Wednesday, May 9, 2007


The term “Omerta” is known as the silence of the mob. Don’t rat. Until recently, the term has only been used in connection with the mafia. Recently, though, Omerta has come to be identified with cycling’s collective silence on the problem of doping. Attached to the term in its original usage was an odd sense of honor and integrity, a captain-goes-down-with-the-ship mentality. If caught, you defended yourself without implicating anyone else and if convicted, you did your time … quietly. Plea deals were for drunks, not gangsters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we present Ivan Basso, Mister “I was only researching the possibility of doping, but didn’t actually dope just yet.” If you want to be an honorable louse, this is how it is done. He will tell nothing of what he might know, only of his involvement in what he says was yet to become doping. Lest anyone think his admission is a step in the right direction, this is Omerta at its classic best. He has copped to only what they have irrefutable proof of. This isn't a light bulb in the darkness but a flashlight pointed the wrong way--after the Giro victory was on the books.

Should anyone think his admission will help turn the tide against doping, what he has done, in fact, is teach his brethren a sort of low-impact plea. His statements were to full disclosure what the Toyota Prius is to a carbon footprint. Frankly, his behavior stands in stark contrast to what are now the typical displays of mob togetherness as seen in trials such as John Gotti's and on the Sopranos: "If I'm going, you're going too." Should we actually praise Basso for his amazing integrity? Not if we want a dope-free sport.

This entry was written out of love, frustration and a desire to see some clean, healthy competition in the PRO peloton. Thanks to Padraig for this great contribution.


Ari said...

Freddy, I see you waited a while for this one. Your words were sharp, well thought out and the punch was great. This crap has to come to an end. The people in their Suvs are mocking us.

Anonymous said...

It's sad and frustrating to see the sport I've loved get far, far more coverage for its doping problems than its successes. In the past two days, the local newspaper has spilled more ink on Basso's mea not so culpa than it did on his Giro win last year.
You're criticisms of the code are spot on and raise even more questions about the recent patrons of peloton. It makes me wonder what a clean race might look like. Or if I've ever seen one on the pro level.

strangelife said...

The perpetual denials and legal sleight of hand are pretty disgusting. It's lamentable, but not surprising. Justice is often flawed and ugly. Unfortunately, doping's deeper than Puerto and very, very, messy. I don't look forward to more disappointment. It's a tragedy that I look at podium finishers with gnawing suspicion nowadays.

gewilli said...

Where'd ya get the picture of George W Bush doing the see hear speak no evil sequence???

GWR said...

Will Basso's statement "I am Birillo" now become (sadly) one of the most famous phrases in cycling lore, behind "Vous êtes des assassins" and the apocryphal "Put me back on my bike"?

Yes, classic omerta in action. Is Basso waiting to 'do a deal' for a suspended sentence if he provides more information? Does he really think that his statement of "it was only attempted doping" will be believed when the Puerto files, at least according to reports, show "an agenda with a schedule of blood extractions and transfusions since 2004".

Then Ullrich's lawyer (sorry, one of his six lawyers), in response to Basso's 'confession', says: "Ullrich didn't have an affair or otherwise behave wrong." Sorry, say that again!

Fans of cycling are well used to the usual excuses when riders are caught doping - naturally high testosterone, the test machine was calibrated wrong, never intended to actually use the drugs, the drugs were for a soigneur/dog/mother-in-law/sick children - it's all part of the game.

But the blatant lying in the face of the strongest evidence is tiresome. Bobby Julich said last year: "But I wish that if someone did get caught and was guilty, he would be honest enough to himself, No. 1, and to the public, No. 2..." Which, as a fan, is what I'm looking for. Cycling is far from perfect, and I think that most fans accept that. But is our patience being stretched to the limit here?

Unknown said...

I agree with strangelife...I can't help but look at a podium now and think...hmmm...where did they finish last race? Why the sudden explosion of success? Is it hardwork & training, or a needle? Then again, it could just be my American curiousity :)

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the sentiment, and the moral justification of or your argument, I simply don't see how a potential Basso admission to any further activity would make his detractors honestly feel any better about the situation.

I am an optimist at heart, and truly want to believe Basso didn't actually dope... but then again, I also wanted to believe that he wasn't involved with Puerto in any way. He let me down.

The paradox here is the unrelenting pressure by a sport that forces an athlete to consider doping in the first place. When a problem is serious enough to have a code of silence, then we become obligated to look beyond the riders for explanation, if not accountability. We call the atheletes to task because the decision to dope is ultimately their personal choice, but after your coaches, teammates, doctors, and competitors are either engaged in the practice, or are silent about it, the choice ceases to be much of a choice at all.

The nature of the sport is also one that keeps atheletes heavily involved after retirement. Riders that came through the heavy doping days are now coaches. They have not changed their ways, and probably have little reason to, aside from getting caught. Unless sponsors pull out of races and teams, manufacturers take their gear back from teams with guilty riders and management, and advertisers refuse to acknowledge cycling events until the sport is clean, I think we'll have to wait until the current crop of owners, managers, and ex-riders retire or are forcibly removed.

At least I know I can get out on my own bike, and enjoy the sport first hand... that is not a luxury that fans of professional sports enjoy the way we as cyclists do. For that, I am grateful.

Radio Freddy said...

Mike - I don't think the answer to the problem is as simple as Basso telling all. But I do think that what we are seeing is a manipulation of the legal aspect, and like all the excuses to come before this one, they feel like an insult to the fan's, and governing body's intellegence. Unfortunately the Omerta approach to doping insures that the 2007 season will be filled with false starts and abrupt finishes. The entire doping issue and its impact on the sport has the feel of an unreliable auto on a long road trip. Out of the driveway and onto the motorway, 10 KMs into the journey and the radiator begins to leak. Stop and repair. With the radiator fixed we are on our way. Then the alternator gives way. Stop again. Then with the alternator repaired we carry-on only to be stopped again by a flat tire. The system governing doping, riders and the team's involement is as reliable as a used auto and with all the stops and starts in the sport, our journey and the future of our sport may be in jeapordy. When you consider that cycling is a way to a better life for many of the PROs it is hard to fault them for considering doping, especially when the playing field is not level. The helplessness the fans feel as we roll our eyes at another PRO falling victim to Puerto begins to take its toll and create a strong bitterness. I take comfort that, like you, I am a cyclist first and then a spectator. At the end of the day what matters is that I still ride my bike despite the scandals, despite the comments from my non-cycling buddies and despite the loud sucking sound created by my favorite PROs being plucked from the peloton.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Freddy. My favorable opinion of Basso was shot when he admitted his Fuentes involvement, but was destroyed when I read his "I didn't inhale" statement.

Contrary to one of the commenters here, I do not see this as a cycling problem, but as a societal problem. Just recently we heard of the mass cheating that took place at Duke University's b-school, for example. Where there is a reward or accolades awaiting the winners, there will be cheaters, unfortunately.

Where is the pro's "code of honor" as related to their fans?

Anonymous said...

"This isn't a light bulb in the darkness but a flashlight pointed the wrong way."

Not that we need another villian, but I feel the sport shoots itself in the foot (again) with the quick public rehabilitation of dopers who are caught lying. I can't read a cycling magazine without seeing David Millar's image selling Castelli or Scott. He followed the same tired path of indignant denial right up until being caught.