At VeloVoices we are united by our love of cycling, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. Life would be very boring if we did! We like nothing better than a good debate.
If you take a look at the UCI individual rankings, you will see the name of Spain’s Alejandro Valverde at the top of the table. Stage wins at both the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice, where he finished second and third overall respectively, have propelled him to the top ranking at this early stage of the 2012 season.
But is Valverde, who returned from a two-year doping ban at the season-opening Tour Down Under but has remained unapologetic throughout, welcome back in the peloton in the eyes of fans? Here we put both sides of the argument: is Valverde’s return at the very highest level of cycling damaging for the sport?
Witness for the prosecution: Kitty
I don’t have a problem with Valverde coming back after a doping ban. The rules clearly state that a first-time doping ban means you can return to the sport once that is served and therefore he has every right to ride. No problem with that.
There is also nowhere in the rules that states when you come back to the peloton after a doping ban, you have to do a David Millar and become a vocal anti-doping campaigner. I don’t believe that just because a rider doesn’t shout their regret at the top of their lungs doesn’t mean they aren’t reformed. So no problem there.
My biggest problem with him is not even the fact that he dodged his punishment for nearly four years, skewing every race he was in, instead of just standing up like a man, taking the ban and getting it over with.
My biggest problem with Alejandro Valverde – and this is a huge problem – is that Valverde not only continues to proclaim his innocence (blood bags matched with DNA apparently mean nothing) but actually said he felt ‘persecuted’. Persecuted? It’s an insult to the intelligence of cycling fans and just perpetuates the public feeling that cycling is as dirty as ever.
I have noticed, however, that those riders who take this line of ‘reasoning’ – hello, Riccardo Ricco! – tend to continue to do what they believe is ‘right’ and are just one urine sample away from a life ban. I’d be surprised if he got through the season …
Witnesses for the defence: Sheree & Jack
He may be justified in feeling persecuted. I’ve always felt getting him banned was an Italian tit-for-tat for Ivan Basso. To my recollection, the ‘persecution’ started as long ago as the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, when the Spanish team were undecided whether or not he should turn up and ride for fear of recrimination. Bags of blood do not mean you’re doping per se, although like Basso you might have been thinking about it. However, what about Franck Schleck’s Euros 7,000 payment to Dr Fuentes for ‘training plans’? In my mind that falls into the same category – intent.
It’s the lack of a level playing field that bugs me, not Alejandro’s attitude. Let’s not forget that there are probably many riders thinking “there but for the grace of God”. He’s done his time, let’s move on. He’s that rare beast, a climber who can sprint. He’s come out of his corner fighting, he had a point to prove and he’s letting his legs do the talking. Nice to see him back to his former self.
Jack: It’s certainly the case that Alejandro’s constant denials haven’t helped his popularity in cycling, and they aren’t immensely helpful to himself. However, what Valverde says or doesn’t say when it comes to denials or admissions is irrelevant; he’s served his ban and now has every right to return to racing.
When Valverde was found guilty, I was extremely disappointed, as like Alexandre Vinokourov and Alberto Contador, he’s a very exciting cyclist on the bike – if a polarising figure off it. Nicknamed ‘El Bala’, (The Bullet), despite being a top climber, shows what an all-rounder he is.
He’s won races from the Vuelta to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and his versatility is incomparable in modern cycling. Despite his clearly disappointing words pointed out by Kitty above, he’s an excellent racer and at only 31-years old he should be around for a while yet, no doubt livening up races once again.
What do you think of Alejandro Valverde? Is his return a good or bad thing? Vote in our poll, leave a comment and join the debate!