Doping – The Long Game
This year has seen some alarming news stories surrounding cycling and the dark art of doping, some more shocking and unbelievable than others. As we head towards 2013 and an off season that will surely be filled with more finger pointing and name calling, has the future of the professional sport been saved by the mainstream media splashing the men we once called our heroes, over the front page and exposing them to be what they really are?
Many people have heard of the ‘omerta’ of doping in cycling and if you have been interested in professional bike racing to any degree of the last 100 years you cannot escape the fact that performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) have played a part in almost every generation of the sport. It has always been a sad state of affairs but finally, despite the attempts of some of our most senior-ranking governing body officials, the sport seems to be taking positive steps towards cleaning up its act for the safety and health of its riders as well as the sanctity of sport (although I’m sure similar articles were written following the Festina and Operation Puerto affairs!).
An argument I’ve regularly used to friends who accuse (maybe rightly or wrongly) cycling of being full of cheats is that the sport tests their competitors much more vigorously than most other sports, resulting in the cheats being found rather than left lurking in the background with no fear of being tested and found out. I for one, am proud that my sport chooses to be so proactive in the fight against PED’s, even if the hierarchy of the sport and some teams attempt to derail that at times. The average cyclist/cycling fan knows a considerable amount more about the issues surrounding doping than many other sports fans because we have been slapped in the face with it so many times and have HAD to learn about it or else you lose touch and fall out of the loop.
But what about those friends of mine who once called cycling ‘dirty’ and ‘full of cheats’? 2012 has been a huge year for sport in general but particularly for cycling here in the UK. Bradley Wiggins’ triumph at Le Tour and a hefty medal haul at the London Olympics for Team GB riders has resulted in cycling going through a British renaissance and thrust it in to the popular culture and consciousness of a much larger proportion of the population (not to mention a carbon road bike is now favoured as the new ‘go to’ toy for middle aged men in a mid-life crisis rather than the Porsche 911!). All of this publicity has allowed the mainstream media to devote more column inches to cycling and publish the hardest hitting topics including cycling. To me this can only be a good thing. The more people who understand the sport and the troubled past we have gone through, the more likely we are to fight against those that want to drag us back down again.
No longer can we turn our backs on doping and pretend it’s not happening. We owe it to the sport and ourselves to be alert to the pitfalls and rather than hide them like a dirty secret, be open and honest. Fans of cycling have known for years that there is a strong chance the riders they follow are on the juice purely as a result of the sport being so doped in the past. But that hasn’t stopped some riders. When fans follow their every move, Tweet and buy every product they endorse regardless of erroneous medical practices or pathetic excuses why should they change? Only when an athlete’s livelihood and their endorsement deals are put on the line do they even begin to suggest they have done wrong and try to persuade us they can change. We need the masses to understand doping, deplore it and then the sponsors of riders who cast a shadow across our sport will eventually take note.
The recent departure of Rabobank from the sponsor line-up of professional road racing was described in their press statement as if it was a step in the right direction and that they could no longer tolerate the fear of doping in the team. Although their continued support of developments teams on the road and in CX highlights their love of the sport and a desire to keep the Rabobank name clean their departure was not seen to be for such noble reasons by some, most notably David Millar.
Rabobank are not the first and they surely wont be the last sponsor to leave the sport due to concerns about doping. Whether it is a damage limitation exercise or an altruistic movement, I’ll let you decide. I believe the louder we shout about doping and the ‘omerta’, the more likely we are to improve our sport and banish professional doping to the history books.
Make a difference today, tell someone about professional cycling’s doping history and be part of a proactive renaissance.