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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Doping 

The following is a rant, which, in an evolving form, I seem to post about once every four months in rec.bicycles.racing, after I read one too many "they're going to dope anyways, so let's let them!" posts. I always envision the husband character in the Drew Barrymore movie Home Fries Riding in Cars with Boys (really people, how could you let me make that mistake?), pathetically begging for permission to do just a little bit of heroin. -RjC

If you are going to allow some "therapeutic" level of doping, why do you think the
problem of a level playing field gets easier?

In any imaginable scenario, there will be some sort of limit placed on
the amount of each goody that the rider can use. Maybe they'll have
dosage limits for steroids and HGH, and Hct limits for EPO and other
forms of blood doping.

But, excepting maybe Hct percentages, how do you keep the riders within
the specified limits? Don't you just create a peloton that is much more
drugged-up than today, but still with some cheaters (or if you prefer,
super-dopers) in the middle?

For any line you care to draw, there will surely be riders quite happy
to cross it. Of course, they'll be even harder to detect in some ways.
Did the rider go 10 mcg/kg/d over the approved dosage? Who knows? Sounds
like some pretty tricky testing is in order.

Do you think that the same peloton which you assert has embraced a
culture of cheating will suddenly embrace a culture of self-restraint,
as long as they are allowed some of their goodies?

We may not be able to prevent 100% of drug abuse, but at least we can
try to prevent 100% drug abuse.

This argument makes me despair about whether there is any future
whatsoever for pro cycling. I'd be sad if it collapsed, for sure. But
what would really sadden me is if it took amateur cycling with it. I've
gone back and forth over this, and I've decided that if I could only
have one (and the doping debate may make this non-academic) I choose

You know why? Some amateurs might dope, because they're idiots, just
like some guys will violate the yellow-line rule, or be poor sports in
myriad ways. But at the amateur level, it's about roughly competitive
groupings, competing against your personal benchmarks, and having fun. I
can live with those as essential antidotes to the problem of doping, at
least in the amateur levels.

Of course, Dick Pound seems to be acting like the worst friend a foe of
doping could have. I like his ideas, really I do: keeping current
samples securely for 10 years, so that if we come up with a test for
present dope in the future (as happened with EPO) we can use it? Good
idea! Accusing Lance of being a doper based on a test that can't
possibly meet WADA standards? Bad idea! Asserting a firm belief that
sport should create a culture of clean competition? Good idea! Wildly
asserting that sport X is insincere about doping control, because they
catch so many dopers? Bad idea.

I'm serious about throwing out pro competition. I think the ProTour is a
good idea, I think that the doping controls are getting pretty serious
(they've nailed, rightly or wrongly, several of the top riders in the
sport in the last few years, including Hamilton, Heras, Museeuw, Millar,
and lots more; if they're insincere about doping control, they have a
funny way of showing it).

The real trick, of course, is to force the economics of doping to
fail. If you start fining riders major, income-proportionate dollars for
positive tests, you might get results. If you start requiring mandatory
retroactive nullification clauses for doping violations in ProTour rider
contracts, and then fine back the salary plus more from the team, too,
you'll have some teams keeping a pretty keen eye on their riders' drug
habits. If you start keeping those samples for 10 years, regressively
testing them with neat new tests, and then suing riders for prize money
when they come up positive, you'll get dopers to sit up and take notice.

Scary? You bet. In practice, you'll probably want to err on the side of
letting marginal (but likely dopey) cases through the net in the
interests of mercy and sensible caution. But these and other measures
could remove the economic advantages of doping which likely drive a lot
of doping. And creative testing regimens can increase both the certainty
of being caught and the uncertainty of being caught, if you know what I

So, what's it to be?

Did you giggle a little typing the name "Dick Pound"? Come on, I know you did Ryan.
No! Not even a bit! Well, maybe a little. But only the first time.
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