Is professional cycling clean or is doping still prevalent?

After the Festina scandal of 1998, the scope of drug taking within the sport of procycling was exposed. But, the opportunity to clean up the sport was not taken. The next year 1999, Festina rider Richard Virenque (who had finally admitted to taking a cocktail of drugs) was still able to make the startline. There was no lengthy ban. The incentive to cheat was still there. Like many other drug cheats he was welcomed back by supporters and riders alike

In 1999, the one rider who everybody admitted was clean in the Festina team was talented Christopher Bassons. However, when Bassons publically stated doping was still a problem in the sport. He got bullied by race leader Lance Armstrong - live during a stage. A tearful Basson was ignored by the peleton for breaking the Omerta. He later quit the Tour de France and retired.

In that Tour, Lance Armstrong failed a dope test for Cortiscoids. But, producing a back dated prescription (contrary to the rules) he was  allowed to win and claim victory. Despite a year after the Festina scandal no-one wanted to hear about drug stories. The Lance recovery from cancer to win the Tour was seen as a miraculously good sports story. Armstrong went onto win seven consecutive tour de France wuns. Despite growing evidence if doping, Armstrong was the boss and he was able to avoid any scrutiny as journalists needed access to the man who sold more papers than any doping story.

Fast forward to 2012, and the USADA report into Lance Armstrong produced 100+ pages detailing the extent and depth of doping within the US postal team. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles and there was widespread anger about the extent and nature of cheating within the sport.
It wasn't just Lance Armstrong who was doping, numerous other winners and riders were implicated - either failing dope tests or admitting to having doped in their career.

In 2010, Team Sky was set up hoping to win the Tour de France with a clean rider.

In 2011, Bradley Wiggins won after dominating in the two time trials. In 2012, Chris Froome won the Tour de France. His dominating performances in the mountains were subject to intense scrutiny. With the press repeatedly questionning the validity of his performances.

In response Froome calmly replied he was clean. Team Sky also offered to offer their power data to WADA - the world's anti doping agency.

David Walsh, the journalist who sought to expose Lance Armstrong's doping was allowed to follow Team Sky around for 2013. Despite being initially sceptical and criticial of Team Sky's decision to hire former Rabobank doctor (Gert Leinders), Walsh came to the conclusion that Froome's performances were credible and that there were big differences between Team Sky and US Postal

  • Test for EPO which has caught riders
  • Biological passport which looks for evidence of blood manipulation
  • Changed atmosphere in the peleton. The days of bullying riders who speak against doping is hard to imagine. Riders, such as Kittel, have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to doping.
  • No evidence from former employees of Team Sky (unlike US postal where there was a steady drop of former mechanics, riders coming out to say doping was endemic in the team)
  • Greater transparency in allowing access to team and data.
  • Froome was tested 19 times during the tour.
  • According to Ross Tucker of the sports science institute at the University of Cape Town,  the power-to-weight ratio of today's top riders is lower than in the EPO era.
    "In the late 1990s and early 2000s if you were going to be competitive and win the Tour de France you would have to be able to cycle between 6.4 and 6.7 watts per kilogram at the end of a day's stage.
    "What we are seeing now, in the last three or four years, is that the speed of the front of the peloton [of] men like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, is about 10% down compared to that generation and now the power output at the front is about 6W/kg." (Are drug free cyclists slower?)
Some remain sceptical, frequently over the years and there has been good reason to be sceptical after a series of cyclists have later proved to have doped. However, there is good reason to feel the sport is cleaner than before.

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Perma Link | By: T Pettinger |

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