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I’ll confess…there’s something about this whole cycling culture that I don’t get: eating our own.
Sure…when there’s a car vs cyclist collision, everyone piles on the ‘cars r coffins’ and ‘I hate cagers’ bandwagon. But when it comes to cyclists, there’s surprisingly little adulation (and surprisingly a lot of skepticism) for our own.
The past week has shown the federal investigation of Lance Armstrong get closed without charges or any adverse consequences. It’s also seen Alberto Contador lose his Tour de France title, based upon the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. What’s surprising to me? The informal banter among cyclists that are skeptical of both cyclists. The ‘eating our own’ response. Cannibalism.
Why is cannibalism glorified in cycling? One of the greatest riders of all times is nicknamed the Cannibal. Sure. But why do so many insist on assuming the worst, and disparaging fellow riders in the absence of any objective information to support such contentions? I just don’t get it. Heck, even some media outlets are criticizing the media for sensationalizing the Lance story.
I’m a believer in innocent until proven guilty. That’s a concept I bring to bear on many different facets of my life, and one that shapes many of my perceptions. But cyclists certainly don’t afford that to each other. In the much bantered about saying, Lance is the most drug-tested athlete in professional sports. He has never–not once–failed a drug test (unless you count a prescription cream for saddle sores, which is a prescription that no one believes has any performance enhancing benefits). And yet the cycling world persists in this path of discussion that he must have doped. I started reading Bill Strickland’s article in Bicycling on the issue when it came out a while ago, hoping to see an informed perspective on the issue. Instead, it approached the issue from a “sure, Lance doped, but he’s still done great things” perspective.
Do we really, really believe that his methods of doping were so advanced that even now, we cannot detect them? Even with advances that have made modern drug testing far more accurate, specific, and reliable? Or is it that Lance is just lucky? Or did he bribe his way through sport?
Ultimately, I don’t know if Lance doped or not. From what I’ve read: 1) there are no objective test results showing that Lance has ever engaged in any form of unlawful doping; 2) the only ‘evidence’ of doping is unconfirmed conjecture by people who have been prosecuted and are trying to buy their way out of prison and/or taint those who haven’t been tainted (we’ll call these “people with something to lose/people with a grudge”); and, 3) after unlimited resources, subpoenas, grand jury testimony and over twenty months of work, the US federal government has thrown in the towel and indicated that they have no basis to prove, in any way, that Lance doped. And keep in mind…they didn’t even really have to prove that he doped in a competition. Doping at any time, while on the Post Office dole, would have been adequate for prosecution. Unlike Contador, we’re not only talking about doping on TdF race day. We’re talking about doping in mid-training season. Doping on a week off. Doping ever, while under USPS sponsorship. And they found nada. Not even enough to make a press release. Not enough to save face, after investing nearly two years and countless millions of our tax dollars in an investigation that was initiated under much fanfare and dismissed with nary an apology.
I’m not particularly affiliated with Lance. I don’t have a basis to like or dislike him personally…some of his interviews seem a bit arrogant. But he’s one amazing cyclist. And again, there is no objective data to demonstrate that he doped. So why. Why? WHY do so many cyclists persist in just assuming that he did? Is winning races enough to mean that you must have doped? Does recovering from a life-altering disease mean that you’re a cheater? Is it necessarily the case that every athlete who sets a new bar in sports got there by some unfair advantage?
I hope not. For that matter, I hope Lance didn’t cheat–I think it would be bad for the sport. But regardless, until someone proves that he did, why must so many find him guilty until proven innocent? Why is the presumption of innocence reversed against Lance? Why do cyclists eat their own? You don’t see people come out and accuse professional basketball players of doping every time they do an amazing 3 point shot. Is the implication that cycling requires less skill and more brute force that can be bought with drugs? Is it the interface of man + bike that makes cheating seem more plausible?
And it isn’t just drugs, folks. Criticism and conspiracy is getting more out there every passing year. It wasn’t that long ago that there was speculation about “mechanical doping” and the alleged hiding of electric motors in seat posts. Seriously…you can’t make this stuff up. (Or, as it turns out, you can).
I’m a naturally competitive guy. (By that, I mean that I’m driven to compete…not necessarily that I compete well). One of my challenges this year is to find success in competing against myself, and to find enjoyment in the accomplishments of my friends and fellow riders. I want to be in the mix…but I’m learning that I don’t have to be at the head of the pack to have a good ride. That’s a hard lesson for me to learn. I think it’s a hard lesson for all cyclists to learn. I think we’re inclined, by some strange mechanism, to want to bring down the guy at the front of the peloton, and feel better about ourselves by feeling worse about him. (Insert varying gender pronouns at your own preference). I think this spills over into the castigation of Lance, and the general skepticism that a professional cyclist can be competitive without doping.
I think cyclists are cannibals.
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