Reconciliation

McQuaidHQ

After a year of alternately surprising and unseemly revelations, truths that are unsettling or perhaps only half-so, we finally seem to have arrived at our great test. The recent nomination of Pat McQuaid to another term as UCI President by the governing board of Cycling Ireland is the great denouement of this era in cycling. Should he succeed in achieving another term as the president of the UCI, McQuaid will be the unassailable impediment to cleaning up cycling.  Having shut down the investigation into his organization’s past and derailed what could have been a transparent exposure of the sport’s true nature with a truth and reconciliation commission, McQuaid has demonstrated nothing so much as how much more he prizes his ass than our sport.

Fortunately, Cycling Ireland has put his nomination on hold and will reconsider its vote. But holding my breath isn’t a variety of hope I’ll permit myself.

McQuaid’s tenure has left me with the feeling I had a few weeks ago when the opportunity to increase background checks for prospective gun buyers was shot down in Washington. It may be that only 90-percent of the American people want to see a change in gun laws. I have, however, yet to meet a single cyclist who believes that meaningful change in cycling is possible while McQuaid heads the UCI. Somehow, after a shocking torrent of new details that have disappointed every serious fan the sport has, we are poised to enter yet another grand tour with the status quo not only intact, but inviolate.

This isn’t just disappointment. This is the ache of depression, that deep resignation to futility that leeches color from life.

While I oppose McQuaid’s involvement in cycling down to my last fingernail, I’m unable to summon any more outrage for doped riders. With or without the man behind the curtain, we must address the future of the riders themselves. I suppose I might be able to ferret out some moldy snark should Riccardo Ricco choose to infest a two-wheeled conveyance in public, but that Al Pacino-style bellowing apoplexy found on the Interwebs eludes me at this point. A great many years ago a wise person told me that resentment is a cup of poison you pour for someone else, but drink yourself. I repeated those words to myself for nearly 20 years before I was able to put them into action by pouring out the metaphoric glass of hemlock. And it’s not that I lack compassion for what guys like Tilford suffered at the legs of a doped peloton—I get it. But now I have to ask, where is all this anger getting us?

Lest you think I simply wish to sweep all this dishonesty under the rug so that we can just jump into some new chapter of cycling, the way BP has tried to tell the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, “Bygones …” I must point out that I don’t see a simple reset button. There was a time when, emotions aside, I calculated that once a rider has served a suspension—even ones we believe to be to woefully inadequate to fit the infraction committed—they ought to be permitted to ride again, period.

This spring I went for a ride with a friend who works in the tech sector, one of the smartest guys I know, and arguably the most impressive self-made success I have ever encountered, a guy who also happens to be an ex pro. It was he who re-framed the problem of the “recovering” doper for me. Suppose for a second that every cyclist ever popped for doping was suspended for long enough to return them to their pre-doping form. It was his contention that was not sufficient discipline. It is his belief that the form gained from doping is actually less important than how once you have achieved that form once, in knowing that it is possible it redefines what the doping rider believes is possible about him or herself. The logic here is that once you’ve broken that psychological barrier once, it’s easier to do the second time.

The flip side to this argument is that riders who have doped often develop a psychological dependence on the stuff, coming to believe that they can’t achieve the form they had without it. It’s easy to see the logic behind this: I wasn’t that fit before the dope, so how can I reach that fitness without it?

Corollaries to both arguments abound. Skateboarding shows how once one guy figures out a move others learn it quickly because they know it’s possible. Once something enters the realm of the possible the challenge is merely learning, not invention. On the other side, the arts are full of talents who clung to drugs long after they had become self-destructive, because they believed the dope was braided into their talent, that one could not survive without the other. The tragedies of Marco Pantani and José Maria Jimenez remind us to what dark road doping may lead.

So this is my acknowledgement that there are no easy answers to what sort of riding careers ex-dopers should lead. However, the riding careers, that is the actual racing, of these riders isn’t nearly the source of irritation as the recent announcement of side projects by some of these riders. The outrage I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter in response to the release of a strength training book by Tom Danielson and the announcement of George Hincapie’s new bed and breakfast could send a nuclear sub around the seven seas at least until we solve climate change.

The rub is, of course, that they wouldn’t be famous enough to be authors, clothing company or hotel owners had they not doped their way to success. Surprisingly, the solution to this issue might be the simplest of all. Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Backlash is the force opposite what the Lance Effect was. Sure, Danielson got an advance for the book, but if it doesn’t sell, he won’t see any royalties. And if it doesn’t sell, there won’t be another book. The market isn’t moral, but it can be absolute.

