Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Couple More Prominent Asterisks...

and a decline in credibility. As a general rule I try to avoid commenting on the political side of professional cycling, the questionable decisions of riders, teams and governing bodies. I don't possess any special medical knowledge or legal acumen to allow me to add anything other than another personal opinion to the already great tide of such thoughts swirling around the internet right now. Of course I am talking about the Alberto Contador decision - two year ban (backdated, so that he can race again beginning in August 2012), stripped of his 2010 Tour de France victory, and of all results since that time (notably the 2011 Giro d'Italia crown). I can understand relieving a rider of a victory when that rider has been found guilty of cheating, I can also understand a ban from competing for a certain period of time as a form of penalty. It is the other part that starts to border on the farcical for me. Contador was stripped of his 2011 Giro win, which came nearly a year after the incident in question. There has never been any dispute about this being a clean victory, it simply came within the period of time in which Contador was being investigated, the case examined and debated. Another Grand Tour with an asterisk, another shot to the integrity of the sport.

The decision has impacts far beyond Alberto Contador, and not the least of these impacts is to the sports fan base, from the die-hards like myself to the curious outsiders. As good a rider as I am sure Michele Scarponi is, he was clearly not the strongest or best performing at the 2011 Giro d'Italia. In watching that race we thought we were witnessing a masterful display of racing ability; turns out it was all just so much smoke and mirrors, and Contador wasn't really even there. So the Giro organizers must give the victory to the second placed finisher. Sorry, that is not in the least bit satisfying. The organizers of the Giro have been put into a difficult position over which they had no control (and yes, I know the same can be said for the TdF organizers as well). Angelo Zomegnan, race director of the Giro recognized the potential harm to his race in March 2011 when he said, "the sport's justice system is slower than we would wish. Clearly, something is not working in the guarantee of our event." Look, I will forever be a cycling fan; for me, any race is as much about what takes place in the trenches during the middle miles, as it is the thrill at the end. But something needs to be done by the various governing bodies and anti-drug agencies so that decisions are made in a more timely manner, and so that they do not adversely affect events ten months (18 in the case of the TdF) after the time of the original infraction. 

In the end, this is clearly not just about Alberto Contador, it is just as much about the system; a system that is far too unwieldy for its own good. A system that for all it purports to promote the sport, often seems more intent on making the sport less comprehensible and less relevant. Why would someone less dedicated invest even an ounce of passion in a sport that is unable to clearly declare a victor until months after the fact? 

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