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By Patrick O’Grady
“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”— Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” shortly before a coupier presents him with his winnings.
“I’m shocked,” said Barloworld manager Claudio Corti shortly after rider Moises Duenas was caught red-handed during the 95th Tour de France with what has been described as “syringes, needles and blood bags,” plus a drug called TAD that is not authorized for import or sale in France.
“Our first reaction to this news is one of surprise,” said Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio after veteran support rider Manual Beltran rang the Dope-O-Meter for EPO.
“We are surprised and shocked,” said Saunier Duval director Joxean Fernandez after Riccardo Riccò tested positive for a new form of EPO called CERA, which does not stand for Cobra Exits Right Away, though he did nonetheless, in the company of the gendarmes.
Good Lord. What a dysfunctional carton of low-watt bulbs we have enlightening the darkest corners of our beloved sport. “Shock” and “surprise” are words better reserved for describing the winning of a major race by a clean rider, should any remain.
Never has it been clearer that “DS” is shorthand for something less lofty than “directeur sportif.” I wouldn’t trust one of these guys at the helm of a Little League team. Midway through the season the kids would all look like a double Barry Bonds as they gleefully tore the covers off balls, sending them smoking over the left-field fence like Iranian missiles, and the managers would just stand in the dugout with their arms folded and their faces expressionless. Until the cops showed up, that is. Then it’s all shock and awe.
But it’s not a kids’ game they’re “managing.” It’s our sport. And I, frankly, am at a loss as to how to take it back from them.
Chipotle-Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde counsels patience, saying the parade of positives prove the doping controls are working. His teammate David Millar adds (and he should know) that in professional sport, “there’s always going to be doping.”
“It’s taken us a decade to get to this point,” Millar said. ”The media have a responsibility to realize that this isn’t the last ever doping positive we’re ever going to have. With doping controls, there’s always going to be positives. What we have to do is handle it in the right way and move on.”
But what’s the right way? Testing seems to catch cheaters — some of them, anyway — but it clearly does not deter them. Neither does suspension, not at the top levels of the sport. Nobody wants to take two years off, not in this economy, but it can be done if your number comes up. Put the wife on the street, sell a child for medical experiments, do whatever it takes—then stage your comeback, tanned, rested and ready. And today, without the additional sanction of a two-year ban on signing with a ProTour team, doing the time is even easier than doing the crime.
True, this year’s crop of cheaters may face actual jail sentences and fines. Duenas was charged with “use and possession of plants and poisonous substances,” according to Agence France Presse, and could face up to two years in prison and a 3,750-euro fine. He could also be jailed for up to three years for “the importation of banned goods.” And that may have some impact beyond the two-year vacation imposed by the sporting authorities, as most slender, shaven-legged bicycle racers are ill-equipped to repel the amorous overtures of those for whom crime is not an adventure, but merely a job.
But even should worse come to worst, after a few short years in stir and a couple dozen ballpoint-and-paper-clip tattoos (mostly identifying marks like “Property of Black Jacques Shellacque”), a guy is back in the saddle, albeit a good deal less comfortably.
So, what, then?
Well, we could bring back the guillotine — a few beheadings after the podium ceremonies just might open a few eyes (those that it did not close permanently) while bringing Versus’ bull-riding audience over to our side of the cultural divide.
Or we could start with public humiliation of a slightly different sort, since the brief frog-march from the team car to the squad car doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect in the era of the 10-second attention span.
How about this? Say a guy is found by stage 12 to have tested positive on stage four. Test him again at once, along with all of his teammates, and the directeur sportif and anyone who comes up positive gets to join the original miscreant in returning to the start of stage four and resuming their Tour there, dogged by a hemorrhoidal gendarme on a poorly tuned motorcycle with bum shocks. Seize all prizes, wallets, passports and cellphones. Let them try catching back onto the peloton without a caravan of team cars to draft off of or hang onto, with only a porky DS as a water-carrier, on an open road full of angry Frenchmen. In short, treat the amoral swine like anyone else who tries to cut the course.
After a few years of these bozos straggling onto the Champs-Élyseés a couple weeks after the Tour ends, having subsisted on roadkill, irrigation water and whatever they can shoplift from convenience stores along the way, maybe we’ll see significant changes in the way some of these so-called pros prepare for Le Tour.
If not, there’s always that swift and final kiss from Madame Guillotine — the podium girl to end all podium girls.
Shocked? Surprised? Or simply shaking your head, thinking, “Of all the websites in all towns in all the world, he had to drop into mine?” Drop by Rick’s Café Americaine for a quick belt and then send us your thoughts at email@example.com.