It’s Not the Dopers Who Are Killing Cycling

A Note From Fatty: Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Dr. BotchedExperiment, who spends all his time busting sick moves, thinking deep thoughts, wearing a square hat, and writing angry letters about things ranging from the way cheese smells to the deplanetization of Pluto (an outrage!).

Today, he is angry about the whole bike/doping situation. I find his logic compelling, and his anger cathartic. Enjoy!

Let’s get a couple things out of the way
There are two reasons doping exists in cycling. 1) Each individual cyclist is highly competitive. 2) For the top riders, there are millions of dollars at stake. Desire and money; prestige and cash. That’s it. Show me a sport where there is no money involved and the athletes don’t care whether they win, and I’ll show you a sport where no one’s cheating.

When I hear cyclists and pundits say that professional road cycling is too hard and it forces the riders to cheat, I want to pull my hair and bang my head against a solid surface. It seems these folks have never heard of track cycling, in which some races last ONE MINUTE and yet, track cycling has every bit a performance enhancing drug (PED) problem as road cycling.

Compare and Contrast: American Football and Cycling
America’s National Football League (NFL) is the most financially successful and fastest growing sports league in the world. American football is also one of the sports in which athletes would most benefit from using performance enhancing drugs.

Only recently has the NFL bumped up its penalties for a positive for a performance enhancing substance: 1st positive = 1/4 season, 2nd positive = 3/8 season, 3rd positive = 1 season. As you know, cycling has a 1st offence 2 year suspension, compounded by a 2 year Pro Tour suspension, making a 4 year ban for a 1st offence.

The NFL doesn’t use blood for any tests, only urine, and astoundingly only recently started testing for most masking agents and considering their presence as a positive drug test. The NFL still doesn’t test for amphetamines. Cycling uses blood, urine, and is trying to get DNA, and tests for an astounding array of substances.

While there are potentially millions of dollars at stake for each NFL player, in cycling, there are only a handful of riders capable of making that type of income.

In every way, NFL players have more reason to use performance enhancing drugs than cyclists, and yet the NFL has never been perceived to have a PED problem. I have never heard anyone say “Yeah, but the Superbowl winning team was probably on steroids,” or, “Ladanian Tomlinson couldn’t be that good naturally, he must be on human growth hormone.”

In the NFL, the drug testing and punishment is handled in-house by the NFL, and when there is a positive test, the details of the test are suppressed (again, only recently have they even started releasing the identity of the players who test positive). The only thing the public hears is “player x suspended 4 games for violating NFL drug policy.” You hear about the doper and the offence once, after the test has been substantiated, the penalty decided, and the initial denial of the player has been heard by the league. To make doping and punishing of doping even more of a non-issue, no records, wins, or titles are stripped from any players of teams, and there has never been a star player severely punished by the NFL for PEDs.

Time to make significant changes
I used to think the NFL’s drug policy was a joke, and that cycling did it right, but I was absolutely wrong. I have two words to say about that subject: Operation Puerto. UCI/WADA’s inept attempts at saving cycling from dopers is killing the sport. Just as police often suspend a high-speed chase in a city, understanding that during the course of catching the fleeing suspect they may do more harm than good, cycling needs to temporarily cease its more high-profile attempts at catching dopers until they can do it without seeming like a Three Stooges skit.

  • Somebody get a big, family sized roll of duct tape and wrap it around Dick Pound’s (WADA) and Pat McQuaid’s (UCI) faces until they can no longer speak. Every time they open their mouths, cycling gets worse.
  • Approach catching cheaters as a way of further enhancing the sport’s popularity, and STOP making catching/punishing dopers more important that putting an entertaining product on the road.
  • Abandon suspensions for “positive” results from current tests involving heterologous blood doping, testosterone, and EPO (except the 50% hematocrit rule). The science behind these tests is not indisputable and endless debate about them only hurts cycling.
  • Begin building physiological profiles for each rider, consisting of hormone profiles (testosterone, erythropoietin, etc) hematocrit levels, red blood cell precursor levels, and DNA (the real future of doping lies in modifying the DNA of blood cells such that an individual “naturally” expresses more EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, etc). These files won’t be of much use for riders who are at the end of their careers, but testing of all the top junior level riders should begin immediately. The idea here is that in the future “positive” doping results will be based on an individual’s deviation from their own “normal” parameters.
  • Get the testing labs under control. Right now it doesn’t matter whether someone returns a positive dope test because the labs processing the samples are being run so poorly that the results will never hold up (see Paula Pezzo and Floyd Landis for examples). Use private labs and hold them to a high standard.
  • Automate rider sample collection, storage, and retrieval. This is so easy it’s ridiculous. Take the human element out of sample collection and solidify chain of custody and eliminate access to the samples.
  • Unify cycling. I don’t know of any other sport that is run by more organizations, here’s a partial list: UCI, ASO, WADA, IOC, International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT), national cycling associations, national Olympic associations, race promoters, and team sponsors (with each team having many sponsors). Some of this is due to the international nature of cycling, and is the result of an evolutionary process. Time for Intelligent Design! I realize this is nearly impossible unless one organization comes up with billions of dollars to buy everyone out, but the fight against doping has to be unified.

PS: Don’t even get me started about the way UCI and ASO politics are screwing up the sport.

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