Friday, July 26, 2013

What About Cycling's Other Doping Champions?

A terrific article (here) by Matthew Beaudin at addresses the hypocrisy of the ASO (the organization that runs the Tour de France) in stripping Lance Armstrong of his titles while leaving those of other confessed or convicted dopers intact.

  • Oscar Pereiro, winner of the 2006 Tour (after Floyd Landis's disqualification for doping) admitted to using a variety of banned substances in 2010. 
  • The late Marco Patani, a virtual poster child for doping in cycling, kept his 1998 yellow jersey.
  • Jan Ullrich, who has confessed to doping throughout his Tour years, is still champion for 1997.
  • The 1996 winner Bjarne Riis confessed to doping during the Tour, but is still listed as champion.
  • Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of the Tour, confessed to doping in a television debate with a French government minister.
The list goes on and on, all the way back to the beginnings of the Tour de France (see here). In a few cases, (e.g., Landis in 2006 and Contador in 2010) titles were stripped and given to the second-place finishers. In only one case, that of Lance Armstrong, were titles retroactively stripped and give to no one because all of the other GC contenders for those years were also confessed or convicted dopers. 

Don't get me wrong: Armstrong is a liar, a cheat, and all-around jerk. But this is not about Armstrong; it is about fairness and consistency in the rules, and the equal treatment of similarly-situated individuals. Armstrong should not be treated more harshly than others simply because he was more aggressive in lying or simply less well liked. The bodies that govern cycling (and individual cycling events) need to develop a less arbitrary, more certain and predictable set of enforcement standards and norms. If Armstrong did not win seven Tours de France because of doping, then the likes of Patani, Riis, and Ullrich (along with all other TdF champions who doped, at least after France banned use of PEDs in 1965) should also have their names stripped from the books. 

Perhaps the Tour de France should learn from other sports, like baseball, where dopers get an asterisk next to their records. Actually, in the case of cycling, it might make more sense to put the asterisk next to the names of the few (if any) champions who did not dope. 

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