Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mmmm, that's some good EPO...

I've wanted to write about this subject for a while now, however I wanted all the heat to die down before I did. Hopefully that way, someone with a different opinion on the matter would read my take and look at it subjectively rather than just dismissing it in a huff. The topic today will be doping and cycling and my view on the matter as a cat 6 racer.

Was Lance Armstrong the greatest cyclist ever? No. Was Lance Armstrong the greatest Tour de France cyclist ever? As of now yes. He admitted himself that he's not the greatest cyclists as he didn't ride all the classics and major tours. He concentrated solely on Le Tour, and trained exclusively for that discipline. That alone disqualifies him from the "greatest cyclist ever" award as one would have to tackle multiple disciplines to attain that title.

Did Lance Armstrong cheat? By the definition and rules of the governing body, yes he did. In my mind and probably many other minds, although he technically cheated he merely did what was needed to "level the field". As the doping crack down in a horribly broken sport continues, we are finding more and more that this type of activity (doping, performance enhancement, cheating, etc…) was and more than likely still is rampant. Over the past decade there is virtually no one in the general classification of cycling who hasn't had some sort of run in with doping accusations or associations.

Every. Single. One. There seriously is not one big name out there that hasn't been accused or linked somehow.

And more than likely, every single one of them has doped to some degree. You simply needed to if you wanted to survive in the sport.

Some people are going to look at all of this and say it's not fair to the ones that chose not to partake in the dark arts. I've heard people say that the dopers took the spot of someone up and coming who chose not to "cheat" and therefore they were blown away by the enhanced cyclists. I'll concede with you slightly on this one, but mainly this affects only the "domestiques". For those unfamiliar with the cycling terminology, domestiques are the helpers of the main riders. If you've watched bike races on TV, these are the guys and gals that drop back to the support car and load themselves up with water bottles and food and what not to bring back up to the rest of the team. They simply have the worst job in professional cycling, but an essential one nonetheless. If you have 2 cyclist of somewhat even ability and one pops a few pills and the other doesn't, and the pill popper gets a job and the other doesn't, then yes, I agree that's not fair.

But in the case of elite athletes, what does doping do exactly for them? I think a lot of the haters out there are crying foul because they give performance enhancers way too much credit. All the do is enhance what you already have. In other words, Barry Bonds would've been a fantastic contact hitter without the juice. All it did was make him stronger so that he went from hitting doubles and using incredible speed to get all the way around the bases to simply hitting them out of the park. His batting AVG. for the most part stayed the same for his ability. It's the same with Armstrong. Yes he juiced up some, but he was still partaking in 7-8 hour training rides in the off season. He was still sticking to a rigorous diet. He was still riding his bike in rain, wind, snow, hail, and whatever the elements were throwing at him that day. Lance Armstrong still put in the time and effort. The problem was everyone else was too, and to maintain his level he needed to keep doing the one thing he did in life at that time, he chose to pop a pill or inject a solution. Fact is and was, so was everyone else at that level. An old baseball saying is "if you ain't cheating you ain't trying".

Professional cycling is broken, and has been for a long long time. The old days of the TdF are riddled with stories of cyclist carrying vials of amphetamines and using other uppers to get through the grueling schedule. Tom Simpson was an English rider who infamously fell over dead on his bike while climbing Mount Ventoux. Vials of drugs were later found in his pocket and back in his suitcase at the teams hotel. It is a dark spot of the history of the sport, and will continue for a long time.

It's a tough subject, and like all of these issues of ethics there isn't a right answer either way. These guys and gals broke the written rule, but if you or I were in there position would we do it any different? Some people will say "absolutely not. No way would I risk my health for that." I've said the same thing, however again, we have no way of knowing cause we're not in there shoes. They made a choice, and they made a choice because they believed it was the only way to stay around. I can't say I blame these guys and gals in the sport for doing it. And also, a topic for a different day but the borders separating a supplement and dope are getting pretty damn hazy these days.

Whether or not these athletes are clean or not, it is still amazing to me what they can pull of on a bike. To race for an entire month straight at an average speed of 25mph for over a hundred miles a day is unreal. To climb 4 miles at an average grade of 7-8% while maintaining 100rpms or higher demonstrates just how phenomenal these guys are. I don't watch or follow cycling to see who wins or loses. I watch for the show. The lung busting climbs and heart stopping sprints. Dope doesn't factor into it one bit for me because as far as I'm concerned the field is even.

Lance Armstrong cheated. But in a world of cheaters he still stood out.
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