Another dope gives cycling a bad name

(This first appeared in the Independent on Saturday)

Depending on your outlook, the past week has been either a good week for cycling or another terrible week. On Monday it was announced that top mountain biker Max Knox has been found guilty of a doping offense and banned for four years by the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids).

According to the Saids statement, Knox was charged for suspicious variations in his athlete biological passport (ABP) that indicated doping. He could not satisfactorily explain to a panel of international experts appointed by Saids the reasons for the variation.

The good side of this is that another drug cheat has been removed from the racing scene. The bad news is that this is ample proof that there are still cheats that are desperately trying to win by illegal means.

For many the fact Knox was found guilty is hardly news. It was pretty much an open secret that he was able to pull off some unexplainable performances at times. One week he would be struggling to stay with the lead group in a race, and then a week later he was able to ride away from all his opposition and win a major national event.

Knox is a former South African Marathon MTB champion (2012 and 2016), a three-time overall winner of the National MTB Series (2012, 2015 and 2016) and represented South Africa several times at the world cross country and marathon championships. In terms of the ruling, he will be stripped of all his titles from June 16, 2015 and will have to return all prize money, prizes and medals gained since that date.

I can clearly remember two conversations I had regarding Knox about two or three years ago.

The first was with a top pro who stated categorically that Knox was doping. He had absolutely no doubt and was not shy to tell me.

The second was with a Knox defender at the Epic in 2017. Knox was having one of his “good” weeks with strong Colombian Hector Leonardo Paez Leon. They ended up fourth overall and were second on Stage 6 after a puncture robbed them of the win. I asked if he was clean and was told off in no uncertain terms.

He also told me that Knox had a clause in his contract with Paez that he would have to pay a significant penalty to the Colombian if he was found to be doping. I guess Paez will have to return his prizemoney from the Epic that year, but could get a nice bonus from Knox.

Saids also published their annual report for 2017/18 and there are a few interesting facts which come out of the report.

A total of 1 659 athletes were tested during the year with 46 anti-doping rule violations (ADRV) during the period. The bad boys of sport were bodybuilders: A total of 23 tests on bodybuilders returned 14 ADRVs, 11 of which were at one single competition – and people think cyclists are bad.

Three cyclists returned ADRVs from 267 tests (154 urine, 103 blood and 10 EPO). They were Carmen Buchacher and two names were not released as their cases were still pending at the time the report was finalised, but one must have been Knox.

The most tested sport was athletics (including long-distance running), with 546 tests and six ADRVs, followed by 391 tests among rugby union players, with seven ADRVs.

Scarily, three of those seven positives were from schoolboy-level rugby players participating in the 2017 Craven Week Rugby Tournament. At this year’s Craven Week there were six positives. A further two minors were tested positive in athletics.

From my days of a parent of a First XV son, I am not surprised to see young schoolkids getting bust for doping – go to any player in any First XV team and (if they are honest) they will probably be able to rattle off the names of players who are “juicing”. I am glad to see that Saids is doing their job and weeding out the miscreants, but how depressing is it that so many youngsters feel the need to get an unfair advantage by cheating.