Letters to cyclingnews
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Drug use continues to occupy the minds of many correspondents, and we're seeing two distinct camps emerge, it seems. On the one hand there are the hard-liners like Steve Wiltshire who see any drug use as cheating, on the other are the softies who think we're just catching a few of the majority of pros who are using drugs, and we should be less judgemental given the pressure these athletes are under. In the middle comes Ben Schofield with a long but thoughtful letter about the problem.
In my opinion, the problem with both camps is that taking a moralistic attitude toward drug use has failed spectacularly in society as a whole. If you can't stop ravers taking drugs for fun, how do you expect to stop athletes taking them for money? I don't claim to have any simple answers to the drugs problem, I just want to see the health of my heroes protected, and neither telling them they're cheats nor being lenient when they use drugs seems to be achieving that.
Lars Joergensen points out that the pros only consider it cheating if you get caught, which is cynical but may not be inaccurate.
Regular letter-writer Mark Combs wonders why we let people get away with shifting the blame. What happened to personal responsibility, he asks. Well, things aren't that bad some riders, like Jerome Chiotti and some Festinas, have admitted their errors, done their 'time' and continued with their lives. We notice the blame-shifters because they tend to start with loud denials, progress through blaming someone else (loudly), make a big noise at the tops of their voices about how they will fight to clear their names and finally shut up and take it on the chin. And of course, sometimes the screaming and moaning works, and they get off scott free even when something fishy has obviously happened.
On a related note, Kevin Lippert wonders why cycling is the only sport that seems constantly about to self-destruct. Friends involved deeply in other sports tell me they're just as bad actually you just don't see it unless you're close to it.
Cathy Anderson wants to know if the Tour Down Under organisers have sold TV rights to Australian Channel 7 rather than SBS, and of so, why, when SBS has traditionally done a good job to showing bike racing in Australia. We're trying to find out the details of this, but we suspect if this rumour is true, it'll come down to money. Stage races are simply not cheap to put on.
Finally, Sean Boiling has some suggestions for fictional bike-related reading matter.
If I understood Spencer Dech's letter correctly, US cyclists invented everything in cycling in the last 20 years, except for doping. I am curious to know what the dramatic technological improvements due to Lemond might be. As for salaries, did he produce the improvement or did Tapie recognize the need to pay racers higher salaries? (as happened in football in France also under Tapie's leadership). I remember that in the early '90s the Italians were also attributing their extraordinary successes to their superior training programmes. Now we learn that attention to detail and strict training programmes are sufficient for US Postal racers to do better than Euros. Concerning weight training, I remember that Guimard promoted and practiced it 20-30 years ago, but Lemond and Ullrich slightly misunderstood what he meant.
I have read with interest some of the recent letters on drugs and cycling, and there is no doubt it is a difficult issue. I don't have any answers, but just some observations, anda suggestion based on them.
First, the observations:
Professional cycling is an extremely tough sport - one of the toughest on the planet.
Professional cycling has a history of doping from the earliest days - I have come across accounts of 'speedballs' of cocaine and other substances being used in six-day and other races prior to 1900.
Professional cycling is sponsored by companies to promote their products, and in such case the companies are always looking for reflected glory for their products and the company - unless the companies involved are cycle management or cycle training/racing related companies (and few if any are), this is the only (but important) element companies are seeking from sponsoring cycling - and the reflected glory is always in terms of those intangible human qualities like courage, determination, perfectionism, and so on. Companies do not want these intangibles tarnished by harsher realities like doping and cheating.
So here we have a situation with a long tradition, of professional cycling with doping, aligned with commercial sponsorship seeking to extract as much reflected glory as possible in terms of intangible and unquantifiable human qualities and emotions.
The situation is thus inherently unstable, because every so often some cyclist or other gets caught, and yet there is enormous pressure to succeed and excel at a sporting level to maximise levels of excitement, determination etc, etc, even though to gain the maximum capacity to excel may involve the need to dope. The pressure to exceed comes from the desire to win, and the need to compete in such a tough sport, and the need to compete in terms of attracting sponsors.
