Thursday, August 25, 2005

An Unpopular Point To Make

What do the names on this list have in common?

Eddy Merckx
Tom Simpson
Fausto Coppi
Jacques Anquetil
Francesco Moser
Freddy Maertens
Luis Ocana
Pedro Delgado
Joop Zoetemelk
Bernard Thevenet
Marco Pantani
Johan Museeuw

There's more than one answer. Every name on this list belongs to a famous champion of professional cycling. Every name on this list also belongs to a cyclist who tested positive for illegal drug use or otherwise admitted to using banned substances to improve his performance on the road. There are some truly great legends on this list, and the list is far from complete.

Cycling has never and will never be a clean sport. Sad but true. It is safe to assume that every great winner since at least Greg Lemond in 1986 has used banned substances (especially EPO and Human Growth Hormone) to win races. And it is also safe to assume that every great winner before Greg Lemond used banned substances to win races. I'd argue it's safe to assume that even Greg Lemond used banned substances, despite his holier-than-thou criticisms of Armstrong and others in the pro peloton.

It sucks. There's nothing glamorous about a skinny guy in tights jamming his arm full of needles just to stay competitive. When Tyler Hamilton got caught shooting himself full of blood that wasn't his, it broke my heart. Tyler is the "nice guy" of American cycling, and his amazing battles with various injuries while still winning races will always be remembered, even after his ban is confirmed in the appeals process.

All that said, there's no way around it. The best cyclists in the pro peloton use drugs, or hormones or blood doping to win races. They always have. No strict anti-doping policy will ever eliminate it, as long as winning is still the point of racing. We can lament the lost innocence of cycling and blame the Festina Affair or the countless other drug scandals in the history of the sport, but that's silly. Drugs have always been a part of cycling. The best riders in history have used drugs. Such is life.

That said, I offer a disclaimer; I strictly adhere to a straight edge way of life---something I picked up during my years in the hardcore music scene. I avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco and all illegal drugs as a rule, as a lifestyle. I believe whole-heartedly that the best way to live is free of intoxication, and intend to live my entire life this way. If ever presented with the opportunity to use banned substances or other forms of doping to improve my cycling performance, I would turn it down, no doubt about it, just like I turn down alcohol, cigarretes and all other drugs.

I know, because of this, I will never be able to become a professional cyclist.