The Taiwan KOM Challenge: why we banned all formerly suspended riders from our race

official poster of the 2014 KOM Challenge
official poster of the 2014 KOM Challenge

We had a decision to make. The 2013 winner of the Taiwan KOM Challenge had arrived on the start line of the race fresh from a doping suspension, causing heated debate on internet as to the validity of his victory.

The integrity of the event that we had been working hard on for so many months was suddenly unraveling before we even had the satisfaction of wiping our brows and putting the kettle on for a well-earned cuppa.

One of the pre-race favorites immediately suggested afterwards that the race needed doping controls to be able to claim that its results were legitimate. I know this guy and this venting was not merely the product of sour grapes, for he had raced with a bronchial infection and knew he wouldn’t win.

Rather, it came from a sense of this just not being right.

He was not happy, and in truth, as Director of Communications for the race, neither was I.

Yet we had done nothing wrong (according to the letter of the law) in accepting entries from riders with records of previous doping violations. The 2013 winner, Rahim Emami, had been busted for a positive for Clenbuterol in 2011 and had indeed served the full stretch of the two years that the UCI had handed to him.

He wanted to race, we had no rule in place stating that he could not, he was officially cleared to do so by the highest body in cycling, and so, he raced.

The Iranian team he raced for previously had quite a rap sheet when it came to doping.

Shane Stokes noted in his excellent article on the Iranian domination of professional cycling in Asia that there were plenty of examples of riders getting popped.

“Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour (of Tabriz Petrochemical) [received a] two-year ban for EPO, fueling concerns.

“Another Tabriz Petrochemical rider, Hossein Askari, tested positive for methylhexaneamine in the 2013 Tour of Singkarak, where he had taken stage one and led the race for two days. He received a one-year suspension and was eligible to return to competition on June 2.

“The performances of some of those in this year’s Tour of Singkarak also contain a footnote for past positives; Mehrabani Azar received a two-year ban for Metenolone in 2011, while Emami incurred a similar suspension in 2011 for Clenbuterol use.

“A number of other riders from the country have also been busted in the past, increasing suspicion.”

The row that followed Emami’s win here and the depth of feeling that this unleashed showed that a majority of cycling fans in Taiwan and in the rest of Asia, as well as many from the rest of the world, were not particularly happy to see former banned riders return from suspension to win.

It happens at the very top of the sport too of course, and several high level riders have served their time and then come back to re-establish themselves as winners. Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov are perhaps the top three examples of this.

However, we felt that something had to be done to reply to the disquiet felt by many fans to Emami’s win. We felt that things had come to the point where we had the right to write our own rules not just in regards to feed zones and the positioning of race numbers on jerseys, but also of the regulations our race would enact with regards to doping.

There was another reason to reevaluate our current rulebook. An injection of finances from our backers had seen the men’s overall prize rise from a few thousand to $38,000US, with over $85,000 available overall.

Immediately we decided that we had to bring in doping tests for the top riders. However, we also had to sit down to look at what else we could do.

A few months before we began this process, I had read that the Cape Epic had introduced a ruling that would ban from ever entering the race “anybody found guilty of an offence committed after January 1, 2013.”

This was, in effect, a zero tolerance policy. It was brave and it was pioneering, for no other race, to my knowledge, had ever adopted such a policy.

However, why not go one step further and decline entry from any rider who had previously been suspended for doping? As studies have shown, the use of steroids for even a short period can have an effect that can last a decade. Studies have not yet shown whether the same is true of blood doping or of EPO use, but one would suspect that the benefit from training harder and longer whilst using either or both would also last longer than the current 2-year ban an athlete receives if busted.

In light of this, we decided that we would move forward and insert a rule that denies entry to the Taiwan KOM Challenge for any rider who has ever been suspended for doping, in an event anywhere, ever. (We also left an open-ended clause in that would allow us to decline entry to any rider at our discretion, permitting us to turn away riders who might put at risk the reputation of the event as a whole. The decision to turn such riders away would, we decided, have to come from a committee and not one individual).

