Friday, April 24, 2015

Greg Henderson races to call Fabio Aru a cheater, then backpedals

On Greg Henderson's controversial comments about Fabio Aru
April 24, 2015

By now many of you will have heard about Lotto Soudal's Greg Henderson calling out Astana's Fabio Aru after the latter skipped the Giro Del Trentino due to a "stomach virus".

The first tweets went like this:

“Sad to see @fabaro1 "sick". Mate make sure next time u come back to our sport "healthy". Aka. Clean! #biopassport! Or don't come back!”

And later posted: “I am so sick of it. It becomes common knowledge within days. Why try cheat.”

Cyclingnews notes that Henderson has close to 40,000 followers on Twitter.
[See further down for a follow-up tweet from Henderson...]

Greg Henderson, vocal opiner
Greg Henderson has always impressed me as a highly talented lead-out man/sprinter, always ready to sacrifice for his team, and battle through some of the most challenging stage finales to help secure top results for his team.  As an avid cycling fan, and with no other direct connection to the sport or its personnel, other than as a fan, I am probably not alone in wondering as to the veracity and the ethical implications of Greg Henderson's incendiary comment on Twitter about Fabio Aru.

In play are the facts of the matter themselves (is Aru actually involved in any blood passport investigation?), Henderson's previous relationship with the Italian climber and his currently contentious Astana team, and perhaps just as significantly for the sport, the cumulative moral and practical effects of potentially bearing false witness.

With no apparent evidence at this point to back up Henderson's questionable claim, a lawsuit certainly seems plausible...and likely necessary. It is difficult for me to imagine Henderson voluntarily uttering such reproach in so very public a forum, without offering any supporting evidence. [Henderson did allude to a "source" but as yet has not elaborated on that source].

Like me, I assume many of us do suspect biological anomalies when a rider--particularly a star rider--suddenly drops out of a scheduled race. But many factors come into play when teams and riders make such decisions, and with no other public suggestion of impropriety, it was very irresponsible and seemingly vindictive for Greg Henderson to publically call out Aru.

Fabio Aru, in the spotlight
Further, such comments do nothing to promote the cause of "healing" the vulnerable sport of professional cycling. If Henderson has some inside knowledge then he should share it with the appropriate authorities, not take to the public arena to voice slanderous accusations. We are experiencing a fragile era in pro cycling where each step needs to be taken with great care and consideration, so that we can move away from impropriety and toward a cleaner, more respectable institution.

Manx sprinting legend Mark Cavendish commented recently that cycling has strayed from its previous characterization as a sport of "gentlemen"--and I am liberally paraphrasing here--toward a slicker, shrewder cutthroat market. It pains me that a pro of Henderson's stature should be so insensitive to the rippling effects of seemingly unsubstantiated claims of doping, while the sport is still reeling from some of its most damaging scandals, and (hopefully) striving to improve the fairness of the sport as well as the public perception of the sport.

Stop chasing away sponsors!

We all want a level playing field, and most of us aspire to a clean sport, but there is an appropriate time and place to voice contentious opinions, particularly as they naively beg for litigated responses, and a volatile, though pedestrian, "social media" site wholly dedicated to online bragging is not it. Having said that, I'm sure the Kiwi learned a lesson, but one other point sticks in my craw...

Why would such an established veteran in the sport call out a rival unless he in fact does have some information that has not been made public? Whether that information has credence is one issue, but public insinuation in the absence of first-hand proof is another. I can't help but wonder what or who Henderson's mysterious source was, and if we will ever unearth any facts to back up his claim. But one disturbing thought lingers: has it become generally accepted within the pro peloton that the entire Astana team is a reprehensible collection of cheaters and liars? Or did Henderson pick up on some contentious detail, like the fact that Aru claimed to have been treated for a viral infection with antibiotics (typically for bacterial infections). The predicament smells to me like the Lotto-Soudal rider proceeded from comments by sources he has trusted, and opened his mouth before considering all the facts.

As of this writing, Aru is considering legal options to vindicate his reputation; and Henderson has issued a public apology for his comments:

When you are sick. You are sick. Jumping to conclusions helps nobody. My mistake @FabioAru1. I should shut my mouth. Sincere apologies.

more to come...