Forget Doping—Cycling's Media Problems Are Worse

Nov 30 2010

Floyd Landis signs autographsIt’s strange, really—crafting a race strategy and timing that perfect attack doesn’t seem so different from devising a policy for dealing with the media and scheduling your tidbits to the press for maximum impact. And yet, cyclists and those involved in cycling seem to have a near-bottomless penchant for screwing it up.

Take Floyd Landis and his latest set of Postal doping allegations. Sure, they were European television interviews and mostly just expansions on previous statements, but come on, dude—Thanksgiving break? When the few people paying any attention to the news will have to make it past irresistible Black Friday newsoids to read your stuff? Why even bother?

The only explanation I can see is that ARD and France2 were booked solid two weeks ago when the US Press was bubbling with news of Novitzky’s Euro Trip, complete with all sorts of juicy, idiomatic quotes. At least Floyd can take some satisfaction that by timing his announcement at the start of the holiday shopping season, he’s forced Team RadioShack to put their single least popular t-shirt on sale. That’s hitting ’em in the wallet, all right.

Still, I suppose even Landis could give UCI president Pat McQuaid a primmer on media relations. Here we have one of the most epic whistleblowers in the history of the sport, and of course, McQuaid is threatening to sue him. Nothing says “I’m not protecting certain riders” like suing people who make accusations against them.

Pat McQuaid and Sean KellyEven in citing the “big names that have been found positive over the years”, McQuaid points an implicit finger at himself: Contador, Rasmussen, and even Landis weren’t deposed until well after the end of a certain Texan’s dominance.

In fact, the first Grand Tour title decided by a drug positive disqualification*—the ’05 Vuelta—was also the first held after Armstrong Retirement 1.0. Some might call that suspiciously close timing, especially considering how effectively Grand Tour winners have been busted since.

No, the proper way to respond this time around is to employ a little close reading. Landis’ allegations against the UCI could very easily be taken as a “well, everybody knew there were protected riders” sort of statement, worthy of a Pope Apology along the lines of “we’re sorry Floyd feels that way”.

After all, current intel seems to suggest that the UCI will take little damage, if any, from the Armstrong investigation, and given the time frame of Landis’ allegations, any blame will be easy enough to shovel onto McQuaid’s predecessor, Hein Verbruggen.

Then again, it might be a little much to expect decent media performance from a man who violated a sporting boycott cited as one of the most effective measures against apartheid (and still claims not to regret it), declared that every nation West of the Rhine and south of the Channel is culturally part of the “mafia”, and straight-up denied to the German press (yesterday’s comments notwithstanding) that Michael Rasmussen had committed a doping offense.

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