Today's news that Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, Tour of Spain runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera and his team-mate David Garcia Da Pena all tested positive for banned substances has yet again put doping in professional cycling in the spotlight.
Why does it keep happening? BikeRadar's US editor Matt Pacocha offers his opinion on it, drawing on his own experiences racing as an amateur in Belgium.
"People get upset, but who in the whole country wouldn’t take a pill to make more money at their job? You would. Hey, there’s a pill and you’re going to get paid like Steven Spielberg, you would take the pill – you just would” – Comedian Chris Rock on doping in baseball.
Is that the nature of it? Greed. Is it as simple as that? Supporting a family, lavish lifestyle, grandiose sporting fame or simply doing your job better?
Chris Rock’s interview comes from the documentaryBaseball: The Tenth Inning which premiered this week on PBS. The segment on doping draws many parallels to professional cycling.
The film suggests that the last pursuit could even make doping, or cheating in general, noble, if for the right reasons, say, helping your team. And it sheds light on the ugly truth of our "want it now lifestyle".
The fact is, life is hard. And doping is jammed down our throats every day as a quick and easy fix to whatever ailment we might have, despite the fact that most could probably be fixed more effectively and naturally. Got gas? Take a drug, instead of eating better. Feeling blue? There are plenty of drugs for that; why would you want to deal with the underlying issue? Erectile dysfunction? There’s a pill. Can't sleep? There’s a pill. Need we go on?
So the question you might ask before you cast the first stone: do you dope or are you fair in the sport of life? If you are fair, then in our opinion, give that rock a good huck. If not, maybe there’s a lesson for all of us to learn.
Imagine the stress and pressure on these athletes to perform. Imagine reasonably easy access to the drugs proven to make it all easier. How about someone telling you to do it. What would you do?
I know what I'd do – I wouldn’t do it. I have first-hand experience about making a choice of cheating in a European peloton, albeit an amateur one, and I stayed on the right path.
In some cases it wasn't even drugs, but as simple as holding onto a team car while it sped away at 70k/ph bringing a half dozen racers back to the caravan whose day would have otherwise been over; one went on to finish in the top five. I knew where I stood. My day was over. Call me naive, dumb or whatever; I drew a line.
That’s when I quit chasing pro contracts. I saw my true potential against the reality of the peloton – whether that reality was real or ‘enhanced’ I don’t know, but it was the reality of the situation. I did as well as I could have and without ‘help’.
Instead of going down that forbidden road, I stopped. I'm now content to race in my hometown and against my peers and buddies as a hobby. I do it for the joy of it and that makes my own little niche of the sport pure to me. And really, deep down, if some doper wants to risk their life to beat me (as evidenced by Masters racers caught doping), I feel sorry for them.
I can only hope that up-and-coming stars like newly crowned U23 world time trial champ Taylor Phinney can adopt a similar attitude. He’s supremely talented and I hope that the pursuit of winning, fame and greed doesn’t overshadow a quest to reach his own clean, natural potential.
Our sport's bright future; keep it clean kids, that's all we ask
He has a good start, for the simple fact that his parents are wise to the sport and proven positive mentors. It's also good that he started late and his outlook on his own life was likely well formed before an all consuming pursuit of sport could take hold.
I’d be happy seeing Phinney win a couple classics and time trials, clean, rather than see him win one, two, three or more Grand Tours before being caught cheating. He'll be our hope – no pressure, Taylor!
Hopefully, we can convince him that all we ask, as fans, is his best and that we really don’t care if he wins everything or only on a few magical days. More importantly, though, we hope that this will be enough for his own psyche.