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My World Champs hangover has now set in and I still have so much to talk about. One of the highlights from my week in Geelong week was the New Pathways to Pro Cycling conference held last Monday and Tuesday.
There was obviously a lot of controversy surrounding the conference, particularly because of the attendance of Floyd Landis. I can understand why many people including the Organising Committee withdrew their support for this conference because of Landis’ appearance, however the dark cloud that everyone predicted didn’t eventuate. I think everybody can agree that there’s never a convenient time to talk about doping and holding a conference during the World Championships with Floyd Landis was never going to be a popular decision.
This conference was one of the most informative and fascinating things I’ve ever attended with regards to cycling. It was not one of those shallow forum debates that oversimplifies why doping exists and what can be done about it. Experts from various fields gave their opinions and empirical research on a wide array of topics. It went far deeper than any discussion I’ve ever heard about doping and the problems in cycling. Topics discussed ranged from the economic foundations of cycling (or lack thereof), the sociology of the peloton, the reporting structure of the UCI, WADA and the IOC (and conflicting interests) and the Biological Passport. Cycling has some very complex problems and it’s a wonder that it’s commercially viable as a sport.
I think it’s great that some academic research is going into the topic of doping in cycling. In a sport with so many sponsorship and political self-interests that it’s difficult for free thought to take place anywhere else. A report that was released in conjunction with the conference was I Wish I Was Twenty One Now. The title is in reference to a comment a pro cyclist made in one of the interviews in the report:
Attitudes to doping might be shifting from an accepted, if unsavoury, necessity, to something more actively frowned upon. But many of the old patterns of behaviour that sustained doping still remain within the system as a whole. But in saying this, there is a change occurring. As one participant has already noted, he wished it had occurred earlier in his career:
Q: And when do you think it started to change?
A: I think it started to change about three years ago. I think they were still doing it three years ago. Systematic. Every team … I think some still may be a little bit but now they’ve been … But I think now I wish I was twenty-one now. If I was twenty- one now I guarantee you I would have been twice as successful as I have been in my last fifteen years
The report is 173 pages long but you can skim sections and jump through anonymous rider interviews. If you’re interested in reading about the harsh realities of what most of the athletes have to deal with, have a read: Download I Wish I Was Twenty One Now here
The conference was video recorded and I’ll post some of the snippets that interested me. A few of the sessions are not up yet and I’ll add to this post as they’re uploaded. I’ve also made a few notes about each presentation below. If you can find the time I highly recommend you watch these so the next time you see a positive drug test turn up in the press you’ll have a better understanding of the forces at play and the decision making process that determined that result.
presented by Klaas Faber
presented by Dr. Michael Ashenden
Professor Verner Moeller on the Rasmussen Case
See the rest of Moeller’s presentations on this topic here. Very interesting info in here.
Contrary to what many people assumed, Floyd didn’t come here to go off on a tirade of allegations. There was no talk of specific cases and no names named. The focus was on the problem of doping. Day 1 of the conference was excellent because there was hardly anyone in attendance. I was able to have a few candid chats with Floyd. After he got past this premeditated statements on his position with the doping problem, it was clear that he was a regular guy who made some bad choices. He was very aware of the unpopularity of his attendance and wanted to get out of Geelong asap so that he didn’t disturb the World Championship festivities.
My impression of Floyd during this conference is that he is a little lost and his thoughts are clouded. Of course anything he says has the potential of becoming a headline the following day so he was probably cautious with his words, but his points were confused and he’d often go off on a tangent and completely forget the question being asked. Other times he’d raise some very good points and significantly add to the forum. He was quite humble and very cognizant of what people thought of him and what his role and responsibilities are. He definitely did not take any moral highroad with regards to the topic being discussed.
I applaud Landis’ courage in attending this conference and wanting to be a part of the solution. Dr. Michael Ashenden stated a few examples of the information and insight that Floyd has given him that help shed some light on how cheats get away with the tests and the practices they employ. Sure Landis’ credibility is being attacked, but in my view the information and stories he’s coming out with are far too complex and random for him to be lying. If Floyd is contributing to the solution without completely destroying the sport of cycling, then I’m in support of what he’s doing.
Michael Drapac on Corporate Social Responsibility
The UCI, WADA and IOC
This was one of my favorite presentations at the conference. Paul J. Hayes talks about the history, lines of control and relationships between the UCI, WADA and IOC, how large corporations ultimately shape and influence their mindset, and the conflicts at play. Hayes also brings up the debate on whether WADA has gone too far. Should WADA be able to carry out sanctions in the interest of protecting sport at all cost above and beyond what the law does? Has it strayed beyond what it professes to be? Many interesting topics in this presentation and I highly suggest you make time to view it.
I’ll post the video when it’s ready, but for now you can download the presentation here.
- Another video that I’ll post here that was very interesting was a presentation by Michael Drapac and his philosophies of the sport. He’s one of the true philanthropists of cycling and we can see the success of his Drapac/Porsche development program here on the roads of Melbourne and Sydney. I’m looking forward to sharing his presentation with you.
- Aldo Sassi was at the conference as an observer, not a presenter. However, he was not shy to voice his opinions on the problem of doping in cycling. Everything Dr Sassi had to say was quite profound and I quickly learned to video record him every time he spoke. You can see the videos and interview of him here.
- I didn’t post everything recorded at the conference but you can see all the videos here.
What I came away with in the end is that the problem of doping is a lot more complex than I once thought and there are a lot of factors at work. As you watch Alberto Contador defend the recent allegations against him and crucified by the media you should perhaps reserve judgement until you watch some of these presentations. I wish this post didn’t need to be so long because I’m sure many of you won’t get past the first video, but will give you a better understanding what is going on behind the scenes, the politics involved, the leading rationals for doping, and the decision making process.