|Sergio Henao at the 2013 Amstel Gold (Photo: Cycling Inquisition)|
Last year, after Nairo Quintana won a stage at the Tour de France, page views for the blog went up to frightening numbers, at least for me. People wanting to know who Nairo Quintana was came upon my post answering that very question, as Wikipedia entries and even major publications like The Economist quoted and linked to the blog.
Today, an almost similar amount of traffic is coming to the blog as people (especially in the UK) search for information and interviews with and about Sergio Henao, along with information about Colombian cycling, doping and any number of combinations of these search terms. And despite all this traffic, I find myself here, without a whole lot of knowledge or much to say about Sergio Henao. Because I really don't know much more about this than any of you...so I feel like I'd be adding to the noise by merely weighing in with speculative statements. So I'll largely refrain (look at me, sounding like a politician, as though anyone was really waiting for me to speak up) from trying to say much of anything. Also, as I've said before, this blog doesn't really function like a news site. Others do this much better, and have the time and resources to cover the sport in that way.
But I'd like to bring up certain points and observations (some are slight tangents), though some are not even my own. Make of them what you will. I merely bring them up as food for thought, since some are aspects and points of view you may not be aware of.
1. Many in Colombia see this as Henao being offered up as a sacrificial lamb by Sky, that this is a smoke screen to save their "English speaking riders" (how Jonathan Tiernan-Locke plays into that strategy, I don't know). Social media outlets are now filled with such comments, including some being made by people who are involved with the sport in Colombia. Are you hearing any such comments by english-speaking fans? Perhaps it's an international sentiment, I don't know. Similarly, I find it interesting that English speaking headlines say he's being sent home. Colombian headlines have said that he's been "sent home with Team Sky staff to study the effects of living at altitude". Leave it to me to become interested in cultural differences when news like these come up.
2. The press release, though far from perfect, was clearly written by someone who is pretty good at PR, and PR speak in general. These are the kind of resources you can afford when you are Team Sky. It makes similar comuniqués, and how similar situations have been handled by other teams seem almost humorous. Still, make no mistake, there's no hiding what's happening here. This is the second rider from Team Sky to be pulled (by the team) in a short while. Even if this is all cleared up (and really, none of us know much of anything aside from what the press has published today), there's no hiding the fact that this looks bad for Sky.
3. Henao's specific case aside, I find it uncomfortable how many of us (however unknowingly) often act and speak with a patriotic slant in our hearts at times like these. At the risk of being crass, I'd like to say that this is exactly what I wrote about in the third volume of Cycling Anthology, and I think it holds true here. Some British Sky fans seem to be of the "ah, those Colombians" mindset, as some Colombians are reacting in the manner explained in #1 above. The truth, whatever it is, has nothing to do with either point of view, and cares little about borders.
4. Are there really no studies about how altitude affects the body and values of an endurance athlete who lives at altitude? Surely such studies have been done. No? If not, as Matt Rendell urged on Twitter, Colombian doctors should get on it. Colombia should be a leader in the field, why isn't that the case already?
5. Regardless of what comes of this matter, it brings up an important point. Professional cycling, in many ways, still operates as though it were a sport that is exclusively taking place within continental Europe, while at the same time trying to expand to every corner of the planet. Surely this shortcoming has to do with funding, and the logistical nature of a sport that requires so much equipment, staff etc.
But I bring this up because out of competition testing for South American athletes when they are home (as far as I've been told by several people) is a rarity. This is for the same reason that some Colombian teams have had to create their own, internal version of the biological passport, because the UCI's reach is simply not as all-encompassing as it could/should be. And really, out of competition testing is easier to think about and execute when you are talking about a guy who lives twenty minutes outside of Brussels. Now try getting to a rural town in Colombia, or a similar place in any other number of countries, and you'll quickly see how hard (and costly) it is to travel in other places around the world. Have you tried getting to a town that literally doesn't appear in a map in a country like Colombia?
The existing model for testing, much like the race schedule, is built for western Europe. How that model becomes both scalable and sustainable in what is now a largely international sport is not a question I can easily answer. But I'm sure it would begin with more money, and we know how well that's going.
For example, the last round (ond only one I've heard of) of out of competiting testing I heard about happening in South America for World Tour riders happened as testers made their way to San Luis, and stopped into Colombia on the way down. So that's the reality of funding for this type of testing. It's the equivalent of you asking your wife or husband to "pick up some milk on your way home from work."
6. Velo News says that he "underwent WADA-accredited controls during a winter trip to Colombia", which sounds like a translation of the Gazzetta dello Sport story, though the tests are said to have taken place in October. It would appear as though the tests were done by WADA and not by the UCI. Sky says these were tests at altitude, "introduced this winter by the anti-doping authorities." What these new altitude tests are, no one is saying.
Other reports make it sound like they were tests done by Sky. For example, the Cycling News story includes this sentence by the UCI, which is almost in English, and is almost understandable:
"This is their own programme [Sky's] and that’s very important because that’s why we’re supportive of their programme and the approach to it and to suspend the rider. The monitoring and the programme is a matter for them.”
So none of this is extremely clear based on the PR speak-laden release. Even the news story posted on Sky's website says that they (the team) took the step of contacting the UCI and CADF, rather than the UCI or WADA doing so. It's also curious that Henao's agent seems to have gone to La Gazetta with the news. This after he was said to not be racing due to family or health issues. It's also worth pointing out that the story in the Italian newspaper came out before the Sky release.
Thoughts? Feel free to comment.