It’s been a few days since my eyes popped out of my head. They have slowly retracted back into the sockets but I’m still in a bit of shock.
That dramatic physiological event occurred when I read that three time World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin announced he was leaving Etixx-Quickstep for the Russian WorldTour squad Katusha.
I was baffled by the move — why would Martin possibility do that? Sure, there is always big money involved and I’m not one to criticize a fat contract. A supremely talented and discipled rider like Martin deserves however many euros he can squeeze out. Chapeau to the German Panzerwagen and his agent.
And of course there was also talk that German bike manufacturer Canyon was a significant draw for Martin. Got that — German bike, German rider, renaissance of pro road cycling in Germany. No argument or confusion there.
The issue, the problematic mystery, is one of ethics. Martin has been an outspoken supporter of clean cycling. He’s made his position on doping clear and is definitely a rider who people look to as a role model in a sport still struggling to outride its dark past.
So it strikes us as astronomically strange that Martin would sign for a Russian squad that has had significant issues with doping violations. In April 2012 Denis Galimzyanov tested positive for EPO in an out of competition test. In July 2015, Luca Paolini tested positive for cocaine. Shortly thereafter Giampaolo Caruso returned an EPO positive from a sample taken in March 2012. And finally, in February 2016, Eduard Vorganov tested positive for the newly WADA-banned compound, meldonium.
The team lost their WorldTour license after the 2012 season and is run by former US Postal and Discovery rider Viatcheslav Ekimov, a man who was part of Lance Armstrong’s extensive doping program. Lance always called Eki the consummate pro and we now know what “pro” really meant back then.
Then factor in the recently uncovered state-sponsored Russian doping program during the Sochi Olympics. We are talking about a corrupt sporting culture that sets new standards for cheating, manipulation, lying and intimidation.
All these Russian red flags should have been pretty obvious to Tony Martin. Seven years ago, as a young pro, Martin made it clear which road he planned to take: “My goal is to be a part of a new kind of cycling, clean cycling.”
So what’s he doing at Katusha?