October 21, 2012

Sky - Can They Be Trusted?

Let's look at the question - is Sky clean now? Well let's review a bit of Sky history.

Wiggins jumps contract to move from Garmin to Sky
Once Wiggins came 4th in the 2009 TdeF, Sky became interested in him as they needed a GC rider and Wiggins was British to boot. There was no need to let a little thing like a contract get in the way and Garmin didn't have the legal resources to fight Sky, who had the legal hammer in terms of resources. So Sky got their way and in the process demonstrated questionable ethics. Garmin took the settlement as they really had no choice.

British Pro Cycling and Sky - Equipment
Sky is the principle partner for British Pro Cycling. Their websites are intertwined. Now there is a UCI rule designed to keep a level playing field for the sport. It came about after the 1984 Olympics where the Americans spent big bucks on high-tech bikes and people won medals who were not perceived to have been the best athletes. The UCI rule requires racers use equipment "of a type that is sold for use by anyone practicing cycling as a sport." Neat concept. If you are a manufacturer, you certainly aren't going to make money producing equipment that is so specialized and expensive that no one will buy it. So despite the shocking sticker prices you see, bikes are relatively cheap and are not Ferraris. No one wants a Ferrari in cycling after all.....

And then along came Sky. Their deep pockets mean that British cycling can flaunt the spirit of the rule. By creating specialized high tech equipment that they could care less if they sell, ever, as they don't need the money, they can provide a little extra edge for the Brits. An edge that no one else can match at this time. The equipment is for sale if you have ridiculously large amounts of money and can wait for an indefinite period for delivery. See what they have for sale on their online catalog. No prices but if you have to ask, you can't afford it. For starters a helmet is $4700. This strategy only works for the Olympics (and track cycling) where branding rules limit the ability of sponsors to get their brands on the equipment anyway. In your usual UCI race, sponsorship branding is only limited by bad taste and the equipment sponsors ensure the rules are met.

Is it cheating? Perhaps the lawyers would tell you they meet the letter of the law which makes them innocent of course, doesn't it? The spirit of the rules are irrelevant. But is this behavior ethical?

Thanks for the Omerta Dave
In pro-cycling the Omerta is the shunning of anyone who speaks honestly of doping. They can't get jobs, they can't win races, they have no friends. The riders, sponsors, journalists, team managers, etc. enforced this rule. As a result, it was impossible to clean up cycling and still may be impossible, thanks to organizations like Sky and Omega Pharma. Sky's "holier than thou" anti-doping policy which prohibits anyone ever involved in doping from being on the team in any capacity sounds a lot like Omerta doesn't it? Forcing their employees to sign a pledge claiming that they had no involvement in doping or they lose their job certainly won't help cycling identify the facilitators of doping. The riders were mostly victims (not Lance though) and it is the facilitators and promoters of doping that have to be weeded out. This approach enforces Omerta and keeps everything hidden and out of site.

Does it help clean up the sport? I don't think so. Does it push people to be dishonest and protect the facilitators? Definitely. Does it allow Sky to pretend they are better than everyone else and therefore more deserving of your support?  I think that may be it....

Tour de France Performance
In 2012, we saw Sky take a page from US Postal's How to Win the TdeF Manual. Ride at the front so fast that no one can pass you. Easy to do when you have a world class doping program - which takes up most of the rest of the Manual apparently. How exactly did Sky get their domestiques to that same level? I have no idea.

Is There a Doctor in the House?
What's Up Doc?
Geert Leinders was a questionable choice, even before the USADA report came out. Sky hired a doctor who others warned was associated with doping. And defended that choice through the TdeF and until USADA made everything crystal clear to everyone. Without USADA, he would presumably still work for Sky. Now just what was Geert doing with the riders at Sky and why was Sky defending him knowing of his employment for teams that had a doping history. I thought they had a zero-tolerance policy? Zero-tolerance or zero-tolerance to anyone who gets caught? I'm sure the lawyers have this one under control too.

Wiggins doping denial has an eerie similarity to Lance denials don't you think? Just a little more colorful, that's all.

Payback Time For Wiggins?
Apparently, even the nouveaux riche don't like to pay taxes. Even when they got where they are through state-funded sports programs. Wiggins is engaging in a tax dodge that is legal, but certainly not honest. Check it out here. I guess that flag is just a scarf, he must have been chilly.

In Summary?
If you are rich and big enough, you can manipulate the rules and get away with it. It's good to be big. Sky has a history of doing what it takes to win/get their way without being too troubled by ethics. They don't act like the good guys (they're not Garmin Sharp). I don't have to trust them, do you?

Oh yeah - I think doping is alive and well in today's pro cycling. Perhaps not as blatant a boost, but a boost none the less. But only if you can afford a truly sophisticated doping program - like US Postal but with 10 years of improvements. Genetic doping is likely here. Anyone need a little repoxygen? And it appears there are undetectable versions of EPO on the market.

Theoretically, the ultimate program would be one where even the riders didn't know - they just take their special gels, pre-race and recovery drinks. Then you tell them all the little things add up to big performance improvements and watch them go. Of course, many will do it without having to be fooled. But they lie better if they don't know they are doping (except Lance).

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