Posted by: mdegeorge | September 30, 2010

The dropping of the other cycling shoe?

The UCI World Road Championships are meant to be an end-of-year celebration, a culmination of a successful pro season in which rider can relax and ride of pride and country rather than strictly for the sponsor’s bottom line.

But as Fabian Cancellara was pounding the Geelong pavement into submission for a record fourth consecutive Rainbow Jersey in the individual time trial, the world’s attention was just as drawn to a pair of doping allegations that threatened to undermine one of the cleanest season’s the peloton has enjoyed in years.

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The first took aim at derailing the feel-good story of the Vuelta a Espana; the second sought to plummet the sport’s most recognizable name and his voluminous palmares back into the dark days of rampant suspicion and mistrust.

On any other day, the allegation that Vuelta runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera tested positive for a banned substance would have been splashed all over the headlines.

The 34-year-old Galician put in the ride of his life for three weeks in September, winning a stage and coming within 43 seconds of winner Vincenzo Nibali. He excelled when what few big names who chose to contest the season’s final Grand Tour faltered, and many believed he would mount a charge on the final stage to take back the time he need to unseat Nibali.

The news of Mosquera and teammate David Garcia Da Pena’s positive tests for hydroxyethyl starch, a masking agent that boosts plasma volume and can conceal EPO use, though not yet verified, would be a dark mark on the season for sure.

But the implication of Alberto Contador, the sport’s new superman whose brilliance in the mountains in a decade’s time threatens to make Lance Armstrong look like a one-trick pony, is nothing less than earth-shattering.As a cycling fan, Contador’s mint condition too-good-to-be-true packaging has always remained unblemished, despite vague links to Operacion Puerto and various other erroneous allegations throughout the years.

The definitive positive, though, will forever stay with him. Sure, it’s only a provisional suspension as required in all cases. And it is possible that the result will be overturned—the infinitesimally small amount of the banned bronchodilator clenbuterol that was found is in the neighborhood of a billionth of a gram and 40 times less than the minimum threshold World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) labs designate among their statutes for accreditation—using Contador’s excuse of tainted meat eaten the day before and day of the control test.

His demeanor in the face of this tribulation has been confident and resilient as opposed to the marginally incriminating defensiveness it’s all too easy to fall into. And he does have the support of many in the cycling community, including his new Team Saxo Bank (though face it, with their departures, Bjarne Riis and company are out of jobs without El Pistolero) and archrival Andy Schleck. Even the UCI has admitted they require “further scientific evidence”, perhaps the most daunting three words for a cyclist this side of “Col du Tourmalet”.

Perhaps Contador’s indiscretion is merely a biological anomaly (it would be the biggest in recent memory). And, at least at this early juncture, before Mosquera is officially notified by the UCI as to his positive test, maybe his doping is merely a vicious and uninformed rumor.

I can’t speak for the veterans of the professional fandom peloton, but personally—and as a believer in the Rule of Threes—I’m ever-vigilant for a third earth-bound, EPO-infused bomb.

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