after many months wondering if i should, i decided i should.
i’m offering personal coaching to anyone looking to improve.
get in touch via ‘contact’ of the ‘personal coaching’ tab and we can chat.
“How did it go?” I asked a young Frenchman when he’d finally retrieved something akin to a normal breath after the 7.2kilometer individual time trial at the recent Tour of Friendship race in Thailand.
“Ah, putain!” he exclaimed, working his facial muscles into a look of disgust and wrangling a soggy baguette out of his back pocket. “My SRM console screwed up, stopped working, so I didn’t know how hard to go…”
I just stood there looking at him, unable to find a comment that wasn’t going to insult his intelligence. I mean, seriously? The guy had become so dependent on his power meter that, when it ceased to function, he didn’t know how to judge his own body’s effort.
This obviously is an extreme case but as ever in life, it is often only at the extremes where we really begin to learn anything. This guy had gone over the edge, way beyond the line where a power meter went from being a tool, a guide, to a point where it had become his own personal cult leader.
This guy was living in Jamestown and already three liters of Kool-Aid up.
“Yes,” you may be thinking, “that guy went too far. But I use my SRM to tell me my limits.”
But therein lies the problem. Accepting limits.
Two examples why. The first involves a guy who used to be on my team, who would never attack but who always finished in the pack, seemingly content with a 24th place and not getting dropped out the back.
Now, some kids on my teams come up and ask me for advice, and I can talk to them all day about training and recovery, about how to limit lactic acid build-up in a race and about when and how to attack. It’s a pleasure, to have young riders seeking ways to get better, and to be able to help them.
On the other hand you have guys who blatantly need help who never ask anything. Whether it’s shyness or arrogance I don’t know, but I’m not about to start telling someone ways to improve if they don’t first seek it out.
But this guy, he obviously had talent, and one day I’d had enough of him soft-pedalling in.
“Why do you never do anything in the race?”
“What do you mean? I always finish.”
“Finishing top 40 is worse than attacking and a DNF! You never attack. How do you expect to ever learn anything or to get better?”
“Yeah but my heart rate monitor tells me I’m near my limit. If I attack and get caught, I’ll get dropped.”
So, ‘knowing his limits’, and worse – accepting them – was leading this kid to play it safe every race. Yes, if he did attack with 5km gone he would probably get dropped once he got caught. But so what? Getting dropped through hitting the wall toughens you up. The first time he might only have managed 50km.
But the next time he might manage 60. Then 70. Then… well, who the heck knows? And that’s it – nobody knows how good he might become with real dedication and a willingness to risk it all. But if he rides forever thinking ‘I know’, with his current attitude, then he’ll never improve.
Second example. A guy is on his indoor trainer, riding with power. He does a test. He finds he can do X watts for 60 minutes. He trains each week for 6 weeks to get ready for a race, using the power meter each time he rides, indoors and out.
Studies the lines, crunches the numbers. Examines data. Goes on FB to tell his pals he is improving. Then, race day comes.
Boom! Straight off the line the pace is mad, he’s looking down and can barely see straight, then it goes uphill and ‘holycrapIcan’tdothis!’ – and then sure enough, he pulls the plug.
The fact is that his beloved numbers have obscured from him the fact that almost always in a race, without fail, you are going to be riding harder – a lot – than you can in training, no matter how regimented and serious you may be.
Improving is not always about a steady progression, in anything in this world. Every once in a while, amongst the grind and the slow push, you need to get turned inside out, strung out, dropped from a great height and just plain old battered.
You need, from time to time, to glimpse the other side of the wall. To hang in there with someone who is on another level for as long as you can and to go home with a footprint on your backside – but one well earned.
I remember my first race. Once my 15-year old self had just about gotten over the size of the muscles on the legs of the older guys around me, we then went up a hill that I rode all the time alone at a speed I couldn’t even begin to get my head around.
But I went up it. With the pack. And we did it another 5 times in total, and I almost won after being in a three-man break for 30 of the 50km race, but bonked so hard with just a few km to go that I fell over and just lay there for a minute until a car came by and asked if I was ok. Despite having entered another dimension of time and space, I think I said ‘UGH’, and they left me there, my feet still strapped to the pedals and half of my sweaty face covered in small pebbles and the odd cigarette butt.
