Blazin' Saddles

Rogers: over and out or pie in the Sky?

Less than a fortnight after his bold claim that there had been "zero doping cases" on any of his cycling teams in the past five years, Russian tycoon Oleg Tinkov has been left with Christmas eggnog on his face with news that Tinkoff-Saxo super domestique Michael Rogers has tested positive for unnatural levels of both karma and irony.

Perceptible traces of both phenomena were found in Rogers' bloodstream by the same doctors who snared the veteran Australian for returning adverse analytical findings for Clenbuterol following his victory at the Japan Cup in October, which followed his participation in the Tour of Beijing.

With Tinkov's frenzied assurance that "never, ever have my riders been involved in doping, as an owner or a sponsor" still fresh in the mind, Rogers was forced into making a statement that he had "never knowingly or deliberately ingested Clenbuterol".

Rogers thanked fans for showing compassion about "this unfortunate situation … that I have been placed in".

Inevitably, he blamed the positive test on food contamination, but stopped short at doing a full Stuey O'Grady by claiming that he had only ever once in his life eaten a beef burger in Beijing.

It has to be said: if there's one place where a cyclist risks very little ingesting Clenbuterol deliberately then it's in China. After all, you have that ready-made excuse on blaming the food.

Such a tactic didn't work so well for Alberto Contador a few years ago - but the Spaniard's explanation made little geographical sense. Using the bad beef card in France was like saying you've eaten too many fresh vegetables in Russia, or got sunburned in Scotland. It adds up about as well as Johan Bruyneel's maths.

China, however, is very different kettle of fish; most of the performance-enhanced population is probably wired on Clenbuterol. No doubt this is why the Chinese are so productive.

It's no secret that the World Anti Doping Agency has for a long time recognised that the use of the steroid to fatten cattle and other livestock is widespread in China. It's why riders were told to avoid eating meat during the Tour of Beijing.

So, believing Rogers is tantamount to accepting that he has been incredibly naïve, not to mention stupid and unprofessional.

After all, given that Tinkoff-Saxo were hampered by a near-identical case in the past, then you'd think that Bjarne Riis's men would be on red alert to avoid a repeat (Contador may have been at Astana at the time of his Basque beef ingestion, but it was the Danish team who suffered the consequences after Bert joined them in the wake of his 2010 Tour victory).

When Contador was snared, many people saw the irony of someone whose name had been linked to so many doping storms - be it Operacion Puerto or the fall-out from Manolo Saiz's Liberty Seguros squad - finally being called to account for all those seemingly innocuous pictograms.

It was like Al Capone being eventually convicted for tax evasion as opposed to all those mobster deaths. Blazin' Saddles remembers to the day the contempt (bordering on McEnroenian are-you-seriousness?) with which Contador pronounced each and every one of those zeros that appeared behind the decimal point of the volume of incriminating evidence that went against him.

They say history has a way of repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. As such, there are very few tragedies in modern-day cycling when it comes to doping. We've been here before and farcical are the ways in which each fresh case unravels.

Moments after Rogers' positive A-sample was announced, the former disgraced American cyclist Tyler Hamilton tweeted one simple word: karma. Who knows, it may have been wholly unrelated. But it probably wasn't.

We all know that Rogers has admitted in the past to have used the controversial doctor Michele Ferrari for his training. The former T-Mobile rider was also been linked with the Freiburg investigation and was one of the names drudged up by former team-mate and fellow Japan Cup-winning rider Patrik Sinkewitz when he blew the whistle about the German team's widespread doping antics.

The former triple world time trial champion has dodged more bullets than Neo in the Matrix - which is pretty impressive considering he never, in the strongest terms possible, took any of those little red pills.

But the innuendo resurfaced last summer when Rogers unexpectedly left Team Sky just months after helping Bradley Wiggins ride to victory in the 2012 Tour.

With Riis's team offering Rogers a bumper deal that would sort out his retirement fund, the move was "strictly financial". Although a lot was said about the departure coinciding with Sky's implementation of a strict zero-tolerance policy, for which all riders were asked to sign a declaration that they had not doped in the past.

Now, as strict liability law kicks in, Rogers will have to prove how the Clenbuterol got into his blood stream, otherwise he will be found guilty and banned. Cycling Australia have said they will support a "maximum suspension" for their man, although Rogers, a Swiss resident, does not actually hold an Australian racing licence.

With most sentencing and judging nowadays taking part online on forums, message boards and Twitter, Rogers' positive test has already been used as a stick to batter his former team, Sky, in what is a rather testing time for Dave Brailsford's men.

Just days ago, Team Sky deigned to "note" that their rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has been charged by the UCI with a violation of anti-doping rules thought to be highlighted by an anomaly in his biological passport. The team stressed that the dodgy readings were "taken before he signed for the team" and in the wake of his breakthrough season with Endura in 2012, when the 28-year-old Briton won the Tour of Britain, Haut-Var and Mediterranean triple crown.

Current Tour de France champion Chris Froome was quick to toe the team line and throw Tiernan-Locke under the Sky bus.

If Rogers' situation was "unfortunate" then the whole Tiernan-Locke case was "hugely unfortunate" for Sky, according to Froome, who claimed it is "inevitable" that his own reputation will be now tarnished by association.

In a personal statement, Tiernan-Locke "vehemently" denied all the charges brought against him. Sky were generous enough to note that they had been "informed" about their rider's intention to defend himself, but rather tellingly, they offered him no support in their terse statement. Sky were quite to stress, however, that "there are no doubts about his approach or performance in Team Sky".

"This is a team that trains, races and wins clean,” the statement concluded.

It's an awkward moment for Sky, who pride themselves on their zero-tolerance approach, and a painstakingly minute attention to detail, backed up by power data and the like.

Critics will say that at best this highlights the lack of rigorousness carried out by Sky in their check-ups on the rider's history; at worst, it seriously questions their whole modus operandi and perhaps shows that they haven't really got a clue what they're talking about in the first place, if they failed to see the same anomalies in Tiernan-Locke's numbers as the chaps at with clipboards in the laboratories in Aigle.

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British cycling fans hoping for some reaction to the Rogers' story when it broke on Wednesday night will have been left frustrated - for the Cycling Writers of Great Britain Annual Xmas Dinner was in full swing until the early hours in the heart of London.

Prizes in the raffle included a signed Danilo Di Luca skinsuit, a Liberty Seguros kit from 2005, a Mellow Johnny's cap and musettes from the likes of T-Mobile, Rabobank and Phonak.

A very special mystery guest arrived in a Santa suit to much applause. When he removed his beard and hat it was none other than Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, who didn't leave the evening empty handed: his number was picked out of the pot as the winner of poster of Alexander Vinokourov crossing the line to take victory in the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, signed by Vino himself.

During the course of the evening the ever-affable Prudhomme was approached by numerous writers trying to buy his prize, but Monsieur ASO was having nothing of it.

In a post-dinner speech Prudhomme praised the role of the press in bringing alive races like the Tour, but he lamented the fact that there were only four female journalists in the room (from a group of around 40).

"If I return again I would like to see more ladies," he said, with a hint of Tinkovian jest. Christian, it's nothing that a bit of sponsorship wouldn't sort out. After all, you are Father Christmas this year.

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