Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Let's Talk About Drugs

I recently returned from my third cycling trip to France.  It was another fantastic experience.

It is interesting how my sense of enjoyment has changed over the three years.  The first year, and partially the second, I just wanted to prove (something?) to myself.  That I could do it.  That I could ride an enormously long race over mountains and survive.  I did all that and then some.

But this year, I enjoyed the riding much more.  My pace was slower, intentionally.  Sure I could have blown myself up ascending those famous climbs like the Tourmalet, the Aspin, the Agnes, and all the rest.  But I really don't have any reason to.  I stopped to take a lot of photos.  I stopped whenever I felt like it.  Just because.

I saw the Tour for the first time this year.  More on all of this to come in future posts.

The thing I get asked the most about with these trips by my cycling friends, and even those who don't cycle, but are just interested in the trip, is drugs.  Pro cycling has a, well, err... history of sorts with performance enhancing drugs of all kinds.  Back in the day it was booze and amphetamines.  With Lance came the high chemistry of EPO and all of that.  Today, what are they on?  We will find out in a few years.  But there is no question they are on something.

I can say this because I have done many of these climbs and while not a professional cyclist by any means, I am in damned good shape.  It took me about twice the time than the professionals to get up most of these climbs, turning myself inside out.  I don't have a "cyclists body", so I am lugging up an extra thirty or forty pounds up these climbs, but still, the times these guys put up are other worldly.

So they are all on drugs, always have been on drugs, and always will be on drugs.  As former Tour de France winner Jaques Anquetil said "do you actually expect us to be able to do this drinking Perrier?"

So let's talk about drugs.  Should we care?  I think I know the answer that most people won't admit to.  The plain fact of the matter is that most people don't really care.  I know I am past it.

I would estimate that 80-90 percent of all college and pro football players are on some sort of performance enhancing substance of some kind.  That doesn't mean that one person is going to stop watching football, paying for tickets, or watching it on TV.  The answer that most people are giving with their wallets is that they don't care.  Nobody cares that these athletes are blowing themselves up (literally) with all sorts of weird chemical cocktails, and exponentially increasing their risk of all sorts of cancers and other diseases in the future.

Did Lance get testicular cancer because of the drug regime he was on with USA Cycling?  We will never know, but my guess is that he certainly increased his chances of getting cancer by doping.

But, like I said, nobody cares.  So lets stop pretending that we care when someone gets busted.  It is just part of the game.  Any game.  Any game that you are getting paid to play.


William Newman said...

From other lines of evidence, I agree with your conclusion that pro and top college athletes are on drugs. I would quibble, though, with your argument that big differences between top pros and good amateurs is strong evidence for this conclusion. I'm a tolerably good amateur Go player (maybe 75th percentile among people who will travel to the US national tournament this year). We don't seem to have incredibly good performance enhancing drugs for brain games, and I'm quite sure the Japanese in the 19th century didn't have incredibly good PEDs for brain games. Nonetheless, the performance of top players even in the 19th century (visible in written game records preserved from that time) can be very humbling for those of us who are merely ordinary interested amateurs. There's quite a lot of variation in human ability, and unusually talented people who devote a large proportion of their lives to serious training can become ridiculously good.

Dan from Madison said...

Good comment, thanks.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Now you did it. Did I ever tell you about the time I spent with Greg LeMond? About six hours at a photo session in L.A. for a client. Will be looking for the photo to publish as proof later. Good guy and very personable. Think he was one of the pros who finked out on the Lance drug use. Could be wrong about that.

Dan from Madison said...

"Famous people Gerry has met" my favorite caregory.

As of now LeMond is the only American tdf winner. I am sure he was doping in some form. It is just the only way.

Anonymous said...

I am tempted to say "Who is Greg LeMond and why should we care?"
But I know better than get between men and their favorite sport obsession.

Dan, I always thought all these scandalous discoveries (more like disclosures) about East German and Soviet athletes are a tad too righteous, a tad too hypocritical. Let alone the mass shock and disbelief re: Lance etc.
These people are in the profession of straining physical resources of their bodies for public entertainment. It comes quite logically that they would want to use performance-enhancing drugs.
Just like it used to be widely known that professional ballet dancers are "sniffers" and surgeons in rural 3-room medical clinics are morphinists. Their bodies simply can not survive the constant demand for endurance without some outside whip.

Dan from Madison said...

An astute comment. But I feel a little sympathy for the E. German and Soviet athletes, who were no doubt told that they were going to take these crazy substances and that was that. At least the pro athletes that are seen today have a choice.