Tuesday, 11 March 2008

paris NOT nice: part one.

This article addresses an ongoing situation that has grave impact on the success of WADA's pilot project for the conception of the ATHLETE'S Passport, which was fully outlined at the 3rd WADA Press Symposium, held at the IOC Museum in Lausanne, February 2008.

If 'Bias 101' was a first–year journalism class, either in the sense of how to recognize, or how to prevent suh practices, a journal in France has all the components necessary to teach such a class.

But first, it must be admitted, that 'L'Equipe' is, by definition, biased.

Undeniably so, irretrievably so... its bias simply is a function of its existence. After all, any paper published by a privately-held French company (which also owns the Tour de France), and which is the 'voice of cycling' to the world of sport, could not possibly exist without continuous bilateral support between itself and its parent organisation.

Sadly, the bias is all the more apparent, when the journal puts its full persuasive talents behind attempts by its parent company, the Amaury Group, which controls the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), owner of the Tour de France, to wage long-standing battles against the historic Federation, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

Strong words, with substantive proof behind them. Those who haven't followed the ongoing UCI – ASO battles, these last five or more years, exploiting each other's weaknesses and exposing the sport to a ratatouille of bad press, could actually stop reading this here.

The basis of this article, simply, is to expose the underbelly of the beast: the lack of objective coverage portrayed in page after page of L'Equipe, when discussing cycling problems.

Before the reader questions this writer's basis for neutrality, WADAwatch would be the first to admit that its own bias is known, and has been since a first thorough reading of the Vrijman report. His report concerned attempts by L'Equipe to smear the just–retired (in 2005), seven-time TdF winner Lance Armstrong, through an investigation and article penned by their 'star' doping reporter, Damien Ressiot (see this little article on meeting Monsieur Ressiot, from crystelZENmud: March, 2008).

Yet if in error, WADAwatch tends to slant towards protection of the rights of those for whom the power of a slanted press impales, and explodes, any semblance of objectivity: the Athletes.

Once accused of doping, these young adults, whether guilty or not are denied any form of 'rights', in the greater frenzy of acceptance of suspicions or insinuations, by an accommodating press that exists via scandal, and strives to the earliest publication possible. 'Damn the facts, we've a deadline!' could be the rallying cry across thousands of newsrooms. Under the WADA CODE, a veritable Prosecutor's Dream Book for success, the Athletes are forewarned; litigation is no longer desired, and rarely do Athletes emerge unscathed.

WADAwatch did some freelance translations, pulled from the Monday edition of L'Equipe (10 March 2008), the day following the prologue of the Paris – Nice race.

(These extracts are protected under the 'Fair Use' educational exemptions found universally in copyright law)

A warning to you, the reader: the following articles cover the first day of the first race since the total rupture of ASO commercial business activities with those of the international sporting federation, under which rules ASO operated and profited for most of its corporate lifespan.

The Paris–Nice race is operating WITHOUT UCI support (rules, medical/doping infrastructure, commissaires, insurance); it is run under the aegis of the Fédération française de cyclisme (FFC Rules here), with an ad-hoc body of antidoping rules (WADAwatch has been waiting for accurate responses from the AFLD for over a week now) that truly have been rushed into service.

As to L'Equipe and 'bias', remember that, if 'framing the issue' is a foreign concept, that how a question is asked (Perry Mason fans remember 'Leading question, Your Honor!'), how issues are presented, yields insights as to both what the Inquisitioners are seeking in responses, and often sends a message by ignoring other obvious topics.

So enjoy this: how L'Equipe published three one–dimensional (IWwHO) articles in today's edition, and their existence in an implosive cycling universe.

[WADAwatch comments follow as this]

[“The eye of the storm”: article claiming the Paris–Nice race began 'without (legal) obstacle'...]

There was a lot of wind, ... for the 160 riders engaged in the prologue of the Paris–Nice, but there was no storm warning coming from the UCI, nor any obstacle placed across the road, the race was launched once and for all. Under the guidance of the FFC and in all legality with the French law.

Neither the UCI, ... nor its president, ... manifested (announced by rumour) any physical presence in le Loiret. Only a letter delivered by mail to the teams and their riders served to mark the point. One remarks otherwise that the tone did not pursue a rising course, even if, in the preamble, the President of the UCI speaks of being 'very disappointed', and qualified the Paris–Nice race as an 'outlaw race', according to the formula.

In particular, he made no allusion to announced sanctions or suspensions risked by the peleton who entered a race no longer inscribed on the international calendar. That doesn't signify that the threat brandished by the UCI was removed, but the letter didn't contain that the sanctions were clearly applicable.

Thus the game appears to have calmed, even if one can imagine that it's only momentarily so. In fact, the message delivered to the teams and riders is of a catalogue of 'inconveniences' that could come to those participants, as they “stray outside the regulations”, and assuring that “complications, uncertainties and bad surprises are inevitable”.

