Upset About the Contador Decision? Grow up.

Feb 8 2012

Pat McQuaid explaining himself

"So this is why I refuse to take my own side here…" / Tony Rocha, cc-by

It is nice, on occasion, to be right about something. The CAS decision against Contador went pretty much exactly as I said it would: an athlete had a banned product in their system. The CAS enforced the rules as written. The rest was just window dressing.

Of course, there are also times when it would be nice to be wrong. Like when hours later, the head of the UCI says “There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping”; as I’ve noted before, the UCI always seems inclined to respond with the worst possible answer.

In this case, the statement isn’t just factually untrue (Cyclingnews has a list of winners newly-minted by the case), but in spirit, it spits in the eye of everyone trying to race the sport cleanly. Because of this case, everyone who didn’t take a supplement, or a cold medicine, or a saddle-sore cream because it might make them turn out a fasle positive, is a winner. Guys like Johan VanSummeren—who’s currently gutting it out at Tour of Qatar when a single, illegal cortisone shot could simplify his life tremendously—are the winners.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Contador did come across Clenbuterol through a contaminated steak. Clearing him would send the message that going the extra mile to find clean food is wasted effort, and thus imply that any rider who spent time doing so senselessly undermined their own TdF performance. It would have also given anyone testing positive under less-innocent circumstances in the future the ready-made excuse of “the phantom steak”. These are the sorts of outcomes where no one is a winner.

It’s disheartening to hear no less than the great Eddy Merckx trot out the old boilerplate that “it’s bad for the sport” to see a rider like Contador punished to the letter of the law. Under what definition of “bad” would The Cannibal place the transition from ineffective tests and limp-wristed sanctioning to the most accure and rigorously enforced anti-doping program in the world?

Is it “bad” that fewer 20-something cyclists die in their sleep? “Bad” that low-wage cyclists don’t have to take a 10% haircut to cover “medication” for the season? “Bad” that if someone breaks the rules, they now have a reasonable expectation of being caught and punished?

I think RCS Sport director Michele Acquarone was unintentionally apt when he invoked the naiveté of children in his reaction to the news of Contador’s sanction. We’re grown-ups and we live in a grown-up world where sometimes people cheat, and we make the grown-up decision to try and punish them when they do. But I’m inclined to disagree with his assessment that everything that happend at last year’s Giro was “fake”—after all, the fantasy of Santa Claus does not make the presents under the tree any less real.

For those of us who can handle reality doled out in adult-sized portions, there’s a lot to like about yesterday’s decision. It showed that no matter how fundamentally corrupt your national organization is, and no matter how big the races you’ve won, and no matter how many powerful, politically-connected people come to your aid, the CAS is not going to be swayed by anything short of Nazi Frogmen. It’s a message that’s come about seven years too late, but I’m glad to see it get here, just the same.

Cycling won on Monday, and if there’s a scourge to match doping in the sport, it’s the hand-wringing defeatism of those who refuse to acknowledge the victory.

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