Italy’s reigning world cycling champion Paolo Bettini has given the International Cycling Union (UCI) a huge headache over his refusal to bow to requests for a DNA sample.
Bettini will defend his world champion’s rainbow jersey in Stuttgart, Germany this Sunday when the world road race championships reach a climax with the men’s elite road race.
However, this week’s competition will be held against a backdrop of
potential controversy – as the hosts rage over the inclusion of German
sprinter Erik Zabel, and the UCI continues its agenda of excluding riders suspected of being implicated in doping affairs.
The UCI attempted to guarantee a scandal-free Tour de France this year by demanding that all participating riders sign a pledge promising not to dope.
Threatened with having to pay a year’s salary if caught doping, the peloton was also asked to provide a blood sample to the governing body to rule them out of any involvement in the ongoing ‘Operation Puerto’ doping affair in Spain.
Bettini, a huge star who is also the reigning Olympic champion, has steadfastly refused to sign the pledge, and says that handing over a blood sample is akin to giving up one’s basic human rights.
The UCI cannot legally force Bettini to sign the pledge or submit a blood sample, but his high profile, and the fact he could win the rainbow jersey again this year, has left the UCI in an embarrassing fix.UCI chief Pat McQuaid is unhappy with the Quick Step team star, but directs most of his wrath at the Italian federation which he accuses of not taking the issue of ethics seriously.
“I’m more angry with the federation, who haven’t carried out their duties concerning the rider, than with the rider himself,” said McQuaid.
“Some people have no understanding of the situation cycling is in at the moment, and don’t realise that ethics is the number one priority for all of us.”
Bettini, however, is not alone, as riders from several Italian and Spanish teams have also refused to sign pledges or agree to submit DNA samples. Meanwhile the German organisers are still upset that Zabel, a former six-time winner of the Tour de France’s green jersey, has been picked by the German cycling federation.
Zabel admitted in May of this year that he had “briefly” used the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) in 1996, and since that admission he has been stigmatised as a drugs cheat. The German veteran, who rides for the Milram team, finished runner-up to Bettini in the men’s road race in Salzburg, Austria last year.