Possibly a rabbit dropping or two.
Next race it was the same story all over again, except for the ending: this time I won. My solo attack almost petered out and the pack was just 100m behind me as I crossed the line, but goshdammit, I won. I fell off the bike straight away yet again, but this time with a smile the size of Lance’s mini-fridge on my face.
We are surrounded by limits. We encounter our first at home, then a truckload more at school, the ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ – some perfectly reasonable, some less so – along with the ‘you can’t that!’ lot, which are far more insidious.
We have tests that tell us we are dumb and play games that tell us we aren’t good enough, and then we trundle off, after all that, to the ‘real world’ where it all continues apace. As if there weren’t enough limitations imposed us by society, we then begin to impose them upon ourselves.
I’m too fat.
I’m too old.
I’m too ‘me’.
Well, shove all that. You’ve all no doubt heard those tales about mothers driving down the highway. The car flips. The woman gets out. Her child is inside. There’s a flame. It’s growing. She runs to the car and tries the door, no good. Then, knowing that she must do something or her child will be dead, she gets a grip and heaves and strains and lifts the car.
Extraordinary strength brought on by extraordinary circumstances. Think she’d have done that if she was using a power meter?
Exactly. Not a chance.
We are extraordinary beings. We are of stars, of this universe, from this universe, yet the universe, perhaps most miraculous of all, is within each of us. Whenever we say ‘I can’t do that’ – however essentially, unarguably true it may seem – we are denying the limitless potential of the human mind and spirit, of will and the determination to succeed.
You don’t start riding to accept limitations, you start, by and large, to be free. To escape. To just ride, and ride fast. Then we become more ‘serious’ and start to get into the science of it all, and that’s fine, I love science, I wish it would shine its light on more of the world and our befuddled attempts at existing in it. Yet to allow it to rule us is to deny the very unscientific elements that, ultimately, make people achieve such wondrous and unfathomable feats.
It’s the immeasurable that makes it all so worthwhile.
Amundsen and Scott didn’t have power meters. Neither did the first men to set off on rickety vessels across the great oceans. Nor the early climbers of the high mountains. Neither did Eddy Merckx.
Now, I’m no Luddite, and yes, modern technology and power meters and the like can be extremely useful, but let them guide, not rule. Put them away a few days a week. Try not using an SRM in a hilly race. I’d wager that something like 85% of people who have them don’t use them properly.
I know because I was one. SRM sponsored me for a year, and the console just stopped working after 2 weeks. It was 6 months before I sent it back, and to be honest, I just kept it on the bike to scare people. Because it meant I was serious. Ha!
Riding is so much in the mind that your philosophy of riding can have a profound effect on everything you do.
See what you can do. Feel your body and its incredible ability to adapt.
And, most of all, feel limitless. Go on, give it a try…
*this article first appeared in The Roar.
well, incredibly enough, seems just as many people came to have a look at the TMBK girl in the past few hours as they did in 24 hours to see the previous most popular post on cp.
‘sex sells’ as they say, or you could plump for this gem from the interweb industry: ‘chicks mean clicks.’
both are true and both are, in an odd way, slightly depressing.
so to balance the spotlight i’ve perhaps unwittingly brought on Taiwan and to soothe my Taiwanese brethren, here is a little video i made the other day. well, hardly ‘made’, but you know what i mean. it’s just me, chatting about a dog and some mud and a village, and i’m not at all sure i should be posting this.
but what the heck.
yes, he really did look like that… read all about it on PEZ
or read the whole thing here…
The big news from Stage 4 of the Giro weren’t the boos that arose in the coffee shop where I watch the race when Danilo DiLuca took off up the road, but the look on Wiggo’s face as he crossed the line in Serra San Bruno, where he did a very good impression of a constipated turtle.
