Bike racing draws in stupidity like a vacuum. And, even though Laurent Fignon became le professeur simply because he had spent some time in college and wore funny glasses, I’m not talking about the intellectual quality of the riders, here. I’m talking about things like BioPace and performance-enhancing coffee . Or Cyclo-Zen, which suggested that your inability to climb might not be due your poor watts/mass ratio at lactate threshold, but instead to your lack of mental toughness. And though each of these things is pretty silly in its own way, by far the dumbest thing I’ve ever come across during my (admittedly short) time in cycling is Dopers Suck.
Why do I HATE “Dopers Suck?” There’s so many reasons. Let’s begin with the fact that people have an astoundingly pretentious way of showing off their “Dopers Suck” t-shirts and stickers like they’re part of some new revolution that’s sweeping cycling clean. News Flash, kids: doping’s been a part of cycling as long as pneumatic tires. I’m not saying that makes it ok, but just think for a second: in the 120 years since the first 6-day racer threw back a glass of bubbly laced with cocaine, maybe you aren’t the first person to think that’s a pretty lame way to win a bike race?
That bit aside, you still hate doping and dopers. You think it’s destroying the sport etc, etc. So what did you do about it? Did you donate to WADA? Write a letter to your congressman about anti-doping legislation like they have in Italy and France? Volunteer for USADA at a big local race? No. You bought a t-shirt. Or a sticker. From some fly-by-night commercial organization called “Dubba Racing,” which just so happens to make no statement on its web page about where your money goes.* For all you know, you’re keeping some pothead stocked with rolling papers. Way to contribute to the movement, anti-doping crusader!
Then there’s the guys that take their “Dopers Suck” t-shirts up onto the podium. All respect due to JHK and Geoff Kabush, but I cannot imagine anything more idiotic. Did Richard Virenque, upon finishing third at the 1997 TdF, suddenly come clean and say “oh, BTW, guys: I’m totally on EPO.” No. Even faced with (literally) a car load of dope, including some vials and IV bags that had his name written on them, he protested his innocence for months afterward. So I guess, because Virenque didn’t have a “Dopers Suck” t-shirt on, and because you do, we’re all to believe that you’re clean? Sure, that works for me. I mean T-Shirts (that’s R. Kelly, in case you didn’t know…) never, ever, lie, right?
Now, it’s not that I think vanishing twins, mysterious South American candies supplied by Francesco Moser’s sister, and trunkloads of EPO for sick mothers-in-law are any less ridiculous. They’re not. These things just represent the last-ditch efforts of desperate men and women to salvage their lives. It’s really easy for us as mere mortals to point at these Gods of Sport and say “how could you just throw it all away?” But keep in mind, these people race for a living. Yeah, they’re really good at it, but they doesn’t mean they like doing it. For many (European) pro riders, cycling might be the only way they know to earn a paycheck. That’s a whole ton of pressure, and it only gets worse if you’ve got a family to worry about as well.
Can you imagine what it’s got to be like for some 31-year-old Belgian domestique who’s been supporting a family of five on one-year contracts for the past 3 seasons, and who has only the most basic education to fall back on, to realize that unless something drastic changes over the winter, he’s not going to be able to keep up come March? THAT’s pressure, man. It’s pressure like us fry-slinging, investment-banking, wrench-turning simpletons will hopefully never have to know. It still doesn’t make it OK to dope, but it ought to make you think twice before proclaiming to the world that some guy you never met sucks.
Which brings me to another point. Dopers don’t suck. They dope. That’s all. They don’t drive drunk, abuse small animals or endorse fascism. Just because someone takes an illegal substance for the sole purpose of performing better doesn’t necessarily make them a worse person. Tyler Hamilton, for example, really looks like he cheated during last years’ Vuelta. Officially, the jury is still out, but I’m gonna guess they’ll throw the book at him. But he is still, by all accounts, a nice guy. He drops big money into MS research and even comes out to push fat Cat 4/5 riders up the hillclimb at the Boulder Stage Race. But I guess, if your t-shirt is true, Tyler Hamilton sucks. And then there’s Lance Armstrong, who brings in literally billions of dollars each year for cancer research, gives some of the most seriously ill people on Earth hope for the future, and has probably done more for the good of mankind than any other cyclist in the history of the sport. If l’Equipe is telling the truth, then, according to you, he now sucks. You sure want that message plastered across your chest?
At the root of it all, my problem with “Dopers Suck” comes down to attitude. “Dopers Suck” helps no one, offers no improvements and suggests no alternatives. It’s runs on the same dumbsh!t, zero-tolerance, with-us-or-against-us logic that suspends 7-year olds for brining nail clippers to school and has alienated America from pretty much the entire rest of the world. Do you really think that treating riders like David Millar and Marc Lotz, who readily admitted their EPO use, the same as riders like Virenque and Johan Museeuw, who fought as hard as they could to hide it, is really going to make people less likely to dope? I think history shows us that it’s just going to make them work harder at not getting caught. So go ahead, man, parade around in your sweet “Dopers Suck” t-shirt. Just don’t pretend like you’re trying to fight doping when you do it.