Are pro cyclists all dopes?

By Dale Miller

Pro cycling is addled with dope.

I’m sure some would argue against that statement, and I’m sure there are a couple of riders in the pro peloton who abstain. But with all of the fiascos, deaths and confessions that have popped up lately, I don’t see how the majority of pro cyclists can possibly be clean.

Now I understand that the average cycling fan would love to believe his or her favourite pro is beyond the lure of chemical enhancement, but for me, the cold hard facts make this a difficult pill to swallow.

Lets take a look at some major events that have come to media attention recently.

June 2001: Italian police raid team hotels during the Giro d’Italia, seizing 200 packages of drugs, including stimulants, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. Arrests followed.

May 2002: T-Mobile star Jan Ullrich got high on ecstacy and crashed his Porsche. Not performance related, but telling nonetheless.

Feb. 2004: Champion climber Marco Pantani found dead in his hotel room with a mixture of sleeping pills and cocaine in his bloodstream. Also not performance related, but just as telling.

Mar. 2004: Kelme rider Jesus Manzano conducts a series of interviews and testimonies outlining the systematic doping within his team bringing the cycling community to its knees. While he did not name any riders specifically, the confessions lead to widespread investigations and ruined seasons for both the Kelme and Cofidis teams.

But it’s the reasoning behind the facts that do the best convincing.

The sport of professional cycling does not do well at generating revenue. Most events are held outdoors and span hundreds of miles in a day, so charging admission is not an option. In order for sponsors to make money off of their investment, they need to see big results from their teams, so they pressure the team managers. The managers, in turn, pressure the riders.

The team doctors’ role in this mess is to be the little devil perching on the athlete’s ear, offering quick fixes and the expertise to cover them up. Since the cyclist’s employment is based solely on their performance, it’s reasonable to assume they would be willing to do anything to preserve their jobs–this was a focus of Manzano’s testimony.

So if doping is so widespread, why aren’t more people caught?

The answer is simple: the tests are years behind the technology. Many of the substances used for blood doping are fresh out of the lab and often not considered safe for human testing. It is often the case that the testers don’t even know what they are looking for.

The real question you have to ask yourself though, is whether all of this affects your enjoyment of the sport. For me, the answer is a resounding no. Eddy Merckx’s 425 professional victories are an impressive feat–amphetamines or no.

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