Let us state at the outset, we have nothing against Rock Racing or the Tour of Britain?s decision to invite the American team to the race.
What we do oppose is the inclusion of Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla in the Rock Racing team.
The fact that they will be on the start line in London on Sunday does the event no favours at all.
Back in February, the Tour of California?s organisers took steps to prevent the trio from starting their race on the grounds that all three were implicated in the Operacion Puerto investigation. There was no legal comeback from the riders or Rock Racing.
At the time, we applauded the strength shown in taking that decision, and we believe the Tour of Britain should have used that as precedent to make the same decision.
After all, nothing has changed since February.
These three have evaded justice because their individual federations ? the USA Cycling Federation, the Colombian Cycling Federation and the Spanish Cycling Federation ? have decided not to open proceedings. What is unfair is that Operacion Puerto has become a postcode lottery ? a rider?s fate is seemingly decided by their nationality. Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and the others whose careers have been (quite rightly) ended or put on hold can nevertheless feel aggrieved that others implicated to the same extent have got away with it and continue to race.
While we understand that the Tour of Britain did not want to become embroiled in controversy over Rock Racing, by failing to take a stance that is exactly the fate they risk.
What will be the reaction if one of the three wins a stage or wears one of the leader?s jerseys? Is that really what the Tour of Britain wants?
And what about the event?s responsibility to the key stakeholders whose money ensures the event goes ahead?
Hugh Roberts, told Cycling Weekly this week that the individual regional development agencies and other key stakeholders would have no idea who Hamilton, Sevilla and Botero are and would never have heard of Operacion Puerto.
So shouldn?t they be allowed to know what they have signed up for?
As the magazine which launched the I Support Drug Free Sport initiative two years ago, our interests lie solely in support of good, clean racing. And we make no apology for taking a keener interest in the affairs of the Tour of Britain. This is the national tour, with a very powerful brand-name, and one that should be protected for the sake of the future good of the sport.
We want nothing more than a successful event, with exciting racing. But above all, it must be credible. The inclusion of three riders with such huge question marks hanging over them means that credibility is dented. And the more prominently they feature in the race, the more damage their presence will do. Of course it is up to each fan to make up his or her mind about whether an overall victory for one of these riders is something they would be happy to see.
What is peculiar, in light of all the Olympic success, is that the Tour of Britain doesn?t need Hamilton, Sevilla or Botero. Cycling fans will, at best, be divided over their inclusion, but general sports fan won?t have a clue who they are.
So what exactly are they adding to the event?
We?re not too keen on the fact that Danilo Di Luca and Alessandro Petacchi are coming either, but accept they have served bans for their offences and are free to compete. However the question remains: when there are so many other teams out there, why select one that will bring these two and their associated baggage?
Readers of Cycling Weekly often ask why we have taken a strong stance against these riders when we have no problem with the inclusion of David Millar, who served a two-year ban for taking EPO.
Well, back in 2004, CW took an extremely hard line on Millar, something that is perhaps forgotten by some. However, since his comeback, Millar is a reformed character. His actions and words since signing for Garmin-Chipotle amply demonstrate that, as do the testimonies of many others who know him.
The issue of doping in sport is definitively black and white ? you either use banned drugs or techniques or you don?t. The consequences and reactions to dopers are not so clear-cut.
We are not in favour of banned riders simply saying sorry or mouthing platitudes to make everything alright again, but a public demonstration from a rider who has erred that he or she understands why doping is wrong is not too much to ask.
Cycling Weekly is not attempting to be judge and jury either, it is simply expressing an opinion that Rock Racing should not bring Hamilton, Sevilla and Botero to the Tour of Britain.
Their names are linked to Operacion Puerto. They should have been investigated, but instead they have been free to race on. Surely that is not right.
There are a couple of days to go before Sunday?s opening stage. We would urge Rock Racing to drop them and call up three riders who do not have a question mark over their involvement. It is not too late.
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