Deutschland Reaps the Doping Dividend

Aug 18 2010

For riders not invited to the Vuelta and unlikely to fare well at Lombardy, the World Championships are now the primary concern, and, stuck with a comparatively runty team at the event, Andreas Kloeden has gone online to voice his crankiness.

Kloedi encouraged his fellow riders to “stop arguing on Internet” and earn more points through the rest of the season, before going on to trash the management of the German cycling federation over Twitter; unfortunately, at last check, the UCI did not award points for irony.

In all seriousness, though, if Kloeden’s looking for someone to blame for this predicament, the mirror would be a good place to start. Dismiss the field trip to Freiburg as mere allegation and you’ll still have to explain the Lost Generation of caught and convicted countrymen and teammates that came up under his tutelage—restarting a career on some second-tier outfit is no way to rack up UCI points for your national squad.

Maybe if he and the still-delusional Ullrich had made some effort to instill some ethical foundation in up-and-coming riders, there wouldn’t be this pallid miasma hovering over the world of German cycling. Even riders who are almost certainly clean endure daily the scourge of a skeptical fanbase and reluctant sponsors—is it any wonder the most consistently successful German rider of this generation has been riding for non-German teams the entirety of his professional carrer?

Voigt himself has expressed sadness that the last German ProTour team is disbanding, but I think he’s too quick to forget the crowds on l’Alpe in ’04. Nationalism, even of the benign sort, isn’t good business practice. Cycling’s a business, and international teams and sponsorships bring the sport more money and greater exposure; I have no doubt that more reliable paychecks and happier teammates will see both Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann will perform better on foreign registered squads next season.

With the continued inexorable progression of the Armstrong investigation, it might be suggested that German cycling is undergoing a dry run of what the sport in America will experience when the curtain is finally pulled back on the Bruyneel Era. But I think otherwise; along with the proliferation of top-level American teams has come an attitude, most prominently proselytized by Garmin’s Jon Vaughters that commitment to clean competition trumps results.

A welcoming environment for “the guys who said no” and a longer-term definition of success have already begun paying dividends, both for the squad—consider Dan Martin’s recent wins at Poland and Varesine—and for American cycling, whose Worlds team boasts a full roster, despite what was essentially a non-season for the US’ historic UCI points winner.

So when Bernhard Kohl, one of Kloeden’s former understudies at T-Mobile, insists it’s impossible to win without doping, his assessment is—perhaps in reflection of the environment he came up in—woefully shortsighted. One only need gaze upon the disasterous state of the cycling in Germany to see how much more successful Slipstream’s winless ’08 Tour was than the dope-riddled campaign waged by Kohl’s Gerolsteiner squad that same year.

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10 Responses to “Deutschland Reaps the Doping Dividend”

  1. gob 18 August 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Seriously, why aren’t you getting paid for this? Great work, Cosmo.

  2. benDE 18 August 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    Stay tuned, he will.

  3. Matt 19 August 2010 at 3:06 am #

    Good stuff. One thing worth nothing is that Germany is Europe’s largest country by some way, it has over 80 million people and it’s also Europe’s richest. Whilst it’s not got the deep roots of cycling culture, the sport is still reasonably popular.

    But to see it without a high level pro team is a real shame, Europe’s biggest and wealthiest country should be able to offer more than this.

    I’d make three more points: first Germans, especially the media, associate cycling instantly with “das Doping”. Not whispers or even the “the-sport-is-so-hard-they-need-help” sort of doping but the “OMG, they are doping, they’re all fraudsters” sort of attitude. Example: the Eurosport coverage of the Tour de France was sponsored by a shampoo brand with the slogan “Doping for your hair” (http://www.welt.de/multimedia/archive/00836/alpecin_2_DW_Wirtsc_836891p.jpg), reminding fans that even an ad campaign tied to the Tour broadcasts had to mention doping.

    My second point is one of chance: it’s partly bad luck but German teams have been very badly managed. HTC-Columbia still has German DNA and it should be a template to follow. But instead Gerolosteiner and Milram have lacked leadership. They are slack places, but at the same time not allowing the initiative somewhere like Garmin allows. Holczer in particular seems to be a giant coward, talking about clean cycling but thwarting the UCI’s attempts to “park” Leipheimer whilst he had suspicious blood values. Had some better managers been in charge, perhaps they wouldn’t be struggling to find sponsors?

