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05-09-2023 | Frank Jansen

Should dopers be banned from gran fondos?

Aside from the debate surrounding the inclusion of professional cyclists in gran fondos, another contentious issue arises: should individuals who have committed doping violations be prohibited from participating in gran fondos?

In practice, various scenarios unfold, and gran fondo organizers adopt differing policies:

  1. When a cyclist has been apprehended, convicted, and subsequently served their suspension, they are generally welcome at most gran fondos, with the exception of GFNY, which imposes a lifelong ban on doping offenders. Doping violators can still participate in the non-competitive medio fondo category, provided they have completed their suspension.
  2. In cases where a cyclist has been caught, convicted, and is presently serving a suspension, they are not permitted to participate in Italian gran fondos, GFNY and UCI gran fondos. Surprisingly, suspensions often only apply to "official" cycling races, and gran fondos are often exempt. Although rare, instances occur where riders participate in gran fondos under such circumstances, as exemplified by the case of 8-time amateur world champion and frequent gran fondo participant Igor Kopse, who blandly took part while serving a four-year suspension.
  3. In situations where a cyclist has been caught, but a conviction is pending, they may still continue participating in gran fondos, although such participation is often met with disapproval, as was the case when Raphael Addy missed a doping check at La Marmotte. The decision from the French doping authority is still pending, but his Swiss federation has already imposed a suspension.

A prevalent doping issue

It is widely acknowledged that gran fondos are struggling with a significant doping problem. This should come as no surprise, given that, aside from the Italian federation, no other country regulates amateur cyclists outside of official competitions. Consequently, many Italian cyclists are caught doping, as the Italian federation is the only one actively addressing the issue. Doping tests are conducted primarily at major events due to their substantial cost (approximately €30,000). In Austria, until recently, numerous events were even exempt from testing because gran fondos are not officially recognized races.

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Doping without facing repercussions often appears straightforward. The numerous positive tests each year hint at a pervasive problem that likely extends beyond our awareness. In a revealing incident from the early 20th century, Italian authorities raided a cycling hotel on the eve of the Maratona dles Dolomites. Though targeting a specific rider, the search of all rooms uncovered banned substances in the vast majority, underscoring that doping isn't confined to the elite but infiltrates even among the lesser-known cyclists.

Inconsistencies in enforcement

The substantial doping issue coupled with limited monitoring resources places gran fondos in a challenging predicament regarding the exclusion of doping offenders. How credible is it to ban a doper when you lack a doping control mechanism yourself? And is it fair to prohibit someone who has duly completed their sentence? At GFNY, they acknowledge these dilemmas. They keep tabs on certain elite athletes and occasionally even conduct out-of-competition checks. Additionally, their larger events implement doping controls. However, this isn't feasible for most gran fondos.

Many gran fondos opt to keep doping incidents hushed, as a positive test results in adverse publicity. This aligns with our experience. Last season, when Pippo Garnero missed the doping check at the GF Mont Ventoux, the organization didn't respond in any way to our numerous inquiries.

To ban or not to ban?

This brings us back to the central question: should doping offenders be banned from participating in gran fondos? Personally, I lean toward allowing entry for those who have served their sentences. Refusing them entry seems disrespectful to the legal system. However, one of the appeals of gran fondos is the flexibility to set their own rules. So if an event explicitly wishes to exclude former doping users, that freedom should exist, although I question its practicality.

In my view, riders currently serving suspensions (scenario 2) or awaiting convictions (scenario 3) should be denied entry. It's perplexing that so few regulations address this issue, even though, in practice, it's seldom a concern. Fortunately, most individuals caught doping don't rush to register shortly after a positive test. And for that, we can be thankful.

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