We are, as far as we know, the only event in the world to have this rule.

I have spoken this week to another race organizer from Canada who informed me that the board of his race were looking to implement a similar rule but felt hesitant because they could find no precedent.

We are discussing how we can work together on this and how any potential union might encourage other races to join us.

Some might say it is unfair to have such a rule as this amounts to a lifetime ban for formerly suspended riders in our race.

And the answer is that, well yes, it does.

That was our intention.

However, there are thousands of other races that these guys can do. Unless, of course, all those other races too decide to implement a similar regulation.

Personally I feel that the UCI should allow the organisers of the races that make up the World Tour to ban any ride that has doped at one of their events. After all, why should an organizer have to accept back on its route a rider whose doping has brought a stain upon his or her event?

Riders around the world often mumble and grumble about once-banned guys coming back to race in events that they turn up to, but there seems to be a lack of cohesion in any attempt to band together to use their collective power.

This is another reason we have done what we have done. We too are racers. We believe in the pursuit of a clean sport and we are in a position to do something about it.

Already our policy is bearing fruit. At least three ex-dopers who have ridden the Taiwan KOM Challenge before were politely informed of our new policy and, more encouragingly, some of the favorites for the race that will be held this Saturday, November the 15th, such as Will Routley (winner of the 2014 Tour of California KOM & Stage 4) and John Ebsen (Androni Giocattoli, winner here in 2012) have said that the new rule played a large part in their decision to come here.

We expect what the people paying to come to our event expect.

A fair race and a clean race and a legitimate victory by a legitimate rider.

Why would anyone expect anything less?

 

 

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “The Taiwan KOM Challenge: why we banned all formerly suspended riders from our race

  1. Well done cankpunk and the Taiwan KOM team. May this serve as an inspiration to others, and may this rule stick even in the future when sponsorships change and money starts to dictate what is ethical and what is not.

  2. Word ! like they used to say in 80s black slang…and in Crankpunk’s manifesto and implementation every word written and enacted was solid in reason and tone and intent. Perhaps a small stone in the waters of doping, money and politics of cycling can have a ripple effect. You bravely chose the time and place. You should stand tall tomorrow. Crank on and up !

  3. Wow! Well I have to say I am of two minds about this….

    On one hand, PRIOR to this announcement your rage, fulmination and righteous indignation about ex-dopers being included in the pro pelotion, about ex-dopers hosting gran fondos, and how we should view the the performances of ex-dopers with a jaundiced eye, were the very definition of the rankest hypocrisy, the most ridiculous chutzpah and most egregious arrogance. I mean you yourself were on the organising team for a major international cycling event that allowed ex-dopers to compete (and even win). You NEVER mentioned this when you criticised Leipheimer and Hincapie from profiting from their Gran Fondos. You were SILENT on this when you questioned Contador’s performances and said that he should be thrown out of the Vuelta as an ex doper. You said NOTHING about this when you posted these wonderful interviews with anti doping riders. In short, you have been harbouring a massive conflict of interest here for YEARS (Vehemently anti doping in blog world, passively accepting of doping in real world) and I wonder how Nicole Cooke would have responded to you if she understood that prior to this year, you WELCOMED ex-dopers to an event that you had a hand in running? To be honest, had I known that you ACTIVELY FACILITATED ex dopers in your (pretty amazing) event, I would have vomited from the disgusting nature of all your meaningless critique, unsuscribed from this feed and assigned you to the trash bin of people who talk a good game, but when its THEIR ass on the line, retreat behind the “There is no rule to stop this” defense….

