The news today about Lance should be no surprise. My feelings on that topic are mostly “Finally people are going to have to pull their head out of the sand”.
I do have some strong and conflicted emotions about the news that comes along with it.
Along with USADA’s statement on Lance was an admission to doping by 10 other cyclists from that era. Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. All are being hailed as heroes today for ‘coming out’ and doing the right thing. Six of those cyclists have continued to race for the 7 seasons between Lance’s last win and today. They earned a lot of money, and won a lot of races after doping. All of their statements say that they went cold turkey on drugs in 2006, but the physiological benefit to having doped at some point in the past was never erased. Aerobic fitness, the thing that wins bike races, and the thing that doping improves is incremental. It takes years and years to build a body capable of riding a bike fast. I didn’t stand on the podium this season based on the work I did this summer, I earned my results in 2012 by training for them beginning in 2006 when I began cycling.
Today’s ‘Heroes’ are not heroes. True, they are doing the right thing today, but they were complicit in the problem between 1998 and 2005 and they have been reaping the benefits of their involvement for all of 7 intervening cycling seasons. These men have won races for themselves and their team-mates using physiology that they did not earn (Cadel Evans’ 2011 tour was piloted by G.Hincapie, T.Danielson won a stage in Colorado this year, M.Barry has been a very powerful domestique for team Sky in various stage races over the years, D.Zabriskie has won many TTs over the years including driving Garmin to a stage win in the TTT in 2011, Levi has won the tour of California twice amongst many other big wins, and Christian VandeVelde has factored in the top ten of the TdFrance and won in Colorado this past year. These are hardly the palmares of a bunch of average pro-tour cyclists). True, if they’re not doping now it’s only a lingering effect, it was only a few percent in 2005, and it’s probably only a fraction of a percent now, but my sport is a sport that is all about fractions of a percent. The first time I got on the Cat 1/2 podium it was by less than one one hundredth of a second in a race that lasted close to four hours. Our Olympic Champion this year was cut from the same cloth, he wasn’t on very potent drugs this year to win that race, but his physiology is largely defined by periods of his career when he was.
What do we do with all of these icons? Do we kick them all out? Do we hand out 6 month suspensions (as sources indicate is what will happen) and let them come back and continue to use their advantage over the clean peloton to their advantage? I don’t know. Some of these guys may *actually* be ‘victims’ of the US-Postal doping conspiracy.
I do know that if the long term goal is to have races like the tour de france start with 180 riders using their God-given talents and the fitness that they have earned through sweat and tears… then it’s absolutely necessary for there to be complete visibility in the global cycling community, spearheaded by the UCI (or what becomes of it), that it is believable that others are not doping. How does the international cycling community start moving in that direction? I think it’s absolutely going to require a Truth and Reconciliation commission as has been proposed but so far shut down by the UCI. Credibility and honesty isn’t something that can be requested, it is something that needs to be earned. Unless there is real effort (and money) directed towards capitalizing on an opportunity for a cultural shift it’s not going to happen.
I think that a truly clean Tour de France is probably more than 20 years away. There are cyclists right now who are breaking in to the pro ranks in their late teens who are cheating and it will take until their late thirties before they’ve retired. Are we ready to make changes that are going to take at least a generation? I hope so.