One of my colleagues just got back from watching several stages of the Amgen Tour of California. After showing me his picture in a multi-colored speedo and cape, which bought him about 20 seconds of airtime during the Palomar climb, we had an in-depth discussion about doping.
I’ve mentioned before that I find it ironic that the maker of two leading brands of EPO should be sponsoring a bike race. Perhaps I’m just a little slow, but from a business standpoint, I just can’t figure out how it makes sense financially for Amgen to be the title sponsor of a bike race if their target market is physicians. If it’s a tacit admission that they’re marketing to [doping] cyclists, then the connection is perfectly clear. But if everything were on the up and up, I just can’t connect the dots.
The doping discussion led to our own introspection on what we would and would not be willing to do to improve our performance on the bike. Especially given that we’re both age-group beaters that are never going to be world class or even make back our investment in gear.
I remember some time ago The Fat Cyclist talking about what he was willing to do to get down to his target riding weight. He said he was willing to take one pill a day but would be unwilling to take five. My take on that is a little different. For me the quantity of pills is less important than what I’m taking and whether it’s necessary and/or potentially harmful, and yes, legal.
For example, there’s one pill I have to take daily. There are other things, such as Albuterol for asthma, that I don’t have to take, but I feel a lot better if I do. Shortly after moving to Utah I went on a lunch ride with Mark N., Brad, Dug, and Bob. I was huffing and puffing and way off the back. The next time out, I was able to hang just fine. The difference? Two puffs of Albuterol.
I also take a handful of vitamin and mineral supplements every morning. The difference from these is much less dramatic than the Albuterol, but my hope in swallowing them is that I’ll be healthier and yes, will perform better.
But where is the line to be drawn? Alessandro Petacchi, who also has a prescription for Albuterol (along with something like 2/3 of the pro peloton), received a one year ban (applied retroactively), was stripped of his results during the ineligibility period, and was fired from his job with team Milram (though later hired by another team, albeit a lesser one) for taking an extra puff on his inhaler.
My prescription is for 2 puffs every 4-6 hours, daily. I never use anywhere near that much, as I only really need it when I exercise. But there have been times when my chest was so tight and I was struggling so hard to breathe that I’ve taken five or maybe six puffs in a four or even two hour window. Was I cheating?
But as incensed as I’d like to be for the seeming injustice Petacchi received as a result of what the Italian anti-doping authorities ruled was an innocent case of human error, I can’t be. Same goes for Floyd Landis. Both can make great cases for why they shouldn’t have been prosecuted. But I find it hard to muster sympathy. Because I don’t believe they were totally clean.
Nor do I believe Lance, nor Contador, nor Pereiro were clean, even though they haven’t tested positive. Though not yet banned, Tom Boonen is clearly doping. An out-of-competition positive for recreational drugs tells me you lack the integrity to avoid using something that’s performance-enhancing.
I want to believe that Cavendish, Vandevelde, Zabriskie, and the Schleck brothers are clean, especially since they ride for teams with 3rd party testing programs, but it’s hard. Vaughters and Riise, the directeurs sportifs for two of those teams, are admitted dopers. Sure, they may have cleaned up, but maybe they didn’t.
Sadly, I treat the pro peloton the way I treat the snowpack in avalanche terrain. I assume it’s suspect. I may find reasons to believe the snow won’t slide, but those reasons will never be enough for me leave my beacon, shovel, probe, and Avalung at home.