Is Cycling Doomed? A newcomer’s thoughts.


So. I know there are a million and one blogs out there which deal with cycling already. And while I’ll probably get lost in the shuffle, that isn’t going to stop me from loudly proclaiming my thoughts to the blogosphere.

Very briefly: why I’m writing about cycling..

  • As someone who’s new to the sport of road race cycling, I hope I can bring a new perspective.
  • But mainly I have no one to really discuss cycling with where I am. While I have friends who do cycle, no one follows road racing like I do. And I need some release for my opinions/thoughts!

Why competitive cycling when I don’t even own a bike? (at least not yet) Tour de France, 2010 edition! It was on TV, I had nothing else to watch. Then I realized Andy Schleck was from Luxembourg, which is where my mom’s family is from. And then to my surprise, I realized that competitive cycling didn’t begin and end with the Tour de France. As I wasn’t ready to go cold turkey on cycling, my addiction grew as the season wore on. And here I am.

So onto the opining.

Dopes who Dope

We all know what the biggest story of the cycling world is right now: doping. And who would I be if I didn’t have an opinion?

Do I like Contador? No. Did I want Andy to win TdF 2010? Yes! More than anything.* But do I want him to get the yellow jersey this way? Absolutely not. And I don’t think he’d want to get it this way either. I don’t know whether to believe Contador or not, but it’s not looking good for him at this point.

But all these high profile positive tests brings bad press back to cycling. Being new to the sport, this was the first big doping scandal that had broken since the start of my obsession I wasn’t sure how to react to the news, the accusations, the lamentations of a sport beyond saving. Maybe cycling is doomed. Maybe there’s no way to make cycling clean. When Torri, and Walsh, and Kohl all say things like, “Doping will never be eradicated,” “the sport is going nowhere,” “You can’t win without doping,” I wonder if it’s true – that cycling is in a no-win situation and the only way to have any success in cycling is to dope. And it made me depressed. Because I’d like to think it’s not true (being an eternal optimist) and because I hate having to justify to others why cycling is a legitimate sport!

But then comes the defense of the riders and the sport. You have the soon-to-be retired McQuaid defending the sport thru the UCI’s work against doping and biological passport* and the UCI Anti-doping managers showing how the values within biological passports indicates how the “mentality of most of the athletes is changing;” then the riders themselves are coming out to defend themselves and the sport. Of course Vaughters came out and defending the riders and cycling very strongly, saying that even if some are breaking the rules, there are many more riders who are riding clean, and have no desire to dope.

*even tho I think the UCI can’t really combat doping while it’s trying to promote and grow the sport

So as I recovered from my despair over the future of the sport, I came to some of my own conclusions.

Bad Rap
I think cycling gets a bad rap, in the sense that there is doping in all sports. From where I’m sitting, with the exception of baseball, it seems none of the other sports get as much bad press as cycling. In the sense that all the press reads, “Another cycling caught doping: No surprise there.” As if they expect all cyclists are doping. But do people really think there is no doping in other sports? If they do, they’re naïve. Just the other day, one of my housemates went to a basketball presentation at Maryland and commented that the former player which got the most applause was someone who had been caught doping. It’s insulting to cycling to insinuate that it’s the only sport with a doping problem. AND it’s insulting to cycling fans to insinuate that we don’t care about the doping we’re going to continue to watch anyway, accepting that doping is just part of the sport (I’m looking at you, Walsh)!

Higher Standards
Building off that point- as other cycling pundits have pointed out, maybe the reason so many cyclists, including the biggest names, are getting called out for doping is because 1) cycling is the one sport that actually doing something to catch and discourage doping and 2) the testing and controls have reached a point where it can catch even the most sophisticated dopers (ie, those with tons of money to spend who are doping very carefully).
Hope!
There is hope for the future! Does the biological passport solve everything? No. Does it stop doping? No. But it makes doping more expensive, time consuming, difficult. And hopefully that will discourage more riders from taking the risk. As was pointed out in a recent Cycling News podcast, it is definitely just a control, not a cure. But both in this podcast, and in the most recent Real Peloton podcast, it was acknowledged that progress has been made from the 90s. Now, I was not around the cycling world in the 90s, so I cannot really say how true I think that is. But from what they say, there has been a change for the better since the 90s and maybe the passport is part of that.

Doping Culture
It’s not just the passport that is helping clean up cycling. It is also a slowly changing culture within cycling. In both the Cycling News podcast and the Real Peloton podcast something was brought up that I had never thought about before, which is that doping is also a culture and a class issue. Many of the riders in the Anglo-Saxon world, America included, are from the middle-class, who would be leading fine life if they weren’t in cycling. For most of them, cycling isn’t a way to escape a life and thus, don’t feel the pressure to dope as much. However, the cycling culture in Eastern and Southern Europe is very much rooted in the working class. Compared to the Anglo riders, many of them see cycling as their escape and thus, do feel a pressure to dope. In addition, because those regions have such a deep, long history of cycling, the contamination of doping also has deep roots, and it will take longer to get rid of that contamination.

So! What I think that means for the future of cycling is that as cycling is globalized, it brings more and more people into the sport who don’t see doping as acceptable or necessary. And as this new generation comes in and brings an intolerance to doping, it can only help the sport!

One last note: if you haven’t listened the most recent Real Peloton podcast, and you’re interesting in anti-doping, you should! It has a wonderful recap of the New Cycling Pathway Conference which happened in Australia during the World Championships. This was the conference which Landis attended. Maybe you heard about that. The podcast mostly focuses on the presentation of “I wish I was Twenty One Now: Beyond Doping in the Australian Peloton,” a super interesting report on doping in Australia, which is available to read online (pdf). I haven’t read it yet, but plan to!

So that’s what I have to say about cycling for now. It was a post that was a little longer than I thought it would be and took a little longer to write than I thought it would! But here it is. for you to ignore as you wish.

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