The Bad Guy

When we consider the problem of doping it’s easy to look at the issue in terms of black and white. There are the clean riders (white) and the doped riders (black). There are the teams whose management actively work to keep riders clean (white). And there are teams whose management organize and facilitate doping (black).

Such an outlook keeps the problem chopped up in easy to digest chunks. And while it may be easier to organize our thinking and ability to pass judgement on who should be in or out of the sport, such an assessment does little to shed light on the reality of the problem.

Every time we reduce someone to “culprit” or “doper” what we are doing is labeling them “the bad guy.” By reducing them into a two-dimensional role, they become cardboard cutouts, symbols, for what we find offensive. Dressing a guy in a black hat automatically makes him the bad guy. That’s what makes old spaghetti westerns so laughable; you didn’t need to know anything more about the guy than the fact that he had the black hat on.

And remember, in most good/bad conflict movies from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the bad guy only did bad things. They stole. They murdered. They polluted the planet and ate babies for lunch.

The good guys (white hats) were just as laughable. They were saintly in demeanor. They protected babies, fed the poor, fought crime and had nary a carnal thought.

It would seem that Pat McQuaid is a big believer in the black hat. McQuaid wants every former rider who ever had a brush with doping to be banned from roles in team management, banned from the sport. If we consider the example of guys like Jonathan Vaughters, a manager who says he faced some difficult decisions while he was a rider, banning him would mean losing a figure who understands the trials riders face better than most. Who else would better understand the agonies of the riders than someone who was confronted with those very choices.

Now, Vaughters never tested positive, was never banned. However, if we assess some of his more veiled statements about his past, his time with the US Postal team, we might conclude that his grand jury testimony included statements that McQuaid would find sufficient cause to ban him, should the UCI pass such a rule.

Right now, I see Vaughters as one of the best proponents of clean sport. He has seen the dark side of the sport and yet still believes that clean sport is possible and is providing his riders the support necessary to be competitive without resorting to doping.

If we want to understand doping, we need to understand more than the biology behind the drugs. We need to know more than who they got the drugs from, more than their training regimen. We need to know, to understand the riders as people. We must understand what caused them to confront the choices that led to their doping. That means no black hats.

As long as we reduce each cyclist who used performance-enhancing drugs to the black-hatted doper who just wanted to win, we’ll miss the drive for most of the peloton. If Frankie Andreu is to be believed—and I think we should heed his words—he used not to win, but to survive, to keep his job. There are lessons in his effort to survive.

I don’t want to go all Oprah on you, but if we set aside our need to judge, we can listen to stories told by people, people who often faced choices as attractive as rock and hard place.


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  1. Flahute

    The last I read, McQuaid’s proposal would essentially have a grandfather clause … people who are already working in team management would be able to continue to do so. His proposal is to prevent current RIDERS who have doping issues going forward from becoming part of team management in the future.


    One point McQuaid stressed surrounded retrospective analysis, saying that past doping offences before the new rule comes into place would not be punished. Cycling has numerous team bosses and DSs whom either tested positive – in some cases several times – or who later confessed to doping.

    “You can’t make it retrospective. Everyone must know what the playing pitch is like before they go onto it, and you can’t do it in another way. However, once that rule comes into place and all riders are informed of it, they will know what the consequences would be should they get involved in a doping infraction and try to come back in another way.”

    “You can only bring in the rule for the future so it will only apply to people that get involved in doping after the rules comes in – so the riders know and they’re informed.”

    “All we’re trying to do is break the cycle so that the doping influence is less involved in the sport and that the managers are a group who have the highest ethics as cyclists and continue to have the highest ethics as management. I’m bringing in the rule for the future.

    So what this means, should the rule be finalized and implemented, is that not only would Jonathan Vaughters be able to keep his position in team management, but once Tyler Hamilton’s current 8-year ban is up in 2017, he would also be able to work as a team manager if he could convince someone to hire him.

    However, should Johan Vlaamsewieler become involved in some sort of doping practice in 2012 and get caught … serve his two year ban and then return as a rider in 2014, he would be still be prevented from working in team management after he retires from cycling as a rider in 2019.

    It’s one of the few UCI rules (proposed or otherwise) that I think I can get behind; today’s team managers who are outspokenly anti-doping, like Jonathan Vaughters, were active professionals in a time when doping was widely accepted within the peloton. They do understand the choices and the pressures that riders felt, and are best suited to help educate and keep the current crop of riders from falling into the same traps. And hopefully, by the time the current crop of riders is ready to retire and join team management, a new culture of complete intolerance for doping will have taken hold.

    I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand and say “from here, no more!”

  2. Pingback: Why Doping Matters

  3. Jim

    Interesting you show a picture of Angel Eyes from the Good, The Bad and The Ugly. As I recall, even the good guys were kind of bad people in that film…

  4. Rich

    I keep hearing we shouldn’t go after past doping violations. I disagree. If we can test past samples with new technology and find evidence of violations we should do it. Then take away the wins and sue for the prize money. This would send the message that just because you are beating the system now doesn’t mean you will always get away with it. You will get caught eventually. They knew they were cheating then and those that weren’t should get the wins.Drawing a line in the sand doesn’t work for me. Sand shifts.
    To clean up the future I think you have to retroactively clean up the past.

