Monday, July 31, 2006

A Dubious Doping Defense

I hope Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is innocent of doping charges. I wish I could say I believe he is, but after all I've seen as a cycling fan this century, I don't know what to believe anymore. I can't say my faith in Landis was bolstered by this dubious statement from Jacques Michaud, his team's directeur sportif (a coach who drives alongside the racers giving tactical advice). French newspaper La Provence Dimanche quoted Michaud as saying, "Frankly speaking, if Floyd was doping, (Phonak) would have known it."

There's just one problem with that statement: Phonak has had an incredible nine doping scandals in the past two years. Aside from one rider who was caught by team testing, Phonak didn't seem to have any prior knowledge of the other cases (for example, the team strongly defended Tyler Hamilton until its very existence was jeopardized). With such a team history, how could Michaud claim they would have known if Landis was cheating (assuming they didn't lie about the other cases)?

Actually, riders usually dope without their teams' knowledge, particularly since the Festina team got busted in the 1998 Tour de France. Many doping stories involve secret meetings in airports, mysterious packages, personal trainers who happen to be doctors -- or even veterinarians -- dispensing pharmaceuticals, etc. Whether teams can't figure it out or choose to turn a blind eye is open to speculation. But the bottom line is there is no reason to believe that Landis wasn't doping simply because his team didn't know about it.

Besides, teams inevitably deny knowledge of doping. Consider the consequences of admitting there was a problem. I would bet that if Michaud had said that Phonak allowed Landis to participate in the Tour despite knowing he was doping, the team would be barred from competition immediately. The UCI and its Pro Tour have strong rules about doping, strong enough for any team to feign ignorance regardless of the truth.

As I said, I hope Landis is innocent. But for someone in the team with the worst doping history in the Pro Tour to claim Landis couldn't have fooled them defies belief.

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