Friday, November 25, 2005

Drugs in cycling?

I'm still sitting in a turkey-induced coma and read that Roberto Heras' B sample has come back positive for EPO. How could that be? He's innocent after all.

Honestly, I hope he is innocent because I like the guy. He's a quiet guy who just seems to ride his bike and not get too caught up in his celebrity or in trash-talking. Basically, he appears to be a decent person.

But... it does all seem suspect. I mean, both samples were positive (or "non-negative" as they say in Europe most the time). If you look at how he rode at the Tour in July and the the way he rode at the Vuelta, he does appear to have risen from the dead to kick some serious ass with his stage wins and better-than-ever time trialing. Was he just that off in the Tour and that on at the Vuelta? I hope...

BUT... there is a pattern in our beloved sport. Cry foul, claim that the test is flawed or that the supplements were tainted without your knowledge, you didn't know what the team doctors were giving you, etc, etc... and then come clean in a sobbing breakdown/ confession and suddenly become a media/ fan favorite. Admittedly, it doesn't always work, nor are all of the accused actually guilty. Still, cycling and every other sport in the world has a problem with drugs. The UCI is pretending to make an effort to get rid of dopers, as is USA Cycling. WADA thinks both organizations aren't doing enough and the IOC seems to be somewhere in the middle.

Here are my two gripes on this (for today);
1) Why in the hell is Amgen, maker/developer of EPO, the title sponsor of the new Tour of California? Really. How on earth does this make sense? Cycling needs big corporate sponsors to make races happen, but this one just feels all wrong.
2) Cycling is going to get hammered in the media for this, but cycling actually has one of the very best records in sport for detecting and penalizing dopers. In our sport, people get suspended/ banned and fined... on the first offense. Baseball? Get caught a dozen times and we're gonna fine you a couple bucks and then ask you not to do it again- unless you still want to and are going to hit a lot of home runs. Football and basketball? Here's your drugs, now go play! Cynical? Yes I am. A little bitter too. I admit it.

To borrow a quote from my wife; "Here's the thing..." Doping in sport exists and always will as long as there is fame or fortune to be had by either the athlete or team/ sponsor, somebody. Cheating, in the way of doping, has been around since the dawn of competition. Anybody who believes it doesn't happen is seriously delusional. Anybody who believes that there aren't teams or organizations or national federations that do not actively encourage doping are just as delusional. It's there and it always will be. Are there clean athletes? Yes, most athletes are clean.

Sport has been plagued with the problem for a very long time and it isn't going away any time soon. Let's just stop acting surprised when somebody gets caught. Let's also stop ignoring our roll in this all; as fans we want to see faster/ stronger/ better athletes. Well, we are getting that. The media, the sponsors and the fans place an amazing amount of pressure on athletes to perform. We spend a lot of money on our heroes and that money becomes important.

I hope Roberto is innocent, just like I hope Tyler is innocent, but I'm not going to be heartbroken if either is really guilty. I'll be sorry they got caught- caught trying to give me a thrilling and compelling reason to love my sport.

Drugs in cycling? Yeah sure, you bet there is.



mags said...

You bring up some good points. This is not a good day at all for cycling. Heras was (is) a great guy and "down to earth". Sadly, chances are that since both his A and B sample came back positive for EPO, he is guilty. I don't particulary like the trend of screaming "testing error" every time a positive sample comes back. Like it or not, the system is very, very accurate. The chances of error are so slim, it's almost funny. I'm sure Heras will find some doctor that can attest to his vanishing twin etc.
You mention his change of form from the Tour to the Vuelta. That does not neccessarily indicate anything. Trying to peak and moving close to the edge is still very much an art, not a science. Sometimes we simply time it wrong and you get results such as Heras' this season. A poor Tour and a good Vuelta. That can easily be explained. About Amgen sponsoring a race - well, it is bad public relations, but not the end of the world. It's sort of the same as the debate regarding alcahol makers sponsoring sporting events. We can still get much, much stricter when it comes to penalties. Positive athletes should be banned for life, no question about it. American Football, baseball and basketball is completely "crap". The penalties for doping are shameful. There will always be some cheaters, but lets at least believe in our testing methods and implement stricter laws. Not to mention more in and out of season testing. Clean ahtletes should have no objections to this.


iruntheteam said...