  5. Flahute

    @Rich So does that mean that you’re advocating that the UCI should go back and strip Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, etc. of their wins, because they were all certainly doping, too. How about the gold medals the US Olympic team won in cycling in 1984 … should they all be stripped because the team was blood-packing?

  6. mark

    I appreciate that you have a nuanced view, Padraig, but I’m siding with McQuaid and Flahute on this one. If a two year ban isn’t enough deterrent, perhaps knowing it will keep you from working in the industry is. That it wouldn’t be retroactive is brilliant. For once we have a legitimately effective and well-reasoned without shooting beyond the mark policy proposal from the UCI.

  7. Steve

    Nobody denies that the peloton faces constant temptations, but it seems like RKP is constantly justifying the actions of dopers. If a rider breaks a rule and is discovered, they are cheaters and liars by definition. And I also find it odd to hear you say that we should not ban cheaters, because their perspective is so vital. Bologna! The whole problem is that it still pays to cheat in pro cycling. Change incentives. Think deterrance. Don’t be a doping sympathizer!

    1. Author

      Rich: Your suggestion is impractical on a number of levels. First, the UCI and WADA put together couldn’t afford to do what you suggest. Supposing for a moment that you were Warren Buffet and gave them all the money they needed to do it, there simply aren’t records enough to strip all the doped riders of their wins and then pass them to deserving, clean riders. There’s simply no way to accomplish what you want.

      Let’s use an example: The 1999 Tour de France. So, I’m guessing you want Armstrong stripped of his win. Who would you give it to? Alex Zulle was second and he admitted he doped. Escartin was third and implicated in doping. He won one stage, so there should be at least one sample from him. Suppose it’s been stored well enough to be re-tested and they find EPO. Next is Laurent Dufaux, also a doper. After him is Angel Casero; he may not have given a single sample during the Tour. Should he be awarded a Tour victory if we don’t actually know for sure he was clean? The ’99 Tour was dirty. Stripping Armstrong of the win won’t make it cleaner.

      Steve: I’m not justifying the behavior of dopers, but if you don’t find out how a thief thinks, you’ll never create a safe that can keep one out. And I’m not suggesting we show dopers sympathy, I’m suggesting we show our fellow man some empathy.

  8. Flahute

    @Padraig That’s why I like McQuaid’s proposed rule … because it doesn’t punish the current crop of directors or prevent current riders who have been already implicated in doping practices (which for the vast majority of riders, I’d like to think is due to the pressures of the peloton, rather than a desire to cheat and win at all costs) from working to change that mindset. It’s a disincentive for people for riders to continue doping from implementation going forward, because it will have even longer-term consequences than just an enforced vacation.

    It does have a mini-amnesty of sorts built in.

  9. Rich

    Obviously there is not enough evidence on the older riders, but if there is yes strip them. Do they deserve to be gods of the sport if they were cheating? As for the Olympic team. Is there evidence of the cheating? If there is then, yes pass down the medals. Maybe the yellow jersey for 99 should hang empty with no winner.
    Drastic steps need to be taken. Half hearted efforts taken for the last 12 years have had little effect on the doping in the sport. It is time for real consequences. If you were racing today and saw Armstrong being stripped of his victories from 10 years ago what would you do when offered the needle? It seems to be impossible to stay ahead of the dopers. The technology develops faster than the tests. Its like trying to catch the thief before he robs you. You have no evidence before the crime. But even if 10 years have gone by they are still guilty.
    How can we expect to raise up young cyclists to race clean when we continue to worship and make excuses for guys who were cheating.

  10. Rich

    Thanks for the references.I found one more interesting article.
    I agree that the rules weren’t always clear as with the Olympic team. So I guess you have to go with the rules at the time of the infraction. Some involved argued that it was illegal.But some of the coaches argued they couldn’t test for it at that time so it didn’t matter. By having retroactive testing you remove that argument. And in 1999 Epo was illegal. So test when the tests become available. I still think retroactive testing would be a huge deterrent. But how do you write a rule covering things that we haven’t even heard of. The cheater always seem to be one step ahead. NASCAR uses a rule the says “if it doesn’t say you can you can’t” So if you can get in with out a prescription and use it with out a needle is it OK? I would hate to see cycling turn into Nascar. I just want winners I can be proud of.

    1. Author

      Rich: The challenge I don’t think you appreciate has to do with capital. Taking samples costs money. Testing samples costs even more money. There is zero way to sufficiently adjudicate the past until we arrive at an unquestionably clean cyclist in races—there aren’t enough samples and there isn’t enough money to pay for it even if they had all the samples necessary. You simply can’t fix the past. What money there is will be much better spent addressing the doping that’s going on today. We would all do well to reserve our pride for our own efforts. It’s all we can truly have confidence in.

  11. Rich

    Some good commets on the past of cycling
    The cost my be too high but the cost to the future of cycling is high also. How can any future cyclist hope to equal the feats of the past which were attained by doping cyclists. The records will be unobtainable by strictly human effort. Thank you for your commets and your effort to educate me on some of these things.

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