seriously, most deliriously. decided to discuss the possibility of choosing a date for a meeting to muse over what should be on the agenda of the first meeting which will mostly include a discussion of what should be on the agenda of the second meeting as they consider the idea of reforming themselves.
    The first topic is, what should their LA conference room now be called?

  18. The title is miss leading:

    “Christophe Bassons Given One Year Doping Ban”

    He was not sanction for doping but for missing a doping test.

    You should rather call your article:

    “Christophe Bassons Suspended One Year for missing a Doping Test”

    The mean difference is that we all know that Christophe Bassons does not dope.

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