Still, according to the UCI, there was not, amongst other things, “no guarantee of participation following any objective and neutral criteria clearly fixed in advance” for the ensemble of organised ASO events (property, as is L'Equipe, of the Amaury Group), for which it nevertheless notes the “good reputation in terms of organisation must be recognised”. However, the UCI puts doubt on the organiser's integrity in arguing that “they could decide of their own will by following their [ASO] personal interests”. In the same manner, doubts are cast upon the competences of national commissaires by inferring that the racers have no international commissaires to “protect the riders from arbitrary decisions”.

The UCI is moved to announced that only French law will be applied in any doping cases, of which the controls are assured by the Agence française de lutte contre le dopage (AFLD).

Cedric Vasseur, president of the Conseil des coureurs professionales (CPA) was present as an Observer at Antilly, with a worry notably as to the implementation of these antidoping operations. The operating mode for which AFLD opted doesn't consist, especially, of controlling systematically the winner, even if this was the case yesterday for Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), but is targeting bigger. Numerous other racers were mandated to present themselves, among which Cadel Evans (Silence–Lotto), Bradley McGee (CSC), David Millar (Slipstream), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre), as well as those at the heart of French teams. [Ed: but unnamed here]

In any case, if the political battle is content to take a short pause, the course herself, has taken the road.

[End of L'accalmie... Note that this article devotes most of its space to discussion of the 'points' presented in the UCI communications to its membership: verbs included 'raising doubts' or similar. The racers who normally race under its (UCI) authority, are racing in a legal 'Twilight Zone': of an international caliber race, run this year (uniquely) under 'local' rules, ad hoc as it may be; other than offering readers their one bare assurance that Paris–Nice conformed 'in all legality with French law' (FR: 'et en tout legalité vis-à-vis de la loi française'), not one word on the French laws, the ad hoc procedures, the national commissaires, the rules for any disputes outside of doping ('stuff happens' in a caravan–based cycling race: dogs run across the road, children have been hit by publicity caravan or team cars, etc!]

Hushovd joue le leu [“Hushovd plays the game”]

[This long article is the main story of the Paris–Nice prologue: Hushovd's good performance of the day, and the running of the prologue. Discussions ranged across the participants, the weather factors (wind, rain) Millar's apprehensions, and then comes to the one pertinent point for our analysis...]

[.....] Because Hushovd is openly targeting the Primavera, for which his team [Cred Agri] was selected [by the Italian promoter of this Milan – San Remo Spring Classic], even while being passed over by that promoter for the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro. [Hushovd] “It's always frustrating to learn at the last moment that one's team wasn't invited to a race that you'd targeted in your program, ....”

[It could be too transparent to note, and not directly applicable to the discussion du jour, but it's interesting that a promoter would accept a team for one of three races, and at that the only one-day classic, and refuse its presence at its two multi-day races. One couldn't possibly, ever, imagine any form of collusion between the French, Spanish and Italian promoters, to 'divvy up' the best teams in their events, following national sponsorship bases...?]

Now in pausing momentarily before the 'pièce de résistance', the reader may be thinking that some overreaction is itself the basis for this point of view. Begging the indulgence of those skeptics, the truth should be revealed in the third article on the same double page spread in L'Equipe.

Si loin, si proches [So far, so close]

[This article would ordinarily be below the WADAwatch radar screen, but for the fact that bias appears throughout the interviews selected by Equipe editors, taken at a Bretagne Classic, an Amateur bike race, the Manche–Atlantique, which attracted some 10 to 15 thousand fans “far from Paris–Nice and the political battles” (so already in the sub-title, the French audience is positioned emotionally comforted by an allusion. This article on amateurs was twice as large as the principle Paris–Nice article; the appearance is probably greater due to the number of comments on which L'Equipe selectively harvested)]

[This race ... hundreds of km from Paris–Nice, and Hushovd...]

[.....] is very far from the internal quarrels between the UCI and ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France (and property, as is L'Equipe, of the Amaury Group). Certain of them [the spectators] are royally disparaging. “That they do whatever it is they do, at their end, when no one follows pro cycling anymore, they will have accomplished that which they wanted,” barked René, a sixty-something retired fan.


“The Pro Tour has carried confusion [notes an amateur team member], already we, who are on 'the inside', have problems following the developments, so, what about the public, who's not privy to these...?”


If even the racers sometimes have problems grasping the stakes of the game, they can express exasperation at this long soap opera between the UCI and the three Grand Tours.

“At the debut, I followed and then, I backed off. Between propositions by one party, counteroffers by the others, I am lost, that's now two years' duration, this affair.” [says a 21 year–old racer! From BIC 2000]


Rare are those who follow the situation in close detail, and yet _____ is one of these. “I am one of them,” said ____, “have to say that there really isn't much else TO read at the moment. It's a story of Big Money. They should sack the guy at the UCI (McQuaid): threatening the riders by mail, is really lamentable. ”

From one team to the next, one point prompted immediate unanimity: the threats of suspensions or fines launched by the UCI against the riders who are engaged on Paris–Nice were judged totally outrageous [FR: 'ahurrisantes']. The greater part regretted that the racers were 'taken hostage' and without being heard. [One amateur rider said] “Pat McQuaid has possibly forgotten that, when you're a racer, you want to race, and you owe it to yourself to race. He doesn't see anything but his own interests, above the interests of cycling. All that, it's Mafia & Co.”

