Maybe We Should Test For Accountability

Oct 4 2010

Pat McQuaidWhat is it about this sport that cultivates such an aversion to accountability? It must be drafting or something.

Let’s start with the UCI, who flatly denied a Contador positive to ARD after they were aware of it, and before the story broke. Ignore the fact that most third-graders know to spit back “neither-confirm-nor-deny” boilerplate to questions like that—it’s the frickin’ German media.

While they do seem to have a painfully self-conscious obsession with doping, they’re not exactly known for fishing expeditions. Contador’s positive tests occurred months ago, the UCI had already notified WADA, bringing dozens, if not hundreds of potential leaks into the loop. Did the UCI consider it conincedence that a doping specialist reporter called them to ask about Contador’s positive test?

Then there was the advice to Contador to keep quiet over the positive tests. Nothing says “we’re attempting to cover this up” like sequestering news from reporters, sponsors, team managers, etc. Now you’ve got Contador on record as saying he expects a “quick resolution“, rumors flying over slashed suspension terms, heaps of reporting on a double standard so obvious it would embarrass George Wallace, and—oh yeah—all this kicked up days before the UCI’s biggest week of racing.

In fact, the only thing transparent out of the UCI in recent weeks was their limp-wristed attempt to deflect attention and criticism onto the Spanish cycling federation. Words cannot convey how much better the sport and its governing body would look if the UCI had simply told Contador to come forward back in August, and confirmed—or at least not denied—the positive tests.

Alberto ContadorAnd then there’s Contador. Apparently, the B-sample clearance I’d been hoping for hasn’t come through. That makes a positive test. Contador should feel welcome to appeal to his heart’s content—it’s his right after all—but I don’t think there’s any reasonable expectation he won’t get sanctioned.

If Contador really did test positive from tainted meat, he should lose the TdF title for it. Yes, it’s not really fair—but then again, neither was Andy’s chain, Beloki’s crash, Hinault’s knees, Merckx’s liver or any other of a myriad of other hard-luck stories that potentially cost racers victory at the Tour de France.

At an absolute level, athletes have complete control over the food that goes into their bodies, and consuming anything other than the most rigorously vetted food at the biggest bike race in the world is as fool-hardy as taking risks on melted pavement, punching big gears through growing joint pain, or riding too close to a hostile crowd.

And frankly, if Contador’s case is handled like previous contamination positives, I think he should accept it and be satisfied. More than a few additional questions have been raised by this case, and with some labs apparently keeping an eye peeled for as-of-yet-circumstantial signs of doping, there’s no need for the Spaniard to start playing the retroactive testing card; at any rate, we know from experience that retro-positives are fairly easy to deny.

At the end of the day, what’s important is that people respect the rules cycling has established to deal with drug testing. They aren’t perfect—you’d be hard-pressed to find codified regulations that are—but they’ve come a tremendously long way in the past decade.

Tap-dancing around the media and normal procedure to try and control the impact of positive tests, or expecting special treatment because you happend to win a few Tours de France both undermines the effectiveness of the systems, and obscures the areas where it’s in need of further refinement.

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