Monday, May 3, 2010

Doping

I read a book last week entitled "From Lance To Landis: Inside The American Doping Controversy At The Tour de France" by David Walsh. It's an investigative journalism piece about the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in professional cycling. It's a biased view - there is no doubt that Walsh has it in for Lance Armstrong. This may be a well founded opinion, but it bothers me a bit. I believe in due process. But overall, it was an informative read.


Friday night I watched a documentary called "Blood Sweat + Gears". The movie follows the newly formed US based Chipotle/Slipstream team (now Garmin/Transitions) through their 2008 season. The team proclaimed themselves the "clean team" and had a zero tolerance policy against any performance enhancing drugs. The team was built around David Millar, an English cyclist who had just come off a 2 year suspension for doping, and who was committed to a new start. Though it was pretty standard fare as for as documentaries go, it was a cool subject and definitely impressive to see the team end up being so strong so early. And since 2008, the team has gotten even better.


I'm obviously against doping. But at the pro level I certainly understand the temptation and get why someone would ultimately chose to do so. It all comes down to money. Sponsors want speed. Sponsors want wins. The pressure on the teams must be incredible. And it only takes one to start to make everyone else feel like they have to as well to stay competitive.

When the baseball doping scandals broke, I didn't really care. I was disappointed, but I'm not that bought into the sport. With cycling, it's different. For one, I ride myself. For another, it's very frustrating. I'm actually watching the Tour of Romandie on TV now. Though I enjoy watching the coverage, I watch with suspicion. There is no doubt that these guys are awe inspiring athletes. I'd love it if this was solely the result of natural talent and incredibly hard work. But I'm not sure. They say it's getting better, the drug use in cycling. But what's better? There are still riders under investigation and/or suspension all the time.

But what really got me was an article in the new issue of Bicycling magazine. The article's author Ian Dille suggests that there is more doping in the amateur ranks than previously thought and that everyday cyclists are putting their health at risk for a "pair of socks or coffee", which were in the prize pool for one particular race.

This is just wrong. And I have some experience in this.

Go back and read some of my blog posts. The real me is sort of dorky, wide eyed, excitable, somewhat irreverent, and somewhat contrary. This is me and I'm at an age and a place in my life where I just don't care about the things I am not. Life is good. It's easier to take things in their own context and enjoy little "victories" every day. It's not settling for less, it's accepting what life is and making it great.

I've not always been like this. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was telling me back a story that I told him from a night out in London 5 years ago. I had completely forgotten about it. I'll admit that on the surface the story is kind of funny. So I'll try to tell it in a funny way. It also has undertones of dorkiness, being wide eyed, being excitable, being irreverent, and being contrary. But this isn't me, and it never was. All I was doing was taking risks to find an adventure that I didn't really care about.

I was on London with a friend/colleague on business. One night we had dinner plans with some people we did work with. About an hour before dinner, we hit our hotel bar and got drunk. At dinner we got drunker. We then parted ways with our dinner party and headed over to the bar at St Martins Lane, which is a super trendy (and thus expensive and filled with potential trouble) hotel.

Once we got into the bar, I started buying rounds for everyone in the bar. I think it was 2-3 rounds in total. We got even drunker.

At one point I saw one of the guys in the band Good Charlotte. Knowing that we had a mutual acquaintance that I didn't like, it made sense to go over and introduce myself and tell him how much of a d*ck I though this person was.

The next thing I know I see my friend running towards me. He grabs me by the jacket and drags me out. What I am not seeing is the Good Charlotte bodyguards coming towards me to presumably do the same thing. My credit card, which was behind the bar, stayed behind the bar. I don't think it got charged again, but I never got it back.

Outside the hotel we jump into a mini cab. I don't think the driver even had a chance to step on the gas before I launch into the "Hey man, I'm from America...where are you from?" conversation.

It turns out he's from Somalia. I'm impressed by this and ask him if he has any khat, which is a plant that by chewing the flowers you get stimulation similar to amphetamines. I knew about khat from reading the book "Black Hawk Down". The book describes khat as "seemingly used by every Somali man in Mogadishu". How this little factoid popped into my head while I was hopelessly drunk and sitting in a cab driven by a Somali guy, I'll never know. But it did.

He had some. So the next thing I know, we are all chewing fresh khat leaves and making this guy drive around in circles all around Westminster (Big Ben! Parliament!).

After an hour scab ride to go 3 miles, we hit our hotel room. There is an Angels/Red Sox game on Sky Sports at 4 in the morning. Clearly no one cares about baseball in the UK. Still wasted, we laughed at the guy with the funny British accent calling a baseball game.

When I finally passed out, I don't get out of bed for 24 hours. And I lost the deal I was in the UK for to begin with. Fun night out, yeah? Well the laughs and giggles don't last forever.

I finally quit drinking in late 2007. Amongst (many) other things, I realize now there are much better ways to express myself.

I am not righteous about my sobriety. But I am a lot more aware of the issues of substances and the potential for abuse. I look to Triathlon as an alternative lifestyle. It's saved me to some degree.

So it comes down to a super simple question - I wonder if some of the people I am racing with are doping? It wouldn't alienate me from the sport, but it would be incredibly sad. We are competing in an amateur sport that seems tailor built for people who live full lives with families and jobs and other pursuits. These races are chances to show off all the hard work we have been doing week in and week out. These races are not commercial plays or giant money makers. What are the stakes - USAT rankings? $250 to the AG winners?

I came to this sport to get away from something else. And I would like to think I made a great choice.

As much as I appreciate the article in Bicycling, I hope it's wrong.

4 comments:

Jennifer said...

Great Post Patrick. I always watch the road races on TV with great suspicion... There was a recent article I read about Marion Jones, trying to make a come back in the WNBA. She sounds sincere in her wants to be clean, but honestly I can't really take her seriously.

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Patrick, I hate to say it but the article is probably dead on. As long as there is competition, there will be folks who will cheat to win/place. Seems like it might be more prevalent in cycling, but I know USAT has mentioned it as a possible concern in triathlon as well. Bummer for all of us who don't, won't cheat.

Caratunk Girl said...

Hello fellow New Englander! Baxter is about 2hrs from here, I spend a lot of time there in the winter. One fall trip planned this year. Good night of sports for Boston fans last night, huh? Not sure you are one, but 3 teams, 3 wins is a good thing.

Great post - it is unfortunate that doping happens, it makes it so hard to know which Pro to look up to sometimes. I am a Lance fan and don't think he doped, but maybe I am a dope for thinking that - but the doping problem is prevalent enough so that when someone who doesn't dope does well, it is assumed he/she did dope, even if tests prove he/she didn't.

Jameson said...

Hey I was just swinging by your blog. I agree, doping is pretty intense, as a trainer I look around at people who clearly are using "alternative methods" and you wonder at what cost? Congrats on the sobriety.

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