Thursday, July 23, 2009

Doping v. Bribery: The Biggest Cheat?

I have been told that I should not do any more posts on cycling until I throw in something on another sport. Thankfully, Bob stepped in with the nice Booing Beckham post (two words: "Manny! Manny!") so I can return to cycling....

Some of you know that I am currently researching cheating in many forms and in several sports, including cycling. Nicolas Roche, the current road champion from Ireland, has been writing about the Tour and last week described the stage ending in Besançon. He was in an early break but because his teammate had the yellow jersey he was under instructions not to help with the pace-setting.

Italy's Daniel Bennati of Liquigas and his Belgian teammate Frederik Willems gave me tons of abuse, as did the Italian, Daniele Righi of Lampre. They gave me so much abuse it was unbelievable. They called me every name under the sun because I didn't work in the break. The other 10 guys, though, knew they would be doing the same in my position and just got on with it.

Of course, by sitting in the back of the group, Roche would be fresh to make a break for it in the last kilometers and try to win the stage. Roche continues:

With 50 kms to go, Bennati came up to me and said: "You're going to have to pay me a lot of money if you want to win this stage or you will never win, because I will chase you down. There's no way you're going anywhere without me."

There is a long history of cyclists cutting deals and exchanging cash in order to win races. Willy Voet describes it in some detail in his book Breaking the Chain. But I thought in today's sport scene, and particularly in the Tour (given all the media focus), buying a race was simply not done.

It strikes me that buying and selling a stage victory may be more detrimental to the sport than doping in terms of undermining public trust. And yet the focus on doping continues (see today's article by Greg Lemond questioning Contador's accomplishments). Buying and selling victories nearly ruined baseball a century ago and cost Pete Rose a chance at the Hall of Fame. Yet it goes on in cycling on a regular basis and is simply accepted as par for the course. Granted, this may be in part because for breaks to form there has to be a strategic complicity on the part of the teams behind and riders will sometimes graciously allow a rival to win, but from there to asking for money to "allow" someone to win?

Which is worse: doping or buying a victory?

Thanks to Scott for the link to Lemond's article.


SM Sprenger said...

I'm ignorant:is there much gambling on the Tour? Isn't that really the issue of throwing games in baseball and basketball? If there's no gambling on the tour as there is in other sports, the deal cutting may have to do with, as you say, the nature of sports complicated team strategies. There's has to be some give and take to make it work.

Ophir Sefiha said...

you can gamble on just about any of the big races. Unibet, Mr.Bookmaker (interestingly both former team sponsors) are online wagering companies operating mainly in Europe.

in Belgium, Kermeeses races have open air betting. there is a big chalkboard w/ the riders' names and their odds. you can bet throughout the race.

Many have argued that financial deal making during races is overblown, especially in the big Tours. Wins are so valuable to sponsors and riders that rarely can another rider or team pony up enough $ to convince someone to put on the brakes.

Does it matter if the deals are financial? everyone knows the season is long and what goes around comes around. It is absolutely necessary to make friends w/ other teams and riders. this is especially true if you are a smaller team. why do you think Skil-Shimano was at the front in the early part of some of the climbs at this yr's Tour? I don't see this as collusion anymore than working together in a break.
Great topic by the way.

Robert J. Hudson said...

Bribery, buying/selling victories, point-shaving--ALL are much bigger sports crimes than doping. While the use of PEDs may give you a distinct advantage, the results are still not predetermined. Barry Bonds still had to get the bat on the ball (and he still has no ring). Both pitcher and batter might be dopers and it's still a contest. If the contest element is taken out of it, is it even still a sport?

Sven Wilson said...

Ummm, do you mean with respect to just cycling, or are you interested in cheating in sports that normal Americans care about? !!!!

Coach Steve said...

The unwritten rules and etiquette in cycling is akin to the unwritten rules and etiquette in baseball. And you cannot fully appreciate either sport until you understand what is done beyond the technical and the written. Is it horrible if players visit the opposing clubhouse? Might it facilitate cheating? The beauty of these and any sport is knowing why things are done the way they are done.

Ophir Sefiha said...

I couldn't agree more w/ Coach Steve. I am however wondering if cycling is indeed unique in its level of cooperation/collusion amongst rivals. Is there really an analogy within any mainstream sport? I can't seem to think of any sport that requires such on and off the field/road cooperation amongst rivals. in what other sport do you actively and publicly work together for 99% of the event only to take advantage your colleague's weakness in the last 1%?

I am reminded that Fascist Italy actually refused to fund cycling b/c they viewed it as communist. Please tell me that i am wrong...

Corry Cropper said...

Have not heard that about fascist Italy, but would not be surprised. I tell my kids cycling teaches teamwork and punishes selfishness, although judging by recent comments from Contador and Armstrong, I may have led my children astray. And with team sponsorships, it would be hard to argue it is a communist sport... especially today.

Coach Steve, I'm thinking of coaching my boys' baseball team next year... I'll have to pour over your words of wisdom before I commit.

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