Cycling: Manzano's drugs allegations cast new shadow over cycling

For Some, Jesus Manzano is a courageous young Spaniard who has finally lifted the lid in enormous detail on organised doping in cycling. For others, he is an overly-knowledgeable expert on drugs who has made the deal of his lifetime with Spain's sensationalist sports press. Either way, in the long-run, it does not matter. The former professional's revelations are providing cycling with its umpteenth battering about doping and the long-term consequences might prove catastrophic, at least in Spain.

For Some, Jesus Manzano is a courageous young Spaniard who has finally lifted the lid in enormous detail on organised doping in cycling. For others, he is an overly-knowledgeable expert on drugs who has made the deal of his lifetime with Spain's sensationalist sports press. Either way, in the long-run, it does not matter. The former professional's revelations are providing cycling with its umpteenth battering about doping and the long-term consequences might prove catastrophic, at least in Spain.

For the last three days, Manzano's declarations have filled the pages of Spain's second biggest sports daily, AS, with a flood of allegations about doping so shocking and, at times, plain nauseating, that it is impossible to remain unaffected.

"I close my eyes and try think what I am reading is simply not true, another nightmare," wrote the president of Spain's association of football medics, Jose Gonzalez.

But according to Manzano, the nightmare is real. Day after day, in gruelling detail, he has recounted one gruesome anecdote after another from his four years with the Kelme team.

There was the time when he collapsed, unconscious, in the 2003 Tour de France because he took an unknown substance and nearly died of heat exhaustion. The occasion when he took an unidentified blood transfusion, and collapsed on a train in Valencia, "again on the point of dying." Nor are his team-mates any less implicated. Manzano describes, for example, when they used vet's syringes to inject one form of serum, "with several guys holding the rider down." As if this were not enough to wreck a sport's image, Manzano then goes through the entire list of banned substances he has used, their different brand names, price and how to use them.

Each substance or method, Manzano reveals, has its own nickname: cortisone is known as "marker pens", blood transfusions are called "oil changes". EPO, cycling's most notorious performance enhancing drug, is known as "pelas", the Spanish slang word for pesetas. "You'd say, give me 4,000 pelas," was Manzano's description, "which is 4,000 units of EPO."

Spain, the cynic might say, had it coming. For years now, while the country which produced cyclists as great as Miguel Indurain and Federico Bahamontes has seemed immune to the scandals that have blasted the sport in other countries, riders giving positive in dope tests would be dismissed as individual black sheep. The French insistence on more and more health checks was seen as unnecessary Gallic zeal.

But now the chickens appear to have come home to roost and, in the pecking order of doping scandals, the Manzano affair could hardly be more brutal and more blatant than anything that has come before.

The pictures alone - running into dozens - of Manzano shoving syringes into his arms and stomach go way beyond AS' usual sensationalist fodder of scantily clad footballers' girlfriends or female fans. His declarations are far more detailed than whatever Willy Voet had to say about organised doping at Festina in 1998, probably the previous most shocking revelation in the sport.

The test now, perhaps, is how immune cycling - and sport in general - has become to such gruesome scandals.

Certainly, the defence mechanisms now developed to perfection after 1998's scandals have kicked rapidly into action. Kelme themselves denied all knowledge of Manzano's claims and threatened legal action. The riders have sunk into collective silence. The UCI issued a statement saying it "could not tolerate these sporting massacres" and that "nobody will ask for proof". Possibly the only way that Manzano's case could be undermined is in the Spanish Ministry of Sport's hurriedly opened investigation, which the acting Minister, Javier Gomez Angulo, has said "will have to go through the legal channels, because these claims are too serious."

Manzano's only problem is that he does not come across as a particularly appealing individual. Thrown out of Kelme during last year's Vuelta because he was caught with a female friend in a race hotel - hardly a crime against humanity but strictly forbidden by most teams - Manzano's claim that had they been doing nanything private they would have closed the door was not exactly tastefully put.

What is saddest of all is that neither Manzano nor his girlfriend, Marina, appear at all perturbed by the consequences of his revelations.

In a smaller photo in As in day two of their declarations, the couple are seen eying the earlier reports and say they are "happy with the way the article came out". However, Marina has one complaint that the photos should have been taken "when she'd had time to hang up the curtains she had just washed".

That i s hardly the main issue given the havoc she and her partner threaten to wreak in cycling.; rather the cycling world in general would have preferred those curtains to remain closed.

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