This One’s For The Dopers

Written by: Lanolin

A few Summers ago I belonged to the email group of a large club. Every July there was a hard and fast rule: no TDF spoilers. … a perfectly reasonable rule. During major races, I avoid all cycling news sources all day so I can watch the action unfold on TiVo. After all, I love watching bike racing, but if I already know who won, it looses 90% of its excitement…. so it was important to me that the club email group maintain TDF radio silence.

Tom Simpson’s final meters (from l’equipe)

But then Michael Rasmussen got removed from the Tour, and somebody sent out an email to the club spilling the events of the day. Nobody had seen it yet, but now we all knew. I felt cheated of two hours of Tour watching bliss. Sure, I was blown away by the revelation and disappointed by the scandal, but I guess I just wanted the events to unfold in their proper order, like a book. I was half a world away and thought the reality could wait out the seven-hour time difference.

I replied to the senders message with something like “That really sucks, but dude, you still shouldn’t have spoiled the stage!”

The sender replied with something like: “Get your head out of your ass. How can you even watch the stage or the rest of the Tour now?”

A part of me felt a little shamed, like I’d been insensitive to the gravity of it all. Until then, doping hadn’t truly bothered me. It just seemed like more of a nuisance to the regular order of things. I just didn’t feel the white-hot righteous anger like some people seemed to. It was contradictory to me that people got so worked up about doping in cycling and almost completely ignored the fact that there was probably more, and more dangerous doping practices in our National pastimes like football and baseball. And to this day, I still don’t feel the anger; I just feel the annoyance.

You’ll notice my last post was a video of Marco Pantani absolutely raping a climb set to awesomely melodramatic Italian music. I didn’t think twice about Pantani’s history and his drug problem. His doping diminishes his accomplishments, sure, but that doesn’t mean a badass video set to badass music shouldn’t be enjoyed by all, right?

And then a reader named Cale commented on the video:

Amazing what a man can do all doped up! Explain to me why some individuals in the cycling community hold this man in such high regard? To me he represents a huge black eye to the cycling world. Remind me again how he died? Remind me again what he did for cycling aside from race his bike? He was not a good person, morally and ethically he was an empty sole.

I’m not sure if he was referring to his shoe sole or calling Pantani an empty fish, but that Cale definitely is a guy who feels some indignation worthy of the Spanish Inquisition. When I read his comment I had a similar reaction to that email I got years ago: for a few seconds I was embarrassed that I’d crossed some line of political correctness. That perhaps by allowing a known doper to be portrayed in anything but an evil light, would be to implicitly condone his actions and further promote the reasons for doping in the future of the sport.

Fausto Coppi “I dope only when necessary. Which is all the time!”

I also wondered if there was some kind of “water under the bridge” clause in our doping mindspace that allowed us to still respect racers like Fausto Coppi, Jaques Anquitil, Tom Simpson. Does Cale feel so strongly about them too?

Then there are the dopers from the 90’s: VDB, Museeuw, Pantani, Riis, etc, etc. We don’t love them like the old Greats, but we don’t hate them all that much either. The 2000’s are a wholly different matter: unless they come crawling back to us like David Millar, we hate the hell out of those guys. Of course, our hate is also a little selective: Basso never admitted to doping, just “attempting” to dope, yet he doesn’t have a problem getting a ride. We all seem to assign different degrees of wrongdoing on different riders, and not always according to decade, admittance of guilt or talent. Curious as to how others felt, I opened the discussion up on Ritte’s FaceBook page and got such great responses that I want to post the discussion here:

So that was the discussion we had yesterday. Thank you to Patrick and John of Red Kite Prayer for keeping the insight flowing. When I posted the question on FB, I wanted to take the temperature of the people around me. In some way, I wanted a little guidance on what I should personally feel. What I learned is that though none of us obviously like the fact that rider’s dope, none of us let it utterly spoil our love for the sport. After all, pro bicycle racing is nothing if not a spectator sport, which is, at the root of it all, just entertainment. We take their cheating so personally, but we still hold their exploits in esteem. Perhaps we, like the riders who will do anything to keep their jobs, are addicts. And if through some cosmic twist of fate we had to dope just to watch cycling, how many of us would be filling up our own blood bags?