With the continuing revelations of cheating (doping) in bike racing, the movie Breaking Away continues its hold on relevancy for me. Except that, unlike Dave Stoller, I’ve always has my suspicions that it wasn’t possible to win at a high level without doping, at least in the past. But that came at a much later point in my life than it did for Dave Stoller in the movie, and at that age, I, too, was remarkably naive. As I think most of us were. In fact, I think we would much rather raise our kids in a way that keeps them somewhat naive rather than exposed to all the cheating and back-stabbing that is so much in the news these days. We get on their case for not being “up” on world events, but do we really want them to have to think about such things?
(This is copied over from our “racing” blog) So Sunday we got to watch Tyler Hamilton in Act II of the supposedly-repentent cycling sinner’s club, telling us that he, like Floyd, now sees the light and wants to set the story straight, and part of that story is to tell the world that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to his Tour de France victories.
This would all be so much more believable if Tyler and Floyd weren’t circling the drain, after years of professing their innocence despite failing doping controls (in Tyler’s case, twice, although he did admit to the latter event). This would all be so much more believable if there wasn’t lots of $$$ involved… the huge number of $$$ each of these former athletes lost when they were caught and spiraled downward, the huge number of $$$ to potentially gain from book contracts and media access fees.
In the Tyler Hamilton 60 minutes interview, you couldn’t escape a feeling that he was making some of it up as he went along, with long pauses and lots of blinking. To be fair, he was that way with easy questions too, but it causes me to wonder if the guy cannot distinguish between the fantasy world he lived in for years and the real world.
If there’s a real bombshell that’s going to harm Lance’s legacy, it’s the Tour de Suisse angle, the supposedly-failed EPO test that was covered up by the UCI. That would be huge, if there’s credible evidence it happened. But there were issues with that as well, as we were shown evidence of a “suspicious” test result, not failed. And the money trail, the $125,000 donation to encourage the UCI to cover things up? You’ve got to be kidding; that might be a down payment but certainly doesn’t come close to what it would (or should?) take to buy off something like that.
And finally, there was the “white lunchbag” story. Tyler telling us how he lost his virginity to EPO via one of those “white lunchbags” the team doctors and trainers assigned to their best athletes, with EPO and/or HGH inside. This was a big thing for Tyler, a recognition that he’d arrived. And then later in the broadcast he talks about “reaching out” to Lance for… EPO. In a way that made it sound like Lance really helped him out; as if if hadn’t already gotten onto the EPO train previously. But he had. The “white lunchbag”, remember?
Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to compete at the highest levels in cycling, against people who are doping, without assistance. That’s the polite way of saying it. Assistance. We all need help from time to time, right? So we’ll make doping no more evil than someone down on their luck taking food stamps or a tax credit. But at some level it’s not. What is that level? Back in the day, we had a clear distinction between the supposed purity of college sports vs the evil commercialism of the professional world. I think I bought into that; I never assumed that all was clean & nice on the professional side, and maybe that’s why doping in cycling hasn’t bothered me as much as it should. But that’s not an argument with legs to stand on, because with the professionals in football, baseball, soccer, cycling etc leading the way, the amateurs have been encouraged to step up their game. Doping is clearly rampant in amateur sports, even at the high school level.
If there had been a distinction between professional and amateur sports and any sort of purity or honest competition, I think it was lost when the Olympics allowed professionals to compete. That, for me, was probably the “Dave Stoller” moment. “Everybody cheats. I just didn’t know.” –Mike–