Drug addicts are remarkable people. Not my favorite, but interesting from the standpoint of resourcefulness. As the conditions of their lives deteriorate, they continually find fresh methods for acquiring their drug of choice. As their options dwindle they employ increasingly desperate measures to get high. The creativity to look for alternatives is a basic behavior hardwired into our brains. Pour a couple of cups of the fear of death over the amygdala to gin it up and what you find is someone who’ll go to crazy lengths for something that makes no sense to the rest of us.
Take heroin, for example. The drug hijacks the amygdala, making the addict think on a deep and unconscious level that without their drug of choice they will die. That’s why rehab has such a tough road.
For all that the Union Cycliste Internationale is not, they’ve made it a good deal harder to dope. They’ve made it so hard to dope that they’ve made it unpleasant to be a pro at all. From the blood draws to the whereabouts system to the visits at non-business hours for said blood draws, being a pro, in practice, is nothing you’d fantasize about.
But some folks are always going to want to take a shortcut. There’s a particular blend of narcissism and missing work ethic that really does help make the (lousy) case for eugenics. The upshot is that I think we may be at an odd point in the history of cycling.
For several years we’ve been talking about the specter of motorized bikes in the pro peloton. Folks may want to call it mecha-doping, but it’s just old-school cheating. And we finally got our first catch with Femke van den Driessche at Cyclocross Worlds.
But what are some other ways you can cheat?
How about holding on to vehicles? Vincenzo Nibali was ejected from the 2015 Vuelta a Espana for holding onto a team vehicle that was shuttling him a 40 mph. Damn TV helicopters.
After winning the 1989 Tour de France Greg LeMond told a story about how Laurent Fignon said to him, ‘You’re lucky I didn’t make a stink about you cheating with aero equipment.’ LeMond’s reply was, ‘Yeah, well I never said anything about all those times you held on to the photographer’s motos on the big climbs.’
And now Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) and Eros Capecchi (Astana) have charged Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FdJ) with taking a tow up the Cipressa following a crash at the foot of the climb. There are two eyewitnesses who say that the race winner went by them at a speed significantly greater than their own holding onto a vehicle.
Let’s not get distracted by whether he was holding onto the window or a sticky bottle. Let’s also not go down the rabbit hole of Strava analysis. He was going faster than the rest of the peloton. A sprinter recorded the KOM on the Cipressa. Would you like some WTF with your cup of disbelief? There are bigger questions to tackle.
The chief commissaire told the press that without video or photographic evidence his hands were tied. This raises the single biggest question. Since when in any sort of investigation is the eyewitness testimony of two different people insufficient? But that’s not the only question raised, by any means. Why aren’t the commissaires actually conducting an investigation to gather testimony from photographers and to review their raw takes from the climb of the Cipressa? That climb was crawling with photographers the way ants swarm a picnic. The UCI isn’t even trying to investigate.
The answer why is actually pretty easy. They don’t want to be faced with unavoidable evidence that Demare cheated. As long as they stick with, “Nothing to see here, move along,” they can avoid the monumental embarrassment of disqualifying the winner of Milan-San Remo. Despite the many wins that have been stripped due to doping, I can find no record of the winner any of the five Monuments being disqualified. This would be history-making. But what’s worse than disqualifying the winner of Milan-San Remo? How about ruining the credibility of the whole sport?
But here I want to turn our attention from the idiocy of the UCI to the decision makers at potential sponsors. The purse holders responsible for doling budgets of $5 or $10 million do so with a sharp eye. They are keen watchers of the sport. Imagine what they are thinking when they look at cycling and see how the sport has taken such a blind eye to so egregious a form of cheating. Try, because I honestly can’t fathom the disdain they must feel as they decide to look at F1 or bass fishing instead.
I’m reminded of that addict’s hijacked amygdala. That tiny and primitive brain region will convince the junkie that they won’t survive without their drug of choice right up to the point where they don’t.
The very credibility of bike racing is on the line.