We’ll get to the Gazzetta in a momento but first, some background. Andrew Hood at Velonews wrote his fine analysis piece on whether people could believe Chris Horner’s win in the Vuelta a Espana.
He wrote a variation on that theme when Nibali won the Giro d’Italia in convincing fashion and we all know how the media treatment poor Chris Froome got when he won the Tour de France.
Hood’s start and end point was that in a post-USADA world, for better or worse, all performances will be questioned and that there’s a gap between perception and reality. The gap being that those in the sport know its perhaps never been cleaner, the culture has shifted but casual fans still assume most riders are doping.
Well, the sport is in a huge transition phase from dark to light and it’s not always pretty. What’s interesting to us is that the journalist backlash on riders is just another sign that the UCI has failed to go a good job with doping.
By that we mean that journalists don’t want to get burned and embarrassed again by doping lies but don’t trust the governing body to keep the sport clean so they have to take on the role of police, investigator and post stage-interrogator.
That’s fine and dandy and legitimate. Everybody knows that many journalists dropped the ball on Armstrong, swept away by the myth and intimidated by the Texan’s ruthless use of his power.
But the whole “prove to us you’re not doping” routine shows a certain desperation. It’s like a nervous parent confronting their overweight teen and saying “please tell me you didn’t get a 64oz Coke and a candy bar after school.” During the Tour de France, the frustration of the press and Sky’s David Brailsford were in a way identical: we can’t go on like this, how do we stop going on like this?
The UCI’s failure to take a harder line on doping has naturally led to others doing the job that they have abdicated. The media now does the UCI job– hiring their own experts and analysts to scrutinize the performances of Nibali, Froome and Horner. They fish through hotel dumpsters and run their own crude whereabouts program, following riders around like private detectives.
Essentially, the Gazzetto dello Sport is playing UCI. They’re doing their tests, measuring performances, and policing riders by demanding to see riders power data. You could even argue that funded on a zero budget compared to the UCI, they’re working harder to control the doping issue that the governing body. Which is kinda crazy considering that the Gazzetta often takes a sensationalist approach. Too much passion, not enough Pulitzer.
Again, that’s not such a bad thing. At least somebody cares enough about the sport to make an attempt. But it’s just another reminder that the UCI under McQuaid is incapable of restoring trust in cycling or even telling a better doping PR story to the outside world. (The embattled McQuaid is too busy these days trying to bend election rules and even backdate them so he can win another term even though the Irish and Swiss federations refused to nominate him.) In a leadership vacuum, the Gazzetta frames the doping story instead of the UCI; the media decide who is clean or suspicious.
We feel sorry for Froome, Nibali and Horner that they have to race under those conditions and have their victories diminished by rumor and innuendo. We feel sorry for cycling fans who have to follow a sport run by cynical and incompetent hacks.
If McQuaid hadn’t failed on doping, the Gazzetta dello Sport wouldn’t have to take over the role.