If you go fast, they accuse you of cheating. If you go slow, they say you’re not professional and you didn’t train hard enough.
-Fabian Cancellara, after winning Stage 1 TT at 2010 Tour de Suisse
I made similar comments on both, the essence of which is that if performance enhancing drugs were legalized and therefore no longer cheating, as has been proposed in some circles, then they would make their way to the amateur ranks, as all things PRO tend to do. The decision would no longer be “do I dope so I can compete in Europe or go back to racing in the US?” but “do I dope so I can upgrade to the next category or resign myself to being a career Cat. X?”
I like to pretend to try to be competitive at the local amateur level, and I don't want to dope. I hate needles. I don't want to stick needles in my arm or butt before a race. I don't want to race knowing that I'm only as fast as I am because I put chemicals in my body. It would be hollow and not worthwhile and would take something I love to do and suck the joy and satisfaction out of it. I could not muster the passion to suffer as I do on and off the bike under such circumstances. (And really, what is bike racing without the suffering?)
But where do you draw the line? It’s fun to pretend that doping is cut and dry and you’re either doing it or you’re not. Is it really that simple?
The UCI has set bike weight limits at a minimum of 6.8kg. So if you’re riding a bike that weighs less than that in a local race that doesn’t weigh bikes, is that doping?
Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance, indeed exceeding certain levels constitutes a doping positive, so am I doping when I pop a Red Bull prior to a crit?
EPO and blood transfusions are used to increase hematocrit levels, the concentration of red cells in the blood, thus augmenting aerobic capacity. Sleeping in a hypobaric chamber (altitude tent) or at altitude stimulates a similar response (though not of the same magnitude). My house is at 6300 feet, and yes, I thought about the effect this would have on my hematocrit when I bought it. Is that doping?
Allessandro Petacchi missed Le Tour in 2007 for taking too many puffs on his albuterol inhaler. He had a therapeutic use exemption for the drug (as do something like 2/3 of the pro peloton—who knew asthma was so pervasive amongst endurance athletes); he just failed to use “utmost caution” and took too much. I have asthma and have had poor results when I forget to take albuterol before competition. Other times I’ve probably failed to use “utmost caution” and taken too much. Is this doping?
Power meters allow an athlete to test him or herself and know exactly what kind of power can be generated for a given duration, enabling pacing strategies that are much more precise, which is especially helpful in time trials or when climbing. Does using this technology to your advantage constitute doping?
In 1989 when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon in the final time trial of Le Tour, Lemond was using aero bars, similar to a modern time trial setup, while Fignon rode old school in the drops. Lemond is a vocal critic of doping, but did his bike setup give him an unfair advantage?
The list goes on and on of course. One argument against performance enhancing drugs is that they’re dangerous. But they’re less dangerous than obesity, tobacco, alcohol abuse, or air pollution, each of which by itself is and always will be a far greater public health concern. Another argument is that it gives an unfair advantage. But could not the same be said if one competitor has power meter, carbon frame, and aero wheels when another can’t afford such equipment?
I’ll obviously utilize any legal advantage I have access to, and yet I hate doping and will go on hating doping. I hope there are some huge, visible busts that come out of the Landis allegations. I hope the riders roll on each other. I hope it becomes an out-of-control wildfire that burns down not just cycling, but the major sports like football, American football, baseball, and basketball. I hope it gets to the point that riders go beyond a silly two-minute delay or soft pedaling around finishing circuits and make a real protest, like refusing to line up and race against someone they know is dirty.
Problem is, can anyone can say definitively and precisely what “dirty” is?