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Weekly Wibble: professional cycling’s flying CIRCus

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Photographs: Offside-LeEquipe

Rain forecast this weekend? Fancy nothing more than climbing aboard the sofa with a little light reading to while away the hours until dinner? Allow us then to recommend the long-awaited CIRC report, available free of charge, and containing something for everyone.
Consider the following: “Doping and cheating remain evident in the peloton, though it is probably not as endemic as it used to be.” Hmm.
“There are a good number of individuals, teams and team personnel striving to participate in the sport without doping.” Good.
“It seems that today riders have a choice as to whether to dope or not, whereas before there was no real choice if a rider wanted to be competitive in the big races.” Better still.
“Yet there are a number who continue to cheat.” Oh.
“Therefore, it cannot be said that there is a genuine, sport-wide consensus by all participants to reject doping.” Drat.
“The problem is that in a climate in which doping has become the norm for a long period of time, ethical values can be undermined.” You don’t say.

To commission a report into your own mistakes is tough. Who among us would care to hear from 174 witnesses to our own indiscretions, and to see them published in a 228-page report? But who among us could afford the fee for the services of a three-man panel, a project director and four independent experts?
Spare a thought then for these well-intentioned servants of cycling, toiling away in blighted Switzerland, scraping by (on 440,000 Swiss Francs in the case of the previous president, and a cut price 340,000CHF for the present incumbent), with no thought for personal aggrandisement or the riches that television rights might bring to the federation, that we might all enjoy a better, cleaner sport.
Lucky then that the CIRC report offers something for everyone. You might be a journalist working in the mainstream media, for example. That one, anonymous individual considers 90 per cent of the peloton still to be dopers gives you your headline. You need not trouble yourself with the inconvenient truth that “WADA data … quite clearly showed that other sports were just as affected by doping as cycling, in some cases even more so, but did not attract media headlines.”

Or let us suppose for a moment that you are the ex-president of an international sporting federation. You might be called Hein, to pick a name at random, or Pat. The CIRC report will contain something to cheer you. Your sport may have been one of the last to accept the WADA code, your presidencies characterised by litigation and preferential treatment for the sport’s star athletes, its long abandoned “health programme” an incentive for the estimated 90 per cent of riders with a hematocrit below 50 per cent to have started doping immediately, but there is no evidence that a $25,000 payment from Lance Armstrong was to cover up a positive test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse, or even that a positive test was returned. Consider yourselves exonerated.
Neither did CIRC conclude that any link existed between Armstrong’s payment to the UCI of $100,000 for the “fight against doping” (oh, the irony) and the federation’s disputed legal bill from the authors of the Vrijman report into L’Equipe’s allegations of a positive test for EPO from the Texan at the 1999 Tour de France. That CIRC also concluded that Armstrong received preferential treatment from Verbruggen and McQuaid, and that the UCI had involved itself in the Vrijman report to reflect its own conclusions and those of Armstrong, does not trouble either of them.
Teams can find something to smile about in the CIRC report, too, if a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is something to smile about. Doping is now more likely to be the personal responsibility of the star riders who can afford the sophisticated programmes required to avoid detection, CIRC was told. Prepare yourself then to tip a casquette respectfully in the direction of a doper’s creativity, ingenuity, and grasp of semantic nuance that would allow many to pursue alternative careers as lawyers or politicians.

“Some riders will take substances on the [WADA Prohibited] List but, having not been caught, consider themselves clean,” CIRC noted. “Some will take substances that are on the List but are not yet detectable, and therefore believe they are clean. Some riders stop doping before a big event and therefore consider themselves to be riding clean.”
If you had previously judged a rider’s bravery only by his speed on a descent, or refusal to quit after crashing, the CIRC report offers new avenues for your admiration. The doper’s dedication has its place in the realm of “preparation”, too. Professional riders are often characterised as “thoroughbreds”. Some even take drugs designed for horses, CIRC found. Bon courage! Imagine the concentration required to stay focused on the race while taking up to 30 pills in a stage, as well as anti-depressants in the morning and tranquilisers at night. For anyone who’s forgotten to collect a prescription, this is impressive stuff.
Who among us would consider using a drug halted before gaining clinical approval as a likely cause of cancer, merely to ride a bicycle faster? A surprising number, in fact. CIRC heard that doping has increased so much among amateur riders, typically in the Masters category, that many pro cyclists have given up riding granfondo events. The MAMIL, whose lust for the lifestyle has extended beyond team kit and ludicrously exotic machinery to chemical enhancements, can read the CIRC report with satisfaction; conclusive evidence that he is living the dream.
The CIRC report has generated much fervour among the cycling community, but with all things considered, is an underwhelming sequel to USADA’s best-selling Reasoned Decision. Fans of factual accounts of professional cycling’s indiscretions are unlikely to have to wait long for the next literary bombshell, however. The 550-page report of the Padova Investigation has been submitted to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and hearings in the Mantova Investigation are ongoing. Cycling’s circus of riders, teams, administrators and investigators will continue to perform, even now the work of the CIRC is complete.
228 – pages in the CIRC report
174 – the number of people interviewed by the Commission
1 – the number of active riders who waived their right to anonymity (Chris Froome)
0 – the number of riders who came forward voluntarily to admit an anti-doping rule violation
Pat chats with Daniel Lloyd

A new presidency for Hein Verbruggen, who has huge markets on his mind

Meet Brian. “I wouldn’t say that any of my predecessors had done a bad job”

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