It is also interesting to note that, following on from the letter which notes that 'everyone cheats', many of the companies that are so keen to be involved with 'squeaky clean' cyclists and teams may be involved in their own less than entirely ethical business dealings and workings - but image is of course everything.
Pro cycling is the pinnacle, but there is a huge base below it - fans and amateurs who look to the pro ranks for heroes, inspiration and, for some racing cyclists, a career path.
So how does one manage this situation?
My view is that it is an impossible one to control completely (no-one has managed in over 100 years of pro racing), but that some initiatives could be brought to bear to minimise the risks, especially the degree to which doping at a professional level flows down to the amateur ranks.
To establish some kind of internationally standardised health workshop that had to be attended by all racing cyclists prior to licence renewal - no attendance at the workshop, no licence renewal. This would educate both amateurs and professionals about the latest research into the health dangers of doping. It would then be up to the individual cyclist to determine the degree to which he/she would want to place their health and or reputations at risk. Obviously if there is systematic doping in a professional team, it would be difficult for a pro cyclist to refuse, but at least they would be informed of the dangers, and this information may be very useful in limiting amateur doping, especially where there is no desire to try and move up to professional ranks.
What is wrong with you people? There are still some honest, honourable people around and some of them aspire to be great athletes. They have no chance against the CHEATS. Get caught committing criminal fraud in any other walk of life...go to jail. Get caught stealing money in sport and have a load of free publicity, heaps of sympathy and a few more chances to get caught. Life bans for cheats! Go find another job. I don't want you in my sport.
Don't you realise that Virenque in his own opinion is not a cheat as such a person is one who ís tested positive? This is the basic moral code in pro cycling as we know it.
Lars B. Joergensen
In response to Sebastian Lopez Otero: Not everyone cheats in their lives. However, there does not appear to be a shortage of people who need to justify their shortcomings.
What happened to personal responsibility? Because everyone else does it? That does not work. Here is a sort but effective example:
Since you sleep with your lover or wife, then I suppose that everybody else could as well because everybody else sleeps with their lover or wife. No logic, no personal responsibility and everyone is a victim, never capable of being held responsible. Of course, I am sure your wife or lover might have a different opinion.
Sorry, I don't buy it.
I guess this proves that refusing personal responsibility for ones actions is an international phenomenon after all. In America, we have mastered it.
The solution is simple: Lifetime bans. Period.
It seems funny how cycling seems to be the only sport in the world that is self destructive, riders vs. riders, officials vs. riders, officials vs. governing bodies. I am affraid that cycling's destruction will come from within. I hope that others in our sport will heed the advice to clean it up and take more of an adult approach to cycling's problems and solve them from within and from common sense, not politics and power mongering.
We have heard a rumour that the TDU organisers have sold coverage
rights to Channel Seven. This will mean daily highlights only to Adelaide
viewers with a one-hour package of whole race highlights to be shown
once the race is finished. Is this true? If so, we are outraged! What's
the point of luring the stars and building the excellent reputation
only to bury the thing with no coverage for fans elsewhere in Australia?
SBS has done a terrific job supporting Australian cycling (the appalling
coverage of the criterium series in Perth by Channel 9 showed us the
commercial networks haven't a clue about cycling coverage and we'd prefer
they go back to not bothering) so the least the organisers can do is
repay the support.
Another follow-up to Regis Chapman's nominations of favourite cycling literature.
Getting into the fictional world, I would recommend "Cross Channel" by Julian Barnes. A selection of short stories, including "Brambillia". The story of a young Irishman's training in Ireland, and first experiences on the circuit in Europe. The image of Brambillia at the end of the story digging a grave for his bicycle as he no longer considers himself worthy to ride is extremely poignant.
The last month's letters