Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Arbitrary Decisions, Senna and Joe Papp


Senna was a Brazilian National Hero.

‘Senna,’ is a powerful film; the man was fast, brave, committed, and ruthless behind the wheel, but religious, handsome, humble, funny, and devoted to his family, very fond of the ladies and an inspiration to a whole nation.

And all of Brazil grieved for him when he died in that horrific crash at Imola in 1994.

As well as a portrait of an amazing sportsman the film gives us a rare look at the machinations of the men — or rather man — who run the sport at the highest levels.

Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre was the main man back then and as the Guardian said in his obituary; ‘Balestre had a bombastic and unpredictable streak which caused him some strife with the world’s car makers, as a result of various seemingly arbitrary decisions by the sport’s governing body, and there were also those who felt he showed partiality towards Alain Prost when the Frenchman was battling for his third world title against his McLaren team-mate Ayrton Senna in 1989.’

‘Arbitrary decisions’ – we’re good at them in cycling, the latest one approved ‘the introduction of a new article in the regulations ( aiming to prevent anyone found guilty of infringing the Anti-Doping Regulation during his cycling career from obtaining a licence authorising him to take on a role in cycling as a member of a team’s staff.

That one comes about ten years too late and I have serious doubts if it would ‘stick’ if someone set a good human rights lawyer on it.

One of the few riders to be handed a life ban – and that was back in the days when a positive test simply put you last on the stage with a 50 franc fine!

And do you remember this snippet from a certain high ranking gentleman in the UCI? It appeared on back at the Team Leopard launch regarding Kim Andersen;

‘Yes he was positive as a rider but so was Bjarne Riis [ed – Riis never tested positive but admitted to doping]. They still do good work now.

“Kim has every right to earn a living and be involved in cycling as he does good work.

“I’ve never heard any rumours and all I’ve heard about him as a team director has been very good and I don’t want to use the word positive but it’s very encouraging that he’s a very good sports director so I’ll leave it at that.”

Old Kim wasn’t just busted once – he was nailed on at least four occasions to my knowledge; and with the help of the UCI wriggled out of a lifetime ban which had been imposed after his third offence.

But because he’s part of a set up which is pumping big bucks into the UCI coffers; ‘he has a right to earn a living.’ It’s quite simply shameless double standards.

The stories that come our way during the course of a year from ‘reliable witnesses,’ – some of whom tell us that it’s OK to print it — lead us to believe that there are many people at the highest levels who are encased in glass but are still throwing bricks, never mind stones.

As well as watching ‘Senna’ this week, I did a wee interview with our pal Viktor. Vik is a Colossus of the ranting art, but a lot of the time he talks so much sense.

He makes numerous excellent points; take the Tyler Hamilton episode, for example. I’m no expert, but having seen the ’60 minutes’ interview, that man is either telling the truth or could rival Marlon Brando at his best.

But the UCI in their wisdom is going to sue him for the allegations he makes — any other body would be launching an immediate internal investigation into what he says.

Tyler Hamilton has said publicly that Lance provided him with EPO.

Neither Hamilton nor Landis have a pot to pee in, there’s no point in talking about suing them other than chest beating posturing — and as the man from Stratford upon Avon might have said; ‘methinks the international cycling body doth protest too much.’

As Vik says;

“Hamilton was a nice wee guy and wasn’t doing anything that the rest of them weren’t doing.”

And we’re not suggesting to ‘forget about’ wrong doings; with very few exceptions the cycling public realise that the decade where Hamilton was at his best, was corrupt.

Take the top 20 in the 2005 Pro Tour, there’s Danilo Di Luca, Davide Rebellin, Jan Ulrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Alessandro Petacchi, Gilberto Simoni, Francisco Mancebo, Roberto Heras and Santiago Botero.

That’s nine out of 20, but there’s also Levi Leipheimer (failed test US criterium championship 1996) and Frank Schleck who pays large amounts of Euros for ‘training advice’ from folks that he doesn’t really know — pros are like that with money.

And there are others in that 20 who we know were told to stop by their federation because they were going to get caught or who were on the dreaded Puerto lists, but wriggled clear.

And let’s not forget Valverde at 22; Zabel at 23 and Basso at 24.

I make that 13 of the top 24 who have either served suspensions or ‘fessed up’ — that’s difficult to defend and makes you wonder why the UCi doesn’t sit down with the likes of Hamilton and Landis and pick their brains clean about how it was done.

The focus should be on the ‘here and now;’ find out as much as possible about the methods used by the kitters; extend the French testing system across Europe — when was the last time a French rider was busted? — and launch an education programme.

I make no pretence to be a legal expert but I think it would be extremely difficult — given European employment law — to make lifetime bans stick; the ‘hang ‘em high approach’ has demonstrably failed.

The UCi has zero policy on the education of neo pros about the perils – physical, financial and psychological of kitting up.

Joe Papp is doing what he can to put right his past mistakes.

The US rider Joe Papp, who’s currently awaiting sentencing for supplying EPO — it was a sophisticated operation; it came through the post from China — spoke to the UCI about giving talks to young riders – not a thing has come of it.

Vik also makes the point that cycling should be talking to the IOC and other bodies and asking them when it will be a level playing field.

The Man City player Kolo Toure was recently given a six month suspension for failing a test — diuretics we’re told, his wife’s slimming pills.

The press’s attitude to Toure is sympathetic; ‘how easy it is to fall foul of strict anti-doping rules’ he’s a ‘devout Muslim’ and ‘teetotaler’ — to this I would say, ‘so what?’

If knowingly using slimming pills to get your weight down so as you’ll have better stamina and/or acceleration isn’t performance enhancing, then what is?

If he was a cyclist he’d be looking at two years — a year if he was lucky — remember that Alberto isn’t home free, yet.

Which leads us on to the main thrust of Vik’s rant — isn’t it crazy to let Contador start the Tour?

I’m a Bert fan and a subscriber to the innocent ‘til proved guilty principle; but it’s only 50/50 that CAS will uphold the Spanish Federation’s decision and let him ride.

And as Vik says; ‘there’s nothing we can do about the Armstrong situation, but this is wholly avoidable and a disaster in the making.’

The man has a point.