Photo: On July 15, 2012 Austrian Michael Weiss sparked off a wave of contraversy and rider backlash after winning the Breck 100 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colo. Weiss is currently serving a 2-year ban for doping charges handed down by NADA, Austira's anti-doping agency. The Breck 100 is not a sancioned event, so the race is not required to uphold the international racing ban. Weiss continues to express his innocence. Image by Eddie Clark.
By Dewet Marais
Most people involved in cycling claim they are against doping, but when it is time to take a real stand, do they act according to principle, or opportunism? Do they just think it is “cool” to wear the “Doper’s Suck” socks and t-shirt, or are they willing to make a stand against doping?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to make that decision, twice. It was easy. I am against doping and despise cheaters. I had an interest in both cases, as Squirt lube is a product supplier to the Xterra series, and a sponsor of the NUE series, as well as having a sponsored racer participating in the NUE series.
The first was before the Xterra Mountain Championship. I was told by a Xterra official that Lance Armstrong expressed interest in participating. My reaction was that he is currently suspended, pending finalization of the accusations against him, and therefor should not be allowed to participate. I am aware of the presumption of innocence. However, in some instances this right can be superseded by other considerations (as in refusing bail to an accused before trail, on certain considerations). Armstrong is challenging the process in court. The lawsuit claimed that the antidoping agency violated Armstrong’s constitutional rights to due process and asked the court to stop the agency from moving forward with its case against him. Soon there will be a decision. Until then, he is suspended. He later indicated that he was not going to participate, I was informed (unrelated to my opinion, of course).
The second was at the NUE series race, the Breck 100. This proved to be much more of an issue, and became an unpleasant confrontation. During the first lap of the race I heard on the race commentary that a certain Michael Weiss (now residing in Colorado Springs) was leading the race. I immediately approached the race director and asked whether this was Micky Weiss from Austria. He said yes, upon which I said that Weiss is currently suspended for a doping offense, after having been found guilty and not appealing and accepting his sentence (more on this lower down, and from here down by “suspended doper” this is the scenario envisaged). The race director confirmed that he knew about this, that he had had a meeting with Weiss and that Weiss was very open and forthcoming, and that he then decided to allow him to race, as this is an unsanctioned race. I told him that this was not acceptable, and that if he allows Weiss to feature in the race results, I will challenge it.
Weiss then easily won the race by several minutes over the local favourite and 5 time champion, Josh Tostado. Astonishingly, during the interview right after his win, Weiss claimed to have had 3 flats, and that he rode the last 4 miles on a totally flat rear tire, and informed us that this was even more remarkable as he did not know the course, and took several wrong turns. Truly to good to be true!
During the aftermath I attempted to find the NUE series director without success. I wanted to lodge a complaint with him. I eventually found him shortly before the award’s ceremony. He was surprised and shocked, and asked me to find the race director so we could discuss the issue. During the discussion I was asked by the race director not to make a scene. My attitude was that I informed him early in the day that the issue will have to be dealt with if he doesn’t sort it out before. After an acrimonious and unpleasant argument, the NUE series director informed the race director and me that he will deal with the series points issue by taking Weiss out of the points. The race director’s attitude was that it was too late to do anything about the situation – a situation he created and allowed to drag on to this unacceptable conclusion. I suggested that the race director settles the prize money situation by supplementing the loss riders in position 2 to 11 suffered as a result of the inclusion of a suspended rider, by paying the deficit to them, as if they had been in positions 1 to 10. I further informed him that if he does not do it, Squirt lube will do this, in an attempt to ameliorate the loss caused by having a suspended doper in position 1. (Note: after writing this I was informed by the NUE series director that the points will be adjusted as if Weiss did not race. The prize money issue however remains to be dealt with by the race director, or Squirt lube).
Let’s consider the arguments on unsanctioned races, as well as doping suspensions.
The argument used by race directors of their races being unsanctioned and therefore outside the normal rules, is endearing but contradictory when it comes to the issue of allowing suspended dopers to participate. The argument goes along the lines of “we are the real mountain bikers, close to the origin of the sport, not affected by the officials behind their desks far removed from the true nature of our beloved mountain biking”. Great! I also generally don’t like officials and too many unnecessary rules. But isn’t doping against the very nature of what we love about the pureness of mountain biking, of unsupported backcountry riding (also unsupported by drugs!).
In allowing suspended dopers to participate, race directors are selling out the riders who have supported their races for years, who helped to get them on the map, and who are entitled to fair racing and sportsmanship. The race directors are not only allowing, but assisting, suspended dopers to steal the position on the podium, and the prize money, of honest racers (note on this lower down). It made me sick to see a suspended doper being applauded yesterday, although by a probably mostly unknowing crowd. If they had known, would the applause have turned to booing? Let’s hope so!
