Monday, September 3, 2012

The Lance doping fiasco: how far back should we go?

 Read this article by Bill Strickland while making breakfast, and penned the following response to Bicycling.

 Editor, Bicycling

Please convey my thanks to Bill Strickland for his nuanced and complex analysis of the Armstrong case in the October issue (gasp--where did the summer go??) As usual, Bill gets the yellow jersey for journalism.

Those expecting a black or white outcome of the doping vs. Armstrong investigation have long suffered from naivete. Doping has been part of the sport since as far back as the six-day races of a century ago. How far back should we censure and strip riders of their wins and fame? Shall we take down Tom Simpson's granite memorial on Mount Ventoux? Tom was, after all, a doper!

One also has to ask how modern, high tech doping could be so well established if it is only the riders who are complicit. The riders are not sinless, but "performance enhancement" has been as integral to modern pro cycling as high tech frames and big corporate money. Which riders do we throw under the bus to offer penance for the pro race industry as a whole?

As Bill so clearly points out, the problems of doping will only become more complex in a modern age of nanotechnology and genetic engineering. I have no idea how we will manage such technologies or what we, in the future, will call "clean racing". Meanwhile, I agree with Bill: Lance was the best Tour de France rider in his era; even the most negative outcome of this case will not erase the memories of him riding away from his adversaries to win those jerseys. Giving his jerseys to anyone else, or even just taking them away, would result in a cure worse than the doping disease, which will take more than sanctioning Armstrong to cure.

Later addenum: Thank you, Anon, for pointing out Padraig's carefully and comprehensively written essay ("Keeping Score") in Red Kite Prayer.

And yet a later addenum from the excellent Red Kite Prayer:

Forgoing Judgement.
"...Could it ever have been any other way, with the fall of Armstrong? It seems cycling has been on a collision course with this moment for the better part of its history. From riders dosing up with brandy in the early days, to the scourge of amphetamines, to modern day blood doping, top level racers have always pushed beyond the rules in search of an advantage...."
Granite Memorial to Tom Simpson on Mount Ventoux


Anonymous said...

Another good one...

Ian Brett Cooper said...

I dunno. Doping is against the rules, after all. If they get caught doing it, they're breaking the rules just as badly as if they took a short cut or hitched a ride in the back of a pick-up truck.

Rules are rules. If people don't want to obey the rules, they shouldn't race.

I say they should strip every doper they can find of their titles. If they're all doping, boot them all out! The only other option is to say 'The hell with it' and let every cyclist do whatever they want to win. But are athletes who use drugs and artificial enhancements truly athletes? I'm not so sure. The point is surely to show what the natural human body can do. If all we're testing is how fast we can go, then I can find a way to strap a fricken jet engine to my back and I can beat anyone.

There have to be rules, otherwise we may as well give up the whole idea of fair competition.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

The real issue is that it's getting impossible to tell who's doping and who's not. This is why I just can't get interested in cycling races. When there's no way to tell who's cheating, you can't be certain anyone's a hero, everyone's a potential bum, the sport is a joke, and it's pointless to watch.

Khal said...

Seems to me the "real" rule in professional cycling was "don't get caught". I suspect this attitude permeated the owners and managers of the teams until the scale of scientific doping ten to fifteen years ago turned pro cycling into our own version of the World Wrestling Federation--not to mention, started killing people in unacceptable numbers.

I think honest racers had two choices--sacrifice honesty or find another job. That was the tragic part.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

And if the governing bodies turn around and just allow doping, where does that end? Can they ensure what the athletes are doing is safe? How much pressure is there to push athletes to dangerous limits and beyond? We are, after all, talking a lot of money. At what point does an athlete become a disposable money machine? If doping is permitted, we run the risk of allowing corporate interests to destroy people's lives for profit. I just don't see that as a very moral or ethical way to go.

Khal said...

Rhetorical questions, eh, Ian? I think pro cycling is no better than other big-money sports. Somewhere down the list at #4 or #6 is the concern for the welfare of the rider.

Anonymous said...

I read that article as well, and it doesn't seem complex to me. Doping is wrong and against the rules. Why make it "complex" when it's plainly wrong. Why justify something with an excuse of it's complex?

How can we know Lance or anyone else was a "great rider" when they're doping? I bet other racers would be "great" too if they did a few blood transfusions between each stage.

If we keep sending the message that there is some "out" from the doping issue, then they'll continue to dope. It's time to send a message and draw a nice clear line of what's right and what's wrong.