(Also love the image of the Lampre rider behind, he’s probably gasping for air in reality, but it looks for all the world that he’s having a good old laugh at the 2012 Tour de France winner – and while I’m on the subject, I will again nominate that Lampre kit for inclusion in the top ten ‘Worst Kits of All Time’ list…).
Well, the big news wasn’t so much the bunged-up reptile look, remarkable though it was, but the reason for that look: yes, Wiggo is misfiring.
Surely he and his DeathStar team have him honed to perfection, as tight as you like and ready to go off on another British Blitzkrieg once again, no?
Well maybe not, but why not? Isn’t it obvious? He really does have a dark and sinister master plan: namely – Le Tour!
Look out gloomy Froomey, your tilt at the stars is about to be given a very definitive jolt. It’ll be Hinault vs. Lemond all over again, but in that peculiarly English way, all handbags at dawn, grand gestures reduced to the rolling of eyes and heavy tut-tuts, breaks for tea and all the painful stoicism.
But yes, no doubt about it: whereas Nibali, that Ryder fella and even – gasp – the aging, Cadel I-thought-he-was-dead? Evans are all chalking their cues and casting Paul Newman-style glances through the fug of the pool hall, Wiggo’s powder looks to be decidedly damp.
And I do think, seriously, that it’s because he is waiting for July. Maybe even he didn’t know it til yesterday. I think that his body may have become a little ‘locked in’, due to the fact that he’s been preparing for the Tour so hard for the past few years.
Whatever it is, he didn’t lose time just because of the crash, but because he got gapped on a pretty tiny hill.
Of course, he’ll probably smash the TT and get Pink and leave me all red-faced.
Now, is it just me or is anyone else tired of seeing this Old Guard still popping up? Yes, Di Luca served out his ban and yes by the laws in place he is allowed back, but I don’t know, seeing him and, if I’m honest, some of the Garmin-Sharp team rolling back in like nothing ever happened, it all leaves me a little nonplussed.
I’ll probably cop it for saying that, but there it is. Perhaps if the UCI were addressing all that has happened in a responsible and thorough manner, one that let the fans feel ‘Heck, they’re really doing something about it this time,’ it would seem a little less like ‘business as usual.’
As it stands it kind of feels like yesterday’s fish still out on the market stalls.
Onto Cadel! Not literally of course, not sure the old man could take it. Now as a journalist it is my job, as we journos are all sworn to do, to react to everything with a massive knee-jerk and to cut people down just as quickly as we build them up.
So yes, I did write recently elsewhere in the Ethernet that I thought the grizzly wee Aussie was done in. Washed up. Ready for the glue factory.
And then faster than an Aussie can down 24 beers whilst sat astride an emu (the record stands at 3.8 seconds), back up he pops and takes second on stage 3 and takes 6th on stage 4.
Evans should have that great Mark Twain quote stitched into his jersey:
‘Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.’
Suits him perfectly. Never write off a good man. Still a long way to go in the Giro, thankfully, because it’s been very good so far, and the wheels may come off for the former World Champ in those high hills, but it is great to see him doing well.
He may not be the most liked character in the peloton but he is one of the most respected. Would be nice to see him in Pink for a bit.
A final note on Battaglin’s win. Great to see an Italian winning, that should keep the tifosi happy for, ooh, 4 minutes?
Could Nibali keep them quiet for a bit longer and grab the win? It would certainly be something to have another, serious rival to the Sky domination in the mix.
We shall see.
phew, and i thought crankpunk was no respecter of reputations, an irreverent take on the world of cycling.
then i came across these guys, the Jens Voigt Army folks. JVA takes irreverence out the back door, kicks it black and blue around the alleyway for half an hour, then tips it all befuddled into the dumpster, and then takes a proper long ass old leak on it.
the attention to detail, the loving, almost slavish mockery, the sheer dedication to out-brand the brand – well – ouch!
in a good and very funny way and even dare i say deserving way, but, all the same – ouch!
