The problem with Spanish cycling is expressed in many ways. One of them is a lack of propriety. The definition being, “the state or quality of conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals.”
“Valverde is one of the greatest, and will be on the agenda of many teams,” the Movistar boss told the Diario de Navarra. “Riders of a certain level are on the minds of many teams. We will try to help Alejandro not to lose his brilliance in this year and a half during his ban, and then agree to his return.”
Nothing wrong with the return of Valverde, dues paid, suspension over. It’s the lack of propriety on the part of both Unzue and Valverde. There’s not even the superficial mention of his transgressions, his guilt, any sense of contrition. The basic moral standard is to acknowledge the fault and promise to do better — whether that’s genuine or not — the form is a requirement, an accepted manner of behavior.
Instead we hear only praise of Valverde from Unzue. The message is that the past never happened, it didn’t matter, it is of no consequence. And that is a huge part of the doping problem in Spain. A refusal to acknowledge it. The famous line about those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them certainly rings true in the land of tapas and sangria.
The Spanish Cycling Federations stuns the sport by absolving Alberto Contador of doping charges when nearly all critics and journalists and scientists, the UCI and WADA thought otherwise. Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero tweets his support for Contador based on no understanding of the case other than the nationality of the rider in question.
In Spain doping is accepted enough that there’s not even the veneer of apology, the pretense that this time things will be different. In Italy, even Danilo di Luca plays the game, accepts the necessity of the tearful admission in front of priest and schoolchildren.
Is anyone in Spanish cycling howling with rage that Operacion Puerto criminal number 1, former Liberty Seguros manager Manolo Saiz is making noise about returning to the sport? This is like inviting Hannibal Lecter back for a summer barbecue.
“I want to return and I think that I am going to. I’m not afraid of what people say about me. That’s never bothered me,” he told Spanish newspaper ABC. And I won’t be looking back at the past.” That’s just the problem in a nutshell. You can’t change a culture of doping if you refuse to admit its existence. Saiz still tells anyone who will listen that he is innocent despite a mountain of evidence.
Meanwhile Alejandro Valverde trains with his former Caisse d’Epargne buddies at the new Movistar set-up and everybody is thrilled. “We are going to fight for Valverde to return with us,” said Unzue. Sadly, that’s the kind of fight that happens in Spanish cycling, not the fight against doping. And there’s no pretense about this at all.