Several years ago I made the decision that pro cycling would stop being an active part of what we would cover of the world of cycling here at RKP. The reasons were few and straightforward.
Reason 1: Anger on the part of readers that the media (and by extension RKP) had not done more to keep them informed about the nature and the depth of the doping problem in professional cycling.
Reason 2: Cycling claims to have cleaned up, but there’s no way to prove that. While I personally believe that the sport is the cleanest it has ever been, it’s obviously not entirely clean, a point proven by ongoing positive tests.
Reason 3: The audience for pro cycling has communicated at great volume and with crystalline precision that it wants to watch a sport devoid of performance-enhancing drugs, and yet the sport is unwilling to deliver what the consumer wants.
Reason 4: I watched the reader numbers for our posts about pro cycling drop. Where we once had a readership for pro cycling on par with our posts about the cycling life and gear reviews, RKP readers stopped clicking on posts about racing.
Chris Froome’s recent positive for Salbutamol is quite the crucible. It demonstrates everything that is wrong with pro cycling. Froome’s doping denials over the years have been emphatic and frequent. It’s also worth noting that he sounds just like Lance Armstrong, and we know how the audience feels about that, and him.
I’m going to make one brief statement about asthma inhalers and bike racing. This is a personal opinion, but one I think may resonate with other people if they give it some thought.
If one is in the fucking lead group of the fucking Tour de France, wearing the fucking yellow jersey, one does not have fucking asthma.
Pulling out an inhaler isn’t a treatment that is rescuing him from a shortness of breath that prevents him from functioning as a normal human being. Look, I’ve had friends with serious asthma. Their inhalers allowed them to breathe and function like a normal person. Without their inhalers they had to do things like sit down on a bench to catch their breath while walking through the mall. Asthma is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.
To my eye, Froome is receiving a demonstrable performance enhancement. I believe that the standard for doping where asthma (and any other similar condition) is concerned is that a therapeutic use ought to restore the athlete to a normal baseline of performance. It’s why I’d be okay with a TUE for testosterone for any male cyclist with the testosterone levels of a 10-year-old boy. An athlete with substandard bronchial performance would not be able to ride well enough to receive a pro contract, let alone be signed to Team Sky, much less lead their Tour de France squad.
Is it reasonable to expect cycling to be a clean sport? In my view, that question isn’t worth asking, or answering. Cycling fans have overwhelmingly made it clear that they want a clean sport. To ignore the audience is to proceed at great personal peril. And that’s the problem cycling finds itself in. It’s a tailspin of riders fearing that if they don’t perform, they won’t have a contract. And to perform some resort to doping. And some get caught. And then sponsors avoid the sport because they don’t want the bad press that comes with a positive test. So there are fewer teams. And it gets harder to get a spot on a team, so riders have a greater incentive to perform. And so on.
Doping drives out sponsors, but most riders are too self-interested to see the bigger picture. It’s evident given how widespread it remains that the consequences simply aren’t high enough. So let’s talk about consequences for a moment. Why do so few people rob banks? Easy. The odds of getting away with it are insanely low and the consequences for being caught are ruinously high. But in pro cycling there is a fair chance you won’t get caught and even if you are, your consequences aren’t all that high.
And what’s the one thing that still outrages people about retired pros who doped and were caught? That they earned money they weren’t entitled to.
It’s clear to me that unless WADA can secure a winnings forfeiture for all sanctioned athletes, the consequences simply won’t be high enough to sufficiently deter doping—at the pro ranks. I can’t begin to explain why masters athletes dope to win a medal. That craziness is best left to someone who actually cares about the results of masters racing, and I’m happy not to be that guy.
In summation, I bet if Chris Froome risked losing all his winnings for a doping violation he suddenly wouldn’t have asthma.