Suspension ends for ousted Rabobanker, with new team deal
By Anthony Tan
Serving out the final three days of his 15-month suspension for a drug he claimed no knowledge of taking, and armed with a new contract for the 2007 season, Rory Sutherland has reason to be hopeful.
"At the moment, I've got structure - which is a pretty difficult thing to get when you've got no racing," said Sutherland from his home in Canberra, in an exclusive telephone interview with Cyclingnews on November 23. "When you've got no structure, it's quite difficult for you to look forward to things. Now, there's things coming up in the immediate future, where, if I don't do things now, I'm going to suffer at the start of next year."
It was the 2005 edition of the Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany) that revealed Sutherland had tested positive to a substance known as Clomiphene. Almost unheard of and not considered to be a performance enhancer according to some medical experts, Clomiphene is nevertheless on WADA's banned list due to its ability to inhibit estrogen, thereby increasing the body's testosterone production.
An important factor in the Australian's defence was the concentration - 5-10 nanograms, or 5-10 billionths of a gram - and it was this argument that was put forward to the disciplinary committee of the Belgian Cycling Federation, with whom he holds his racing licence. An independent investigation committee also found no evidence to suggest the rider "directly or indirectly expressed interest in or in using substances classified as doping agents" and that Sutherland "took the substance unknowingly".
Yet despite this, he received a two-year suspension with a nine-month conditional sentence - effectively 15 months out of the sport he'd spent barely a year as a professional. The 23 year-old said he chose not to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the highest authority in the sporting world, based on previous unsuccessful appeals from riders such as Danilo Hondo - who was in fact awarded a further two year suspension upon appeal to CAS - and a lack of additional evidence to support his claim.
"It's all just speculation again. If you don't have anything concrete, if you're not contracted during that time you're suspended, any the costs have to come out of your own pocket," he said. "It might have been a little bit different if I'd been a pro for 5 or 10 years like a lot of other riders, but there just seems to be this continual fight, this continual search for something...
"Y'know, these things do cost a lot of money and a lot of stress and a lot of time. In my situation, I guess it was just easier to bite the bullet, accept what happened, and move towards thinking about next year. I don't think anything would change the suspension, anyway."
These may seem like level-headed, well chosen words, but behind these words, said Sutherland, there's a lot of frustration - though not directed at anyone in particular - tinged with anger. "The process of being suspended is a very scary thing, and it's quite possibly a career-stopping and life changing thing.
"It doesn't seem very humane what happened: if these things were in a court of law, I would be in a lot better position than I'm in now, but [cycling] is all a law within itself."
Before the Operacion Puerto doping scandal ignited scandalous headlines prior to the commencement of this year's Tour de France, Sutherland had hope of re-entering the ProTour. He'd kept up talks with his former Rabobank team, a team where he spent three years as an amateur before turning professional with them in 2005.
"I talked to people all year, I had something in mind about next year for the entire time because you have to keep thinking about it," he said. "The Tour especially didn't help and especially the feeling within cycling at the moment, it's not a fantastic one for people who are 'tainted good', so to speak."
In the end, partly through choice and in no small part due to circumstance, Sutherland won't be returning to the ProTour next year. The "structure" he refers to earlier and the motivation to train is a consequence of his recent one-year deal with American Professional Continental team Health Net presented by Maxxis, where he'll be joining fellow Australians Karl Menzies and Nathan O'Neill in 2007.
The full interview with Rory Sutherland will be published soon on Cyclingnews.