This has been a hectic week in the world of pro cycling; I believe a word of comment is in order.
I have read 13 books about pro cycling. Brian Tracey once said something to the effect that if you read two books about any given subject, you are in the top 5% or something of knowledge about the topic. I wouldn’t press that assertion too far, but I am taken with the similarities in so many of the cyclist’s stories. Yesterday, the remarks of Armstrong’s several former teammates were nearly identical, and a fine match for Kimmage’s Rough Ride and Millar’s Racing Through the Dark. The story goes like this:
All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike. I rode as a kid, and had some success. When I arrived at the pros, I demonstrated that I had the goods, and then one day it became apparent to me (or, the team manager made clear to me) that if I was to succeed and prosper in this sport, I had to take performance-enhancing drugs. The idea was abhorrent to me, but what was I to do? So I did. I know I have hurt my family and my fans, but now you know. And the sport is really screwed up.
The issue is that so so many of the stories are the same.
I’m tempted to say that if everyone was doing it, then maybe Lance really did win. I echoed the author’s argument in my review of Marco Pantani’s biography that if everyone dopes, you are contesting who is best at doping and who’s body has the best reaction to the drugs. And that argument has obvious appeal; Vaughters reiterated it Friday. But it is certainly true that if a set of contestants are generally equally prepared, and a contest is conducted, you can determine a winner.
Someone argued that our perspective on cycling is wrong, that the doping should just be technology applied to the game, like in Formula 1 racing. The analogy is flawed: in cycling, the technology is applied to the bodies of the racers, not to the hardware. The concept fails to account for the fact that many have died by misapplying prescription drugs, which, unlike Formula 1 mods, is against the law.
Plus there is the pesky problem of those who succeeded without doping.
The two matters I think are missing or under-represented in the analysis of the situation are:
1) The damage done to the sport by potentially great riders who were unwilling to use drugs, and just went home or to some other option instead. There must be hundreds of them. Logic suggests that among those must have been at least one great competitor and/or inspiring personality. But they had other options. They were denied a chance to succeed in a sport by actually executing the sport.
2) While I think the result has been beneficial, it continues to be unclear to me why it was important to pursue Lance Armstrong some 7 years after his last notable victory. The sport is well on its way to repairing itself, through the Skys and Slipstreams of the world, and I favor scrutiny and enforcement on today’s actions. But if you have not made your case within a year, or two, or three, maybe it’s time just to acknowledge that things may not have been quite what the appeared back then, and then move on to more modern pursuits.