The Week That Was...
Another week, another rider tested positive. This week it is the turn of four-time Vuelta a Espana winner, Roberto Heras. The Liberty Seguros rider has tested positive for EPO in stage 20 of the Spanish national tour earlier this year.
Upon receiving the news, his team immediately suspended Heras after it became known that the news had been leaked to the press. Heras for his part admitted to the El Pais newspaper that he was, ?very surprised. I am convinced it is a mistake because I have never taken anything."
In a separate interview with the Onda Cero radio station, he tried to explain his positive result. "They told me the news at the end of October. The only thing I can think of is that it is a laboratory error."
"My lawyers and the team are working on the case as we speak and there will be a 'B' test on November 21. I don't want to start speculating about whether the samples could have been mixed up, but when they open the samples for the second test we want to be there," he said.
His B sample will be tested at three different WADA accredited laboratories to ensure that there is no alleged mistake or contamination the second time around. Consejo Superior de Deportes (CSD) in
Should the B-test also return a positive result, the 2005 Vuelta victory will be stripped from Heras and awarded to Russian Denis Menchov of the Dutch Rabobank team.
Victor Cordero, Director of the Vuelta, told the Reuters news service that a positive B sample would be ?a disaster for cycling in general and, within that context, for the Tour of Spain."
"On a purely personal level, I am hoping that the second test will be negative," Cordero said. "But if we have to take action, and Heras loses his title, we will take it, even if I am surprised that it has taken such a long time for the test result to come out."
The German news agency, DPA, claims that Heras was specifically targeted by the UCI following his dramatic improvements in form following his poor Tour de France performance.
Jesus Manzano, the disgraced former Kelme rider heralded the positive test of Heras. In an interview with AS, he said, "It doesn't surprise me that Roberto is positive, not him or any other. What seems obvious to me is that Roberto is not the only one."
"They said I was just one rotten apple, but I believe the entire tree is rotten. It's not just Roberto. The others need to speak!"
He went on to add that, "It is all about money. The ones getting rich are the doctors, not the riders. Heras has earned a good salary, but most of us don't earn anything like that. But I have seen a doctor ask six million pesetas for his services [about US$40,000]. For aspirins and mineral supplements you charge six million?"
With a little over seven months remaining of his two-year doping ban, Brit David Millar has been discussing his time spent in exile and return to the sport next year. Expected to sign a contract with the Spanish Saunier-Duval team, Millar is targeting a comeback in the 2006 Tour de France.
"I had a long time off the bike, when I just didn't even touch it," he told The Times newspaper. "Last summer I started riding again, around the Peak District. I loved it and within a month felt like I was flying. It reminded me that actually I am quite good at it."
He went on to add, "Things kept getting worse, with financial issues and a lot of other escalating worries. It was very hard. I think we all deal with those situations and get out of them differently. I had my own way of getting through it and getting my head back above water.
"I lost everything and was punished, but that's what punishment is. You don't come out of it easily. The circumstances dictated that I ended up paying a very high price for my errors compared to other people."
Millar called for the UCI to do more in its fight in the battle against doping. Having had the opportunity to view the sport from outside the goldfish bowl of professional cycling, he is a strong supporter for increasing the number of doping tests currently conducted.
"By all means test the top Tour favourites, with random tests on a regular basis. Cycling needs those kind of testing tactics - I think that all sport does. The UCI need to get a grip on it. Where is the prevention? Why don't the UCI publish lists of who they random-test each month and the results, so that we know they're doing it? It's the UCI's responsibility and I don't think they're fulfilling that responsibility."
Ah, isn?t hindsight a wonderful thing? We can only hope that Millar has learned from his mistakes and that he is genuinely concerned to ensure that his fate does not befall other young, talented riders. While many can argue that Millar should not be allowed back into the sport, we should remember that unlike many riders whose success we choose to celebrate, once caught he did not go on an extended crusade to plead his innocence. He held up his hands and said ?yes, I?m guilty?.
Finally, this week, the 2006 Giro d?Italia route has been released. Similar to the Tour de France, it includes a ferocious final week with five days of hard climbing ensuring drama until the end. The course is sure to provide a winning opportunity to a strong climber. You would probably do well to put money on either Damiano Cunego of the Lampre-Caffita team or Jose' Rujano of Colombia-Selle Italia.
After a disappointing 2005 spent recovering from mononucleosis, Cunego is desperate to put this year behind him and look forward to the future. "It is a great Giro, very hard, especially in the last week. I hope to be like in 2004, also better. Now I don't want to think anymore about my 2005 season. I'm calm and optimistic, I'll try to make this Giro as a protagonist."
This year?s runner-up and former winner of the race, Gilberto Simoni, said that, "I am not in pole position. Am I the number one favourite? No, I am number two! I know that I can still do great things but that doesn't change the fact that this is a very hard Giro." Simoni singled out Rujano as a potential threat for the overall victory.
Till next week,