To Dope or not to dope?

“It’s not About the Bike” the title of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s prize-winning work of fiction could turn out to be the most apt book title in history. I bought that book, and the follow-up “Every second Counts”, devoured them, loved them and raised my level of admiration and  respect for the tough cancer surviving Texan.

I sat and watched in awe in 2001 when on the fabled climb of Alpe D’Huez he turned and gave possibly the strongest rider in the field, Jan Ullrich, “The Look” before riding off and destroying the German to claim a further Tour victory. The man was a machine, he gave hope to cancer survivors everywhere, Hollywood couldn’t have made up his story. He just got better and better, every summer he would turn up and not just win but dominate. I was firmly in his camp, cheering his every move. He was great for cycling.

BUT

There were always rumours especially over the later years, and I knew that the people he was dominating, the likes of Ullrich, Basso and Pantani were all drugs cheats. Nearly every one that rode for him at Postal / Discovery went on to ride for other teams and then fail tests. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton being the most famous two. His treatment of those that spoke out against drugs in cycling was the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a leader if they were clean. Walsh, Kimmage, Simeoni all were ridiculed, bullied and vilified by camp Armstrong. He never once said he was clean, his standard answer was “i’ve never failed a test”. Yet we knew from people who would confess that they too had passed hundreds of tests whilst “juicing”. Have a read of “Steroid Nation” to see how easy the tests for EPO and others were easy to beat.

Now of course it’s all come crashing down, he’s no longer a champion, he’s banned for life, he will always have thousands of follows that will say “but he never failed a test”, “It’s a witch hunt”, “He’s a scapegoat”, “He inspired millions” and “Look what he did for cancer” – I agree with those quotes but the fact is he cheated and you’d have to be a blind fool to not see that. I predict that within 5 years we’ll have a best selling book with a full confession, he won’t ever stay out of the limelight. His ego won’t allow it.

He cheated he deserved his ban, it’s unfortunate that those that testified against him got shorter bans but that’s the way the law usually works in any country. Cycling I have to believe is a cleaner sport these days, the comparison of speeds of the Tour winner this year ( much slower ) to the dark days of Armstrong et al gives me hope. However it will take generations to change the culture, the likes of Vaughters, Riis, Yates are still around influencing young riders. This can’t be a good thing.

The sport of triathlon isn’t immune, news broke this week of an American age grouper who failed a drugs test for high levels of testosterone. He was even more of a prat as his livelihood didn’t depend on his result.

BUT

Drugs are prevalent in all sports, athletics through to football, baseball, tennis and even show jumping. Where there is money at stake there will always be drugs. Cycling gets a bad press probably because it tests more, football is laughable by comparison.

Ask yourself though if your livelihood depended on it, and your boss told you that you had to take these substances or you’d essentially lose your job, and you knew that everyone else was doing it, and the likelihood of getting caught was minimal – could you REALLY turn your back on the syringe or the pills in front of you. Could you continue to race clean? I’d like to think I could, but it must be phenomenally hard for a young cyclist to do so with that much pressure. I was put under pressure as an undergraduate when I played a sport for my university. The coach and the senior players openly encouraged us to take pills that would make us lift more, work harder and run faster. I must have been one of the only clean ones on the team but it seriously messed with my head, I could never bench or squat the numbers that those that were taking the M&Ms could do. It was pointed out to me each week in the weights room or on the training field, peer pressure was enormous. Luckily, and how sad is it that I write that word, I blew my knee out in a tackle and ended up on crutches. I was off  the team and never played again. If I hadn’t blown my knee out, would I have eventually caved? I’d like to think that the answer would have been “No” but I was under no illusion that I probably would lose my place in the team as a result. Hand on heart, despite my principles, despite my hard-line attitude that bans for life should be the norm, as an impressionable 20 year old I really don’t know if I would have continued to say no.

Also interestingly when I’ve raced Ironman I’ve popped an ibruprofen to help with the pain during the run. It’s on the IOC banned substance list, if I got tested I could have faced a ban. I wouldn’t have had a clue. It’s easily done. (update: apparently it isn’t currently listed as a banned substance…phew)

I welcome the bans of Armstrong and any others, they were part of a system of endemic cheating. He made his choice, he reaped the rewards, he lived his life as he saw fit, by all accounts he wrecked a few other lives and now it’s time to pay the price.

