By Anthony Tan
One of three favourites to take the men's world road championship crown in Madrid this Sunday along with Italy and Belgium, the Australians are now eyeing their list of reserves just that little bit more closely after it was revealed one of their previously named members tested positive for an illegal substance during the Tour of Germany.
Last Saturday, July 16, the Rabobank Cycling Team released an official statement indicating that 23 year-old neo-pro, Rory Sutherland, tested positive for an illegal substance 'neither blood doping nor EPO-related' while racing at the Deutschland Tour from August 15-23 last month. Consequently, the team has suspended the Canberra-born rider, with Sutherland requesting that his B sample undergo analysis.
Exactly how long the UCI's anti-doping lab will take to test and forward the results of the B sample to his team and Cycling Australia is unknown. Cyclingnews contacted the UCI's press officer Enrico Carpani as to the nature of the infraction and timing of the test results, but chose not to comment on either matter. Regardless, a further effect of Sutherland's current suspension is his temporary removal from the nine-member Australian team named for the men's road race, where he was to play a key role in safeguarding Robbie McEwen before what will most likely be a bunch-sprint finish.
"We were notified, but apart from being notified that he had basically gone positive for something without any detail, that is the extent of the information we have officially from the UCI," said Cycling Australia's High Performance Manager, Kevin Tabotta.
"When a professional rider goes positive, the actual role that a national federation has is normally down the track and reactionary to what [decision] has already been made. All I know is that it's not EPO or blood doping related, so I guess that takes out the more serious aspects of [the offence]," he said.
Added Tabotta: "Until the B sample is tested, we won't know much more - and from what I understand, his team, Rabobank, will be taking firm control of the situation and how information [relating to the offence] is delivered to the media and general public, and have given him fairly strict instructions on what to say and what not to say."
With Sutherland at least temporarily out of the picture for the World's, the five reserves - Nick Gates, Simon Gerrans, Aaron Kemps, Brett Lancaster, Matthew Wilson - would now be aware they are now in contention to fill the void. Out of the five, Brett Lancaster and Simon Gerrans appear on paper the most suitable alternatives in light of recent performances.
"It's not unusual at a world championship to have riders dropping out through injury or health reasons up to two days beforehand - that's why we have five reserves," Tabotta said. "Rory's situation, while very disappointing for him and also for the national team - he was riding very, very well - we do have back-up [for], and those riders are now in contention now for the ninth spot, should Rory be declared unavailable."
According to the UCI rules for a world road championship, national teams can nominate their final squad up to two days before the start of the said race - which, in theory, leaves enough time for Sutherland's B sample to be tested and, if declared positive, a suitable replacement.