Toolbox: Painful Confessions
Now seems like a good time to come clean. All the cool kids are doing it, so here it goes. I apologize in advance for any embarrassment this may cause my family and sponsors. In my 25-year career, I never took performance-enhancing drugs…
By Josh Horowitz
Perhaps I didn’t want it enough. Perhaps I was never willing to go that extra step, to take my riding to the next level. Perhaps I just didn’t have the balls. Regardless, I apologize for the disappointment you must be feeling.
As much as I would like to stand next to the great names of the sport like Armstrong and Contador, the sad fact is that I never got to the point where it would have been worth the expense and the risk
If you don’t believe me just look at my race results over the years. Many personal triumphs and a few notable successes but few and far between. Had I been doping it would be a miserable excuse for a career.
If I had been on an ample doping program I may have had a few seasons at the Continental level, perhaps earning a thousand, maybe two thousand dollars a month, perhaps taking home a few thousand more in prize money. Hardly worth the financial investment and the risk to my health and career (as a coach and writer).
I’m no saint. The truth is that doping products were never readily available to me. In all honesty, if I had been in a team situation where doping was the norm, the drugs were accessible and professionally administered I probably would have gone along with the flow.
And while I’m being honest, I probably would not have considered myself a cheat.
What I think the cycling culture doesn’t understand is that we aren’t racing for the UCI and we aren’t racing for a set of rules.
We’re not racing for USAC, and we’re not racing for our sponsors.
The goal with almost every racer I have ever known is to compete at the highest level possible.
We are racing against each other.
It’s the competition, not the governing bodies that sets the rules.
If the competition trains 30 h each week then I have to train 30 h a week. If the competition is eating a strict performance oriented diet then I have to eat a strict performance oriented diet. If the competition is riding the best possible equipment then I have to ride the best possible equipment. If the competition stretches, massages, meditates, whatever, then to be competitive then I must do all those things.
Like it or not, it’s not about rules or honesty or fairness. It’s about matching your competition step for step and hoping that with a little luck and some good tactics you may once in a while triumph over the pack.
The Flip Side
There’s another aspect to this issue that the cycling culture doesn’t often touch on.
For most of my life I wasn’t all that aware of the doping that was going on at the domestic level. I was blissfully naïve and ignorant. However, there did come a point where I knew I had a teammate who wasn’t clean.
With that knowledge I can think of at least one instance where I gave a lead out to a dirty teammate. Another time I took assistance in a stage race from a dirty teammate. Another time I handed off a bottle to a dirty teammate at the end of a brutally hot stage.
And these are just the instances I know about.
On each of those occasions I took my share of the prize money. On those days, we may have taken a result away from a bread and water rider (term for rider who riders without chemical assistance). Does that make me as guilty as the doper? Perhaps.
When it became clear that some of my teammates were using PEDs, I had a frank discussion with my coach.
Not about whether or not I should dope but about how I could co-exist on a team where I may often find myself sacrificing myself for a teammate. Not because they trained harder than me, were smarter racers than me or had more talent but because they were doping.
If they were clean then perhaps they would have been working for me.
My coach shared the following wisdom with me. To this day I don’t know how much truth there is to it but in my despair, it was the only thing I could grasp on to. So I did.
He said that doping does have a down side to it in terms of performance. The riders who are doping live in an ongoing state of stress, not because they are morally torn but because they are afraid of getting caught. They take that stress with them to bed at night before a race and they carry it through the stage until they breathe a sigh of relief at the end when they don’t see their number on the control board at the end.
They also must deal with the day-to-day logistics of a doping program. Timing, dosing, scrounging up the money each month to keep the refrigerators stocked. All these things take energy, both physical and mental.
The theory was that as a clean rider, you could relax more, spend more time focused on your training and recovery and position yourself in a way to take full advantage of the slight edge that this may give you over your teammates.
I began to think of it like this.
While the dopers are lying in bed worrying about controls the next day I could do my mantras and hypnosis training.
While the dopers are working on their Oil Change (look it up), I could be stretching and massaging.
While the dopers are working out their dosing I could be refining my training schedule.
While the dopers are spending money on EPO and needles I could purchase legal training tools such as vitamins, massages and power meters.
It’s not much to hold on to but it got me through the last few seasons.
You’re never really going to overcome the deficit that good drugs can create so I believe that it is up to each individual rider to create their own definition of success. You must define your own parameters of competition and then succeed within those margins.
Marco Pinotti, one of the most respected riders in the pro peloton writes in his book, “The Cycling Professor”,
“In my profession, I’ve felt much more involved and motivated by the practice of the sport than its competitive results. Of course I’m interested in the results and I would always go fast and try to win, but I find other aspects of my work much more stimulating and challenging: the type of preparation, the physical sensations (fatigue after a race or a hard workout are so beneficial on a psychological level, it’s hard to describe), the opportunities this job gives me to visit many different places in the world, or simply the pleasure of being outdoors. I think, and hope, that there are many riders who think like me.”
Figure out what will make you happy in the sport. What will be your characterization of accomplishment? Like I said before, we do this for ourselves and no one else. If you can triumph in the environment that you’ve created for yourself then at the end of every day you and only you, will know whether or not you have succeeded.
Josh Horowitz is an ex-pro who recently retired after a 27-year racing career. He is the owner of Liquid Fitness Coaching, Liquid Pro Cycling, and Ultimate Sports Psychology. His sports hypnosis program, The Ultimate Cyclist has helped thousands of cyclists realize their dreams. Most recently he is the owner and CEO of Broken Bones Bicycle Company, an edgy alternative to the main stream high end bike brands. Their flagship product, The Fracture was tested and ridden by The Wonderful Pistachios Professional Cycling Team (UCI Continental).