I’ve got friends out there, reasonable people whose intelligence is beyond question, but because they are cyclists are men of passion, men for whom the ex-doper dilemma has riled them to bulging-eyed, steam-eared fulminants. It’s hard to say whether their principles or their passions have led them to conclude that no ban short of lifetime is enough for these riders.

Tyler_Interview

I can’t tell people not to be angry. Well, I can try, but it won’t work, so there’s no point. But I think it’s time we begin thinking about how to move forward, with or without Pat McQuaid. Every justice system on Earth makes some attempt to match the punishment to the crime. Bernie Madoff is the only person I can think of who has effectively received a death sentence—both professional and personal—for crimes he committed in his profession. Does anyone out there really think that the offenses committed by Tyler Hamilton, Christian Vande Velde, Levi Leipheimer, et al, merit professional death sentences? Actually, I know the answer to that question is yes, but what I’m asking is for people to really consider the question in a rational way. In the grand scheme, considering the number of Wall Street villains who did their country-club stints and are now plying their trade once again, do these guys really deserve lifetime suspensions or is this just our passion quitting the game and taking the ball home?

Finally, while I suspect that there are guys like Ricco who have the recidivist streak of skid-row addicts, I submit that there is merit to looking for acts of repentance, that in allowing a rider to make amends and in accepting that apology we both heal. I think accepting Tyler Hamilton as repentant is more about my growth than his. I don’t think every former doper deserves forgiveness, but Hamilton strikes me as worthy a candidate as we might find.

Forgiveness isn’t something that can be ladled out to the masses, like sunshine, but in this regard, maybe we can take a page from skateboarding and show one another what’s possible.

Cycling is a sport in which I’ve learned a great many lessons about life. As a life philosophy, it will fall short of what I want to teach my sons if it can’t include forgiveness, reconciliation. The mythology of cycling is better for me if I can point to Hamilton as cycling’s prodigal son.

It’s time to find a way to move on. Forgiveness is less a gift you give the person who hurt you than a peace you give yourself.

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19 comments

  1. SusanJane

    Reconciliation by itself is empty. The truth must come out. You have to clean the wound or it will never heal properly. And not Pat’s UCI hotline version. None of this will happen without amnesty. Remember Levi said he doped at Rabobank and he’s still without a ride. As long as teams and sponsors can punish riders the wound will fester under layers of denial and subterfuge. Amnesty, truth, reconciliation. We have to have all three.

  2. Michael

    SusanJane, you are right – we as a community need those. However, those are really for the riders and their absolution. I want to figure out how to get over the whole doping ordeal and anger, as a fan and former racer. Padraig’s idea of making peace and forgiving at least some (ex)racers seems like it makes it better for us, and, really, we can only change ourselves, not others. Forgiving people, even if I still want to avoid daily contact with them, has always worked well to get ME past the problem. Learn from it, and avoid it in the future, but get past it.

    That doesn’t mean McQuaid shouldn’t go – changes need to be made and he can’t and won’t make them. CEOs are SUPPOSED to fall on their swords in such situations, even if they don’t see it as their fault.

  3. Maremma Mark

    Complex subject. Padraig, SusanJane and Michael all have excellent points and I agree with them. As Michael says, CEO’s are supposed to take the fall for their errors. The UCI is beyond a shadow of a doubt part of the problem, if not THEE problem. Especially the duo of McQuaid and Verbruggen. The damage they’ve done will take many years to over come. As Susan says, amnesty, truth and reconciliation, those are the ingredients needed. However, there must be change at the top, anything less is farcical.

    Frankly I’ve never quite understood the foaming at the mouth anger towards the riders. Obviously I’ve never condoned the use of doping, far from it. To direct the rage at the riders though seems off track, if the system is rotten the rules need changing. From the top down. For sure riders must take responsibility for their actions, but so must teams, directors, doctors and especially federation heads. Only the riders have ever paid for their sins and they’re the weakest link in the chain. As well as the ones making the least amount of money.

    Isn’t it ironic that a generation of US riders turn out to be among the biggest cheats cycling has ever seen? Cashing in on the ethics and clean reputation of the previous generation of US riders, these guys almost got away with it. And has the general cycling public noticed that professional women racers seem to be immune to the plague of doping? With a couple of exceptions over the years. What does that say?

  4. Khal Spencer

    I don’t think its ironic that U.S. riders were consummate dopers. Take a look at the ethics in many successful endeavors in the U.S. Wall Street has been built on smoke, mirrors, and derivatives that few if any understand but buy into because it promises instant and effortless wealth. Drugs are now sold on TV with hype that has little to do with medicine. Fast food companies hire chemists to make the worst crap irresistible to kids. There are the megasodas. Fossil fuel companies hire mouthpieces with impressive sounding c.v.s to deny that human activities can influence climate.

