Friday, May 21, 2010

Lip service

The fans have the right to be certain that they are cheering for human athletes rather than rolling pharmaceutical billboards, and clean riders have the right to a fair opportunity to stand on the podium.

-Greg Lemond, commenting on Floyd Landis’s accusations

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Floyd’s allegations has been the responses. Radio Shack issued a statement, ostensibly on behalf of the team, but really just on behalf of Lance. (But then again, is Radio Shack really anything but an attempt to house Lance’s massive ego within the confines of a team? Except Lance’s ego can no more fit within the confines of a team than Pam Anderson can fit in a training bra.) The Radio Shack statement was clearly written by an attorney (or perhaps Bike Snob NYC), as it was four times as long as it needed to be and exceeded its quota for superfluous, four-or-more-syllable adjectives in the first paragraph.

Needless to say it was an outright denial of the attacks on Lance coupled with an ad hominem attack on Landis.

Perhaps more interesting is Zabriskie’s choice not to make a statement directly, instead relying on this rather ambiguous non-denial from team manager Jonathan Vaughters regarding their conversation when the story broke:

Our conversation was fairly short and succinct. Dave is a very private and quiet person. I simply expressed to him that I believe he can win this race, currently, clean, and that we’re going to support him doing that. And that we can withstand any level of scrutiny anyone would place on us in that regard. I think Dave is going to focus on winning this race clean, along with the rest of our team.

In other words, Dave is racing clean. Now. We believe Dave can win clean. Now. No comment on how Dave may or may not have raced when he was Lance’s teammate with US Postal.

Hincapie’s sentiments were also much more ambiguous than Armstrong’s (or rather Armstrong’s lawyers’):

I have been a professional on the circuit for 17 years – which is one of the longest careers in the peloton. During that time, I have earned the respect of my peers and a reputation for working hard, honestly and honorably. I’m really disappointed to hear these accusations.

So what does all this drivel from JDs and PR types mean? Who the hell knows. Trying to interpret whether one of these statements is a hedged denial or an obtuse confession is like condemning beer drinking as violating a covenant of belief when your own scripture clearly says that beer is just fine—you simply can’t do it if you’re using the actual text as your justification.

Getting back to Lemond’s statement about rolling pharmaceutical billboards, the great irony of all this is that it came out during the Amgen Tour of California. I won’t, yet again, delve into the irony of the world’s leading EPO maker sponsoring a major cycling race. Suffice it to say that Amgen pays lip service to the notion of their drugs being used ethically. Only problem is that there’s a really easy way to ensure this would happen: include a clear and distinct marker in the drug that would be harmless to a legitimate patient but would trigger a distinct and unquestionable positive result in doping controls. As yet, they have been loathe to make such a move and would apparently prefer to live in a world best described by this dream/nightmare Johan Bruyneel monologue penned by the Unholy Rouleur:

The truth? You can't handle the truth. Son, we live in a world that has hills like walls, and those walls have to be ridden up by small men on bikes.

Who's gonna do it? You? I have a lower natural Power:Weight ratio than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Damiano, and you curse Virenque. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Armstrong's doping, while tragic, probably saved time. And doping's existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves time.

You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want skinny Italian guys flying up that wall, you need them rocketing up that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty, CERA and Autologous blood doping. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent riding something. You use them as a punchline.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain these things to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of propaganda white noise that Versus provides, and then questions the manner in which Versus provides it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a needle, lose a lot of weight, and climb a hill faster than your unaltered hematocrit permits. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.


  1. They dope. There will be new dope next week and the week after and so on it goes.

    BTW It does not say no coffee either. Hot drinks would not mean coffee to me. As it does not mean tea to some others.

  2. LeMond has to be feeling pretty good today. His statement is funny given that the entire ToC peleton is literally a rolling pharmaceutical billboard.

    The ambiguity in Section 89 has been clarified by subsequent church leaders. So I suppose the relevant question is this: how much credibility (faith?) does one put into their statements?

    And that adaptation of A Few Good Men is just... perfect.

  3. The monologue: excellent.

    OK, let's stir this pot. I'd like clean races, but frankly - unless there is some testing technology that can detect any deviations from normal - it's not going to happen. The doping genie is out of the bottle, so we can struggle to put it back in or adapt to the new realities. Let them dope. Doping is good - it's an equalizer that can pull an average pro up closer to those top freaks with the favorable genetic mutations. This puts more emphasis on training and skill to win (and a bankroll for the dope). Sure, there will be a few doping related injuries and deaths, but perhaps it's better than the silly cat and mouse game we have now.

    Or just disband pro cycling in favor of only amateur racing regions of no more than 1000 racers. Yes, you can brag about being the best racer out of that pool of 1000, but I doubt that's enough recognition to bring in the kind of money that taints every sport it touches.

  4. Kris: Except what about the right of a clean racer to compete at the highest level? What is sport if not a means to test one's self? destroys that. That's why I hate doping and get a little hot under the collar whenever anyone suggests an "unlimited league." Nobody watches competitive surgery, so why should the contest come down to who has the best doctor? Fight doping, however ineffectually, until it's gone. However long that takes.

    As for your idea of keeping the pool small and thereby keeping the dope out, well amateurs dope too. A certain subset of those that have the money, whether their own or from sponsors, will dope. Not to mention we already have that small pool with local amateur racing.

  5. A right to clean racing? A desirable preference, yes; a right, no.

    But the unlimited league does work, it's what we have now, it's just not out in the open. Pick your sport, it's there. Most fans know doping happens, and yet they watch anyway. Sport is simply entertainment. Even without doping races aren't fair - illness, mechanicals, weather, injuries, etc. Winning a race does not mean that person is the absolute best, it means they were prepared enough to be a contender and got lucky.

