Friday Group Ride #390

Friday Group Ride #390

Hello doping, my old friend. I’d like to say we missed you, but like that one uncle we only see around the holidays…yeah…not so much. Yet again, pro cycling finds itself indicting one of its top riders for indiscretions with prescriptions, Chris Froome hitting the old huffer-puffer a little too hard on race day. As usual, Inrng has the best, most concise summary of the case.  What do we even do with this in the post-Lance era?

Like on the X-Files, we’re led to believe the truth is out there, but I have my doubts.

Exercise-induced asthma is a real thing. You’ve heard the barking cough of the just-finished winner. There is some excellent context on that from The Secret Pro, and that begs the question, “If you need drugs to keep yourself from dying while you do this, should you even be doing this?” Is it not, then, a slippery slope to justified blood doping? I’m sorry, after I have been racing full tilt for two weeks, I need to reconstitute my blood or it’s not safe for me to carry on racing.

Of course, if you exclude sufferers of exercise-induced asthma from racing, you more or less end endurance sports, so the huffer-puffers are back in, except then you have to pay attention to the legal limits, which may be arbitrary and unreasonable, but probably not. All of which arrives you back at the simple fact that Froome doped, and so he didn’t win the Vuelta, and now we have to do some more of that painful revision that puts that win in Vincenzo Nibali’s palmares. The Shark also uses an inhaler, FWIW.

It could be worse. The entire Russian winter Olympic team is DQ’d.

This week’s Group Ride isn’t that interested in whether or not Froome doped intentionally or not, although feel very free to express an opinion about that. My feeling with Team Sky is this, if one person calls you suspect, that person is cynical and doesn’t believe in dreams. If two people call you suspect, you’re probably guilty and stop wasting our time.

What I am more interested in is this: Where money is involved, is it possible to have clean endurance competition? Is it possible to have “clean” professional sports? Or, is the money, in the end, always going to corrupt proceedings? My sense is that “skill” sports like football, tennis, etc., have the cover of other factors than simple physiognomy governing success, so, for example, doing EPO isn’t going to help me serve a 140mph ace, even if it allows me to feel fresher in the 5th set. But I think all those athletes push or break the rules every bit as much as cyclists have/do. The effects of doping just aren’t as obvious. I may be that one cynic though.

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  1. Rod

    It’s, unfortunately, not just money. Take a peek around the list of (loser) Master-level athletes banned for doping.

    Count me among those that “don’t believe in miracles” . And I don’t think you can have clean anything (no sports, no banking, no politics, no students at school), just cleaner or where the effects of cheating are limited.

    And the “doping doesn’t help skill sports” is a canard. Surely we understand if you’re able to reach the ball without overreaching yourself you have a better chance to make the shot/kick/catch? Not to mention, the doping experiment by the Outside magazine author reported eyesight improvements by using GHG. The effects are not as obvious as riders (or skiers) at HCT of 60%, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t significant. See homerun records in the MLB; and arguably sluggers are not the strongest athletes in the world; they are the strongest athletes with excellent hand/eye coordination.

  2. Lyford

    The Inrng article states “Another test took 32 athletes, administered permitted doses, made them exercise until dehydration and 20 exceeded the limit”. From the abstract of that article, it appears that one can take a allowed theraputic dose and, if dehydrated, return a level above the WADA limit.

    So it is possible that he’s telling the truth. If he can come close to replicating those levels in a lab, so be it. But his physiology right now is not the same as it was in week 3 of his second grand tour of the season.

    We can get more data, but we may never know the truth.

    To answer your question, I think it’s impossible to eliminate cheating when the rewards are great.

    “There’s a well-known survey in sports, known as the Goldman Dilemma. For it, a researcher, Bob Goldman, began asking elite athletes in the 1980s whether they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal but would also kill them within five years. More than half of the athletes said yes. When he repeated the survey biannually for the next decade, the results were always the same. About half of the athletes were quite ready to take the bargain.

    Only recently did researchers get around to asking nonathletes the same question. In results published online in February, 2009 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, exactly 2 of the 250 people surveyed in Sydney, Australia, said that they would take a drug that would ensure both success and an early death. “We were surprised,” James Connor, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of New South Wales and one of the study’s authors, said in an e-mail message. “I expected 10-20 percent yes.” His conclusion, unassailable if inexplicable, is that “elite athletes are different from the general population, especially on desire to win.”