‘too Liggett to quit.’
that will keep me going on my 4 hour slog today…
crank on, JVA grunts, crank on…
as a firm believer in listening to my body and heeding the signs that the little grey lump encased within my skull transmits to, er, itself, i took the decision not to take part in Taiwan’s second biggest race of the season (the first being the UCI Tour de Taiwan), the AMD 2 Day Huadong race.
with a total of something like 320km over two days in what looked like being bad weather (Day 2 was in fact very wet), i felt like it was going to, in then end, drain too much from my legs rather than help improve my form.
it’s been a funny start to the season this year, all affected by having to take almost three months off from the beginning of October to almost the end of December due to injuries.
that led me to having to pack in big kilometers from the start of January then to pick up the pace from the middle, way too soon really but with the Tour de Taiwan coming in mid March i had little choice.
two wins in my first two races were a little surprising but in the Tour it was obvious that I was a little off the pace but unable to really ride myself into the race, as the signs of having over-trained were all too obvious. aching legs, a lack of power on climbs and a sore throat, not to mention a pervasive tiredness, all combined to let me know that it was time to back off.
as cyclists/athletes/nutters (delete as applicable) we have learnt that through endeavor and dedication in training, we get fitter and stronger, so when we are going slow we ten to go to the default setting of ‘Train Harder,’ but this is, very often (unless you’ve been lazy), a mistake.
an old pro once told me that it’s better to be under- than over-trained, and there was never a truer word spoken when it comes to preparation. being a little slow allows you to use the next race and the subsequent training to gt fitter for the one after, whereas if you blow a proper gasket due to having done too much, it can take weeks if not months to get over it.
the human body is amazing, no doubt, and adapts to innumerable situations in incredible ways, but we have to remember that, whilst exercise may be fun to us, to our bodies it is stress. and, if you train a lot, that stress is accumulative.
the body begins to respond to being overworked by sending signals to itself. we, as irrational beings (we are cyclists, remember), often tell our bodies to shut the f**k up, cos we are hard as Belgians and love the pain.
sometimes that is justified but sometimes it is just plain stupid. like, stoopid stupid. signs of an impending crisis are an inability to get a good night’s sleep, sleeping late, a sore throat and a lack of motivation. thirstiness, for me, is another, as is feeling aches in the legs from a moderate day on the bike.
forget SRMs, PowerTaps, heart rate monitors and whatever other gizmos you paid a truckload for – the best and most brilliant training device we possess is between our ears.
the sooner we start listening to it, the sooner we can make steady improvements and get proper rest.
so, after the Tour de Taiwan i took ten days off the bike. put it in the spare room and forgot about it. despite the sniffling and whimpering i heard from it during the night, i stood firm.
then when i picked up again i had an easy 5 days, then started training proper again. my motivation was back and within another 5 i felt strong again. the Huadong race that i just missed is a lot of fun and i felt ok for it but something was telling me to ease back off a little again, so i did.
instead i did a solid 75km yesterday with one 8km climb and a 30 minute TT section, and today i headed out to Ali Shan, a beautiful behemoth of a mountain (around 2,500m to the road summit) an hour’s drive from my place.
with a hill climb up it on May 5th, i decided to tackle the route, a 63km climb that is 90% up, heading up into the rarefied air above the clouds. luckily i just missed the rain and the cold and had a wonderful ride. i’m not a natural climber but i somehow have convinced my head that these climbs are actually time trials, just, with a dollop or three of extra gravity, which helps pass the kilometers.
anyway, legs feel fine now, i’m tired but not wasted, and all good for the next week of training and the stage race the week after in Thailand.
less, as they say, sometimes really is more.
i have to thank my friend Rachel McPhail for sending this in to me, first of all – cheers Rachel!
