Thursday 15 September 2011

A sad final note for Highroad

Highroad boss Bob Stapleton has
done more than most to rid the
sport he loves of doping
Few teams took such far-reaching steps to stamp out doping when it first became apparent that the practice was going to kill cycling as did HTC-Highroad. In fact, despite the still-persistent druggy image of the sport, Bob Stapleton's team has been nothing less than an example of how things needed to be done; not just in the professional cycling world but in all sports. Thus, it's nothing short of an ironic tragedy that the men's team will cease to exist at the end of the current season, due in large part to the unwillingness of potential sponsors to attach their names to cycling because of that image.

However, it seems that the team's exemplary record, now that the end is so near, may be shaken; through no fault of their own but by one single rider - Alex Rasmussen, the Danish track specialist taken on by the team from SaxoBank-Sungard for 2011 and who was due to go to Garmin-Cervelo for 2012, who missed an anti-doping control test earlier this summer and as such broke the team's internal rules which state that all riders on the books must comply with UCI requirements 100% and which led to his immediate dismissal from the team. Closer investigation, with UCI confirmation, revealed that Rasmussen had also missed two tests in 2010, but Highroad had not been informed of this when it signed the rider. He will also now no longer be representing his country at this year's World Championships.

Rasmussen, when racing for SaxoBank (when two of the
missed controls occurred) (CC3.0)
What matters most for the 27-year-old now is when the earlier incidents took place - the rule is, if a rider misses three controls within an 18-month period, he or she faces official sanction and a ban of up to two years. That's not the end of the world for a rider his age - he'd return, just as many other riders returned, still only 29 and with a good few years ahead of him.

The greatest and worst effect is, once again, on cycling's image. Many people with little knowledge of cycling will have almost subconsciously absorbed the news that Highroad's at the end of the road but won't be aware why. Now, when they see this story - and they will, because the press just love to print stories on doping in cycling - they'll automatically link the team's demise with Rasmussen's selfish decision to dope. They'll nod knowingly over their cornflakes and think to themselves, "Ah, I knew it! They're all at it!"

Thus all Stapleton's good work is undone, just a little more each time it happens; and other potential sponsors back away, unwilling to attach their names to a sport with a bad image among the mis-informed non-cycling public to whom the names on the jerseys have to appeal if the millions they would otherwise have ploughed into sport are to be worthwhile; because cycling fans, who would have read beyond the headline and got the full story, are a tiny minority.

Cheers, Alex. Nice one. Don't expect a warm welcome in two years' time if you get a ban.

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