Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Doping - T-Mobile and Bob Stapleton

T-Mobile axes Sergei Honchar.

Or Serhiy Honchar. Or something. Not sure how to spell his name. But whatever, we all know who he is. And now we know what he's not - a T-Mobile rider.

This, to me, is quite significant.

Here is a double stage winner in the 2006 Tour. He's passed every official test. And he's been crowned world champion among other things. He'd rank high on anyone's Tour team wish-list. And now he's unemployed.

Internal tests done by the team revealed that things didn't seem quite kosher with his blood. And after a second follow up test a month after the first came up as "suspicious", he was fired.

As they said in the article, "Honchar is released immediately and is free to seek employment with another team or company."


They publicly stated they're not as interested in winning as having a clean team. Yet they're a team that's did quite well at the beginning of the season. And now, with the Tour coming up and a lot of talk about doping and procycling's tarnished image, they've taken steps to try and clear out some of the muck stuck in the peloton.

The team is owned by a rich guy named Bob Stapleton. We've known him as a "guy in cycling who runs T-Mobile's team". What many probably don't know is that he sold his wireless company to T-Mobile for a lot of money (initially $50 billion, but as it was stock based, the actual value was 30% less - still a lot of change). Now he can afford to do things like, well, own a cycling team.

I decided that I like this guy. I've never met him, only seen pictures of his crinkly-eyed smile, but he's struck me as one of the good guys. At first I thought he was closely tied to Lance but this doesn't seem to be the case. So no prejudices, no pre-judgments.

I do know that during the time he ran the women's team, they desperately needed roof racks for their Saabs. Unfortunately the roof rack sponsor didn't make a rack that fit the Saab. When another roof rack company offered to provide racks, he immediately took them up on their offer. I heard that someone within the organization said something like "it's ridiculous that we're sponsored by someone whose product we can't even use". Perhaps those were the words I remember (and they're not really true) but whatever, the T-Mobile women's team suddenly had roof racks. Anyone who helped make that happen is a good guy, someone looking after the team's needs.

I have to admit that, although I had nothing to do with the racks for T-Mobile, I did help put the same company's racks onto the Jelly Belly team vehicles.

Anyway, the current T-Mobile men's team have a director Rolf Aldag - he was respected enough by his peers that he was previously elected the spokesperson for the pro peloton. Of course that's not why we remember him nowadays. His current tag is that he recently admitted to doping for much of his career.

I like the fact that after Aldag confessed, Stapleton stated that Aldag's job was not in danger. (As a side note Stapleton may have to rethink this as it may be that Aldag can't attend the Tour as a "confessed doper"). He pointed out that many of the racers joined the team because of Aldag - an interesting comment coming from the guy who pays everyone. Aldag wasn't elected the racers' spokesperson for nothing.

Aldag seems like a reasonably stand-up guy. He knows how the system works. He lasted a long time in a tough sport (I was at the Hershey finish where he won the sprint for the stage in the inaugural 1991 Tour du Pont). And, perhaps significantly, he knows the workarounds riders use to avoid doping scandals.

There's a lot of discussion about simply vaporizing all current- and past- dopers from the peloton, whether the team cars or the bikes. Aldag would be one victim.

When I think of the likes of Aldag being banished I think the result would be a naive peloton who won't be able to monitor themselves. I'd rather have someone who's been in the trenches to make sure that things were on the up and up, not some naive guy who says, "Hey, let's all be good and follow the rules, okay?" while racers are injecting themselves next to him.

Now there are some pretty twisted characters in the peloton support infrastructure - mafioso types, the kind that, well, you simply wouldn't trust. I don't have a good way of weeding them out. But it'll have to be done. Keep the good guys who come clean and really, truly promote a clean sport.

(I know I have to define what a "good guy" is but I can't just yet).

Aldag, he seems different from some of the other dopers, at least to me.

I have to imagine that someone like Aldag would be able to pull a racer aside and tell him, "Look, you and I both know how it used to be. But this guy Stapleton is serious about no doping. So quit that sh*t out and straighten up. He'd rather you get one clean victory than fifty dirty ones, even if you never get caught while you're dirty. Got it?"

The other guy thinks about it and calls the doctor and says, "Look, I decided not to do the program. I'm sorry."

And that's that.

Perhaps I'm falling for Stapleton's powerful marketing campaign. After all, he did state he wants to create a sporting franchise.

But what if his approach helps clean up the sport? Wouldn't that be great?

I guess we'll see.


Aki said...

Arg I spoke too soon. Bob Stapleton owns part of the Discovery team. grr grr grr.

Aki said...

Arg I posted that other post too soon. BOB Stapleton is T-Mobile. BILL Stapleton is that other team.

This is probably why I initially associated the T-Mobile Stapleton with the other team Stapleton. They even share the same initials and name length. Arg.

Anyway, I like this post again.

Anonymous said...

You beat me too it Aki. I stumbled on this blog today and was about to post a comment to correct re: Bob Stapleton. We should all wish that there are more like him in cycling.