The sport of cycling will survive, there will be new heroes, and of course new villans. Maybe just maybe I’ll be a little less blinded in future as it will be clean, and the riders will be sportsmen and not superheros.

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26 responses to “To Dope or not to dope?

  1. Good read GlassMan BUT now they have to decide how far back to you go? It is obvious that other “Legends” were not exactly angels.

  2. There will always be cheating in every sport. Just look at the physiques of the sprinters at the olympics and the unbelievable speeds and stamina of all pros in all sports. The will to win and the pressure from sponsors, coaches and team mates to win must be enormous. But as we see with Lance is it worth it? From hero to zero! Now he has to live with this reputation forever.

    • I agree and it has always been like that. Sport is a huge business, the pressure for success must be all consuming. Financially I think Lance will come out of it all ok, he’ll be wealthier having cheated than he would have been clean. Will he be happier? Only he can answer that.

  3. Some just want to live ‘too’ strong.

  4. Andy, have a read of this about Scott Mercer, the US Postal rider who did say no: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/19930514
    Should this man be cycling’s new/true hero?

  5. You have perfectly summed up my thoughts, fears, frustration and disapointment in a man who was once a hero.
    What to do with his books and Livestrong t-shirts now ?
    To protect triathlon I hope that the cycle ban includes triathlon age-group or even other tri’s. Keep triathlon clean.
    Lets hope that this era of doping as the norm is over. Cyling could become one of the cleanest sports going forward if it learns from this episode.
    Saying hes never failed a test just proves he knew how to avoid tests.
    Ten percent of me still hoped it was all just hear say and sour grapes from team mates & competitors but I’m now having to accept my once hero may not be the man I wanted him to be.

    • I think the key you highlight Zoe is that the sport of cycling has to learn from this. It obviously never learnt from the Festina affair, or Llandis etc.. We are taught as babies to learn from our mistakes, those that have reached the top should try and remember that. Hopefully we are at the begining of a brighter future for cycling.

  6. Not sure grouping Yates with Rjiis and Vaughters is fair

    • Maybe not but there has to be serious doubts about his credability, and his being in such a position of influence with Team Sky only hurts the team, and it’s riders. It will be interesting to see if he is there after the team crack down with thier new “Drugs Charter”. Funnily enough didn;t David Millar sign one of them when he was riding for Cofidis pre-ban?

  7. Rolf Aldag, Brian Holm & Eric Zabel ?

  8. All come clean, admitted it and now back integrated into the system. Same as Vaughters, Rjiis and Others… Don’t think Sean has admitted anything, only tarnished by association

    • I have my doubts about Yates, I find it difficult to swallow that someone that was part of that team knew nothing about what was going on, or indeed allegedly partook in the naughty habits. Funny though that Riis comes clean and yet his riders still fail tests. Yates may indeed be innocent, time will tell.

  9. Nice blog post. I considered a blog post on the similar subject. Though that’s as far as I got. I was confused by exactly how deep this goes and where blame ends.

    Reading the measures he went to, to defy the tests. Planning the doping sessions, knowing which would show and which wouldn’t. Withdrawing from races to avoid testing knowing he’d fail.

    Yes Armstrong was wrong, and at the moment it’s a very one sided testimony we’ve heard. His team mates will have benefited too, bonuses for team wins etc.

    Once again great post.

  10. Interestingly if you look who won the Tour in 96-97-98 all 3 have been done for drugs and banned. Time for their names to disappear as well ?

  11. Thought your book was great – loved the “who ate all the pies?” comment with the picture. What’s a “prat”?

  12. You should read David Millar’s book as it discusses the very subject of a young idealised rider who eventually succumbs to drugs.

    Agree with you on Lance, but the majority of cyclists in that era are tainted – probably why the UCI didn’t award Armstrong’s races to anyone else (which they did do with Landis in 2006)??

    • I’ve read it, thought it was a good book but did come away thinking he’d probably done more than he’d let on.
      As you say it was pretty much everyone in that era but then again other than Wiggins not one winner isn’t connected to a dodgy doctor in one way or another.

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