By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2004
French cycling veteran Jean Cyril Robin has hit out at stubborn doping practices which he claims have resulted in the sport operating on two completely different levels of performance.
Only a day after the funeral of Marco Pantani, Robin has called on cycling to stand up and take stock of what he calls a shameful situation.
“I’m beginning to feel ashamed of being a professional cyclist. In the eyes of the public, we’ve got no credibility whatsoever,” said the 34-year-old Robin, who finished sixth overall in the drug-tainted 1998 Tour de France, and won a bronze medal the following year at the world championships. “To them, everyone on a bike is doped, charged up or a druggie.”
The cycling season got off to the worst possible start in January when the French Cofidis team was at the center of a doping affair involving their Polish soigneur and one current and two ex-team members.
Pantani, who was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini last Saturday, officially died from a heart attack but the circumstances leading to his tragic death have left their mark on many top professionals.
Pantani spent the last few years of his life fighting alleged doping offences and despite a late career comeback the former Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner never recovered morally from being thrown off the 1999 Giro for having an abnormally elevated blood count.
The Cofidis affair and Pantani’s death combined come as cycling prepares to sign up to WADA’s international anti-doping code ahead of the Athens Olympics.
Since the 1998 Festina doping scandal the sport has made concrete efforts to eradicate doping, but recent evidence suggests that while it is no longer being systematically organized within teams, there are riders who continue.
Robin, who rides for the French Fdjeux.com team, feels it is time to get everyone on the same level playing field.
“We’re in a paradox because six years ago the level of doping was much more dangerous and generalized than it is now,” Robin told the France Soir newspaper.
“Now, there’s a lot less doping but with everything that has happened recently I think we’ve descended even further than 1998,” he said. “It’s hard to generalize but I think that in France around 70 to 80 percent of cyclists are clean. Teams are starting to clean up their act and some riders just don’t want to see a repeat of 1998. But there’s always suspicion. When you see a guy doing something extraordinary in a race you start to wonder.
“Let’s just say there are riders who don’t cheat at all because they know the seriousness of the problem – and there are others who still dope.” As a result, Robin said most French riders are happy to compete in little-known domestic races – such as the French Cup – instead of fighting a “losing battle” in the ten-race World Cup.
“We try and avoid racing the World Cup because we know it’s a waste of time,” Robin said. “We prefer to compete in races where we know we can at least partly control the race.”
Robin said he hoped that Pantani’s death would act as a wake up call for other riders and the sport’s authorities.
“I was really affected by the death of Pantani, which shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said. “My wife was always telling me it would take something like the death of a cyclist to give everyone a jolt. There are guys who do their own thing as regards doping, but elsewhere it is quite organized and very high-tech.
“If we don’t act soon, in future it is simply going to spiral out of control.”