Archive for June, 2011

WADA and the Steak

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

The latest development in the world of doping in sport appears to be some doubt on behalf of the World Anti Doping Agency about clenbuterol. Clenbuterol is, of course, at the centre of the current long-running Alberto Contador saga – the 2010 Tour de France winner failed a test for a very, very small quantity of the asthma drug during last year’s Tour, and claimed, rather memorably, that it was from a contaminated steak he’d eaten. Specifically, a steak from Spain, where clenbuterol is, he clams, used (illicitly) in livestock farming.

WADA seems recently to have admitted the possibility of this sort of contamination, which is going to have knock-on effects on the Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing on the Contador case that’s scheduled for after this year’s Tour.

The real issue is not what drugs are banned, what quantities they’re banned it, where they come from, or even what their effects are.

The real issue is the strict liability element of current drug-enforcement. As things stand, if something banned is found in your system, that’s it. You’re guilty. Certain cases, on a wildly inconsistent basis, seem to find gaps in this, but that’s the principle, and the only real flexibility is the punishment handed down.

Now, if this were a criminal matter, that’s not how it would work. While strict liability does exist for some criminal offences, they’re rare, and doping in sport would not be one of them. Criminal offences require not only a ‘guilty act’, but a ‘guilty mind’. In doping, you’d have to show that a substance was taken, and then you’d have to show that it was taken knowingly, with the intention of improving performance.

The reason doping regulations don’t follow the criminal model is simply one of practicality. It would be very difficult to prove the mental elements of the offence. Strict liability increases the conviction rate. But it does it at the cost of convicting some athletes who are innocent in all the respects that matter to justice. Alain Baxter, the skier, is the classic example. He took an over-the-counter cold remedy that had different ingredients in North America from those that he’d carefully checked in the UK version, and which had no influence on his performance anyway. Still guilty.

WADA are now in the deeply uncomfortable position of pursuing Contador, while at the same time having raised doubts about the mental elements of his offence. In effect, they’ve come close to admitting he might be right after all, while at the same time maintaining a set of regulations that in essence say that even if he’s right, it doesn’t matter.

The Court of Arbitration is now in an impossible position. They can’t find him guilty, but they can’t let him off (assuming they accept the evidence of the dope test) without essentially taking WADA’s decision for them.

I’m confident this is going to run and run, and the consequences in the fight against doping in sport are going to be significant.

National 25-mile Champs - Holsworthy, Devon.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Timing the National 25-mile Championship it so it clashed with the Criterium du Dauphine meant that in, comparison with the National 10, the number of people on the start-sheet called Bradley Wiggins was dramatically reduced. This, in theory at least, improved my odds of getting the win.

It was an unusual championship. Rather than start in a featureless lay-by somewhere, it had a start ramp in the town square, flanked by a slightly bemused looking jazz band. From the start ramp, you went down a hill so steep that it was, in all the respects that matter, BASE jumping. Then you rode up another hill, of about 10%, then down, then up and so on to the turn, and back the way you came to a finish by a farm gateway two miles outside the town.

The odd side-effect of this finish point was that the onlookers in the square – most of whom were a bit unsure what was going on anyway – were treated to the sight of several-hundred bike riders flinging themselves off down the hill, never to be seen again. We could have been being eaten by a giant toad just outside the town.

If I’m honest I wasn’t so sure about the hilly course – personally I liked it, but then I’ve spent quite a lot of my time over the years riding early-season hard-riders’ events and the TT series, all based on lumpy courses. The National 25 is traditionally much closer to the old roots of the sport, the idea of showing off how fast you can go on something that is more or less flat, and perhaps almost 1000ft of climbing was too much. Maybe once every few years it’s OK? I’m really not sure, and opinion at the race seemed to be divided between those who loved it, and those who wished they’d stayed at home.

Certainly I had mixed feelings about the hills at around 18 miles when I had a sudden conviction that, contrary to the way a bike’s front gear-changer has always worked, it would be possible to change chainrings while going at full pelt up a hill without backing off the pressure on the pedals a little. I had quite a few moments to contemplate my own genius while I was standing by the road ham-fistedly putting the chain back on.

About the best that could be said for that bit of stupidity was that I picked a good spot for it. Only about a mile further up the road I got a time check that showed I was still comfortably in the lead. And since I knew from some earlier checks that I was riding faster than anyone else in the race, it was just a case of keeping relaxed and staying in front. It could have been a lot worse.

It was nice to see Matt Botterill getting the silver, after more fourth place finishes than you would believe possible. And my team mate Pete Tadros’s ride for sixth was terrific. He’s probably the most underrated time trial rider I know, and it got us the team prize, along with Dave Pollard.

But the race of the day was clearly that of women’s Champ, Julia Shaw – winning by more than 3 minutes over an hour-long race was just awesome.