I want to comment on this, I really, really do. But, I am afraid my thoughts might get ahead of me. So, I will tread very cautiously.
What I will note is this: Drugs are and have been in cycling (and ALL other professional, amateur, semi-pro and yes, even high school sports) for as long as I can remember.
This is not only unfortunate, but unfair. You all know this.
We do, however have to agree a bit with Tim's message here; Big money involves bigger stakes! This means doing better than someone much better "naturally" than you. You get the picture. I AM NOT CONDONING THIS ACTIVITY - FAR FROM IT. Just being a realist.
As for Heras and Tyler . . . Innocent? Maybe, hopefully, possibly. Guilty? Maybe, hopefully NOT, possibly. Either way, this should NOT detract from their "personalities"! They are both still "great guys" - having a marred cycling image does not mar ones family and humanitary image. Again, I hope I stated that as I intended.
Lastly, USA Cycling. I am a personal fan of USA Cycling. A very, very BIG fan (that is for you Shawn Farrell.) They do have their political quarks, though, that is for sure! But who doesn't? My gripe is actually with the UCI and USA Cycling's inability to budge them (if that is truly the case). I mean the UCI is allowing ONLY 15 US Pro teams! How can this be? How many does France have (and I am not picking on the French - I am French.)? I use this example because they are slightly smaller than Texas!!!! And why must our Pro teams consist of 75% of the talent under 28 years old?! Isn't that age discrimination?
This all may work in Europe - where cycling is like our NFL, NBA or MLB - and the riders average age is around 25 at the pro level. But not here! No sir. Our best riders (Sayers, Hamblen, McCormack, Saunders, Martin and so on) - all above 28! In fact MOST of the “super” talent in the US is over the age of 28! So where do they go? Forced from the sport they committed half of their life to? Forced away from teams where they are comfortable, have friends and most importantly, CHEMISTRY? It appears so at this point.
My hope is that the future holds a positive light for athletes of any age to be truly competitive at the pro level of this demanding sport - legally.
We cannot, however, do this without USA Cycling! This great organization keeps our sport alive in the US. Who knows, maybe we can get Tim in there to mix things up a bit! But what would Masi do then?

mags said...

I am a realist as well - there will always be cheaters. Regardless of sport, money and public attention. I still think it is worth fighting against. As a clean athlete that competes against some of these cheaters, it can be very frustrating. Riders that choose to use PEDs can still be good people, of course. But as athletes they are not worth anything.


iruntheteam said...

Oh, I forgot to comment on the Amgen sponsorship thing . . . I have two or three thoughts on this:
1) Who really knows what EPO is really for? Well, as persons such as Tim and myself who have had friends, family and loved ones afflicted with the big "C" word (that is cancer, dare I say it - and without being too public, we have both been affected by this horrible affliction). This is why we [Team Inferno] have chosen to participate for LAF (Lance Armstrong Foundation) throughout the 2006 racing year.
Anyhow, Amgen, makes EPO as well as a host of other prescribed medications. EPO (eurythropotien) in laymen’s terms helps to produce precious red blood cells for those suffering loss of these little critters via Chemo and Radiation therapies. Ouch! So, the intent and proper use of the drug is truly miraculous. Some just use it for the wrong reasons - this can be compared with the use of say . . . Guns.
2) I am not disagreeing with Tim (at all) on the possible media frenzy regarding the sponsorship, though. I absolutely agree with the notion that the name in itself will spark humor and jest at cycling's expense. In fact a local race in Cleveland, Ohio was sponsored by Procrit (true brand name for EPO) this past season. We [riders] all hoarded the cool red EPO coffee travel mugs (an irony in itself), as we all had to laugh at it, while appreciating the gifts. But, we all see the bitter irony and humorous nature of the particular name as an event sponsor.
3) My last thought is this, though: Amgen might be (and surely is) trying to "clear" or "correct" their name, while getting obvious media exposure in the process.
Remember, too, that they sponsor an elite level cycling team (the red/white polka-dotted fellows). So they do have interest in the sport’s advertising potential - comical as it may seem.
I guess the double (or triple) edged sword is this; We need the Tour of California and events of the sort in the US. It takes money to do this. We also need sponsors to support great teams - like Masi does for us - and Amgen does both. So the true American way is “bash it”, but “use it.”
So, I guess I am trying to shed the positive light on the subject (as I usually do; my wife calls this a "fault" of mine.) Plainly said - it is the abusers, not the drug that is the issue.
I will leave you with this: Is it companies like Amgen causing the problems? Or is it a two fold issue between twisted doctors and sensationalist (bordering on sometimes tabloid) media from companies such as L'Equipe? Just a thought.
Shhheeewww. That's it. This commenting/blogging thing is trouble, man, trouble.

mags said...

Good point. I really don't have any problems with Amgen sponsoring the event. The fact that EPO helps people all over the world get through cancer-treatment should be what is focused on. Not the abuse of the product by certain team doctors and riders.


Anonymous said...


there isn't doping in cycling.

the only one doing drugs is you!

they are all clean.

all of them.

Donna Tocci said...

I don't know if Heras is guilty or not, but I choose to believe him right now. A couple of years ago I probably would have shook my head and said, 'that's disappointing', believing the labs. After seeing what Tyler's been through, I won't be so quick to judge.

mags said...

I don't know. I don't think it looks good for him.