“Cycling is not an acceptable thing for women to do in Afghanistan,” begins a paragraph on the website Combat Apathy that has the article on this team, which you can read in full here. you may well think ‘hmm, along with teaching, studying, walking around with an uncovered head or aspiring to be a professional anything,’ and you’d be right, at least in the Taliban held areas.
yet here are a group of women, living in Afghanistan, who are doing just that. riding, that is, and man, may Eddy bless them.
amazingly, the article tells us, there are 60-70 female riders in the war-torn country, a fact that astounds me. perhaps i am very ill-informed on Afghanistan (actually, apart from the war, the Taliban and opium growing statistics, i definitely am), but had there been just one lone woman cranking the pedals i would have been surprised.
the Combat Apathy people are to join in a collaborative effort to produce a short documentary on the Afghan Women’s National Cycling Team, which, they say, will be about “what it means to ride in the controversial country.”
sounds amazing? well, yes. they are currently holding a ‘gear drive‘ in Colorado to collect equipment for the team, something you can maybe go and contribute to if you live close by. i’m going to mail them to see if there is anything else that those of us living in far off lands can do to help.
Shannon Galpin, who spent three years mountain biking in Afghanistan, is the driving force behind the project, and on her Mountain 2 Mountain blog she describes how she first found out about the team:
“..we found out that there are women cycling in Afghanistan, and as part of the National Cycling Team under his [the men's team coach] support. There are 10-12 women on the national team, and a total of 60-70 riding in the country. They are taking their love of bikes to extremes – Afghanistan still does not culturally accept women riding bikes, and right now the women only train once a week due to safety concerns and support. In four years of riding bikes in Afghanistan I have yet to meet a woman that rides, so finding women in Kabul and Mazar i Sharif that are riding, and desire to race, made my heart swell with excitement. The more women that ride, the more that will become accepted, and perhaps we’ll soon see girls riding bikes to school like in other countries!”
you can if you feel so inclined contact the people behind the planned film here:
why the crankpunkers of the year award to these women? even before the year is out?
well, as Rachel wrote, “Boy-o, there ain’t NOTHING in this world crankier and punkier than a Muslim woman on a bike in an extremist front-line war zone nation.”
crank on, women, crank on.
yes, i thought it was time that i came clean.
i feel it is time to get this off my chest.
many will call me foolish, misguided, and even plain old stupid, but it is true:
i have never doped and i never will. let the lions rip me apart as they desire. i can’t go on like this any longer, i have nothing left to hide.
if you too have never doped and never will, no matter what level you ride at or even if you’ve never raced, and even if you take part in another sport, please comment on this post or mail me, and i will add your name to the list.
maybe if there’s enough of us, we too will one day become heroes and get book deals!
The I Have Never Doped Confessional, signed by:
1. Lee Rodgers
2. Chuck Hutcheson
3. Paul Roberts
4. Peter O’Connell
5. Greg Grobler
6. Graham Roeber
7. Inigo Gisbert
8. David Huntsman
9. James Machin
10. Tom Simonson
11. Raphael Grinbaum
12. Tony Chu
13. Jose de Magalhaes
14. Darin Dunstan
15. Fatmarc Vanderbacon
16. Inga Thompson
17. Matty Giedt
18. Manuel Samaniego
19. Scott Mercier
a couple of months ago i got a message on basefook from an American guy saying that he would be in Taiwan in a while and did i have a bike or did i know where he could rent one.
as someone who actually ‘knows’ about only 10% of their ‘friends’ on FB but who is quite visible/vocal on there, i do, on just about a weekly basis, get people asking for stuff, be it advice or equipment, naked photos of the crank or other enticing requests, and very often, you’d be surprised not really to know, the requests come in a pretty rude fashion.
but this guy seemed polite enough and a quick look at his page showed me he looked like a triathlete or something and looked quite fit. though i didn’t actually do much to help him out, when i did receive a message last weekend from him saying he was in town and would i like to ride, i said ‘sure.’ it might mean a diversion from my training schedule (i can be a punk like that sometimes) but, i figured i’d be appreciative of the same if i was in someplace foreign and looking to ride.
so, up we meet, and off we go, and as i’ve never met the guy before it feels a little first datey, i’m wondering already how many bases i’ll get to – oh wait, that came out wrong – i mean, i’m wondering how we’ll get along, and then i say:
‘so are you a triathlete or a road racer?’
and then he says:
‘well, i’m on a suspension. i’m one of those guys.’
and he pats me on the back, as if to say ‘aha! you didn’t know!’
