How long has doping been a matter of discussion among fans of cycling? I bet you could go back a hundred years and find the topic whispered about. The substances and methods may have been different, but you would probably find a racer doing something to deaden the pain and keep pushing his body. Thing is, this is nothing new to us. It is interesting to hear the responses to the recent 60 Minutes story from people who don’t follow the sport.
“You’re a cyclist,” I’ve been joked at more than once in the last week. Then comes the punchline, “Have any EPO?” Granted, this is often followed up by a serious desire to understand a bit more about the news from a fan perspective. Still, it shows how these few minutes of air time can taint the whole sport.
Some of these same people who live in Greenville will follow up asking if the Upstate cycling community is “devastated” at the report that George Hincapie had given testimony that he doped with Armstrong during the US Postal days. How do you answer that question? Whether Hincapie doped or not is not a point of devastation or elation. At the same time the whole story of doping is a long and complex one that, frankly, does not lend itself to black and white answers.
Is doping wrong. You betcha. However, do I sit here and throw anyone who has ever doped under the bus? I don’t.
I think of the Civil Rights era. We are quick to pass judgement on the people who followed the mainstream of their culture in supporting the inequalities of segregation. We declare, “If I was living during that time, I wouldn’t have done that!” You wouldn’t? Don’t be so sure until you have been born into that culture with all the experiences around you reinforcing those beliefs.
What would I have done back in the 80’s or 90’s if I was given the chance to ride with a pro team — and even in the Tour de France? What would I have done if my livelihood depended on my success on the bike? What would I have done with absolutely no support system to ride clean? I would like to think that I would turn and walk away from the opportunity/temptation. However, would I? Would you?
Frankly, I am more interested in now than then. The “movement” toward clean cycling as an organized effort is a more recent phenomena. It is now the mantra of several pro teams — “We’re clean and we are evangelists for the cause.” Garmin and Highroad are two examples. A doper is bad enough. A hypocritical doper is even more of an insult.
I guess I do have it in me to forgive a doper. My line for doing so is somewhere before the doper is silent and where he becomes a hypocrite. There is no patience in my mind for someone who declares he is clean and speaks out in support of a clean sport while all the time he is using performance doping.
Remember when you were a kid and you were hanging with your buddies doing something you knew you shouldn’t? At some point it dawned on you that if your mom and dad found out about it, you would be toast! The peer pressure might even cause you to continue for a time, but at some point your fear overcomes your seared conscience. “Guys, I’m leaving,” you say looking over your shoulder, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
You don’t just run out the door to the principal’s office either. While you stopped smoking in the boys room, it doesn’t mean you are ready to volunteer to declare your guilt from the past. As a matter of fact, should those guys ever get caught in the act, you will feel your heart racing hoping you won’t be put in the place to answer for your past actions with a straight “yes” or “no.”
I hope we are starting to get to that point in professional cycling. There very well could be racers who doped in the past. The question for me is are they still hanging out in the school bathroom sharing a cigarette.