What's Cool In Road Cycling

Doping Battle: Cycling Unique Among Sports

It always seems like the guys who speak about doping numbers being 90% are also the ones who got nailed in the act, didn’t perform up to expectations, were leaving the sport without having saved his pennies, or can wear a mask and change their voice… Personally I don’t trust people with nothing to lose and I never have.

Cycling suffers a couple of big problems that other sports don’t.

First, the gains to be had by doping are pretty large.

Simple human performance capacity is a lot more important in cycling than lots of other sports, and that plays itself out in the numbers as margins of victory are far smaller in cycling. Let’s say you get a 2 percent boost from EPO. Let’s say you missed your window for taking it safely. Rather than being equal to the winning time, being 2% off that time has you coming in at some place near 40th at the Tour. At Liege, if you would have had a time on par with the winner and didn’t get your “juice”, you would wind up some place near 30th.

THIS IS OVER SIMPLIFIED, it doesn’t include things like heart, skill and team support. But it does give you an idea based strictly on time. This is also not to imply that everyone does take drugs. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the UCI rider rankings or the Grand tour podiums would have changed much at all in the last 50 years had the sport been totally clean. One hit wonders aside, Champions are Champions. Drugs don’t make a Merckx, Armstrong, Hinault, Indurain or the like. To be any of the real hero’s in the sport it takes heart, a huge set (or even single I must add), and a team that does the right thing.

Secondly, the UCI is more a governing body than a Cyclists union.

That’s not to say they don’t get a few things right. The mandatory two year suspension required by WADA is bullshit. (and didn’t WADA run out of money, or did they finally figure out how to run their own business before telling others how to run theirs…). We’ve had athletes present unopened cartons of the supplements they took for testing after they tested positive for something. It was discovered that there was no possible way that the athlete could have known that there were trace amounts of banned substances (AND IN AMOUNTS THAT PROVIDED NO PERFORMANCE BENEFIT but would still ring up a positive!). Should Paolo Bettini get axed for two years for a first offence if he decides to use a protein powder during his base mile ride of 7 hours a day? Should Lance have to go for number 6 in 2006 because the aspirin he took To treat the headache he gets after getting asked the same questions 5000 times) were made in the same place as a steroid, and the drug company didn’t completely scrub the hopper? No, The UCI have this one right.

What the UCI does have wrong is that they don’t have a steep escalating ladder of punishment for guys like Frank VDB. There should be team penalties for failing tests in a competition so that team doctors and teams actually keep riders clean rather than just testable. And there should be a better version of testing year round so that riders have established baselines and would have to miss races if they strayed to far. (although popping a guy like Jan for going out one night and getting his grove on was pretty lame…) A two or three level system for the drugs could also be established so that, should someone have only trace amounts of something stupid like what they would get in a saddle sore cream, they don’t get the same punishment as guys who get caught with crap that glows in the dark…

And if you think all this would be too complicated, have the UCI send you their rules on Pro road cycling, but beware! If you are not on a cable modem, it could take a month and a half to download it… They have a crap load of rules for all sorts of crap I have never seen happen, but seem to fall short in areas like making sure riders get their paychecks. A couple of rule changes for the thing that hangs over the sport would do em good.

To be honest, (and this view is a little different than my old view) I love the spectacle and I love the heroic performances. I like the Grand Tours (especially the Giro)… I LOVE the Classics. The fact that some of the riders are using drugs doesn’t take away the feeling I get when a mud-covered Lion of Flanders wins after simply riding people into the ground and it doesn’t take away the feeling of almost wanting to cry over a mud-covered George Hincapie not having the support he needed or having all the bad luck he didn’t need… There are clean riders, even the biggest critics admit that not everyone dopes, and until they test positive, they are my hero’s.

To me, the goal isn’t to clean up the sport. The goal is to make the life of the riders longer and happier and safer. The problem is that we don’t get to walk in the riders’ shoes, and it’s easy to be critical from the cheap seats.

The UCI are responsible for the health and welfare of the sport and the health and welfare of the riders. That in and of itself is wrong. It means the UCI get to be more worried about their own income and the wellbeing of sponsors than the wellbeing of it’s athletes. The good news is it can change! The bad news is that it requires a split in government. Just about every other major sport has a union (or players association) for the athletes and governing body for the sport. Until the UCI splits, they will always place the sport above those men and women that make it possible.

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