Team Cyclingnews.com - Down Under - 2004
June 20, 2004
Drugs in cycling: Entering the debate from the bottom step
By David Harrigan
This is a subject I would normally rather ignore, preferring to deal with it in my own quiet way. That is until Mr. Bradley McGee, whom I highly admire, made a stand on drugs in cycling and in particular the perception that the majority of the peloton are drug cheats - which I also believe is wrong. On a wet, solo, six-hour ride yesterday, I got to thinking about the whole topic and after many hours of thought, I too feel obligated to defend the sport I love.
Like many other riders in my position, I have the most to lose from drugs in cycling. I am a full-time, unpaid cyclist that funds my whole career on prizemoney and charity. If you were to believe the current crap been spoon-fed to the media by different parties, then the majority of the peloton is doped. So if we got rid of all the cheats my current ranking of 900th in the world would be around the top 100 and I would be living it up on my six-figure salary. What crap!
The obvious defence of cycling being the most tested sport in the world doesn't seem to be doing much to ease the public's perception. This is probably because they see cycling as the hardest sport in the world (and it is), and that it takes more dedication and commitment from the body and mind than they find it possible to believe - therefore they assume that you can't do it without drugs. That, however, is what makes cycling so great - to actually understand the amount of physical and mental energy that it takes to win or even compete at the top level.
The best example of how strong the mind and body can be and how much it can endure is Ironman Triathlon. Go watch some of the 60+ year old male and females complete the grueling 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. If thousands of people like these around the world can achieve such a difficult test, then why is it such a stretch to believe that a cyclist who has taken years to develop form by training more then 30,000 km a year can ride so strongly over a three-week period (without drugs)?
I started just racing my bike (after competing in Triathlon) midway through 2000. Since then I've developed into a strong rider capable of playing my cards in big races against the best riders in the world. Something I am very proud of. I have had testing done in a lab and I am definitely not a sporting freak. The results were good but not spectacular. At school I only made the regional competition in sports a few times. Through a lot of hard physical training and never giving up when the going got tough, I have been able to transform myself into the athlete I am today. I also get a lot of satisfaction at the look on school friend's faces that haven't seen me for 10 years when I tell them what I do!
I have made it to this level, and I know with more hard work I will keep moving up and fulfill my dreams of riding with a full professional contract, competing in the biggest races around and racing for my country at the world championships. If I can get to my current level without drugs, and racing on the bare minimum (money and equipment), I can definitely say the majority has to be clean - or if they are on drugs then they are all piss-weak and should have taken up darts instead of cycling.
Apart from decent physical capabilities you need to have a strong and tough mind - something drug cheats don't have. These cheats can't comprehend doing it the normal way because it's too hard. Boo hoo - that's the reason for the drugs - it's too hard. They are also the ones that presume the rest have got to be on it as well. The reason they tell themselves that it 'has' to be done, 'I don't have a choice' etc is that everyone else is on it. These are all thoughts of a weak individual.
I haven't witnessed anyone take performance enhancing drugs. Even riders you know that have tested positive I have not seen take drugs (but we know that it does go on). So I can't say how many riders use drugs, but neither can confessed drug cheats - have they seen 80 percent of the peloton take drugs?
Drug cheats are destroying this sport and they have to be found and quietly removed permanently. But the real damage at the moment is that there is a belief that all the best riders are on it and if that becomes everyone's opinion then what's the point! The Tour de France is about to start and everyone should stop giving the weak drug cheats the time of day. Focus on the extraordinary performances from exceptionally well trained athletes that have worked for years to perform at above their best - for this the greatest of cycling races.