    Dishonesty pays and it would be the true irony if pro cyclists failed to get that message. After all, its the big bucks that drive the evil.

  5. Full Monte

    I know many riders now who love to ride, and have been huge cycling fans for years, but have indeed “moved on” regarding their anger leveled at dopers and the UCI. And by “moved on,” I don’t mean they’ve reached a point of acceptance and forgiveness, but instead have turned away from professional cycling in disgust. No more interest in watching the Tour. Stopped checking on spring classic results in Velonews. Don’t want to visit pro races in California and Colorado. Finished with it.

    Should McQuaid continue as the president of the UCI, I suspect we’ll have lost these professional cycling fans forever. And many more current fans will leave as well.

    When the anger’s gone, the rage has calmed, and one sees nothing’s changed, one surrenders their passion. Lets it fizzle and die. Understanding that it was based on a fantasy.

    We’re at that watershed moment in pro cycling – for so long, cycling fought for a foothold of interest in America, and it grew as a quiet subculture in the 70s, through LeMond, exploded with Armstrong. A million new cyclists, trails opening, the industry thriving. Can cycling continue here without being pulled along by interest in pro cycling? It’s sad that we’ll have to find out.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’ve written extensively about the need to find out the truth and am by no means backing away from that desire. Hamilton has told as forthright a story as anyone has, which is much of why I believe he’s a good person to look to when we consider forgiveness and reconciliation. We can’t control whether or not everyone comes clean. And we can’t control the actions of the teams. Forgiveness and reconciliation are acts conducted one at a time. Amnesty can only be granted (currently) by an entity we do not trust—the UCI. In my limited sphere of influence the choice I have is how I want to devote my time, my energy and as publisher of this site, my editorial. At one point last winter I was looking at a big push into more pro racing stuff, but for a couple of different reasons, I pulled away from that. We will do LUG, but that’s in most ways more about Charles and Patrick than it is about the racers themselves.

      At our best, I think RKP often articulates thoughts and ideas that many of you already had, but hadn’t quite put into words. On rare occasions, we may suggest something that might influence what you think on a subject. This is one of those occasions where I’d actually like to influence the conversation, influence what we think. Have I forgiven every rider who has confessed? No. I’ve got zero use for a bunch of those guys, but I can point to Hamilton, Landis and Leipheimer as guys with whom I’m willing to move on.

      I should add on a personal note that while I came to the conclusion that Hamilton must be doping before he got popped, it was long after I’d concluded many other riders were. There was a frustration and disappointment I felt with him that was different from what I felt for other riders. I’d been crossing paths with him since the 1990s. We have a number of mutual friends. That photo is from Mount Washington in 1997, when he broke the record and I took another 20 minutes to get to the top. When he joined Rock Racing and came to California for training, he was on many of my training rides; I deliberately avoided him for a while because I realized I carried some anger for him. When we did finally bump into each other he was so polite, so decent, that it was easy to talk, but it wasn’t until the 60 Minutes interview that my views on him started to evolve.

  6. cormw

    Great article!

    I agree that we will not see any substantial change until McQuaid is out! Kind of reminds me of the good ol’ boy networks you still run across here in the south! Hard to have any change when the people in power are only concerned about themselves. I personally think that in order for the real change to occur in cycling, we will have to see the teams branch out to start their own new cycling league. The current system is too corrupt to really change. Just my opinion.

    As for the anger towards the dopers, I can understand the dissapointment, but at some point we will move forward and forget/forgive their transgressions. Right or wrong, it’s what we as humans tend to do.

    I personally have faith in the current youth in professional cycling. After living through the last ordeal, I think they finally understand that this sport is a team sport and they cannot let one individual or group, ruin that!

  7. Maremma Mark

    One of the reasons I visit this site so often is because frequently I learn things and the level of the discussion is above the usual stuff one finds on the net. Today is a good example. I liked Khal Spencer’s response to my comment, he’s totally on track. My remark was a bit tongue in cheek, LA’s attitude that American riders didn’t cheat used to get under my skin. Like Padraig, I was convinced of drug use among famous US riders going back to the late 90’s. Living in Italy you come into contact with people who work on these teams, so you hear first hand accounts of how things functioned.

