The UCI sent a disturbing message on Wednesday: If you have the money and are good enough at hiding your doping, you can have a place in the UCI’s World Tour!
History has shown that if you hide your cheating well enough, you may profit tremendously. Politicians, preachers, and professional cycling have proven this. They have also proven that if you get caught, you will be dragged naked by your testicles (or toes) down a long street lined by people slinging bat guano into your orifices, taking your ill-gotten gains by any means necessary, or at least flaming you on twitter. And everyone leaves your party when you are out of cocaine. I mean money.
The unwritten rule in pro cycling has always been that you don’t speak poorly of the companies who sponsor teams. And you don’t turn down their money as long as they help the governing bodies maintain the status quo. For instance, Coors Light used to sponsor a popular US pro team, and although their beer tastes like water when compared to, oh, any other beer in existence (except maybe Beer Beer – is that still around?), the rule was you only spoke positively about Coors Light. Every rider out there appreciated them sponsoring so many awesome athletes. Coors Light rocks – Go buy some today!
The UCI seems to be confused. They clearly want big money in the sport, but they seem to believe that doping is a necessary component of pro cycling. They seem to think that maintaining the status quo of hiding doping is the right way forward. That’s the message they sent on Wednesday with the issuing of Astana’s World Tour license. It is almost as if they believe you can’t have one without the other. Yes, they pioneered the use of the biological passport, but how much money has that made them? They seem to think that companies who put ethics over winning (think Europcar) are less important, even though their racing is arguably more passionate and exciting.
Astana Pro Cycling is sponsored by many of the biggest names in Kazakhstan business, brand names much of the world has never heard of. For millions of annual operating budget dollars, the team in theory inspires either throngs of Kazakhstanis or a few generous businesspeople who like seeing their names on podiums, I’m unsure which. Every year in its long-running history, the team has endured doping positives. Why does Astana Pro Cycling still exist after having no clean years in the sport? (Perhaps ironically, the 2009 Astana team managed by Johan Bruyneel and sporting Lance Armstrong may have been their cleanest year.)
It cannot be that all Kazakhstanis lack the integrity and intelligence to adopt the same win at all cost attitude that the Astana team brings to professional cycling. I have to give them more credit out of basic human respect. I mean, if they can decry Borat, surely they can cry out for the sanitizing of “their” team? Why are the management and sponsors not demanding clean riders? Oh wait… Alexander Vinokourov is the manager.
I used to admire Alexander Vinokourov back when he was competing because I didn’t know he was cheating. His on-the-bike exploits were exciting. Of course, I’ve unwittingly admired many cheaters over the years (Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Johan Museeuw, and so on), and the fact is I don’t much care that they cheated to even the scales in an era that is long since over (I do very much mind that Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis took people’s money to fund their legal defenses, but if I was stupid enough to give to them, I guess I got what I deserved, in the form of my belief in pro cyclists being pretty well gutted [Chris Horner excepted]).
The doping era is in the past, and much of pro cycling appears to be riding clean. Of course, who knows? After all, Monsieur Vinokourov returned from a 2-year doping ban to win the Olympic Road Race gold medal and promptly retired from competition. I can feel oh-so-confident that he was clean, because all riders are so awesome after two years away from competition that they can simply ride away from the cream of the crop in pro cycling. Uh-huh.
Apparently, the UCI doesn’t care about Astana cheating. That is disturbing. They cannot claim to want a clean sport in one breath, then issue a top-tier World Tour license to an obviously corrupt team in the next. The transparency of the UCI’s license commission in issuing a pro license to a cheating team while denying a team lacking just 6% of the required operating budget (Europcar) sends entirely the wrong message to pro teams and sponsors, not to mention fans, without whom, there would be no pro cycling.
Of course, we all want to believe in the clean veins of Vincenzo Nibali. He seems like an innocent victim, à la, right guy, wrong team, wrong time. He seems like a good guy. His quiet demeanor and ‘proof is in the pedaling’ approach are admirable.
I hope Astana and the UCI can learn how to make admirable decisions in the future.