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Reporter’s notebook: A CIRC half-full

CIRC has laid bare the good and the bad, the heroes and the villains. So let us be optimists, if only for a moment

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For the first time, the UCI stepped out from behind its reality-skewing fun-house mirror and now faces its own ragged reflection in a real one. It did so of its own volition, commissioning a report into its own inadequacies. The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) laid bare the good and the bad, the heroes and the villains.

So let’s be optimists, if only for a moment.

Not the blind sort. No rose-colored glasses. Instead, the glass-half-full sort. We can see the CIRC report not only for its hairy details, of which there are many, but for its potential to incite change. Recognition of failure is a vital step toward a solution.

Let’s remind ourselves, though, that this is only the first step.

If we are optimists, and cycling’s glass is half full of “pan y agua” and not of corticoids, the CIRC report is a defining moment in the history of this sport. It’s the first comprehensive acknowledgement of past failures. It is a case study to be used by the UCI to enact further meaningful change.

CIRC was never going to be full of revelation. The report’s mandate was reflection, not prosecution. This is why it is full of unnamed sources, allegations made without supporting evidence, and conclusions based on facts that can only be read between the lines.

These attributes, engineered into the report with purpose, make the document a frustrating read.

I wrote this in another story already, but it’s true: It feels, at times, as if the report’s authors overturned every possible stone, took careful notes, and then laid each back in its place before the cycling public had a chance to see the details below. We know who the CIRC talked to, but not what they said. We can read the CIRC’s conclusions, but cannot see most of the sources from which they were drawn. This makes it impossible to judge the validity of claims, beyond mere trust in the three men at the helm. And where has that trust gotten us in the past?

But we’re optimists, right?

A “respected” rider said 90 percent of the peloton is still doping. Another said 20 percent. Whom do we believe? We don’t know the name of either rider. We can make no character judgment. In one story lies a travesty, in another, a reason to get up early and watch races on choppy Internet feeds.

Perhaps, though, that is the point. CIRC separated names and faces from actions, and in doing so removed the natural prejudices we have associated with the sport’s primary actors. We know only what was said, not who said it.

This allows for forward movement, minimizing the (still unavoidable) focus on specific misdeeds of the past. A relative lack of outright scandal helps keep the focus where it should be: what’s next.

The UCI has a pile of recommendations it must seek to implement.

The report calls for an increased role in intelligence-gathering as an anti-doping measure. Now, the legal framework for such an investigative body, in the context of complex international law, must be developed.

CIRC recommends “prevalence studies” of doping in different countries, teams, and disciplines. How will the UCI enact, and pay for, such investigations?

The ban on overnight testing, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., should be bypassed when a rider is under suspicion, according to CIRC. Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night before a queen stage to give blood. Will the riders rebel? How can such a recommendation be implemented without overstepping the bounds of proportionality?

The list goes on.

The pessimist has an easy job here. There is much fodder for anger and gloom and doom. And even the optimist is forced to recognize the magnitude of the feat set before Brian Cookson, the UCI, the CADF, WADA, and pro cyclists themselves.

But as a first step, viewed as the foundation for progress it has the potential to be, the CIRC report offers a glimmer of hope. No rose-colored glasses necessary.

An American in France

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