Doping and drug taking in sporting events has been a controversial issue for many decades, but it appears to be a never ending saga in the professional cycling world. The latest revelation by Lance Armstrong that the authorities were responsible for allowing him to be cleared when allegedly failing a drugs test in 1999 is yet another example of the blame culture continuing in this particular sport.
Apparently, Armstrong tested positive for cortisone during his winning ride in the 1999 Tour de France, but Hein Verbruggen of the International Cycling Union (UCI) allowed a backdated prescription for saddle sores to be permitted as a reason for the failure.
Bearing in mind that cortisone injections have been used to treat sporting ailments for many years, it does appear to be a minor offence considering most of the other wrongdoings at that time. The successful drug raid on the Festina team during the 1998 Tour was particularly damaging. So why mention it now?
Ever since the American appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to reveal his drug taking past, he has sought to blame officials and fellow riders for the indiscretions and complain about his comparative unfair treatment relative to other guilty cyclists.
In that respect he may have a point, as the book ‘The Secret Race’ written by Tyler Hamilton revealed the widespread use of EPO and blood doping within the peleton. He disclosed that three week stage races could not be won without their prominent use. Indeed, EPO is primarily an injected substitute for sleeping in an oxygen tent and to some extent for altitude training both of which increase the red blood oxygen carrying count.
Hamilton mentioned that UCI allowed a haemocrit level (percentage of red cells) of 50 in blood levels with riders making up their natural dosage of approximately 42 with injected EPO to achieve a figure of 49. As the doping authorities were unable to supply an effective test for EPO until the early millennium years, it left the door open for its widespread misuse.
With teams continuing to be funded by corporate sponsorship, the need to win and impress has always been paramount and there was always the easy option of finding a doctor who could provide undetectable performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong insisted that he was merely acting like the others and not cheating, yet claims and counter claims do not help the cause of the sport.
Hamilton and disqualified Tour winter Floyd Landis have continued to berate the bullying methods of Armstrong and his persistent denials, yet they both failed tests when the American was no longer a team mate and then sought to confess and deflect personal criticism only when pressurised by the investigating authorities.
Now that better methods of dope testing are being discovered, it is to be hoped that a clean level playing field can become the norm without the need to resort to the blame-gaming drug culture of previous years.