Doping has become one of the most talked about aspects of professional cycling in recent years, with several high profile scandals sending shockwaves across the sport. In response, the majority of the sport’s followers have repeatedly expressed their condemnation of doping and their desire to see offenders severely punished. Ultimately, the UCI are in a difficult position. Do they continue to dish out 2-year bans, extend these sentences to 4-years, or go all the way and implement life-long bans?
While some suggest life-long bans are the way forward and will act as a more decisive deterrent to future dopers, the UCI is clearly wary of the potential fallout. The public image of professional cycling has certainly been undermined and damage limitation is now the name of the game.
While the debate over punishments for dopers continues to develop, the current stance towards dopers means they are allowed to return to the professional cycling scene immediately after their suspension ends. However, actually acquiring the support and backing of a professional cycling team when you have a history of doping is far more difficult than first meets the eye.
To some extent, there is evidence that there may be a road to redemption. On the other hand, some of the biggest names in recent years have found it impossible to break back into the professional ranks and have since turned their attention in different directions.
So, let’s evaluate some of these big names that have been tainted by doping in recent years and see where they’ve ended up.
Floyd Landis is probably one of the most infamous doping figures of recent times (although Alberto Contador may take this crown if found guilty!) and is widely ridiculed for his continued denial of any involvement in doping.
Landis’ celebrations after winning the Tour de France in 2006 were cut short as tests found unusually high amounts of testosterone in his urine samples. Repeat tests confirmed these findings and thus began the lengthy investigations surrounding Landis and his doping practices. Landis continued to defend himself, even setting up the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, where Landis appealed to his fans and supporters to donate anything they could as a means to help him pay his huge legal bills. The eventual, inevitable, guilty ruling was countered by a further appeal from Landis, but the conviction and accompanying ban were upheld.
In early 2009, reports even emerged that Landis may have attempted to hack into a French national laboratory for doping detection in order to attempt to change his results. While there is no concrete evidence for this, a French judge issued an arrest warrant for Landis in February 2010, which suggests the French authorities have reason to believe Landis is connected.
Landis’ recent admissions of doping and additional accusations directed towards Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie have fuelled further controversy. Pat McQuaid has suggested that Landis is simply “seeking revenge” and has dismissed his allegations as lies. Others continue to highlight Landis as “deceitful” and “a bitter guy”. Nevertheless, more recent news has revealed Landis intends to repay those who donated to his ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’.
Currently residing in California, Landis is unemployed and on the hunt for a job. He admits “I’m not doing all that well”, before continuing to state “the whole country’s unemployed, so I’m not in the minority”. Regardless, Landis remains hopeful, declaring that as “a little more times passes, it’ll be easier to sort of fit into society”. We’ll see.
Maybe the former US Postal Service rider will be able to secure a position with the US Postal Service proper, delivering cards and presents this Christmas. Surely it’s only right that Landis should give a little something back to the people by spreading a little Christmas cheer?
Landis’ performance in the Powernet Tour of Southland suggests he may attempt another comeback. His performances in 2009 were disappointing and we was unable to make a mark. However, his recent fourth place finish in New Zealand means there is a glimmer of hope for Floyd. He’ll have to start earning some serious winnings soon if he is to have a hope of repaying all those donations!
Danilo Di Luca:
The Italian Danilo Di Luca has had an interesting career. He was investigated in 2004 for doping and was recorded in several phone conversations talking about how and when to take EPO with Carlo Santuccione. This led to his withdrawal from the 2004 Tour de France.
In 2007, following his Giro d’Italia win, it was revealed that Di Luca had curiously low hormone levels. Italian authorities were unsure whether these bizarre hormone levels (that of a small child) were a consequence of racing at a high level for three weeks or some kind of masking agent. Di Luca later withdrew from the UCI road championship in outrage (or guilt). Later in the season, Di Luca would receive a three month suspension for his involvement in the Oil for Drugs case, further compounding his long term involvement in doping.
However, not even this suspension would deter him from having another go. Di Luca tested positive for CERA during the 2009 Giro d’Italia and was provisionally suspended with immediate effect by the UCI. These positive tests were later confirmed and Di Luca received a 2-year suspension, although Di Luca was quick to indicate his desire to contest the decision.
