I have a Lance Armstrong signed cycling jersey hanging on my wall and I’m not planning on taking it down any time soon. The story unfolding around him annoys me to no end and I’d like to tell you why today.
I just wrote about drug use in sports in my column last week. I took that opportunity to work through some of the technical reasons that I thought targeting the athletes after-the-fact for the problems of professional cycling in the early 2000s was a mistake. I’d like to be a little bit more blunt about it now.
First, the point of anti-doping controls are to keep the playing field fair between the athletes in the competition. But what happens when the entire field is juiced as it would appear to be the case in this time period? When everyone is using, when the culture of the entire sport is about using, then the playing field is already unfair and even more it becomes unfair to those that are trying to adhere to the rules. Is this a shity situation? Yes. Is this unethical and unfair? Yes. But when the entire sport turns a blind eye to what’s going on, you have a big ugly mess on your hands and lots of unfair choices.
Second, these races happened. The big moments, the drama, the stories. They all unfolded just as we saw them unfold. Remember when Lance Armstrong got his bike hooked on that kid’s bag and he fell down and then jumped back on the bike only to fall again onto his top tube and then continue racing up the side of a mountain? Yes, you probably do. And the fact that Lance Armstrong might have been using EPO didn’t allow him to continue riding when he crushed his ball on his bike in the middle of a climb in the Tour de France. We can’t now say that all of those incredible moments of racing and tactics and skill suddenly have been altered by what was going on throughout the sport.
Third, these guys are still super-athletes. I like to use the analogy of putting racing fuel into a Ford Focus. You can put all the racing fuel you want in the tank, that Ford Focus is never going to beat a Ferrari in a race. You can put all the EPO you want into me or you or just about anybody and we are still not going to beat Lance Armstrong or Jan Ulrich or George Hincapie. These athletes already had more under the hood than is typical and the juice only helped them stay in what now appears to be an unfair game.
To say that people didn’t know this was happening is lunacy. I coach athletes over e-mail for a few months and I know what they eat, what new shoes they are wearing and what was in their last post-run meal. Are you trying to tell me that the professional coaches of these professional athletes who practically lived together didn’t know everything that was going on? If I were in that position, you’d bet I’d know what their shit looked like, who they were sleeping with and for damn sure every INJECTABLE DRUG going into their systems.
So what now? Who do they roll down these Tour de France titles to? To the next person that didn’t get caught? How far are they willing to roll the titles down? What if everyone in the race was using? I didn’t use EPO. Can I have the titles?
I’ll spare you my rage against Nike for its “severing ties” with Lance Armstrong at this point. Since Lance was no longer really competing, all he was doing was raising money for cancer research. That’s a pretty worthy endeavor. And we should be reminded that for every over-priced t-shirt and hat that we bought with the Livestrong logo on it, Nike kept a piece of that action. Sorry Nike, sucky move on your part.
I understand that there will be people out there that think I’ve gone off the deep end. In fact, I have gone off the deep end. I admit it. I’ve gone off the deep end, because an entire sport was juiced, everyone knew it, and the people in charge of that sport should be the ones held accountable. Going on a witch hunt years later doesn’t do anything to fix the systemic problems that were going on in the sport at the time. Now let’s move on and get back to clean racing.
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
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