    However, I have to say that NOW I am fundamentally impressed and have a new respect for all of your indignation, which as of NOW is officially- righteous. In a remarkably brave, really well reasoned and let’s face it, world leading decision (that will certainly raise the profile of your event so its not ENTIRELY altruistic, but still…). NOW, you (and the KOM Challenge team) have decided to actually stand behind your principles when the money is on the table and ban ex dopers from your event. As someone who does lots of amateur gran fondos, I get frustrated when 45 year old amateurs are busted for EPO. Accordingly, I could not IMAGINE how annoying it must be for guys who race for the sort of money offered in Taiwan being beaten by guys who are on the juice. The margins are not big in that game, and having some EPO’d cat blow by you on a 90k climb to 3000m+ is just awful. I really have to say that I am impressed. The KOM Challenge is a RIDICULOUS event, and the very nature of that ride, and the prize money involved make it a huge draw for doping.

    So, NOW, you ahve done a really nice job, but I have to admit that I am not sure what OTHER events you are organising that has not made the same commitment to anti-doping excellence…. Maybe I will do some more research on YOU Crankpunk to make sure that you are not punking us all….

    I’ll get busy with that, but in the interim, nice work, and I really hope that you will have a good event…

    DoctorNurse

    1. dude, can you really just ask me first about stuff before you crack on with rubbish like that?

      last year i had zero input on the start list outside of a select few foreign riders – the winner was not selected by me but in fact entered through the team he was riding for. and as soon as i heard that he was in and that we could not deny him because there were no rules in place to do that, i set about putting this stuff into motion.

      and when the federation that organises the event realised the oversight – and it was an oversight that they have learnt a great deal from – of these guys getting in, they were immediately on board with my suggestion. immediately and without question ior hesitation. the bravery they showed in deciding to deny entry to riders who this year entered by the same means was something that impressed me greatly.

      so, ya know, just ask me, my contact add is easy enough to find, would have saved all that effort and ALL THOSE CAPITALS.

      and hopefully now that hard thing you’ve had for a bit of le punk will be less rampant.

      and one other hing – maybe try not being anon so that what you have to say has some validity?

      1. First of all, you are correct- My use of CAPS was excessive- Apologies. This is what happens when you angrily respond to something first thing in the morning 🙂

        Second, I stand by my comments. It would have subjectively “looked” better and been objectively more transparent to the reader during your forcefully delivered opinion on the Hincapie/Leipheimer Granfondo) you disclosed that (a) you are formally and officially affiliated with another elite international Gran Fondo (b) This event has quite a regrettable history with some extremely shady ex-doper cyclists (some of whom have done quite well/won the event) and (c) you have taken the lead in introducing some really progressive and concrete steps to address it (with details available once plans were final). That would have given you amazing credibility (and the moral high ground) in this debate. I suspect that this is one of the many reasons why you do routinely and quite graciously do this sort of disclosure all the time- particularly when praising a product from one of your sponsors for example. It is *precisely* this lack of transparency that got me so angry this morning (ergo the CAPS) 🙂

        Third, the fact that you took the time to compose a thoughtful, comprehensive and interesting response to my post shows by definition that I was NOT “cracking on about rubbish”. You are a very busy as am I. Certainly, neither of us have either the time or interest to respond to comments that have no basis in fact, make no sense and are in fact “rubbish”. My comments met none of those criteria which is precisely why you felt obliged to respond to them with more than an “eff off buddy!” Look, I am not stupid and you are not crazy so let’s just move past that, yes?

        You seem to have missed that I took the time to recognise and applaud your organisation’s bravery and foresight on this issue and clearly said that the KOM challenge is definitely a world leader in , elite amateur/pro racing. If I ever get the sort of fitness and confidence to do anything as out-of-control as the KOM Challenge, it will be a personal pleasure to participate. As I have said before in this space, I often disagree with you, but certainly respect your athletic record and your passionate advocacy and I continue to subscribe to this page because as a clear (and often dissenting voice), you deliver a valuable service to the cycling intellectual marketplace.

        Finally, my ananymous status has zero effect on the validity of my comments since they are based on facts and are logically sound. (I cannot be held responsible for facts that you or anyone else do not disclose) CyberSecurity best practice rules against posting my name in any open internet space and so I respectfully decline your offer and prefer to remain anonymous in this space. That said, you already have my name and email details (both are required to post here) and are certainly free to contact me drectly anytime (of course you are not ree to post this information in this open forum)…

        Cheers, again, nice work on this one and have a wonderful weekend!