and i go:
and then we ride on, and he tells me the whole story, the hows and the whys, the ins and the outs, and the whole 9 yards plus an extra 3, just for good measure.
and he said to me ‘i wondered if you knew me and if you’d even turn up.’
and i thought ‘yeah, i wonder if i would have too,’ but i am glad i did.
and i am still kinda taking it in. i abhor doping, as i am sure you know, but i liked the guy. i’ve had this before too, with former teammates, and it sits weirdly.
anyhow, what awesome timing – there i am going on about ex-dopers and smooth as you like, one pops into my life and in 3D and all.
i won’t divulge names, as he agreed to do an interview which i’ll then write up into an article.
watch this space.
the world has never been anything other than what it is. mean, lean, brutal, angry and vicious and yet paradoxically beautiful, serene, peaceful and a plain old wonder. it is the breathing, heaving definition of contradiction. nothing is mutually exclusive when it comes to this planet. even amidst war and death there is a burning and vivid beauty, a living, dying parable of exhaustion and renewal, of the coming and going, of the fleeting and the eternal.
as a kid though our elders strive to keep all this from us. we’re instead offered myths like the Easter Bunny, Santa, gods, in some cases, and (not all that much different from be-sneakered saints) sporting heroes. the real realities of life are hidden under carpets, stuck in the back of kitchen drawers and muffled into whispers when the little ones appear.
if we are lucky that is. some of us had raging parents and other relatives to deal with, adults who were no more equipped to deal with life themselves than they were to shield us from it.
but for many of us, looking back on our childhood brings a warm sigh and a wistful smile, for its warmth still emanates like some auburn light from a promised land, long gone but still visible with a glance over our shoulder. as often with remembrances, the truth may in fact have been a little different, but that doesn’t make the memories any less tangible.
we can, most of us, mark certain dates and events along the line of our lives as moments in time when the edifice of that safe and relatively trouble-free world began to crumble. a bully, perhaps, or stress from school reports, or the emergence of a confusing awareness of the sexual.
in a sporting sense, i had two that live large in my mind. one was when i was 11 years old. i was playing for the Sydney Firefighters in the semi-finals of the regional soccer championships. we were one goal down with a minute remaining on the clock. we got a penalty after a hand ball, and as the usual taker, i stepped forward. as i hit the ball my studs caught the turf and i mis-hit the ball terribly, watching it scud and dribble hopelessly wide of the post.
cried all the way home, a two hour drive. it was 8 years before i took another spot kick. i laugh about that one now. it seems sweet, that it all meant so much to that little boy.
the other memory is not sweet at all, never even got close. it was an absolute and definitive moment in time that smashed a hole clean through my vision of what sport was, and, more specifically, destroyed the Olympics for me for evermore.
the moment came when Des Lynam, the BBC sports commentator, appeared on television one day in the summer of 1988 and announced that the Canadian Ben Johnson had tested positive for steroids.
‘i’ve just been handed a piece of paper here,’ said Lynam,’ that if it is right, it will be the most dramatic story out of this Olympics, or perhaps any others.’
i’d grown up with sports my whole life, swimming, soccer, running, hockey, cricket, baseball, rugby – you name it, i tried it. my dad had been close to a pro soccer contract before damaging his knee days after a trial with Blackburn Rovers, and a champion swimmer in his youth. it was in my blood. there was nothing more fun to me than to be playing a game and trying to win, but,then as now, it was how you played that mattered most. winning by cheating never even entered my mind.
what would be the point? cheating wasn’t in the rules of any game i played – maybe if it had been, i would have been ok with it.
soccer and the World Cup was my first love but the Olympics came a close second. the history blew me away, all the way back to the Greeks, incredible. the Olympic flame seemed to symbolise all that was good and eternal about sport, and though it may have been a fairytale, it was one i could actually see, right there on the tv screen. it united people, brought them out onto the streets to cheers its passing, to congratulate the carrier.
and then Johnson came and destroyed it all. it was that brutal. i’d never liked Carl Lewis and his arrogance, he was way too smooth and disparaging of his rivals. in Johnson i saw the perfect underdog, this stuttering, shy individual who used to get beat by Lewis hands down, who suddenly turned into a superhero and ran like the wind.