    I appreciated what Full Monte said too, at a certain point you throw in the towel. I guess I’m not there yet and despite my disgust with McQuaid and the upper echelon of the UCI, I have the sense that things within the peleton are changing for the better. I mean, I know people personally who race clean at the World Tour level. And even win! I’m not pulling the wool over my own eyes, I’ve been a passionate student of this sport for almost 30 years. A shift is happening, it just hasn’t shaken out all the cobwebs yet.

  8. gmknobl

    Enjoyed your article. It makes a point I have expressed at least internally myself, if not to other acquaintances. Ultimately, it’s hard for me to be angry at someone I don’t know. I can ridicule them, laugh at or with them, enjoy their exploits or think they’re jerks but get really upset with them, no unless it involves some horrendous act of violence. And the thing is, getting to know someone usually makes it easier to forgive them in many ways while it makes it easier to get angry with them.

    To me, there are too many vested-interest rich people who control things, not just in cycling but in any corporate dominated affair right now. The sooner we get rid of that system, the better for everyone. But I’m getting a little more political than I want. Suffice it to say that in any system where all people in the sport, from athletes to sponsors to team owners don’t have a voice won’t work. Right now, cyclists don’t have a voice; they aren’t well enough represented; they don’t have the power they deserve. It’s only by doing dirty tricks or sell their soul that they seem to gain any power. They need a stronger union. But that’s just one part of the answer. We know most of the rest in general terms. But the vested interests don’t want the change required since that challenges their power and money, even if, when properly done, ALL will gain in the end. Maybe the top guys won’t get as much money but it will be more sustainable in the long run without periods of feast or famine like it is now. Not coincidentally, this is a pattern seen in other areas like our economy. A well regulated system doesn’t have the big peaks and valleys but it gains steadily over the long haul. That’s what we don’t have now economically nor in sports. That’s why we have feast or famine in cycling; it’s not well regulated but a plaything of a few people with lots of money and power.

    I hope things get better but it will take someone in a position of power to make that dramatic change, like an FDR throwing out old structures for a new one. But even then, it must be well regulated or eventually it will be corrupted by the same influences that have us in this situation now.

  9. Ron

    I can’t quite figure out why, but the doping has never bothered me all that much. Maybe because I’m relatively new to being a cyclist and even newer to following the PRO peloton? I don’t know. Maybe as well that I’ve been certain for years that Pharmstrong was ridin’ dirty.

    I’d love to see clean races and it is frustrating, but I still enjoy the PRO races and I definitely have no intention of letting those dopers spoil my fun on a bike. Heck, almost TGIF ride time for me, heading out for some CX riding in 1.5 hours. (Friday afternoon drivers are even crazier than usual drivers so I avoid the roads.)

    Can’t help but be reminded of Bill Hicks telling people that if they hate drugs and are completely against them well, they’d better go rip up their books, records, and paintings because a lot of artists doped.

  10. Patrick O'Brien

    I read Hamilton’s book. I think you are right in all you say in the piece. As far as I am concerned, the riders involved, from Lance on down, have been punished enough. I hope the Spanish judge adheres to the law and destroys the Puerto blood bags as she has ordered. I have had enough of the vitriol and nonsense concerning this, and it is this hatred and assignment of world shaking importance to a sporting event that prevents healing. The UCI and McQuaide are like incumbents in our congress, time for them to leave. They are proven failures in leadership, each and every one. The UCI, reorganized and under completely new leadership needs to only manage amateur cycling, and professional cycling needs a completely new sanctioning body answerable to only those that pay the dues, riders and teams.

  11. Greg

    Here’s a new tactic and train of thought for everyone who is feeling negative toward competitive cycling at all levels as a result of doping scandals:
    KNOCK IT OFF!

    Doping is rampant in all forms of sport, and cycling is the only sport that seems willing to air all of it’s dirty laundry in an attempt to clean-up! That is positive, that is good news! To think that cycling is the only “dirty” sport is simply a naive application of false logic. Here in the States we most assuredly have horrible doping issues with the NFL, MLB, PGA, NBA … not to mention swimming, track & field, gymnastics… the problem being that the respective governing bodies are not willing to stop it from happening.

    My thinking is aligned with Khal’s above, and I’ll add that when large sums of money are invested in an endeavor you create the opportunity for corruption. The world has pushed sport to the point that our societies worship those who can throw a ball harder, run faster, pedal faster or have superior hand-eye coordination. Massive sums of money are invested via sponsorship, marketing, training, etc and that investment demands a return. The attitude of ‘Winning at All Cost’ has become a trait that people envy and leads us to ‘windfall profits at all cost’, but that is another discussion altogether.