Although Di Luca is now free to return to the professional scene, he is being ignored by teams who wish to race the Giro d’Italia. Considering his track record in the event, it’s hardly surprising teams are unwilling to provide him with yet another chance. The common view, at least in regard to Di Luca, is once a doper, always a doper.
Di Luca is undoubtedly a worthy example to be used by advocates of life-long bans for convicted dopers. It remains to be seen whether or not he is now a reformed character. In fact, it’s debatable whether we’ll ever find out considering the current feeling of mistrust that has been generated around him. Maybe he’d make a good politician? Or maybe not with scandalous pictures like this…
Michael Rasmussen AKA ‘The Chicken’ has also been the focus of controversy surrounding doping. In 2002, American cyclist Whitney Richards accused Rasmussen of attempting to persuade him to transport a box, said to contain Rasmussen’s favourite cycling shoes. In fact, the box was said to have contained packets of Hemopure, a bovine-haemoglobin-based blood substitute, banned by the WADA. Richards states that he destroyed the Hemopure, at which point Rasmussen is said to have become enraged and bellowed to Richards, “have you any idea how much that s**t cost?”.
Rasmussen has continued to deny these allegations upon questioning. Nevertheless, his removal from the 2007 Tour de France has attracted far more attention. Rasmussen’s removal from the TdF followed his inability to explain his whereabouts during a three-week training period in Mexico where he missed several doping controls. Reports suggest Rasmussen was actually in the Italian Dolomites, preparing for the Tour.
Rasmussen has certainly kept busy during his suspension. Rather than skipping up the Italian Dolomites on his Colnago, Rasmussen has turned his hand to dancing on a popular Danish celebrity TV show. Although clearly an attempt to improve his public image, we’re unsure whether his antics have helped or hindered. Well known for his spectacular mountain stage breakaways on his bike, it turned out that his dancing wasn’t quite up to the same standard, with scary crotch-shakes and general stiffness (hopefully not combined) causing him to crash out of the competition. Stick to the day job Michael (whatever that may be!). Going off on a slight tangent, Rasmussen isn’t the only cyclist to turn his hand at dancing. For instance, Mario Cipollini appeared on the Italian version of the same celebrity dancing show. It appears even Lance Armstrong enjoys the odd rendition of Kung Fu Fighting while David Zabriskie can even sing !
Swerving back towards Rasmussen, we’ve already reported how he has had a personal sponsor supporting his journey back to a professional team. This sponsor has even offered to pay his salary and therefore provide him with a chance to show he’s clean and staying that way. Despite all of this, he has been unable to finalise any kind of deal for 2011.
There is still some hope that Rasmussen may sign for a professional team in 2011, with Saxo Bank showing some interest, especially given the gap that Riis’ new star-signing Alberto Contador may leave. However, Rasmussen’s chances are hindered by his doping past and his age. Rasmussen’s links to an Austrian blood doping case with his former agent Stefan Matschiner provide further hindrance and questions over whether Rasmussen can stay clean are in abundance. If it all goes pear-shaped his dancing shoes are still in the cupboard.
While we’ve looked at some figures who have revealed they are unwilling to learn from their mistakes, David Millar appears to be something of an exception.
Following arrest, Millar admitted that he had taken EPO, the prohibited blood-booster, and his world turned upside down. He was arrested in June 2004, sacked by his team, banned for two years, thrown out of the GB squad for the Athens Olympics, stripped of his 2003 World TT Championship, forced to sell his home in France and was chased out of the country by the French taxman and the media.
Despite these dark times, Millar has been able to reinvent himself and has since led a successful, clean career winning numerous medals in the Commonwealth Games and taking second place in the UCI Road World TT Championships behind Fabian Cancellara.
Although still struggling to shake the stigma of being a former doper, even to this day, it appears Millar has made every effort to be honest and open about his doping history and now works closely with the WADA.
The sport would certainly suffer without him, but can reformed characters such as Millar convince advocates of life-long bans that dopers should be allowed to serve their time before being given a second chance, especially as Millar can be seen as the exception rather than the rule?
Do you know of any convicted dopers who are now doing interesting things? We’d love to hear! Also, what’s your opinion on dopers? Should they be given a second chance and the opportunity to show that they are reformed characters or do you want life-long bans to be pushed through regardless? Let us know below!