Friday Group Ride #265

Friday Group Ride #265

I am reluctant to write the Group Ride that is currently leaving my fingertips, because we’ve gone over and over and over topics of fairness and morality, via cycling’s long struggle with doping. BUT. The FIFA scandal of the last few days (and decades) has tipped my way of thinking about competitive sports into a new space. That is, that sports are entertainment more than competition, that where there is money, cheating and corruption are unavoidable, and that continually trying to overlay a morality on them is pointless. It doesn’t mean I have to like the shady side of competition, but it’s nothing more or less than the shady side of human nature.

What seems true to me is that corruption is relative. In the U.S., it is legal for corporations to give large sums of money to politicians who legislate on matters that pertain directly to their business interests. On the face of it, that money is a bribe, but we accept this as part-and-parcel of our political process. (Please note: I am only observing this phenomenon and using it as an example, not trying to make a political point).

Within the culture of pro cycling in the ’90s (and ’80s, and ’70s, and ’60s, and ’50s) there was a tacit understanding that the rules, as written, did not accurately represent the way the peloton operated, that they were but window dressing for fans who wanted to believe in the purity of the competition, and that no one in their right mind would follow them. We have (almost) all faulted the UCI for not properly policing the sport, and obviously there have been times when the sport’s governors weren’t all that interested in their own rules, but are we asking too much?

This is not to say that I don’t want to see clean racing, clean football, clean the other football, clean government, but anymore I believe we might be asking too much of our own species.

Where are you at with this? Do you believe clean competition, for profit, is possible? Or are we beyond good and evil, to borrow from Nietzsche? Is moralizing about sport a waste of time? Should we just value the entertainment or are these fights worth fighting? Or both? Convicted doper Alberto Contador wears the maglia rosa today, and Sepp Blatter was re-elected FIFA president. No matter what we think, the world seems to have gone amoral around us.


, , , ,


  1. Miles Archer

    If you make it legal it’s no longer cheating. Bring it into the light. Make the rule – if you publish who bribes you or what chemicals you ingest you’re legal. Then people can decided for themselves.

    Ain’t gonna happen, I know.

  2. Ransom

    I had a longer answer, but I’m going to sum it up with the idea that it only means anything to me if it means something (something more than money alone) to the competitors.

    I do hope that the competitors, as a group, who I think are the only ones situated to know what’s really going on, develop a zeitgeist which is counter to too much danger beyond that presented by the sport itself. I think (or hope) that they could crush greedy outliers in a way that rules cannot.

  3. Ryan

    Not to mention serial cheater A-Fraud of the Yankees keeps getting press for setting “records” in baseball. I don’t see it stopping until people stop going to/viewing/buying kit etc for these sports – sad to say.

  4. spiff

    I only look for the good. It was in Joe Dombrowski’s face after last weeks race. I know him to be a great guy, almost young and innocent. I look for pure talent and drive to win, it was on his face even after the race. it’s moment like that that makes me watch these races. Watching Peter Sagan ride himself inside out to keep his lead in California. Guys taking on the Pave for glory in Belgium and France. Those are the moments I look for in this sport. These guys don’t get paid like other pro sports. It’s not the same profile as the World cup or the SuperBowl.
    I’m just sayin…

  5. Les.B.

    Not quite leaning toward your viewpoint Rob. To me it’s like, “There will always be DUI drivers, and that continually trying to overlay a morality on them is pointless.” Maybe it’s one of the ebb and flows of life, the continuous battle between the devil and angel on one’s opposite shoulders.

    Children learn by their parents’ example, more so than by their preaching. Combating corruption in the long run is done by being honest with the kidders.

    The other point I want to make is that when it gets so bad that athletes have to cheat just to keep up with the field, we gotta do something.

  6. Aar

    Sports are slowly and steadily losing their entertainment value to the spectator in me due to the lack of honesty of so the called sportspeople of the world

  7. Pat O'Brien

    No sanctioning body can successfully manage both amateur and professional sport without the corruption of money affecting the entire organization. We see it over and over again with increasing frequency. UCI, FIFA, International Olympic Committee, and NCAA are just recent examples. Professiional cycling will only be believable when it is sanctioned by someone other than the UCI and the riders are organized into a union or similar body that protects their rights as employees. Drug testing will only be effective when part of a contract that the riders and teams have control over. I don’t think this is possible in today’s international political climate, where, frankly, money talks and bullshit walks.

    1. mike

      Pat I can only say that it does not matter what the sanctioning body is. Corruption exists where greed overrules morality. take pro cycling from the UCI and the corruption will follow it. A rose by any other name. The UCI like all world sports organizations has very honest people and obviously some very corrupt people.

    2. Pat O'Brien

      Mike you’re right that corruption will occur when there is enough money and greed put together. I should have said that I just hate to see the greed and cheating that occurs in many pro sports corrupt an organization that also sanctions amateur sports, if such a thing as an amateur sport still exists. Why? Becasue a olympic gold medal is worth at least $5 million with a good PR manager. So, as you say corruption and cheating occurs where big money and greed meet. But the UCI has failed as a pro sport sanctioning body and simply should be fired. Perhaps pro cycling can become one of the first pro sports to make competing clean increase the team’s and rider’s bottom line. The right sanctioning organization could make that happen if they work in concert with the sponsors, teams, and riders. God knows they could sure as hell make it more entertaining.