    Third, and this is a generalisation and contentious but Germany is culturally different from some other countries. Cheating isn’t part of the game, it’s not how you get ahead. Whilst in other European countries an envelope with cash will accelerate your dealings with the town hall or you don’t make an honest declaration on your tax filings. So when a rider is busted for cheating, people don’t forgive, yet alone forget.

  4. Oliver 19 August 2010 at 9:10 am #

    I think when Bernhard Kohl said that it was impossible to win without doping he was referring to long multi-stage events.
    I think it is the consensus that a non-doper might win a one-day race, but that the advantages of doping truly come through over a long period of time. So one day or stage victories by Garmin riders really are not that meaningful as far as whether the fight against doping is gaining ground or not, imho.
    I also believe it took a lot of guts for Kohl to break the omerta and explain what went on in pro-cycling when he was racing, and it is too bad (but not unexpected) that he’s largely getting bad press (and being reviled by the peloton of course). I’m disappointed about it happening here though…

  5. cthulhu 19 August 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    Ah, my friends at the German Cycling Union…
    It’s is sad, but I must agree with Klöden’s criticism about the BDR. OK, Scharping is just a representational figure who is there for the public appearance and to acquire money from sponsors, but Bremer is the real Machiavelli. I believe the other federations and UCI are as much nepotisms and full of intrigues and crossings but my impression is that at least for the sake of athletic success pull themselves together but not Mr. Bremer that “roi soleil”. Thanks to private teams on the road the decline is not that eminent, German riders are still wanted as good team workers, but if you look at the track they are just starting to catch up again/recover from that political circus. And those things are just the tip of the iceberg, if you look at underlying structural problems in the youth and amateur section it looks very grim.
    But now to get back to your post about doping. There are some points where I really strongly disagree.
    1. The problems in German cycling are house made. As already indicated in the opening sentences within BDR which were there before 2008 not only thanks to the German media. They went from completely oblivious about doping to setting cycling equal with doping within seconds. Which is pretty biased since such thing never happened with for instance athletics although doping there is a pretty recurring theme too. It has gotten such a bad image that so few people and especially kids think of picking cycling up as a sport although the numbers of recreational/hobby cyclists is increasing. And on that behalf you are right Klöden is also to some extent guilty, but better would just ignoring him and just leaving Ullrich alone. Much more important is that the youth coaches change their mentality instead forcing long faded stars back into the spotlight. Times have changed, it is correct to learn from the past but better not to dwell in it neither for the good nor the bad sides, what important is is to do things right now.
    2. The “lost generation”. According to the UCI codex they signed all busted dopers are suppose to reenter into the pro world through second tier teams. And now you are bashing them because for once the people kept their word? Especially Sinkewitz who really did say something about doping practices, acknowledged and at least he said he regretted his faults and had to search hard to find a team after he talked. And in the same breath you keep on applauding folks like Vinokurow, who neither admitted doping nor showed any signs of regret, and is collecting questional successes and Basso, who too did not confess doping and was immediately signed by a pro tour team despite the codex. Sure, Schumacher has neither regretted nor admitted doping but be sure if he has success at the Miche team he like Ricco will soon be back in a pro tour or good pro ct team, because of that. And it’s not like racers from other countries were any cleaner…
    3. I think Matt is somehow correct there with the cultural thing. Maybe Germans are too one dimensional in their view, too black and white. It’s not happening as long as they don’t see it but as soon as they have seen it once all trust is lost while in other countries you can get busted for doping and still be a hero, see Pantani, see VDB, see Boonen et al. There is big drama first but then business as usual continues. Not so in Germany, and that is a huge problem attrackting German sponsors.
    4. Nationalism is a good business model. Face it, although the UCI wants more internationalisation in the sport, many sponsors are just targeting their home country and so they need local heroes. That is the way it is. Some even see themselves as the inofficial national team, Rabobank, Euskatel. It is clearly a good advertising else they wouldn’t do it and if you are not out for a global market it is completely sounds model.
    5. Will US cycling fall this deep if the LA case is successful? No, and not because of Vaughters’ attemps of a clean sport (at least a clean image) but because the media and public opinion just don’t care. As Marion Jones and the athletics in her wake got busted it was big drama but did anything happened? No, today they are forgotten and business as usual goes on. The same will happen with cycling, lA will fall but the show goes on. The US wants winners by all means.
    6. I will judge Vaughters in a few years because let’s face it Gerolsteiner was always considered as one of the cleaner teams and they worked hard for this image and suddenly as they seize to exists it all breaks open and it looks like doping was as widespread as anywhere else(though this sudden relevation smells a bit fishy too). And as much Vaughters stands to clean racing he cannot control his riders 24/7 he has to trust them and I wonder what will happen if really a black sheep is discovered in his team. Because the UCI wont give him backup. As Holzer himself told, the UCI approached him with Levi’s abnormal but below threshold blood values and asked him to pull out Levi for any reason, eg illness. He admitted he didn’t have the balls to do so since he had put a lot of personal money into the team but neither received any backup by the UCI in putting that request to paper and since it was below threshold there was nothing much else he could do. Also Milram tried clean racing despite results look where it has left them today.
    7. Winning without doping is possible. VDB admitted after he got busted his victory he was most proud of was a smaller stage race, something like 4 jours de dunkerk, where he won undoped with a normal hermatocrit value just above 40% against riders with one of 60%, since not always the best or fittest wins but the smartest or luckiest. Still being able to beat doped riders once in a while didn’t keep him clean. Also do I believe most neo pros come clean into the pro ranks but I fear it seldom stays this way alone if you consider the fact that really eases the pain or lets you get the job done and block out stuff like peer pressure, financial insecurity and athletic success. And this problem isn’t cycling specific, you have that with all professional sports and in some even worse than cycling and the do even less against it.
    But I personally fear cycling has gotten dirtier again since the UCI took over full control again and it is not interested in a clean sport.