        DoctorNurse

  4. This is a bold and impressive rule. Without going into the merits of the policy, I am very interested in the legalities of it (as a fellow event organizer).

    I wonder if you (the organizers) are allowed to do this? Is Taiwan KOM event sanctioned by a UCI affiliate? Would the UCI likely back this? My sense is that WADA & CAS would call this out as a case of improper punishment/double jeopardy, if the prescribed suspension period had ended (they have made similar rulings before). And while they don’t have direct authority over an event organizer, event organizers essentially sign up to follow the rules of their sanctioning body, who in turn must subscribe to the WADA code, and authority of CAS.

    Of course as a non UCI, or non- National Governing Body sanctioned event (as many of the endurance MTB and Gran Fondos are), an organizer is mostly free to do as they please.

  5. It takes courage to speak out. Those who sit in the back seat and judge will never help in changing a system that is broken and needs to be fixed. Just because you didn’t speak out in the past means you were drawing upon experiences to help you form the opinions that you have today. Keep it up, Lee!

    1. Inga! Folks, we have a Hall of Famer in the building 😉 thanks for the comment Inga. it’s down to the whole race organisation this, and in fact any praise should go to these people who have a great deal more invested in the race than i do, financially – should all this backfire they would be out of work. that the response has been overwhelmingly positive shows that this was a decision that people can see the validity of immediately.

      people always complain about those who clamor for change that they don;t put forward solutions or ideas that might help bring about that change – something i think is unfair, generally – but here is a solution. you might disagree with it but at least offer a critique that is reasoned and well-balanced rather than one that came from that springy old knee.

      it’s the people who acted on this idea that deserve the plaudits. it just blew me away when they put it in motion. the next move will, i hope, be to link the KOM with the other events around the world that have similar policies in the hope of encouraging others to join too, thereby tapping into the groundswell of public opinion that reflects the fact that people have just had enough of the endemic swindling that has been the defining factor in our sport for so long.

      maybe see you here next year Inga? either way crank on – you’re a legend.

      😉

      1. I intend to ride ONLY the Gran Fondo’s that have implemented a policy like the one you guys are Roguely putting into place! My hat is off to you guys who have the ovaries to start the implementation of a badly needed change of policy! RIDE LIKE A GIRL! Hopefully, you can keep up with Nicole Cooke!

  6. Hats off to Crankpunk and Taiwan KOM Challenge! Leading isn’t easy. Hopefully this race will be one of the first dominos to fall and doors will begin shutting for dopers all over. I can only imagine the effect on this sport if someone like Amaury Sports (organizers of the TDF) took up such a policy…

  7. +1 thanks Chris, couldn’t put it better – Hats off to Crankpunk and Taiwan KOM Challenge! Leading isn’t easy. Hopefully this race will be one of the first dominos to fall and doors will begin shutting for dopers all over. I can only imagine the effect on this sport if someone like Amaury Sports (organizers of the TDF) took up such a policy…

  8. I think this is a noble thing to do. Well done. My only reservation is those guys (and girls) who may have inadvertently got themselves a doping ban. I know it’s rare – and try not to scoff – but there are examples (eg. The story behind that poor Australian Hill (?) guy who recently won. I heard about his story recently after he won a stage of Tour of Southland and felt really sorry for ths situation he was in. Some discretion and forgiveness is sometimes a good thing. I’m not talking about the Leipheimers of this world, more the guy that has just stuffed up inadvertently.

    My other query relates to whether UCI elite riders are allowed to rider non-UCI events? Wasn’t there some controversy about that recently? Hopefully, the UCI continue to turn a blind eye to it for cool events such as yours. Cannot wait to try it one day!

