In the wake of Italian rider Riccardo Ricco’s elimination from the tour after he tested positive for blood-boosting drug EPO, and the departure of the entire Saunier Duval-Scott team, what would YOU advise the Tour Chief Christian Prudhomme if you were his Director of Public Affairs?
Here’s what you know:
Riccardo recently came second in the Giro d’Italia, won two of three mountain stages in the Tour, was ninth overall in the standings and wearing the polka dot (king of the mountains) and white (best young rider) jerseys when he was unceremoniously escorted away for questioning by French gendarmes.
Use of illicit drugs on the Tour de France is a felony and if charged, he could face up to two years in prison and a $6,000 (US) fine. For now, he’s been kicked off Saunier Duval and banned from racing for two years. His team pulled out of the event as well, amid suspicions of organized doping, which the team denies.
The Italian media have condemmed Ricco.
The biggest risk for the tour is potential loss of sponsors. Spectators generally watch this sport for free. Tour organizers depend on sponsor dollars to cover much of the cost. Five sponsors have withdrawn in the last two years. Barloworld just announced they will pull out at the end of the Tour. Will there be more?
Two American companies, Garmin and Columbia, joined just before the tour and have adopted rigorous internal drug testing procedures that exceed the requirements, as has CSC. If more teams adopt clear and concise anti-doping measures, that will help reduce the potential risk for sponsors.
What would you advise Tour Chief Christian Prudhomme? In fact he’s come out of this quite well. He continues to focus on the race. Some are calling him the Saint of Cycling, doing his best to run a clean race and clean up the sport. He had fairly aggressive words for the Saunier Duval team, and rightly so. The tests used on the Tour to detect a brand new third generation drug hadn’t been used on the Giro d’Italia. This may actually force the IOC to use this test in Beijing. Good on them.
The real issue here is Saunier Duval. They issued an Official Statement and News Release following the incident. These are the english translations, and some things may have been lost in the translation. However, here’s some of what they said,
“We are the victims of the deceitful behaviour of those who put our sponsors’ investments and the jobs of so many honest people at risk with the loathesome purpose of improving their cycling performance.”
“Saunier Duval-Scott have decided to withdraw in order to preserve the postive image of the team’s sponsors and the Tour de France itself.”
That’s a first step. In addition however, they could have apologized to their sponsors, to the Tour organizers, to the spectators, and to all the riders who are clean. It takes a tremendous number of people behind the scenes to support a team, and those people deserve some acknowledgement and thanks. They could have said what steps they had taken to try to prevent this (they were quite vague on this point), and what they are going to do to get to the bottom of it, and resolve the situation.
In effect, their effort seemed half-hearted and insincere. They have a ways to go. They owe it to their sponsors and to the future of the sport to do so. Do you agree?
Phtotos: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images