Page is cleared. It's been blogged, printed and tweeted. This is a good thing. A very good thing. It's setting new precedents. It's showing progress. But first, let me get something out of the way:
I believe in Jonathan.
Feel free to comment as you like on my posturing of Jon's innocence (especially in the light of this fiasco...and fiascos like it) but how I stand on Jon is not the intent of this post. The post is about process but I'll get to that.
So back to my first comment. I believe in Jonathan as a clean rider. I believe in what he's doing as a family man and ultimately doing what he was made to do and bringing what he's got...in hope, in skills and in the abilities of his mitochondria...to the place where the work is. I believe in what he is doing to take those materials to where it matters: to Europe. And all matters of his non-participation in the US 'cross scene...and the apparent ill will it apparently harbors is just misunderstanding. Page doesn't say much. Doesn't need to. He works, raises a family, and tries to do what is his calling to put bread on the table. And you can forget about rock star salaries here. It's a tough go. Start fees are what bring bread to that table. But the boisterous Americans, the pointing fingers and prying characters can not compute or translate introversion and focus and mistake it for arrogance. So, bottom line, I believe in him. I have to. Or so my heart tells me.
Page's clearance announced today was supported by two very close family friends of mine acting as his legal team. They believe in Page as well. I am proud of them and their willingness to take this head on with Jon and Cori. After reading the VeloNews article today my friends and I spoke. Actually, it was me speaking...ranting....about process. First, I recognize the need to advance the dragnet of anti doping in our sport. But we've now vaulted ourselves into a very bad place. We have literally eclipsed the riders ability to 'work' in a many ways. Or keep focused 100% on their jobs. And when riders have to dig extremely deep into their wallets and fly BACK to the US, plead their innocence, and lobby to the extremes they must, it is the antithesis of process. It is a debacle. Let me explain...
Let's look at Koksijde. Page crashes out. Page in fact has a concussion and when he gets to his camper, his wife focuses on him. Oh, his wife is his "team" on this day. Thoughts are flailing from getting him to a hospital to risking not racing the next day....and with that no-show, losing critical start money. The Page 'team' is focused on Jon's health and mistakenly, his posse 'forgets' to go determine if Jon has doping control. Proactively hunting officials as racers are now 'conditioned' to go and seek it out, to avoid this EXACT predicament they eventually find themselves in. Missed controls = Doper. As luck should have it....it's his day, and he as we know the rest of the story.
Now, a hypothetical. Assume Jonny Rocket, the hot 22 year old from Louisville, goes solo to Belgium to try out his talents against the best. Jonny rips it in some backwater regional non UCI-categorized race, taking an 'impressive' 32nd place. He doesn't go directly to his rental car to change after the race due to hearing 'stories' back in the US on how Americans are targeted for control He goes immediately about on his own to find the officials booth and asks for control. "Doping control?" he asks the man with the officials jacket on. No English. "Doping control?" he asks another official looking person and in perfect English gets a direct response: "Here? No. No doping control out here today." Weeks later USADA sends him a suspension letter for his missed control.
What's the difference? Nothing. Same results with or without proactivity...or the intent of proactivity.
It's all about Process.
To this point, we've done amazing things in the labs and within team cultures to weed out the cancers that have tarnished our sport. I think we all can agree things are shaping up on those fronts. But while labs and teams are beginning to pull ahead on their own processes and new forms of testing, the racing circuit (racing series, promoters AND the UCI) need to apply the same amount of efforts on 'race day' testing methods and racer selection protocols. In my opinion, anti-doping authorities need a core understanding of how races actually work...and what fail safe process can be put in place to catch the bad guys, but ensure the innocent aren't continually wrongly condemned. Wasting massive time, massive money and massive credibility. Page's example and that of my fictitious Jonny Rocket are just the tip of a large iceberg of a process void.
Chaperones were an initial stop-gap for this. But this assumes the rider comes across the finish line and the chaperone is 'responsible' from there, escorting the racer to the control. An excellent move and assurance the racer doesn't do anything stupid like take a masking agent or leverage the condom of 'clean' pee he's put in his nether-regions in the case there is a control (yes, I read Dog in a Hat). Where was the process to have the chaperone come find Page...or Cori...after his DNF. He was on the list, right? I was not there but no effort was apparently made to find him. The Pages can speak the language now...so they would have heard their names blaring over the hi-fi on the beach at Koksijde. Why aren't there signs posted prominently with the racers required for doping? Why isn't there a continually revolving speaker for 15 minutes post race asking in Dutch, French and English for the required racers to come to control? Why aren't ALL officials at a race briefed on the fact that there *IS* a doping control that day? Maybe this does happen....
Honestly, I am just angry. Cycling is a career but race promotion is a business. Any business worth their weight in salt focuses on process. Why isn't this being vaulted to the fore-front by the cyclist-workers who are part of the business machinery....enabling the business of race promotion to exist....and make money. Oh, yes, money. 30 EURO per head at large races times 25,000 spectators mind you. There may be stronger more process-oriented race promoters who have this totally dialed. But it just seems preposterous when these unbelievable issues arise...which can be easily solved if focus is applied to matters of process. Perhaps using some of those profits to hire a process architect to ensure racer ('worker') benefaction.
Again, comment any way you like on this. I'm just having a visceral reaction to all of this. Like you, I am a fan. And yet I find myself rolling my eyes in situations like this. It's a joke. No business would allow for massive holes in process like this (well, OK, we all can name a few business fiascos), but this is such a tightly-scoped problem space, it seems impossible we can better race-day procedures.
OK, I'm done. It's the weekend.