    1. Steven Down

      I’m swayed by the argument that Francois Tomezeau puts forward. The use of medicines in sport can never be an ethical or moral issue. It’s simply about the rules. Any other interpretation is to subjective to be useful.

      So if Froome can prove his body can produce this urine level from using the dose that is allowed he’s clean. Simple as. It will be tough to do looking at the previous cases. I must admit I hope he can. I’m not sure that this incident changes how he’d be judged an the relativistic scales today, but in 30 years pundits will allow him the same flexibility they do to Eddy today.

  3. Tominalbany

    I’m convinced you’re right, Robot. They’re all doing something.

    Too much fame and money on the line.

    I’m cynical about other things, too.

  4. Davo

    It isn’t money, it is ego. Look at the USA cycling Masters racers that test positive every month of the year. As long as they keep score people will break the rules in order to be the tallest dwarf. Just think of how deep people dig to place in the weekly coffee shop ride. Add a ribbon or money, or status, or an upgrade and anything goes.

    1. Shawn

      Agreed. The Bamberger & Yaeger survey closed the book on this debate as far as I’m concerned. They asked pro athletes the “would you do it if you knew you wouldn’t be caught?” question (~100% would) and the “even if you’d die of side effects?” question (~50% would). This confirmed my own experiences with locker rooms and highly competitive environments during my sporting life.

  5. Pat O'Brien

    Does anyone think that what modern endurance sports, especially cycling, simply ask too much of human beings, even great athletes? Are the fans responsible for constantly asking for harder, higher, longer, and tougher contests? I find it puzzling that fans want closer and more competitive racing and longer and tougher courses at the same time.

    1. Tominalbany

      I just want it to be exciting, suspenseful, and entertaining. I’m not asking for records to be broken or for cyclists to ride up the side of a building.
      I don’t think the organizers really know what we truly want! They’ve never asked!

    2. Rod

      @Pat O’Brien: Stages are shorter than the first editions of the TdF (run before dawn and after dark). Didn’t some women follow the route of the tour a couple of years ago just to prove it could be done? I doubt thew were doping. The issue – much simpler and yet more complicated is they cheat to win.

      To wit: some of the most doped events are the 100 m dash in athletics. You can hardly claim that is longer, harder, tougher than anything else. And yet here we are.

  6. AG

    I’m calling him suspect. That makes two cynics, so…

    I think the curtain has been lifted from the Sky TUE wizard. They have a very public policy of “incremental gains”: tiny improvements combined will create a significant result. It would be childish to believe that they haven’t been institutionally doing that with drugs allowed under the TUE policy (ahem, Wiggins and his paper sack). It’s quite likely that Froome was taking his inhaler under doctor’s orders and that the doctor thought that he wouldn’t exceed the limits. But it appears the body’s reaction isn’t quite so predictable and if you leave zero margin for error in your dosing you eventually end up testing positive. Dance too close to the fire, eventually you will be burned.

  7. David Arnold

    I think we would all be surprised (maybe not) at the use of PEDS/TUE in the world of…Pro soccer, motorsports, Pro cycling, tennis, XC skiing, football, baseball, track and field, running, etc. etc. I think most of the use of drugs are not taken so much as a means to outright crush everyone, but at the PRO level a way to recover from the almost inhuman efforts exacted on the body. Money and contracts fuel the flames to remain a rock star in sports for as many years as it takes to save enough bucks to retire on after your short stint is up. I know from personal knowledge more than a few Belgian superstars in the classics and TDF that used to shoot 2 vials of anabolic steroids a week for 8 weeks in pre season. Old skool stuff…but doing whatever it took to make a living in a hard mans game. Was it right?? Was it fair?…the same questions we ask today…time will tell.

  8. Aar

    It’s competition. Any opportunity for one person to prove that they’re better than others invites cheating. It’s not just athletic, it’s everything from business through tiddly winks.

    1. David Feldman

      You have addressed the core of the issue! Indulge me some thread drift here–what would happen to racing bikes if the possibility of mechanical doping was addressed by requiring that competitors use bikes with tubes too skinny to hide a motor? UCI road racing might have a similarity to Japan’s Kirin races, where bikes are kept uniform to keep any rider from having a mechanical advantage. Literally squeezing out the room for a seat tube motor might have some interesting byproducts.

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