Yep, it’s been a while. A long while. Even longer than the last interval between posts — I think. Sorry folks. Haven’t really known what to say. There’s a whole lot going on. But at the same time, it’s a whole lot of the same old, same old. Lance Armstrong keeps trying to outmaneuver his legal foes, and they keep coming back for more. So far, Armstrong has been on the losing end of his various attempts to forestall the inevitable.
I can see where he’s coming from, at least a little bit. Trying to preserve his fortune, at least enough so he won’t have to work a real job like the rest of us plebes. But how much can a person write about Armstrong and his machinations, anyway? (I suppose if I were a sports writer, the answer to that question would be “a lot.” But this is just a hobby for me.)
So something struck me the other day that is somewhat of a comment on the state of affairs within the world of cycling, and perhaps sports in general. A few days ago, a French newspaper published a story that suggested the International Cycling Union (UCI) gave Chris Froome (last year’s Tour de France champion) an unfair advantage recently by allowing him to use the corticosteroid prednisolone during the Tour of Romandie.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
…according to Dr Gerard Guillaume, cited by the Journal du Dimanche as an expert: “The rules state that taking steroids by mouth is prohibited during competition and that if a cyclist displays a condition requiring such a treatment, he is clearly not fit to take part and that any request for a TUE [therapeutic use exemption] must be considered by a group of experts.”
When I saw the story, I thought, “Hmm. What’s the deal here? Is this guy suggesting that Froome shouldn’t have been given a TUE for the drug?” And then it occurred to me that if a rider or other athlete suddenly needs treatment during a race (think Jonathan Vaughters years ago with an eye swollen shut by a wasp or bee sting), can’t a TUE be granted pretty quickly? (The answer is “yes, it can.”)
Of course, you would expect the UCI to challenge the paper’s assertions. And they did, as the Telegraph reports:
“Christopher Froome’s TUE (therapeutic use exemption) for oral use of glucocorticosteroids was granted on April 29, 2014, based on duly documented medical history and in compliance with the applicable UCI Regulations and the relevant Wada guidelines,” read a UCI statement.
Froome, of course, has something to say on the subject, too. Also from the Telegraph:
Froome, meanwhile, was forced to defend his use of an inhaler on his way to winning the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné last week.
“I have had an inhaler since childhood, I have exercise induced asthma,” said the Tour de France winner. “It is ok. I didn’t need a TUE.”
And sure enough, after the World Anti-Doping Agency looked into the matter, they said everything was above board. Not necessarily something you’d expect given the animosity over the years between the two organizations. From the BBC, we learn:
…a Wada statement said it was “satisfied that the UCI’s decision to grant a Therapeutic Use Exemption to Chris Froome was conducted according to the rules of the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions, and therefore will not be reviewing this case any further”.
Much ado about nothing, right? Well, given the history of cycling — and especially given the history of corruption within the halls and walls of the UCI (see Armstrong, Lance and McQuaid, Pat and Verbruggen, Hein) — it would be easy to believe that something underhanded occurred. Such is the sad state of affairs within the sport.
So even if Chris Froome is totally clean (and I’m not claiming anything one way or the other), he’s going to have the albatross of a previous generation’s sins hanging from his neck for pretty much the whole of his career. Lots of fans have become jaded and cynical about sports achievements, especially when it comes to cycling. For that, we can thank a long list of people, including Lance Armstrong. But if we’re being honest, it goes back a long, long, long way. (Think Choppy Warburton and Jimmy Michael circa 1896 and go forward from there.)
Can there ever be such a thing as “clean” competition? I don’t know. When fame and fortune await the winners of big events like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, there will always be a temptation to cheat. Even if most of the competitors are clean, there will always be a few who would risk it all to grab all the glory.
With what appears to be a move towards a cleaner and more transparent sport, those who participate and those who run the events and those who administer the rules will be subject to a certain amount of scrutiny from the outside. And that scrutiny will be tinged, at least a little bit, with cynicism.
We will probably see stories such as this for some time to come. It took on the order of 15 years to get Lance Armstrong to come clean. But how much longer will it take for people to believe that someone like Chris Froome might actually be following the rules and not bending them to his wishes? A good, long time, I suspect. As a certain disgraced cyclist from Austin, Texas once said, you can’t prove a negative.
Only after doping stories and allegations have faded well into the background will things on that front change. It’s gonna be a long wait.
Meanwhile, the Tour de France starts in my dad’s hometown, Leeds, in just a couple of weeks. Really wish I could be there to see the race go by, especially if it goes by my grandparent’s old house. That would be cool to see. Something that’s not to be, I’m afraid. But maybe one of my cousins will stand by the side of the road and cheer the riders on for me.