With MotoGP clocking off for the winter, it is usually the most relaxed time of the season for all connected to the sport but with Andrea Iannone’s anti-doping case surfacing it has provided a reminder of the shadowy side of sport.

The Italian’s future hangs in the balance as he fights an FIM suspension after the steroid drostanolone was found in both his samples from his failed anti-doping test at the Malaysian MotoGP on November 3.

Iannone’s defence led by his lawyer Antonio De Rensis appears to rely on him unwittingly ingesting the drug through contaminated meat during the Asia flyaway races. A pull towards a softer suspension is also being mooted by the explanation of a small amount of the drug being discovered in the sample.

The case has placed a spotlight on the FIM’s current anti-doping procedures which compared to other major sports is trailing in terms of scrutiny – something Cal Crutchlow made clear at the 2018 season opener.

“I think the testing is terrible. I think the way that whole part of this championship is run is no good. But I'm not saying anything that I've not said for the last four years,” Crutchlow explained.

“If you think that there are people here who aren’t trying to cut corners, in the biggest motorcycle sport on the planet, you’re stupid. Because there are people cutting corners.

“But the [testing] system is just shit. How can you select randomly three riders into a testing pool?”

According to the FIM’s anti-doping controls results from 2018 covering all championships it governs, a total of 149 anti-doping tests were carried out with 33 completed in MotoGP (including Moto2 and Moto3) from three periods (French Grand Prix, Austrian Grand Prix and Malaysian Grand Prix).

Four riders fell foul in 2018, most notably Anthony West as it was his second FIM suspension for failing an anti-doping test which led to him quitting the sport. Trials GP rider Jeroni Fajardo received a one-year suspension for taking stimulant Heptaminol, while both AMA Supercross riders Broc Tickle and Christian Craig were given two-year bans for banned substances found in their urine tests.

Tickle’s case follows a similar path to Iannone’s as the American claimed he did not know how methylhexanamine got into his system with the banned drug found in both his A and B samples.

All riders found guilty in 2018 had retrospective bans, starting from the date of the initial failed test, meaning Iannone will only avoid missing the start of the 2020 MotoGP season if his ban is three months or shorter which given the examples seems incredibly unlikely.

Following Iannone’s initial suspension, Scott Redding – the rider Iannone replaced at Aprilia – also backed the call for more anti-doping tests in a social media post: “Test more riders more regular to keep the sport clean. Or would it show some unexpected surprise.”

The FIM might have been listening to Crutchlow and Redding because in 2019 the recorded anti-doping tests rose to 257 in total with 72 occurring in the three MotoGP classes taken from eight races.

While each anti-doping case must be considered on its individual circumstances, the FIM reported four failed tests in 2018 while only Andrea Iannone’s case fell foul in 2019.

In reaction to Crutchlow’s comments from two years ago, GPOne.com followed up his complaints to FIM President Vito Ippolito (replaced by Jorge Viegas in December 2018) to see if his words gained any traction where it mattered.

Ippolito hinted that while the FIM aimed to increase anti-doping checks, which came to fruition in its 2019 numbers, resistance came from within the paddock with team managers concerned any additional checks would distract and aggravate their riders.

With the FIM sticking to WADA’s guidelines for checks while gradually increasing its testing schedule in a cost-effective manner, it outstrips the FIA’s operations in comparison who, according to data released by the governing body and WADA, state in 2018 131 drivers were given tests (107 in-competition plus 24 out-of-competition) while 2019 statistics are yet to be published.

In February 2016, Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso was given a stark awakening when an anti-doping officer arrived at his hotel to carry out a test at 6:10am, while all drivers must give a detailed diary of their location through the Anti-Doping Administration Management System (ADAMS) so officials can track them down from testing.

Conversely, later that year fellow former F1 world champion Jenson Button revealed he hadn’t been tested for over three years and requested greater action from F1 and WADA officials.

A frequent point made against increasing anti-doping checks is that using drugs to cheat has rarely been a frontline fight for motorsport given the limited benefits of the most common types of drug cheating.

The use of banned steroids are often aimed to increase muscle mass, a counterproductive move in a sport where the power to weight ratio is pivotal. Blood doping and the use of EPO, which Lance Armstrong cheated with to win seven Tour de France titles, may have benefits in endurance racing where peak performance is required over a long period of time but specifically focusing on short circuit racing the advantages would be less effective.

Speaking about doping in MotoGP in 2018, Crutchlow outlined the current process each rider goes through regardless of how many times, if at all, they are tested each season. All riders use the ADAMS and before the start of the season all riders were given an explanation of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) process and ADAMS.

“Everyone has to log on and [state] their whereabouts on the ADAMS system,” he said. “I’ll tell you what the problem is, they’re all lazy bastards, and they don’t want the hassle of logging in every day.

“But you can log on once a month and say where you’ll be. Then if you make a change to your itinerary, you log on and do it. But if you’re telling me they don’t have assistants, team managers, their doctors to do it.

“They don’t want to do it, they’re just lazy. But if they say they don’t want to do it, how do I know they’re not the ones cheating?

“I'm not saying that a hard drug here would help. [MotoGP] is not particularly about outright performance, you have one guy here who goes out smoking and drinking, but he’s still able to be competitive because he’s a natural motorcycle racer.

“But we’re talking about needles, rehydration.

“We’re not allowed needles. I know for a fact there are needles here. You could be taking diuretics to shed weight, because you’re lazy and you don’t want to put in the amount of hours that someone else does.”

Crutchlow’s sentiments found strong backing from key MotoGP riders back in 2018, particularly from world champion Marc Marquez.

“We are professional athletes and of course we would like more controls because it would be more fair [sic] for everybody,” added Marquez. “For me it’s not normal that in 19 races we have only two controls, in two different races and not all the riders, just a few riders.

“This I think we need to change and for that reason we are asking the FIM, Dorna, ADAMS to change that procedure.”

Given the headlines doping has created in athletics and cycling, Iannone’s case will no doubt be a major talking point when MotoGP returns to action at the start of this season.

The severity of Iannone’s punishment for his doping case will be confirmed by the FIM within the next 45 days which will then trigger any additional action from Aprilia regarding his position within the team.

Team boss Massimo Rivola has remained resolute in support of his rider until the full FIM investigation and appeal process is completed while also calling on more checks for all riders.

But whatever the outcome is for Iannone, the issue of doping will be thrust back into MotoGP’s central focus.

How severe Iannone’s punishment will be is likely to set the tone to the reaction to his case.

The ruling body could move to make an example of the Italian and find an incentive for increased anti-doping tests and measures in the future.

But if the judgment sees Iannone as someone who unknowingly made a mistake after over a month of racing around Asia the issue could be pushed aside and left to fester.

 

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