So I’m writing a blog about drugs in cycling and the news comes through that USADA have suspended Lance Armstrong pending investigation into charges that he “…used EPO blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period 1998-205 and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and HGH [human growth hormone] through 1996.” Handy, I thought, that’s the intro sorted.
But this isn’t about Lance, not least because so much is being written about him from both sides of the Texan’s fence. Those of us who believe he denigrated the sport to nothing more than a two week get-rich-quick scheme, rather than a season long spectacle, are thinking it’s about time.
However, he has his supporters, mostly non-cyclists (sorry I am partisan) who believe him to be the greatest cyclist there has ever been. To these I suggest purchasing the two excellent Eddy Mercx biographies out at the moment Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham and Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal by Daniel Friebe.
Having ridden against Lance in the Junior World Championships in 1989, an experience I wrote about in my previous blog, We’re Here Now, I can confirm he is a force of nature, a prestigious talent from an early age but not the superhero he and many others need to believe him to be.
However, this isn’t about the Lance, this blog is about why I’m ashamed of having been an apologist for cheats in the sport and why I am now a strident hater of drugs in sport.
I took drugs, once. By accident. Do-Do Chest Eze, available from Boots for £2.25 – are a powerful brew to the domestic cyclist, containing two banned substances for cyclists: Caffeine and Ephedrine, a not too distant a relative to amphetamine and both are on the banned list.
I took 4 and rode like a demon at the local track league winning all the races against very strong senior field containing GB riders. When I tried to replicate that form without drugs in a National road race a week later. Of legs, there were none.
I felt deflated but never tempted to go back to the winning formula. Whilst I would not knowingly take drugs to win myself I was, however, an apologist for our sport.
It was absolutely inbred into us, even here in minority sport cycling Britain we knew that to make it on the continent we would encounter the needle, pill or the more preferred suppository. We also knew the rumours, or had seen the evidence, of drugs on the domestic circuit.
I never once thought it was a clean sport, but it was our sport and in a way it added to the glamour. Isn’t that the cruelest thing, that cheating became part of the allure?
And then it imploded. The Festina drug scandal, the subsequent Court cases, the returned yellow jersey’s and cycling became a byword for drugs. Ask a person in the street about cycling and they’ll still say it’s a drug-infested mess. Well it isn’t and we as a country are reaping the benefits of that.
With a clean, level playing field (I amateurishly estimate a 95% clean peloton, much better I believe than other sports at top level) GB riders are at the fore and this leads me to what I have come to realize, that the current crop of GB riders are no better riders than my former teammates.
I am not looking to burst bubbles, the current crop of British riders are phenomenal but so were hundreds behind them who didn’t benefit from racing in a clean peloton and whose dreams, and the financial rewards for their talent, were taken away by those who cheated their way to the top.
So, I’m sorry for once having spouted nonsense and supported dopers. Sorry that I once said our sport should be left alone. The massive purge has been a great thing for cycling.
The worst thing that drugs do is to deny clean riders their chance, their shot at stardom, their pay packet, their dreams, a career.
As for Lance, lets see what USADA can do to get to the bottom of his amazing ability to become the greatest cyclist in the World once, for a two week period, every year for a number of years in what we now know to be such a dirty and charged up peloton.