    For the participant, it's different. Pushing yourself, trying tactics, responding to changes and challenges on the fly - it's a thrill. I believe this is the testing yourself you spoke of. And it's never fair. There's only an academic difference between going up against a doper or a sandbagger.

    Your dislike of doping is noble. Doping is wrong, it's cheating. But I'm not convinced the crusade against doping is working. Is the tumult caused by fighting doping killing pro cycling?

    As for the small pool: Yes, I know amateurs dope, but there's less incentive. That doper isn't winning a prestigious race that nets them world-wide fame and large sums of money. They might get a little money, some schwag and bragging rights. And those who would dope for that are lame, and will probably be found out and ridiculed. And yes, I know that's what we have now locally and I think it generally works, so who cares about the pro level?

  6. Kris: Anyone who competes has a right to expect the rules to be enforced. People may dope today, but if they get caught, they're out of the game. It's one of the risks of cheating.

    What we have today is hardly clean, but it's hardly the unlimited league either. The NBA or NFL is much closer to unlimited league than is cycling, but if we just throw in the towel on doping, we effectively tell people that hard work and a certain degree of talent will only get you so far, but to get to the highest level requires a compromise. One of the great things about athletics is what we learn from it. People who never test themselves in the way sport requires never have these breakthroughs and never know what they're truly capable of. Raising the white flag to doping and implementing unlimited leagues effectively tells competitors that no amount of hard work will get them to the highest level, and they can only reach that through dope.

    The playing field isn't level. Life isn't fair. There are and will continue to be those that dope. But for as long as we fight doping, there's hope that clean athletes will be able to succeed at the highest level and know they didn't need to stick needles in their asses to get there.

  7. As for the fight on doping killing pro cycling? Depends on how you define killing, I guess. If all the poor kids in Belgium and Spain who are busting their butts on their bikes every day trying to attain that dream were told that the hard work is all well and good but to be really successful requires drugs, then that's how I'd define killing the sport.

    And how is doping at the amateur level any less lame and any less worthy of ridicule and scorn than doping as a professional? Testing is almost unheard of at the amateur level, so the likelihood of getting caught is minuscule. It's lame and pathetic and deceitful to dope, regardless of the level of competition. And just because you don't care about what the pros do doesn't mean nobody does. I love pro racing. These guys work hard for success in a sport that's anything but mainstream, and I despise those who achieve that success by cheating. They are the Bernie Madoffs of sport. When they cheat, it harms the sport and by extension the industry and those whose livelihoods depend on it. So we should all care.

  8. you lost me at pam anderson in a training bra. what was the rest about?

  9. you guys make it sound like doping is cut and dry. Its not a matter of this guy stuck a needle in his ass and this guy has too much honor to.
    They all dope. I dope. Mark you dope!
    Dont believe me? check into it farther.
    Caffeine is a performance enhancing substance. And before you roll your eyes, it too has a certain limit allowed in the pro pelaton. Cross that line and your in the same position as Landis, Basso, Ulrich, whoever.
    Now just because you weren't over that limit when they test you (Lance, HIncappie, DZ, Jens,..... the list goes on) it doesnt mean your clean.
    Bike racing is a game. The rules are set up that the person who can push the limits the farthest without getting caught will win.
    They all stick needles in their ass!
    This will never change. They have to have legal ranges for hematocrit, and all other blood markers because the human body varies so much with training, altitude, even dehydration.
    It is not cut and dry. Even Lance's excuse of "I have never tested positive" should tell you that HE DOPES TOO.
    This is a stupid thing to argue about.
    These are the rules. Break them and get caught and you cant play any more. Dont try push the limits of the rules and good luck trying to win.
    You dont see anyone riding a 22lb (sorry 10k) bike do you. Thats because they are all pushing the limits of what is legal.
    Thats how bike racing works.

  10. I have a lot of respect for pro cyclists. They train like crazy to make themselves the lightest engine with the most horsepower they can. Then they race long, grueling miles at high speeds where there's a very good chance if you crash you'll break bones, or worse. And most don't make much money doing it. Who wants that life? Not me, but there are a few who are dedicated / crazy enough.

    But with performance enhancing drugs the path has been (still is): Show you have talent as an amateur, get noticed join a pro team and introduced to dope. The racer has a choice, but it's so prevalent and makes such a difference, the upcoming racer may accept it as another step on the way up. Technology improves the rider just like the bike he rides. I'm not saying it's right, just that I can see how tempting it is and how it could quickly be an accepted part of being a pro. And just saying its wrong and testing for it will make it go away?

    I have hopes cycling can be cleaned up, but it's surely a long, uphill battle. Perhaps testing will get good enough to stop the most egregious doping so the playing field is more level. A reasonable hope, but nothing is perfect (false positives).

    I just can't get work up much righteous fury about doping in pro cycling. Yes it's a shame they have to choose between clean (and being pack fodder / domestiques), or dope (for a shot at greatness at the risk of their health and getting suspended).

    Or is doping like a foul? I'm not saying I agree with this, but it's an interesting point of view:

  11. Here is where it is screwy. Maybe it is our lifestyle maybe I am just a spoiled person but if I could take a pill that would make me drop down to 165lbs and have 5% body fat. I would take it for no other reason than it would make me competitive. It is probably good that it does not exist. Without it I try to starve myself and have to be content to finish DFL.

    Sometimes I wonder if all the supplements basically make everyone dopers? Contamination happens. Supplement companies are willing to sneak anything into their product to make you bigger faster stronger so you will buy more. Who knows what we are really doing and taking? And no I am not trying to justify doping. I just think it is grey and not black or white. It would be nice if there were no dopers but I am a pessimist. Sports will not ever be completely clean unless we lock up athletes in a cage and feed them exactly the same. And then some douchebag would dope the horse.