When I approached Josh Tostado before the awards ceremony and asked him whether he was aware that he was supposedly beaten by a suspended doper, he was so surprised, shocked and disappointed. It was sad to witness. He could not believe he was sold out by a race director in his home town, robbed of his 6th victory, suffering for over 8 hours, not to taste the sweet fruits of his hard-earned win.
Squirt lube racer, Ben Melt Swanepoel, the gentleman of South African mountain biking (as he was described recently on a television program back in SA), also pushed back from 2nd to 3rd (or 3rd to 4th – depending on where the singlespeed animal Cameron Chambers ahead of him is classified!), is of course also detrimentally affected by this, as are all other racers in the podium placings. As Squirt lube spent a significant portion of our small promotional budget on having him here to race this season, we are also caused damage. So are all the other racer sponsors, as well as event sponsors.
The question of suspension: as a society we have decided to cede some of our rights to governments and official organizations. We simply do not have time to organize everything ourselves. In sport organizations official bodies have become the norm. All sports have those, and we derive certain benefits from it. The pinnacle being that our fringe sport, mountain biking, within a short existence, is an Olympic sport going into its 5th Olympics. I would say the majority of riders feel that this is good for the sport. With this come certain rules, regulations and responsibilities.
As for doping, we all know that the system is controversial. For now, that is however the system. If you don’t like the system, you have to change it. If a race director chooses not to be bound by the system, he should then at least have another system in place. That will involve not only listening to the sad but one-sided story of the suspended doper, but also hearing the other side. So the race director should then invite the other witnesses to come and talk to him as well, and of course pay their costs to come and meet with him (in this case flying in witnesses from Austria). He will probably have to then employ an independent arbitrator, allow legal representation, cross-examination, time for the arbitrator to reach a decision, allow for appeals – all of this before putting out his start list. Sounds crazy? Yes, it is, but if the race director wants to claim the great virtues of innocent until proven guilty, right to a fair hearing, hear the other side, appeal to higher court, and ultimately self-respect – this is what he will have to do. Clearly this is not possible, and that is why we have these official bodies, and why we have to accept their decisions once all recourse has been exhausted.
When a race director decides to go against the expectations of people who choose to live within the bounds of civilized society, it is not too much to ask that he at least show the courtesy to potential participants in his race to inform them on his website that he will allow suspended dopers to race. They can then decide whether they want to fork over the entry fee of over $200 for the privilege.
If a race director allows suspended dopers to race, he undermines the system, even if his race is unsanctioned. He supports the suspended doper, therefore he supports doping. He allows the suspended doper to take away the placings, the applause, and the means for earning an income from honest racers – and in this scenario “innocent until proven guilty” applies to the honest racers, not the suspended doper. Such a race director actually encourages doping – most dopers claim they doped because others doped, and they found they could not compete against them, forcing them to start doping as well. Is this what we want to encourage?
As for the facts on the Weiss case, this is from his website, so hopefully close to the facts: “I was disheartened to learn that despite NADA Austria closing my case in September 2010, followed by the Vienna State attorney also ruling in my favor, the Independent Arbitration Commission of NADA still chose to issue a two year suspension effective immediately. The decision contradicts NADA's Legal Commission and the judgment of Vienna's state prosecutor and is founded solely on one individual's verbal accusation with no factual evidence, which dates back to 2005. I maintain my innocence and have been given the opportunity to appeal the suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). After consideration of the time and expense to pursue an appeal, I have chosen to dedicate my time and resources to my family and training and will focus on my future comeback to triathlon, a sport I have grown to love and respect. I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to my family, friends, and supporters who stand with me and encourage me through hard days.”
If a race director feels sympathy for this explanation, he will however still have to follow the procedure I outlined above, before he can come to his own conclusion. All dopers claim their innocence, even when faced with overwhelming evidence, for years after (compare Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton).
The simple fact is that Weiss is suspended from racing until December 2013. He should not place race directors in the position to have to decide whether they should allow him into their races – he accepted his suspension, he should be man enough to stick to it. He should do what he said he will do: dedicate his time and resources to his family and training - that does not include participating in races.
Dopers suck, and those who support them in getting away with it suck as well. We have to speak up, if we want it to end.
Dewet Marais is currently the Managing Director, Squirt lube and practiced as a trial lawyer for 25 years, mostly in Human Rights law, defending political activists in South Africa before the change in government in 1994. He has a Masters Degree in Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Litigation.