    1. I think that if the rider follows the appeals that are in place, and IF those sitting on the hearing committees used some common sense, we could then see justice for those who are busted for doping through no fault of their own – but the thing is, so very very very few of positives are ‘through no fault of their own’. there’s always the possibility, and this will shock some, of a committee being corrupted and being bought out. i know it is a shocking concept, but it happens. then you end up with LA all over again. so. hmmmmm.

  9. Interesting rule to put in place. Though, the idea that all athletes that have served suspensions are thereby dopers, is false. Even USADA recognizes this as they have backed off asking for full term sentences when it has been found that there is no intention to cheat.

    After reading the article, it sounds like the ban was not a product of the nobility of the race organizers. Likely, the race would have continued as normal, without additional rules, had it not been for the “heated debate on internet” after the 2013 addition.

    Without the online social pressure, it doesn’t seem likely that any changes would have been made. When one looks at the details, it begins to become clear that the organizers caved into outrage from the internet peanut gallery. It is great to want an event to be free from cheating. But, as everyone knows, a rule like this will not stop some people from cheating. What this rule will do is keep out clean riders that have served suspensions.

    Of course, it’s your event and you can run it how you please. But, if you are allowing yourself piece of mind because you have proven to yourself and the chattering masses around you that you have done the right thing, stop. Stop because what you have done is not the right thing, it is only the appearance of the right thing. There is an enormous difference.

    1. yeah, where to start on that one BC. for me this was an opportunity to push my ideas through, ideas i had had long before but had not been in a position to introduce because i wasn’t involved in a race in this way. the public debate helped enlighten the organisers to the intensity of the debate over this. we then learned that in fact we felt the same on this. not sure how this is caving in. nor do i see, if i continue for the sake argument (and not because it is true), how a decision that was made for one reason ends up bringing about real positive change should be stopped. that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, wouldn’t it?

      ‘oh, we started this for the wrong reasons but it ended up contributing to something better than we had before, but we better drop it and revert to the mess we had before because we started it for the wrong reasons.’ hmmmmm…..

      ‘i used to cheat on my wife but i stopped cos she said she’d cut off my **** but then when i actually stopped being a cheat i saw it was better for her and for me, but, to get hear she had to threaten and terrify me so ……’

      hmmm….

      1. Whether the rule was started for the wrong reason isn’t totally the issue. The bigger issue is that it is wrong to continue the rule. It’s a little like saying that one day you happen to get a speeding ticket. You pay the fine and go about your business (hopefully as a safer driver). Then a few months later a law is passed saying that people that have gotten speeding tickets can no longer drive on the interstate. You would probably feel like you weren’t being treated fairly. You would probably say that you have paid your fine relevant to the laws that were in place at the time. And you would be right in your complaint.

        If you like the rule and think that it really will bring about positive change, it would be most fair to declare “This is our new rule and it is in effect for those whose offense occurs on this day forward.”

      2. If you are going to compare bicycle racing to driving a car, let’s put it into perspective. If you get caught for speeding ( Nyquil) you shouldn’t be banned for driving (bike racing) for life. But…if you were taking heroin, coke, meth (PED’s) and proceed to injure, hurt, kill several innocent people (stealing wins, money, spots on Olympic Teams), yes, you should be banned for life from driving (bike racing). The punishment should fit the crime. Taking PED’s should warrant a lifetime ban. Accidentally taking something like Nyquil, vitamin supplements that haven’t disclosed all ingredients or such happens. Taking PED’s doesn’t accidentally happen. It’s premeditated…..

      3. I agree with Inga, here. Thanks for fleshing out my example a bit. The punishment should fit the crime. Rightly, the WADA code (which is the ultimate authority in doping disputes) considers intent. In some cases, a lifetime ban is absolutely appropriate. In other cases, it’s not. I would like to see the organizers of this event adopt the same considerations as the WADA code. It seems like doing so would be their best attempt at running a fair race.

  10. I hope more races do this. Also nice that you don’t have to be a pro to ride this race. Looking forward to heading over to 花蓮 to ride this next year. Way to go to show the way.

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