Who Are the Biggest Dopes?

Now that Alejandro Valverde has made a successful return to the peloton, Michael Rassmussen is continuing to defend his ghostly itinerary, and Alberto Contador awaits a court’s ruling on the microscopic bits of clenbuterol in his blood, it’s once again time to reflect on the complexities of doping offenses and how we should react to it’s impact on our sport.

I don’t take quite the puritanical approach towards doping offenders that others do. It’s not that I condone the behavior or wish to glorify cheaters, I just feel that the science behind detecting dopers is still too imperfect to be entirely trusted. I feel that national pride has influenced the aggressiveness of the pursuit of some athletes at the expense of their ability to defend themselves. And I feel that authorities have been a little too quick to use certain techniques to identify the cheaters without fully vetting the testing process. The riders need their rights protected from faulty science.

As someone who is becoming more interested in cycling’s history, I find it fascinating how the reaction to doping has changed through the years. Prior to the 1960s, it was fairly common knowledge that cyclists were using all manner of concoctions to “enhance” their performance on the bike. Many of the most famous cyclists ever are known to have engaged in performance enhancing “techniques” such as Coppi and Anquetil. This is no secret.

It’s only been in the past 40 or so years that we have suddenly frowned upon this kind of behavior. While I would prefer that all riders race clean, I accept the fact that this has been a part of the sport for as long as it has existed. I’m very happy that the sport “seems” to be cleaner than ever. It doesn’t change how I feel about the legends of the sport though. The sad reality of it is that if we were to erase the records of all who had enhanced their performances, we’d be left with very few cyclists we recognized at the top of big name races. Many of these riders DID deserve to win their races because of their talent and skills on the bike. These are the same riders who would have finished at the top of the standings without the extra push. It’s just a shame they couldn’t all have done it without chemical assistance.

It’s a slippery slope determining what is an illegal performace enhancer. Bike magazines today are promoting all manner of performance enhancing products for people to ingest that are endorsed by today’s top cyclists. They may not be what we consider “hard drugs” but if they artificially enhance peformance, isn’t that cheating? Maybe.

Personally I think the importance of eradicating doping from the sport is good for two reasons. One, the level of potency and sophistication of the drugs being used by professionals is dangerous and being administered in questionable facilities by questionable people. This is dangerous. We don’t want riders risking their lives with chemicals and harming their health in this manner. Their sport is scary enough without adding this level of danger. Two, we have an opportunity to lead the way for all sports to show that we can compete cleanly and safely. This will provide us with heroes we can all look up to and provide the right role models for kids to emulate. It’s one of the best sporting activities kids can participate in. Let’s give them the heroes they deserve.

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