News feature, May 10, 2008
Doping at the heart of the problems
Judging by the throngs of people following the Henninger Turm – traditionally held on May 1, Labour Day in Germany – from the side of the roads, one would not imagine that the race is troubled. Yet, race organiser Bernd Moos-Achenbach has not found a main sponsor yet and his race appears to be the latest in trouble of continuing, as Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake reveals.
The race Rund um den Henninger Turm ('around the Henninger tower') has been a mainstay in German cycling ever since its inception in 1962. The race has resisted pressure to move its traditional May 1 date in a quest to get added to the World Cup series in the past. And it still features not only a professional event, but races for all categories, all the way down to the under nine kids, which had an early start of 7:15 this year.
A total of 16 races make it a unique event and even a 'roller skater vs. bicyclist' competition has been incorporated to entertain the spectators while they wait for the professional cracks to arrive. It sounds like a no-brainer for sponsors to support the event, but the doping discussion has made potential money backers prudent, at least in cycling. Germany is currently feeling the brunt of it, with three races (Niedersachsenrundfahrt, 3-Länder Tour and Friedensfahrt/Peace Race) already cancelled and the Regio Tour having to go back to its original amateur format, starting with the 2009 edition.
"Today, we had again an unbelievable amount of spectators. It would terrible if this race wouldn't happen in 2009." -Bernd Moos-Achenbach will continue to fight for a new sponsor.
Moos-Achenbach is currently lacking 250,000 euro in his budget. Despite the funding problems he reasoned, "The race is very important for the Rhein-Main area [urban economic area defined by the two rivers - ed.]. We also want to continue to ride through the Taunus [hilly area to the north east of Frankfurt - ed.]. That is why I don't think this race should vanish." He also pointed out after the event, "Today, we had again an unbelievable amount of spectators. It would terrible if this race wouldn't happen in 2009, but I am hopeful that we will find a sponsor."
He has plans to talk with a couple of potential supporters in the next couple of weeks, so the race is not completely scrapped yet.
Despite the fact that the race is trying very hard to support any anti-doping programme, it is very difficult to attract sponsors. The organisers for the Frankfurt race have launched a nine-point plan in the fight against doping and immediately reacted to the news that Liquigas had signed Ivan Basso, who was suspended in the connection with the Eufemiano Fuentes Operación Puerto affair. Moos-Achenbach revoked the invitation to the Italian team as soon as the news about the Italian's signing surfaced.
When Liquigas revealed it wanted to leave the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) in a recent meeting by the association, a strong discussion started, with Liquigas at the centre of the attention, having violated the voluntary rule of not signing a rider into the ProTour for four years from the start of his doping suspension. Liquigas Team Manager Robert Amadio then offered to leave the AIGCP, which Eric Boyer, president of the AIGCP, answered by saying, "You are excluded." Gerolsteiner's manager Hans-Michael Holczer added, "This was great [by Eric Boyer]. But that is all we can do. They have not violated any laws." The German explained the difficulty of the complete fight against doping, as long as there are teams who will not honour the Code de Conduite, referring to the voluntary ethics code of the International Cycling Union (UCI).
Holczer also elaborated that additional steps need to be taken and claimed, "with an MPCC [Movement for a Credible Cycling - ed.] team, this would not have happened." The Gerolsteiner manager emphasised that it would be fruitless to try any kind of legal steps against Basso or Liquigas. "We have done everything we could [within the AIGCP]. Now, it's up to others, like the event organisers."
Holczer is realistic enough that the current ethics codes are gentlemen's agreement that has no legal binding – they even had that confirmed by a lawyer. However, his hope now lies with the organisers. "It is up to them to invite or not invite a rider."
The MPCC organisation is interested in developing an ethics code for race organisers and sponsors as well. This in turn should help getting teams like Liquigas excluded from a lot of races, with the quest of making the sport cleaner and getting the confidence of sponsors back. By excluding Liquigas Moos-Achenbach has demonstrated that he is in line with the idea of an ethics code, where riders suspected or caught for doping violations will not be welcomed.
A May 1 without Henninger unthinkable
Holczer was then asked if he could imagine not having Rund um den Henninger Turm in 2009 and his answer was firm. "Nope!" By his account he participated at the race more than 20 times, starting with his first team, RSV Öschelbronn. But even before that "I stood at the side of the road as a nutty fan."
He also pointed out, "Despite all the hysteria and the bad situation, I do think there are people that understand that cycling is changing and many things already have changed... We are not at the end yet [in the fight against doping] by any means, but I do think we are on the right track."
Many of the German riders had similar sentiments, stating that they couldn't imagine a May 1 without the race in Frankfurt. Most German professionals have ridden the event as juniors and amateurs, pointing out the fantastic atmosphere along the course, which is rarely found in the lower categories. Kai Hundertmarck, winner in 2000 and now retired from bike racing, was hoping that the race in his home area would continue and emphasised, "the great atmosphere along the route."
The future is uncertain, but there was some speculation that Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) may be taking over the race. The rumours were started due to the attendance of ASO's marketing manager, Jeremy Botton. But for now, the Frenchman was content to just be in Frankfurt for fun. Moos-Achenbach denied that ASO would take over: "It's not on the agenda... We have ties to all kinds of organisations, among them the ASO. I am happy that Mr. Botton is here and is checking out what event we have. I have been to the Tour de France before and now Mr. Botton is here."