Many would have us believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and of course in principal they are quite correct. However, in giving them that second chance, the people responsible for the wellbeing of the professional sport in Italy play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of those employed within it, and close to it. The likelihood is that the majority of cyclists are now competing without recourse to doping products. If this is the case then they, and the hundreds employed behind the scenes, their sponsors and those building the bikes on which they ride, deserve better than the Giro’s current largesse. Modern doping techniques are not only deeply injurious to the credibility of the sport but, much more importantly, to the cyclists themselves. That Italian riders, those operating within an expensively sponsored team structure at the top end of the sport here, continue to be caught cheating whilst racing abroad is the most damning of all the sport’s truths. The Giro, the great standard bearer, is well beyond the point at which it can afford to keep handing out second chances; what it needs, and what the public demands, is that it starts making examples. The future wellbeing of the sport here depends on it.
Many argue, with no little reason, that doping is as old as the sport itself. Some would still have us believe that cyclists at the highest level are compelled, presumably by some indelible genetic imprint, to dope. Whilst there is truth in the argument that 100 years of doping culture can not be overturned in a relative instant, this in itself renders the responsibility to act decisively all the more compelling, all the more immediate. Elsewhere, most notably in France, huge progress has been made, and the systemised ‘vertical’ doping of the recent past is apparently no more, which can only be a good thing. In northern Europe and America new teams are emerging with openly anti-doping policies and cultures. To many of the young riders I meet, particularly British and American, doping is simply a non-issue because they’ve never been exposed to it. Though globally cycling is doubtless a much cleaner sport than ever it was in the past, the Italian peloton, and the Giro itself, has done nothing of any great substance in the fight against doping. CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, is stringent in its application of the WADA code, but the Giro seems intent on leaving a side door ajar for most anybody to sneak through. Sad to say, but whilst all around it bike racing is being regenerated and renewed, Italy’s great showcase simply blows hot air.
Extract from Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, available here.