Friday, September 21, 2007

Doping - Sauron's Veil

I feel like Theoden, the king of Rohan, after Grima's evil work is lifted from him. The past three days have been like a haze, a delirious mish mash of heat, chills, hunger, and above all, an overwhelming fatigue. With some potions supplied by the future missus (a mysterious red substance named NyQuil as well as something I'll leave unnamed but it fixes things one doesn't talk about in polite company), I overcame the evilness, warded off the blanket of fatigue, and stand now free of all such encumberments (that's not a word I think but you get the gist of it).

Apparently my brain is still feeling the after effects judging by what I just wrote. I suppose my aborted attempt at watching the Return of the King a couple weeks ago (the last time I watched even a portion of a movie) had something to do with that first paragraph.

At any rate my oblivion was such that I missed all sorts of things.

For example, a figurehead of the World Rally Championships passed away over the weekend. If anyone had told me during my haze that the famous Scottish rally racer Colin McRae had died, I'd have thought they were the ones possessed by evil spirits. However, sadly, McRae died in a helicopter crash (on Saturday, the point at which, I think, the blanket was descending but I was not aware of it just yet). He helped make the World Rally Championship part of American kids' vocabulary (although they just knew it as the "rally" part of the Playstation's Gran Turismo).

It was his driving and his charismatic character that made the blue Subarus (and Ford Focuses) so well known in the rallying world. This then prompted Subaru to introduce the real car in the US - the WRX. Until that point, Subaru had been satisfied selling a non-turbo car, sort of a tarted up Impreza. With the introduction of the low cost, high horsepower, all wheel drive WRX, Subaru upped the ante for all car manufacturers, much like Scott Bicycles got everyone going on frame weights by publicizing its frame weights so prominently.

Ironically his then teammate died of a brain tumor a couple years ago. And his team owner crashed the next day in a helicopter (but luckily walked away).

Now, when looking at cars, I see all sorts of WRX-prompted competition - Subaru's own STI (a hopped up WRX), Mitsubishi's Evolution, a number of larger AWD saloons (Subaru Legacy GT, MazdaSpeed6, the various Audi A4s), and a number of boosted similar sized cars (MazdaSpeed3, Mini Cooper S, Volvo's new C30, even the Caliber SRT4). A few cars haven't made it here yet - Ford never brought over their AWD Focus (to me a natural competitor to the WRX, thanks to the Playstation game) and of course we don't get some of the interesting European cars like Citroen, Alfa (not yet), or the smaller BMWs (but soon we will).

Anyway, all that was to make the point that normally, if such an illustrious and famous character in some sport or arena I tend to follow passes on, I'd make a note of it.

I didn't.

Some other breaking news hit the wires while I was in my haze of confusion and disarray. Yesterday afternoon I was passed out on the bed when my phone rang.

As a practical matter, I kept my phone next to me as I kept missing various calls because I couldn't stagger to the phone before whoever it was gave up on me. So answering the phone was a matter of groping for it, flipping it open (didn't recognize the phone number), and holding it to my ear vicinity.

"Hey, were you sleeping?"
It was the other name on the blog, GMF.
"Oh. Sorry to wake you up. I thought you'd be all over this. Did you know they announced the Floyd verdict?"

My hazy brain tried to assimilate this. Floyd the airfield? Floyd, wasn't that a hurricane? Wait, it's got to be Floyd, the racer!

"No, I didn't hear."


I could hear him trying to decide how to break the news to me.

"Well, what happened?", I asked, a bit anxious. After all, the whole blog got started because of our discussions on Floyd, doping, and all sorts of related stuff.

"Guilty, two year suspension."

At some level, it was a let down. I figured that would have been the outcome, but it would have been nice to be surprised. Like Bernanke and his half point cut. A nice surprise.

I pondered what I just heard.

CAS appeal, another year or two, and then in 2009 we'll crown Pereiro the 2006 Tour winner. Doesn't seem right.

For Floyd's sake, his financial sake, and for racing's sake, I hope he decides not to appeal.

Interestingly enough (and unfortunately for the whole sport), the arbitrators found that his initial ratio test was not carried out in a proper manner. If this is the case, at least from a legal point of view, the carbon isotope test never should have been carried out.

It's the latter that demonstrated he doped.

It's a legal question now. If the ratio test was properly done, perhaps the carbon isotope test wouldn't have been done. It's like getting evidence with a faulty search warrant. I'm no cop but according to the TV, evidence gotten without the proper paperwork is no evidence at all. Actually, since we don't get any TV, it's according to CSI Las Vegas (for which the future missus owns the various season DVDs) that evidence gotten without the proper paperwork is no evidence at all.

Therefore, Floyd's wallet notwithstanding, I think we'll be reading about an appeal at some point in the future.

If only it would be possible to lift this doping veil from cycling. All the confusion, uncertainty, and disarray gone. It's hard to remember what freshness feels like until it's gone and it comes back. Although cycling is a sport hard pressed to remember when it was "fresh", earlier generations of "doping" didn't alter a racer's ability to the point where you could make a mule into a race horse. In fact, some of the banned substances from back then are considered so harmless that they are now legal for use by cyclists.

Back then it seems like a good racer was a good racer. You read about the same guys week after week in the spring and then other guys week after week in the grand tours. They were inevitably helped by the same guys, racers who couldn't quite wield the finishing hammer but could get most of the framework done before dropping back.

I suppose it'll take a lot of money, perhaps some fresh faces. More vigorous testing, less rigid testing procedures (i.e. sometimes we'll do the ratio test, other times we'll go straight to the carbon isotope test), and a LOT more random tests. Tests virtually at the start line since that's when any doping would be most effective. Such start line tests would prevent last minute "topping up" of the system with blood (the racer's or someone else's) and force racers to have some semblence of normal hematocrit levels, not those controlled by blood thinners and such.

I'm no pro. But I have to believe that such a system would reward the clean racers. Dissuade the dirty ones. And, though the average speeds in the mountains might drop substantially, that's okay. It's the race between racers which is spectacular, not the race against the clock. I don't care if a stage averages 38 kph or 48 kph, as long as the last 10k is a elbow-throwing, shoulder bumping, tire touching mosh pit. And when it comes to climbs, the climbers will dance away from everyone else.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to see the climbers get shelled on the flat stages? And the time trialers get shelled on the climbs?

It goes without saying, of course, that the sprinters would be shelled anytime the race didn't end with 50 km of flat roads ending in a nice flat sprint.

Now, since I'm not a pro cyclist, for the second time this week, I have to get to work.


Colin R said...

holy shit, Colin McRae died?!

Aki said...

no kidding right? And I promise you I'm not under any Sauron induced haze anymore. That whole ProDrive team has had some bad luck recently - Burns (tumor), McRae (helo crash), and Prodrive head Dave Richards (who made it okay out of a second helo crash).

I think people who don't follow or know of rally racing don't understand the guy's significance - but it's like if someone like a Cipollini or perhaps a Zabel died. A little past his prime (he wasn't racing WRC recently, instead doing things like Paris Dakar) but definitely an animator and a contender whenever the circumstances allow it.