It’s been a bad week for the UCI: the Swiss courts went over their heads to let Danilo Hondo off the hook, former convicted doper Filip Meirhaeghe won a race, and Roberto Heras, who is currently appealing his own drug suspension, successfully blocked the revised Vuelta awards presentation. Now, this series of events would make any sports governing body feel emasculated, but apparently, neither essentially banning an innocent rider (search “Bouyer”) for life, nor hounding pro riders out of unsanctioned training races was enough to shake that sensation of impotence. So now the UCI has decided to make the declaration that competing with a currently banned rider gets you an automatic one-month susupension.
Talk about making a desperate end run around your own rules and regulations. The UCI knows it has no right to threaten people with suspensions for what they do outside of its races. Out of competition dope tests are the only instance in which the UCI can meddle with a rider’s life after the finish line, because an athlete using drugs outside their race authority will still detract the from integrity of their events. But going out and racing against banned pros? In an all-levels-welcome warm-up race? How exactly does that affect Tour of Flanders? Or the Giro d’Italia? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t.
This latest decree is really about further inconveniencing riders that the UCI has already punished to the full extent of its statutes. People in Lausanne can’t stand to see someone they thought they’d banned in a bike race, because it reminds them that they don’t own the sport. Plus, race intensity is tough to duplicate in training, and man, is it embarassing when dopers come right back and win races again. So the UCI up and says they’ll enforce a little-used bylaw if riders “compet[e] alongside banned riders”. This way, they UCI stays within the letter of its own law, while punishing dopers just that extra little bit. Unfortunately, like so many of the UCI’s other “solutions”, it’s idioticly conceived; after all what does and doesn’t count as “competition”?
The problem with unsanctioned events is, due to the lack of sanctioning and whatnot, that any time a clean rider comes within a half-mile of banned one, there might be an unsanctioned event underway. Well-orgnaized races like the Stazio crit are pretty cut and dry, but will the UCI count less-conventional road events, such as Monstertrack, as suspension-worthy competitions? And what about charity rides? 24-hour racing? Heck, I think we’ve all been on training rides that put most of our races to shame. So should training alongside banned riders be a no-no? Or just intensity training? Hell, why limit this to bikes? Is chess out? Competitive eating? Beer pong? It’s still “competition”, right?
In the end, this latest Hamilton decision is just another example of the UCI arbitrarily throwing its weight around. Someone really needs to stand up and remind these gentlemen of the boundaries of their power. They are not gods, they are not even a government. They are, by and large, a group of old, fat, European men, whose influence on the world begins and ends at opposite ends of their (and only their) race courses. I was disapointed when Gerard Bisceglia couldn’t muster the sack to do it last week, and I am disappointed that no one outside some pipsqueak blogger has the guts to do it now.
If the riders’ union were serious about protecting athletes rights, they’d send teams from each ProTour squad to Stazio next weekend, to suit up and race with Tyler. The prospect of a month off for every team at cycling’s elite level, during the heart of the classics season, might just be the cold slap in the face needed to bring the UCI back down to Earth.