  8. Jay

    I have always contended that as long as there is money on the table some people will do whatever they can to increase their piece of the pie. Somewhat cynically, I expect some level of cheating in professional sports. There is too much money for that not to take place.

  9. Gerb61

    Right on Jay. When the sports watching audience finally gets tired of the endless scandals and stops paying attention will anything change. And it’s not just cycling either. Pretty much all the sports have some sort of issues. When the big money sponsors stop getting the big money return on their investments then pro sports will get the message. In the end everything always comes down to money.
    Now lets all shut off the T.V. and go for a ride. Lets help make that change happen.

  10. Robin

    Of course there’s no easy answer to this, but for what it’s worth here are my thoughts. . .

    As amateurs we train hard to hopefully get a little better, but don’t rely on our ability/results to pay the bills. I think it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to actually ‘make it’ as a professional. . So I can understand how tempting it is to gain an edge over the competition or perhaps even to just level the playing field.

    I don’t see how relaxing the rules regarding doping would help either, surely something else would be found to give an athlete an edge ?

    One final thought. In my twenties, if I’d have been a struggling pro. I’m pretty sure I’d have doped. Now, a dad in my late forties my view is very different.

  11. rashadabd

    I feel ya, but the challenge that will almost always follow taking such a route would likely be worse. The burden we would bear if we chose to look the other way or to ‘legalize’ doping or these other things, is determining where we draw the line. If you ok EPO, other guys will take steroids, if you legalize steroids, some guys will start taking super animal steroids, etc. At some point it just doesn’t become enjoyable for the average fan anymore. Yes it’s all entertainment, but part of what people subconsciously love about sports is that they are amazed at what a finely tuned athlete can accomplish and that some part of them hopes that if they train hard enough they come as close to that level as a mere mortal can. I think we want that element there or maybe we need it to be. I openly admit that I might be jaded though. I got pretty close to our country’s political machinery during the years I spent practicing law in D.C. and all I can say is that as bad as things are now, I am happy that we are policing our politicians because I shudder at the thought of what our government would look like if we weren’t.

  12. souleur

    there are 2 virtues to consider in this, tempered with the recurrent history that drives us to the current query:

    First: yes, the virtue of purity of sport must…MUST be and is worthy contending for. Period, and therefore all that cycling does must be measured accordinlgy. This is and will always be contested, amongst any cheater, but the ideal must be layed down as the expectation…..GOING FORWARD.

    Second: What to do in practice, I think the biologic passport has been really good at trending chemistries and following riders and has been very helpful. I would add a few things to this. We should not however rely soley on technology/technologies to catch the cheat, they WILL always outsmart the test, look at the genreations of improved EPO they have, the substances they use to mask dope use…they are ingenuine at skirting. Pat has a great point about the UCI must be swept away, and riders unionization is a very important key here too.

    Third: the money…will always be the allure to cheat, for both the organizers/organization/riders. It is a necessary influence and we cannot avoid that. Cycling has a history where we have exploited that maximally to a large extent, as the drama has annually drummed up the Tour that is about to take place, from the very first one, and the headlines that rolled it out (owned by the newspaper) and until now, it is a dramatic event. That does exploit all of this, as things are brought to light, some are bribed not to, some are hidden. The print/media is part of this as well, and its not going away either.

    So, can we…yes, we can, in theory

    But I’m not holding my breath that we will, but i hold fast to the purity that perhaps….just perhaps it may

  13. gmknobl

    I will always say we should strive for purity in athletic achievement. It should be done with as close to the same bikes as possible (with no motors since then, it’s not a bike) and without drugs or anything that the human body isn’t capable of by itself. In other words, there should be no sporting fraud because that’s… unsporting.

    The competition is fun to watch. But I still believe it must be done with all honor and honesty. This is just as I live my life, not that the .001% give a whit, but I at least, always try to do the right thing and expect others to also, in every walk of life, at every income level, from every culture, no exceptions. That may not be reality but we’d not have progressed much from medieval society if we didn’t try for this as a race, on some level.

  14. Ray Akamuri

    Why not have a clean Pro tour, followed by a juiced Pro tour? It will be like watching the WWE and Olympic greco roman wreslting.

  15. steve

    Dirty sports seem so artficial and therefore less entertaining. If we lower th bar, many will lose their passion.

  16. John Kopp

    Just my opinion, but sixty years of observation leads me to perceive that the IOC seems to be as corrupt as FIFA. This also includes WADA and CAS, which were set up by the IOC. It seems to me that doping was invented by the IOC to exclude political undesirables when amateur status was no longer working. I can see a concern for certain drugs, but the WADA list goes on for ten pages, with a lot of technical nomenclature that requires a pharmacist to understand. Many items appear to make the list because a scientist, with connections to WADA, has invented a test for them and can make money on the royalties. And many of the tests don’t seem to meet scientific standards that I was taught. Drugs are necessary for sports medicine, and to limit the use of so many can’t be a healthy thing. It would seem that drug use is better left to be regulated by the medical profession.

    I agree with Pat O’Brien that pro cycling needs a different governing body, one that involves the race organizers, teams, and athletes. But there will still be controversy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *