Friday, June 30, 2006

¿Qué sobre las drogas? No sé.

It's tough not to have an opinion about doping in cycling. Since I'm far too poor to afford truly performance-enhancing substances and don't have any kind of medical connections, you can trust that I'm an unbiased observer of this topic.

Concerning the continuing Spanish doping investigation, I personally think it a bit of an overreaction to immediately kick out top riders from the Tour de France simply because their names showed up on a list of suspects. Nobody has been legally charged with anything, and nobody has failed any doping controls. All it took was an accusation and the biggest race of the year is over before it started for guys like Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. That seems a bit harsh. I understand the importance of maintaining a positive image for the sport as a whole, but Lance Armstrong was accused of doping (including very serious, substantial accusations) throughout the last seven years and he was never threatened with suspension from his team nor any races. That seems a tad inconsistent to me.

As for doping in general, I will maintain my earlier position. As long as winning is the goal of bike racing, doping will continue to be a problem. As long as EPO produces almost magical performance gains for cyclists, it will continue to be a problem. There's no getting around it. As long as cheating produces wins, riders will cheat. Banning all the various forms of doping will always prove ineffective just as banning alcohol failed in the United States during Prohibition and just as banning illegal drugs during the War On Drugs has also failed. You can't make something go away by banning it---you have to remove the motivation behind the behavior. As winning races is the motivation behind doping and bike racing in general, doping and bike racing will never be separated. You could test every rider every day and nothing would change.

Is doping always wrong? I don't know. Can it be physically dangerous to those who dope? Yes. That's the main concern for me. If race organizers insist on making every stage of a month-long grand tour more than 150 kilometers full of crosswinds, rough terrain and high mountains, doping will be almost necessary for riders who want to win. Some of those riders could endanger their health through unsafe doping. Would it be more realistic, and ultimately more responsible, to regulate the legal use of doping substances as to protect the riders' health and maintain a level competitive field? Would that even work?

Who knows? I do know that the ongoing rhetoric of "cleaning up the sport" and "kicking out the cheats" will ultimately prove meaningless, just like it did back in 1998 when doping was supposedly eliminated by the Festina Affair. As we have seen, doping will always be a part of professional cycling. It's tough to accept, but reality is what it is. I'm now of the opinion that every single member of the pro peloton has doped in the past and/or is currently doping, and those who haven't/aren't sure aren't winning any races.