Wednesday, October 25, 2006

mobile dope controls

I've been thinking about this doping thing. Obviously it's affecting cycling greatly - when the "best" cyclists don't show up for the Tour route unveiling, something is really wrong with the pro cycling scene.

It's really too bad too, because cycling is a fascinating sport. It combines a lot of elements - physical fitness, technology, and tactics, each subjects vast and limitless as far as discussion goes. In other words, I'll save those topics for another post :)

A friend of mine podiumed one year in the Elite (i.e. Pros and Amateurs). Incredibly, there was NO dope testing! Nothing! If a racer can win Nationals and not get tested, the system is broken.

In Europe apparently they have the "dope van", some yellow thing that drives around to pro's houses and takes samples. This led to a comedic episode where a racer, on his way home, saw the dope van sitting there. He took off, the dope van folks noted this, and, sort of like refusing to take a breathalyzer, he was found "positive".

Here in the US a dope van would be impractical. The distances too great, the chance of tracking it (via sightings, perhaps posted to a nice blog called "The Dope Van"), the mileage racked up substantial, etc., etc.

I propose a different solution. It would require some sponsorship as it would be a relatively costly thing (tests cost a lot of money). Maybe a nice benefactor, a rich cycling fan who also cares about the atheletes, not just winning. And an airline and a rental car company, maybe ones that are headed by people who need some nice, positive (pun intended) publicity. This is what would happen.

First, there would be a testing crew or two or more. Each would consist of at least one male, one female, and a third person (harder to corrupt three than two). These might be part time folks who have other jobs for most of the year (school teachers?). The number of crews is a highly variable thing and can be fluid, changing as demands require. For example, in the period building up to the early season races, there might be 3 or 4 or 5 crews. After many of the races are over, and it's, say, the holiday season, it might be just one crew.

Second, there would be an airline sponsor. Since the US is so big geographically, it would make no sense wasting time driving the equipment around. Instead, there would be a modular dope control station which breaks down into checkable luggage size components. As far as I can tell, since blood and urine samples are the primary things collected, it would be reasonable to have a compact kit. The biggest thing would probably be some kind of cooler type thing, mabye with it's own climate control.

Third, there would be a rental car company sponsor. The other day I rented a car from Hertz. Originally I asked for a Ford Taurus, seeing as it fit five and it was $41 a day. But when I got there, I couldn't resist the temptation of renting the Dodge Magnum wagon - 350 HP, all wheel drive, and fits five as well. The last feature was critical because it allowed me to justify renting the street legal rocket sled. All for less than five cups of really expensive coffee a day.

Back on track... The rental car company is key because the car would not be identifiable. One day, a (ahem!) Dodge Magnum would show up. Another, a Chevy Aveo. Maybe the aforementioned Taurus. No yellow dope van here, just a standard, plainclothes control center on wheels.

(On a side note, I hope local law enforcement doesn't take this idea in hand as it's hard enough to spot the undercover Camaros, SUVs, and the like on the way to work.)

Anyway, that's my proposal. Mobile units, self contained, kind of like little commando units. They can land anywhere, take samples, and within hours be somewhere else. Armed with a list of events, they can pick random ones and show up there, flash their "dope control" certificates, and test, say the top 3 as well as 5-10 randoms. Maybe some finger pricks at the start line for unusual hematocrit values.

One day it might be a big event with headline racers. Another day it might be a small local race. In between, maybe some rinky dink midweek training races. And for the racers who've already aroused the suspicions of the authorities with "abnormal but within limit" readings, some nice personal face time at their home or wherever they might be staying.

Part of the kit would have to be a video camera, to record the proceedings. The tape (or electronic file - it could be captured to a hard drive) would be handled like a sample so there would be evidence that the racers didn't tamper with the samples. Or, as the case may be, that they did. And, ideally, it wouldn't end up on YouTube after a day or two since it's considered "confidential". If such procedures were in place, there might be videographic evidence of racers, say, dropping some powder into their urine samples. It would be harder to pull the stunts that Willy Voet describes in his tell-all book, Breaking the Chain.

There would be some costs associated with this setup. Uniforms, sample taking equipment, maybe a banner or three, the video camera, a case of video tapes (or DVDs or a laptop), food, fuel, the aforementioned modular cases, a tent, etc. I'm sure at least one of the testers would have to be certified, if not all.

Once all that foundation stuff is in place, the system would incur costs for travel and testing. The cost per week may be something like the following for each team:
3 x $130 - one way tickets to some location
1 x $200 - one week rental of some vehicle
7 x $200 - one week of hotel or motel rooms
(n) x $300-$600 - cost of testing per test

The cost of catching an unsuspecting doper at a rinky dink local midweek race?


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