but then, on that day, with the news delivered by Lynam, it was all over. the Olympics died for me that day. athletics ever since has failed to capture my imagination. i was 16.
i’d been cycling for a year, a day or two after Roche and Delgado battled on La Plagne at the ’87 Tour de France. i was pretty decent too, winning my first race, then the next, all the while getting deeper and deeper into the amazing history of the sport, becoming infatuated with reading about the great races and the legendary riders.
but just about the time that Johnson’s positive became known, i read about Eddy Merckx testing positive way back in ’68, ’74 and ’77. then i read about Tommy Simpson dying on Ventoux, a mix of alcohol and amphetamines discovered in his blood at the autopsy. then i read about Anquetil saying basically ‘yes of course we dope.’ learned about Marshall Taylor taking nitroglycrine, about the early Tour riders on cocaine, about the rider caught with a balloon of someone else’s piss under his arm at a testing procedure.
and on and on it went. it was quite obvious to me at that time, aged 16 and three months, that if i ever wanted to become anything but a mediocre professional rider i would have to take these kind of substances. it also dawned on me that, if so many cyclists were on the dope, and that if, as some said or at least alluded, you had to take drugs to compete, then there must have been others on that start line with Johnson that were taking steroids.
then came the news, hitherto unknown to me, that the East Germans and Russians were rumored to have a comprehensive doping system.
i had, i could see, been naive, but then if i was guilty of that then so too were millions of others before that fateful 1988 100m final. where so many of those who were shocked at the news of Johnson’s positive failed themselves though was by believing for so long that only Johnson was dirty. that same head-in-the-sand mentality allowed Armstrong to get away with it for so long also, even after the death of all those young Dutch riders thanks to EPO in the early 90′s, after Festina, Puerto, and on and on.
so there i was, 16 and a half, in love with the actual act of cycling and racing and wanting to dedicate my life to it, dreaming of one day riding in the Tour, yet increasingly aware that the whole thing was filthy. proper dodgy, riven with doping, decimated by cheating.
i rode for another year, still getting good results, then, halfway through the 1989 season, just before i turned 18, i quit. i never regretted that decision, and the fact that i was able to restart my racing career at 37 was just amazing, but what has never left me is the anger i feel for those who dope. i’ve had teammates since i returned to racing that have told me they used EPO when they were younger, and on hearing about their heart tremors and their fear of latent illnesses, i had zero sympathy.
i don’t live my life in black and white, and i try, hard as it is sometimes, to not judge others because life can be damn hard, but when it comes to cheating i do not see any excuse for crossing the line. once it’s done you never come back. those that cheat and dope destroy everything that is to be cherished in sport and in competition. perhaps they accept reality better than me, but if that is real i want no part of it.
i’ve met enough ex-dopers (and, though i didn’t know it at the time, current dopers) to know that something dies in you when you dope. you can see it in Vinokourov’s dead smile, sense it in Armstrong’s cold eyes. once caught they mew and bleat like pathetic lambs, but the truth is no one wants to hear from them. they come back like reborn sinners to tell us that they want to help rebuild the sport, but what they have to grasp is that they have reneged on the agreement implicit within the core of all sport – that is, that you do not cheat.
all a little holier than thou? i don’t think so. i am full of inconsistencies and have made, and still do make, hundreds of mistakes in my life. but i, like millions of others, won’t cheat to win. and i look at it this way: if i had broken the rules in some other area of life and been kicked out, i wouldn’t have the nerve to think that i deserved to be accepted back.
you reap what you sow, brother. never a truer word.
you may love the sport too, but you lost your seat on the bus, son, when you broke the cover on the vial.
yes this is a cruel world at times, and yes our parents may be misguided in the way they attempt to shield us from the realities of existence, but there is a reason why the rules of sports, of these games we play, are so hallowed and should be respected: because they offer us a glimpse of what we can become. they offer a vision, and even a reality, of greatness within the human spirit, in and amongst us.
that’s why it matters. and that is why it has to be clean.