Dopers Suck

7:18 PM

Whenever I get a chance, I like to peruse the Velo News website to see what is going on in the world of road cycling.  Some headlines from the past few days:

  • Contador Banned Two Years
  • WADA Urges Feds to Hand Over Lance Armstrong Info
  • Longo’s Husband Arrested in Police Drug Probe
  • Martel Sanctioned for Testosterone
  • CAS Bans Retired Ullrich for Blood Doping
When I was younger, I was into distance running and track and field.  I remember watching the scene on television as this tiny woman ran away from the field, surrounded by acres of freeway concrete in the 1984 Olympics.  Even though I began the day by rooting for Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit stole the show, and became my hero.  The 1980s and 90s saw plenty of negative drug press coverage for runners – sprinters retiring in disgrace, Chinese runners who would set world records but rarely race outside of China – that mirrored the acknowledgement of drug use by cyclists.  Being young and naïve, I believed that the sport organizations would put together a logical system, implement it, and clean everything up.

I’m not so young anymore.  What I think is most interesting about cycling, however, is that when you look at the history, substance use/abuse is the rule, rather than the exception.  Only an insane person would attempt to do what the sport asks of their athletes without some form of help.  It was Coppi who joked that he doped only when necessary…which was always.  And each year, it appears race organizers are attempting to up the ante with more mountain top finishes, and steeper grades – look at last year’s Giro, for example.  As a spectator, I admit that I play a role in the whole circus as well – I watched, and was riveted by, every stage of the 2011 Giro. 

My sympathy for the cyclists deepens when you look at the behavior of the ruling organizations.  With procedures that are cloaked in secrecy, evidence that athletes cannot access in their defense, and arbitrary rulings that seem to defy logic, it does appear that the deck is stacked against the athlete by a faceless and bureaucratic system.  

But then I remember that they cheated, and I get all mad all over again.  “The simple fact is that anyone who has a prohibited substance in their system is a cheat.  It is as simple as that.  The only argument then comes as to what was the nature of how that prohibited substance got into the athlete’s system,” said John Fahey, head of the World Anti-Doping Association.  Tainted beef?  Please…and was that cow chewing on plastic, as well?  Is that how the plasticizer got into your system, Alberto?  All those athletes with chemists on their staff – what services do they provide?  B-samples, greedy athletes, payoffs, sponsor money, and a woefully mismanaged UCI create one heck of a corrupt stew. 

And yet, I still watch.  I want to believe that my favorite cyclists are clean – it is everyone else in the peloton that is dirty.  I am happy when I see a cyclist put forth an incredible performance one day, only to drop off the back the next, because surely that means it was a clean ride, right?  I delighted in the “0” score Fabian Cancellara received on the leaked 2010 TDF possible dopers list, because it made me believe that a clean athlete could actually exist in the world of professional cycling.  Even with this, though, I watch with the ever-present knowledge that what I am seeing may not be real.  That my favorite cyclist one day may be derided the next as he holds his tear-filled press conference.  On that day, I throw my hands up in disgust, ready to label the entire sport as so hopelessly mired in doping, that they clearly do not actually want to clean things up.  But then the day after comes, and I see it is going to be a classics-style stage, and I wonder if Gilbert will wow us with an amazing attack in the closing kilometers…

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