    We live in a society of consumption, which dictates that marketing dollars (advertising in all forms) must have a quantifiable correlation to sales. Having worked in advertising as an industry I seen, first-hand, the sort of calculations and considerations that influence decisions about how and were to invest marketing money. I have also seen, first-hand, the attitudes and expectations that accompany said investment. Here’s another angle…

    The pressure heaped on athletes to perform and win is so great that they are pressed into a life-changing decision: To Dope or Not to Dope. Risk cancer, kidney failure, congestive heart failure and expulsions from sport OR lose their contract as a result of lacking performance? What sort of society are we that applies this sort of pressure, demands these levels of performance and acts as though we’ve been personally assaulted when this is the result?

    Can we all remember that high-profile athletes are also people? People who happen to be able to pedal faster or produce more watts per kilogram? While they have worked hard -and trained countless hours- to attain their position they are still just men and women who happen to ride a bicycle, play football, baseball, hockey, golf, etc better than you or me. They are fallible, and they are making the best decisions they can based on the environment in which our society has created for them to operate.

  12. Khal Spencer

    High level sports are just another form of business, as Greg points out, i.e., there is a lot of money invested in the advertising and the media, so winning races matters. I read Hamilton’s book last year and it was clear that his team was run as a business and the job of the workers was to perform and win while looking clean, since the fiction of clean seemed important to top level pro cycling.

    That intense pressure to win, right now, consequences be damned, is the same mindset that permeates so many U.S. business (not that other nations are much better); short term success is more important than long term sustainability or for that matter, ethics. I came away from Hamilton’s book feeling a lot of sympathy for the racers, dopers or otherwise.

    Cycling, like other competitive endeavors, regardless of whether the products are sports wins, soups, or investment banking, has to solve the ethics problem before it will solve the dope problem. It has to start with the high level enablers being sacked which will only happen when there is a sea change in what society is willing to accept as fairness in the game. Greed and a desire for getting more than is fair is bad enough in sports, but if you think the racers are victims, how about those hundreds of people freshly killed in Bangladesh so the rest of the world can have cheap designer clothing. Responsibility for failing our call to be our brother’s keeper is rarely farther away than a handy mirror.

  13. Vince

    Using another profession as an analogy, we do not remove police officers from their positions if they are caught speeding, but we do if they are caught taking a bribe. With cyclists, we fine them for minor cheating violations like sticky bottles, just as a police officer can get a speeding ticket. However, I would argue that systematic blood doping is curruption more akin to bribe-taking then to speeding or a team car tow. And, in fact, one could argue that cyclists such as Vaughters, Vande Velde, and Danielson were not only doping but were actually bribed for their decade-long silence via their previous USPS contracts.

    Obviously cyclists are not in a position of public trust as is a police officer, but as teammates (mentors), directors, and coaches these individuals are in positions of trust with young athletes. We all should respect them as extraordinary competitors who were put in the very difficult situation of choosing between their dreams and cheating. We should also forgive them for their errors and appreciate them for their recent efforts to “clean up the sport” (coerced as some were with the threat of perjury). I, however, would never want my child placed in their trust.

    These athletes have demonstrated that they are both corruptible and willing to egregiously lie and cheat if the rewards are great enough. The continued high-profile participation of admitted cheaters in professional cycling directly and indirectly promotes the acceptability of cheating within the sport. They should all follow Hamilton’s example, purge themselves through full admission, and voluntarily walk away from the competitive side of the sport. And we should all thank them for both their honesty and for the entertainment they provided us,and wish them well in their future, unrelated endeavors.

  14. Khal Spencer

    Its not the competition that drives the sport to evil. Its the money. Sure, the occasional amateur is so narcissistic that he will dope to win the Tour de Industrial Park. But for the most part, the corruption follows the money. If I had a kid, I would love that he raced. Just would not love if he put dope above decency.

    As far as competition. We had wonderful young men and women on the Stony Brook University cycling team back in the 1980’s when I was a grad student there and SUNYSB competed as part of the East Coast Cycling Federation (or whatever it was called). I occasionally heard grumblings from some of their professors that they trained too much and fell asleep in class. It may have sapped their studies at times, but it was not corrupt. That team won the federation title one year, too.

  15. Steve

    Once again RKP has raised the bar. This time it is not just the article that has encouraged me to reflect and (re)consider my own thoughts and actions, but also through the articulate, thoughtful and insightful comments that were shared. Thanks to all that shared.

  16. Marco

    Another excellent post Padraig and equally with the comments. very timely theme as today i really didn’t want DiLuca to win today’s stage during that escape with a few K left due to his numerous positive tests in the past. it wasn’t anger, more frustration as I just want him off the stage for good.

    But your last line really hit home for me on many levels.

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