Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Tale Of Cyclists And Dope

As a cyclist and long time fan of the sport it’s a fascinating morning. The Lance Armstrong saga finally played out yesterday when 11 of his former teammates came clean about their doping practices and the USADA traced more than a million dollars of payments from Armstrong to doping expert Dr. Michele Ferrari. The jig, as they say, is up.

I don’t say shocked because most of us who’ve been around the sport for a long time knew what was going on. Tyler Hamilton’s recently released book, which was supposed to blow the lid off the Armstrong era, only confirmed what many of us already knew to be true (though it had some outstanding anecdotes and is an excellent read). It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure something to be amiss when today’s generation of cyclists, despite improved equipment and training protocols, is across the board 10% slower than they were a decade ago, especially when some of them are the same people.

I say fascinating because of the way it happened and to see the public react, as well as watching Armstrong and Bruyneel continue to play innocent when everyone around them is losing their head and blaming it on them. Can money really buy you out of everything? That part is still to be played out.

But as a cyclist it’s nice to have a clean slate, and today we do. Long term it will help the sport, even if racing is a bit more boring (it was fun to watch Armstrong, Pantani et al charge up mountain passes like they were on motorcycles). Sure, there are still dopers, but racing is decidedly believable now and with the knowledge of physiologic human potential much better understood it’s likely to stay that way, at least for a little while. The pressure on young cyclists to dope has been diminished.

I’ll leave it at that, as further commentary starts to become off topic for most of my readers. Those of you looking for more should have a look at this. It’s the full USADA v. Lance Armstrong report. 200-plus pages, which I have not had time to read but will someday. Apparently there are a thousand pages floating around somewhere but, looking at the ToC, this will satisfy even the most rabid fan’s curiosity.

The USADA vs. Lance Armstrong

foto: the bygone days of another era crédits: panoramic


Josh said...

Almost done reading Hamilton's book. Truly a sad story. I don't really have any desire to watch pro cycling anymore. Frankly, all pro sports are suspect.

I disagree that the pressure on young cyclists to dope has been diminished. I just think the methods have changed.

Nous son dopers!


Steve Edwards said...

I wish there was somewhere I could have bet the "nous son dopers" would be in the first comment. Damn!

Pressure to dope is still there but it's harder. We know wattage per kilo that can be sustained. We will have lab tests showing when and how it can be increased. So that cannot change very much without substantiation. This means that you can't dope to improve your out right performance but will have to search for ways to, say, increase pain tolerance or mental focus. Hmmm. New school of dope perhaps, but not so cowboy and much harder to not get caught at.

Steve Edwards said...

and I will continue to be a fan. In this respect, I'm a sap!

Aaron said...

Okay, so here's my question about wattage etc. HOW are we so damn sure about "human potential?" By that I mean what role does mind over matter play, how much of performance, especially like in a bike race (v. say, powerlifting where physics really seems to have more of a say), is about what we think we can do. I see kids out there, who really can't climb as well as me, doing v10 after a few months of climbing. I can't even touch that difficulty anymore but for them it's just what people climb. So their sense of possible is different and they simply perform differently.
I actually am looking forward to the new performance frontier as athletes get a little more (less?)...mental?...about what they are capable of.
I mean, another great place for "superhuman" stories is in mountaineering. When up against death, the things people find themselves capable of are truly extraordinary. When does this power get brought into sports?

Steve Edwards said...

We don't know where human potential can go but with all the measuring devices we know where it is now. Climbing is different in that it's so diverse--although some things are measured--whereas cycling is basically very simple and quantifiable. You can test any 5 year old and tell if they have genetic potential to be a bike racer and if they're better suited for the Tour or the track. The parameters are now known, and when they get pushed we'll know what's going on because everyone test. Shit, don't you have a wattage meter on your phone now? Everything has become quantifiable. A little boring but it's the world we created. Or you do still think Tyler had a vanishing twin and LA's body has a special ability unseen in all other humans not to react to lactic acid? Hmm, that reminds me that I've had "The Science of Lance Armstrong" saved on Netflix for over a decade. When's that thing coming out?

Josh said...

maybe we should make cycling (more of) a contact sport...or even allow the use of bats and knives...then it isn't simply who can maximize wattage per kilo or push their hematocrit to 49.99999%...but it would come down to who actually is the baddest ass.

Also remove race radios.

Also remove team cars.

Also remove teams.

Everyone for themselves.

Fuckin' A. That's something I'd watch,


Dave Stoller said...

Everybody cheats. I just didn't know it 'til now.

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David Kaiser said...

I'm not a cycling enthusiast but I hate to see this episode in any sport. Is there any truth that the top 20 professional cyclists ALL doped for the last 10 or so years and it so it was really a battle of the dopers?

Steve Edwards said...

More than top 20 and more than 10 years. The last 5 years are probably the cleanest in the sport's history. But the EPO years, 1990 to 2006 and Operation Puerto, were the most effective. Since then times have been declining so at least it's less egregious.

Way back on this blog, maybe in '06, I posted a list of grand tour podium winners over the last 10 years and there were only a couple, Armstrong being one, who hadn't had a doping conviction.