Among the group, the greater part lean towards the position of the FFC and the ASO. “That ASO would want to choose its teams, that's normal, after the two last Tours de France,” says _____ the unique representative of his team, who came with his parents.

“What ASO is doing is courageous: one must not invite Astana.” indicates ______.

What makes this small amateur world vibrate the most, is the deplorable image given to their discipline by these battles. “It's even more than incredible, that the highest levels of our sport act against our interests,” says another amateur ______.


“All that touches the pro world has repercussions throughout the amateur world, to the lowest ranks. Now, it has to go to a clash: that McQuaid and Verbruggen split,” answered André Picouays, an amateur club president. [.....] Another club president confirms, “I don't see how McQuaid is able to stay on his job.”

Stephan Heulot, former Tour Yellow jersey holder, now on the administrative council for the FFC, ... gives a bitter testimony: “We're insulting the people who built this sport. Today, certain people only think of the interests of a closed group, the Pro Tour, who are only thinking of money. We're walking upside down! If you mistrust all the history of these races, these organisers, and the public, it's the end of cycling. The younger racers dream of professionalism. But, today, it's hard to convince them they're en route into the most beautiful JOB in the world.”


[in conclusion]

_____ is convinced, “We need pro cycling as pro cycling needs us [amateurs], because we are the base, the future. Even so, it's the Big Races that make children dream, thus it's up to pro cycling to offer our end some good advertising.”

[Succinct analysis may earn more points: at this time of year, the odds were that over ninety per cent of the spectators, from which those who were interviewed would be 'culled' from the herd, were from France (ie: not summer Tour tourists), were avid cycling fans, and were, in a strong majority, likely to be readers of L'Equipe: the odds were that their perceptions of these events were only through the filtration provided them by ASO, as owners of L'Equipe.

'Point for point', the claim presented herein, that the writing and actual responses revealed the inherent bias of the Paper to its Owner, which owns the Event (Paris–Nice) that named respondents who live within the French cycling hierarchy, and who couldn't possibly reply outrageously against the ASO, or Tour, or FFC (which has a turbo-charged year, apparently), are providing 'Bash Pat McQuaid' quotes so energetically it's almost as if they hope for an invitation to this year's Tour, for their amateur team.

Specific points would swiftly highlight the remark by Heulot about 'certain people only think of the interests of a closed group', with WADAwatch wondering if that statement carries more weight, in considering the concerns expressed by ONE commercial operation, against a world Federation, under whose rules hundreds or thousands of teams and tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousand cyclists may be racing this summer?

And as a final analysis point, any comments about the 'last two Tours' being dirty, by any French citizen over eight years old, is a purely selective, brainwashed denial of the Tsunami of Tour scandals: the 1998 French Team Festina station wagon full of kilograms of EPO and other doping products or accessories. The Tours these last two years consist of one case (Landis) in 2006, whose final litigation should be known before May, and for 2007, several 'convergence' cases that exponentially grew in import by proximity of occurrence: Sinkewitz' case from June, was actually properly handled under the current UCI rules, such that confidentiality was not breached (as appears to be counter to LNDD–AFLD–EQUIPE Standard Operating Procedures); the Rasmussen case, lamentable on his end, nevertheless may have pointed out yet another DRAFTING AMBIGUITY based on a rush to implement regulations that incorrectly expressed desired 'anticipations'; the Vinokourov, Moreni and Mayo cases were the only three actual Positive A, B cases presented through Tour 'doping controls'.]

So there you have it; in a double-page spread, there is ZERO examination of ASO motives to divide the world of cycling, in a 'Full speed ahead!' take-no-prisoners fashion. There is ZERO examination of the preparations undertaken by the FFC and AFLD, to ensure one-hundred per cent efficiency in the substitution of UCI rules and procedures, with those necessarily French, home-spun replacements.

ONE could only pray to one's Spiritual Guide, that the racers will be safe on the road, that the laws that weigh upon them are justly formed, and fairly implemented, and that the harshness of UCI rancune is presented to those who caused the separation (and if that is internal to the UCI itself, so be it).

In the end, and with full sympathy from this end, it looks like the most important victim of the ASO FIASCO, will be the WADA Athlete's Passport pilot project. How Fahey will be able to keep the divorcing cycling world from separating, to sustain enough harmony for 'the sake of the children' or Riders, is going to be NOT the entertainment of this new summer cycling season.

DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this article, and the selections of comments from people interviewed by L'Equipe, is NOT to 'bash' either the UCI or Pat McQuaid; the purpose is 180° from that. It serves to point out how L'Equipe, under the direction of the OWNER of Paris-Nice, and le Tour de France, has done exactly that.

Don't kill the messenger!

Watching WADA's signatories,


© 2008 ZENmud productions

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