  6. cosmo 19 August 2010 at 10:49 pm #

    @Oliver, cthulhu: I think you may be misinterpreting what I’m saying about the younger riders. This post is critical of the older generation for not instilling a sense in newcomers that riders don’t need to dope. The target is specifically Kloeden, since he went on a rant that Germany doesn’t have enough UCI points to start a big team at worlds.

    While not excusing the Lost Generation entirely, my point is that they came into an environment where no one told them it was ok not to dope, and now the people who created that environment (which may include the German cycling federation leadership) are paying the price. I think Aldag and Zabel might be working on a bit of atonement for that during their current work with Columbia-HTC.

    The fact that Sinkewitz seems relatively happy about riding in a good GC position at the Tour of Portugal (and isn’t riding away with his fingers in his nose like Ricco was in Austria) should be encouraging both for Germany and fans of clean sport. I’m glad to see him coming back into the sport.

    While I can admire that Kohl (who’s Austrian, by the way) did come forward, I think it speaks volumes about his attitude toward the sport that he quit at age 26. Winning with drugs was fine by him, but riding well and not winning without them was too horrible a fate to consider.

    My quarrel in the last paragraph is about how he defines success. Sure, he had some fleeting moments of glory, but two years later, his reputation, his team, his sponsors, and his (team’s) cycling federation are all a wreck, while plenty of people he beat are thriving, winning races, making money, and landing new sponsors.

  7. Charlie Sprocket 20 August 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    There is now too much talk about the Doping all the time. Less doping and more riding.

    Cheers,
    Charlie Sprocket

  8. DJ 23 August 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Maybe a delated comment – I am away from the web and on my bike most of these days:
    The German cultural attitude to doping may have something to do with the historical struggle for medals between West- and East-Germany during the days of the cold war. East-Germany generally did very well in medals tables for a relatively small country and liked to rub its bigger brother’s nose in it. Of course, we now know how most of these medals were won. My guess is that the new Germany’s views on doping have some relation to that troubled past.

  9. Joe 28 August 2010 at 2:49 am #

    oliver, i disagree that nobody can win without doping. i think there a riders who can succeed without doping. Personally I think some of these riders who have done well in GT’s are Cadel Evans, Christian vandevelde, Ryder Hesjedal and some others

  10. bicycling clothing 6 September 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Much more important is that the youth coaches change their mentality instead forcing long faded stars back into the spotlight.

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