Friday, November 19, 2010

Italian Public Prosecutor Benedetto Roberti

Italian public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti traveled to Interpol headquarters in Lyon this week to exchange information regarding the international traffic of banned substances. He indicated that the US federal officers that were present are focused on seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team. That being said, I was more interested in his comments about what had to be done regarding the difficulty of the races.

He revealed that numerous professional cyclists he has questioned claimed that athletes who don’t dope have an output of 40 per cent below those who do.

"That’s what they say. Unfortunately that’s the system," Roberti said. "The sport relies on sponsors and sponsors don’t pay the teams unless they win and to win they need to use banned substances."

"The races are too tough. They need to reduce the kilometers. It’s impossible to think that they can complete these races as they are without using banned substances. If they reduce the lengths I know people will say they’ll still dope, but at least they would have less reason to."

Well said, in my opinion. Nevertheless, the 2011 Giro d'Italia promises to be one of the most grueling in its history with 7 summit finishes (including Zoncolan), 1 gravel road stage, the Colle de Finistre with 8 km of dirt roads, an uphill time trial,etc. A summary:

From the 7th to the 29th of May 2011,
17 regions,
23 total days,
21 race days,
1 rest day + transfer 1 rest day,
Start from Torino-Reggia di Venaria , Reale,
Finish in Milano-Piazza Duomo,
1 Team Time Trial Stage (1ª stage Reggia di Venaria Reale-Torino) / 21,5 km,

1 uphill time trial (16ª Belluno-Nevegal) / 12,7 km,

1 individual time trial (21ª Milano-Milano) / 32,8 km,

7 stages for sprinters,

1 white (gravel) road stage in Siena in the province of Siena and the finish in Orvieto
4 medium mountain stages (1 summit finish)
6 mountain
stages (6 summit finish),
Summit finishes: Montevergine di Mercogliano (7ª stage), Etna (9ª stage), Grossglockner (13ª stage), Zoncolan (14ª stage), Gardeccia (15ª stage), Macugnaga (19ª stage), Sestriere (20ª stage),
Other climbs: Crostis (new), Croce Carnico, Mauria, Fedaia-Marmolada, Tonale, Aprica, Mottarone, Colle delle Finestre (dirt stretch),
Cima Coppi: Passo Giau,
Total: 3496 km

Riders' reactions to the 2011 percorso after the presentation are here.

Will grand tour organizers respond to the calls being made for reducing the difficulty of the races?

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  2. I've never been convinced it's the distances, but rather modern commercial interests that are the problem with regards to performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. A well-trained pro cyclist should be able to race over 100 miles a day, repeatedly, without the need to dope, unless riding at 45kph 'criterium' speeds. Reduce the distances any more and the Grand Tours for example, the jewells in the sport's crown, will become a 21-day travelling circus of speed rather than stamina, favouring riders with different abilities than the 'Tour riders'. This ISA hard sport, and so the Tours have to be gruelling, to provide epic 'exploits', the 'jour sans', a day ruined by 'la fringale', with the winner being someone capable of handling such demanding workloads and blessed with quick recovery. Desgrange said something along the lines of "My ideal Tour is one where only one rider finishes", and whilst I'm not advocating a return to inhuman 400km-plus stages, it's a fact that Merckx and Hinault didn't win Tours with 7-hour stages of 200-250km through the mountains because they doped, it's because they could race smart, use their teams and recover day after day, but at average speeds well below what we see today. All the while you have short-sighted sponsors putting pressure on teams, managers and riders to win at all costs or lose their livelihoods, there will be an unbearable temptation to dope. Addressing this by finding what you might term 'traditional' sponsors who are in the sport because they really understand and believe in it - like Mapei's Sig. Squinzi - and having a competent governing body and associated agencies working in partnership to smash the doping rings, vet the 'soigners' and ban the cheats in a consistent manner will we see the speeds fall. I think it would be a catastrophic mistake if we reduced distances thinking that making things physically easier for these athletes would stop them doping. If we do we'll lose the unique, engaging character of our wonderful sport completely.