I Wasn't Around When the Impact of Operacion Puerto Hit the Tour de France

My first indication that something significant was wrong in the world of Professional Cycling was an email I received early Friday morning from Ad de Vries of DeepWeb Internetsolutions. He said that he was sending me the latest copy of his Palm application LeTour 2006:

This evening or tomorrow morning... the official riders list will be added to the program and the official 2.0 version will be released on our site. It {looks} like not all riders will be present for the start because of a big doping scandal. :-(

I read that and said, "I wonder what he means by that?", but I was running out the door. I had to leave to attend a memorial service for my uncle, Marty Bortner, in another part of Pennsylvania. Uncle Marty died two weeks ago but his family had been delayed in putting together a day of rememberance.

En route to the memorial service, I started getting emails from people asking me in almost breathless tones, "Did you hear about the scandal at the Tour de France?" One included a link to an Associated Press story that I read using my Treo 650. I was as shocked as everyone else when I read that Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo, and others were being withdrawn as a result of their implication in Operacion Puerto.

Probably the funniest line of the day came from my brother-in-law Scott Kuykendall who wrote: "My club's recruiting cat 3's for some race over in europe tomorrow," followed by a link to a Velonews article summarizing the withdrawals.

OK, so I'm back from a whole day on the road and I've seen the OLN Tour de France Race Preview, which was a reasonable summary of what had already happened by nightfall in Strasbourg. I'm sure you're all interested in what I think about the situation, so here goes.

  • Cycling takes advantage of a unique opportunity to clean up its act. I think the powers-that-be in cycling realized when Operacion Puerto started to produce significant evidence that now is as good a time as any to come down hard on the riders and team officials implicated.

    The retirement of Lance Armstrong marked the end of an era anyway. Why not get serious about the rules now, take the ratings and attendance hit that may result, and end up with a fairer sport?

  • American Cycling Fans get a lesson in European standards of justice. Most European countries don't have innocent-until-proven-guilty mentalities. If you doubt me, go there, rent a car, and notice how many Photo RADAR installations you see for the automatic detection of speeding.

    This situation is similar although the stakes are much higher. None of the riders who are being withdrawn from the race have even been charged with crimes yet. As far as I know, none of them have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs or blood doping per se. Yet all must be withdrawn according to the UCI Code of Conduct for Pro Teams [Acrobat / pdf file] that reads in part:

    Without prejudice to the right to terminate the contract for serious misconduct, {professional teams are} not to
    enter any licence-holder {professional cyclist} for events who is subject to judicial proceedings or investigation for facts relating to sporting activity, or any act constituting a breach of the UCI antidoping regulations, or any other intentional criminal act.

    1. as from the opening of the investigation or proceedings:
      • if the facts are admitted by the party in question, or
      • if information from an official source available to the UCI ProTeam shows that the facts in question cannot be seriously contested....

    It seems like the cyclists who were withdrawn from the Tour because their names came up in documents associated with Operacion Puerto don't have much recourse if the evidence against them doesn't result in an indictment, much less a conviction.

I had been avoiding writing about cycling here on Operation Gadget as much as possible. For months I've wanted to get involved in another blog (produced by me or someone else) where my cycling coverage and analysis would be less off-topic. In light of these recent developments, however, I feel compelled to cover the Tour de France as I did last year.

This could prove to be the most interesting Tour in years. I hope that the actions taken by the authorities in Spain and France turn out to have been in the best interest of the sport of cycling.

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