Denise Betsema’s six-month ban not long enough says former US cyclocross champion

Fear of social media backlash has prevented other riders from commenting

The ban handed to cyclocross rider Denise Betsema was insufficient, according to one of the sport’s leading riders.

Former 15 time US ’cross champion Katie Compton believes the suspension Betsema received should have been a minimum of one year, as opposed to the six months she actually received.

Last week the UCI announced Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) would be allowed to return to cyclocross after serving a suspension imposed when traces of an anabolic androgenic steroid were found in anti-doping tests.

“I don’t think it’s enough,” Compton told Cycling Weekly. “It should be a minimum of 12 months and not during the off season.

“If riders don’t suffer any ramifications for knowingly or unknowingly ingesting banned substances, why would they take extra precautions to avoid a tainted supplement?”

Compton was not the only rider to condemn Betsema’s ban on social media, but the consequent backlash has prevented many from going public.

One, who had initially agreed to talk to us changed her mind, saying the reaction from the public made her believe doping was “socially accepted” among some ’cross fans.

Dutchwoman Betsema, who bagged 15 victories in the 18/19 season, provided the tainted samples at two races in January and February last year. As a result she was provisionally suspended on April 5, but argued the substance had been unintentionally ingested as part of a supplement obtained from a Belgian pharmacist.

On January 17 the UCI accepted her defence, imposing the suspension which commenced on the date of her provisional ban, last April. That ended on October 4, allowing her to return to racing immediately.

Betsema, who returned to competition last Saturday with second place at Kasteelcross in Zonnebeke, Belgium, explained she had used the pharmacist’s supplement due to tight Belgian regulations.

“There are plenty of brand options on the market in Europe and the US that an athlete can be confident in taking for whatever they feel they need that they can’t get from nutrition alone,” continued Compton, winner of more than 130 UCI ’cross races.

“I don’t know of anyone who needs to get a nutritional supplement made at a pharmacy. Other people I talk to are surprised you’d have a pharmacist make a special food supplement. I didn’t even know they did that ’til this case.

“I also think the UCI and WADA and should look at what drug was in the system and base the ban on that. Steroids give you more benefit than having too much pseudoephedrine in your system from cold meds.

“A ban for party drugs or marijuana should be less than EPO or steroids. Some drugs give you more of a physiological benefit and for longer than others, and the ban should be comparable whether the ingestion was intentional or not.”

While Compton was not in Zonnebeke, she did race in Sunday’s World Cup race at Hoogerheide from which Betsema was absent. However, the American is not looking forward to competing against the Dutch rider.

“There is nothing I can do. Those are the rules, and now the riders who race against her just have to deal with it.

“I have no ill feeling against her as a person, she’s always been a respectful racer and she’s really good at what she does, I just don’t feel the ban is long enough and don’t think she should be racing this season.

“Once a rider tests positive, regardless of the excuse, I’ve lost all trust and she needs to earn that back. The only way that can happen is with more transparency in the case and a more out of competition doping controls.”

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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.