excellent piece here from fellow racer Will Routley, that i’ll copy and repeat in full.
this originally appeared in The Vancouver Sun
“I had no choice, I had to ‘cross the line’ or end my dream.” This is just a taste of the utter garbage that has filled my ears as of late.
To say I am frustrated would be an understatement. Cyclists are coming out of the woodwork at the moment — big name athletes admitting to doping. I use the term ‘admitting’ loosely, as in reality they have been caught and forced to come clean. Canadian legend Michael Barry is on the list, many American superstars are on the list; it is saddening to say the least.
Throughout this ordeal I have noticed that we are primarily hearing interviews and opinions coming from the dopers themselves. I am wondering where the opinion of a real, clean athlete is, so I’m going to offer one.
A common theme in the story laid out by the recently caught-red-handed doper, is to play the victim card. They all spout a very similar, often canned, (do they all have the same publicist?) scenario: it’s about how they dedicated their life to cycling, they went so far with the sport, only to realize they had to dope, otherwise they’d have no chance of racing at the top level.
Their choice, as they tell it, was to dope or quit cycling. So, they doped.
The thing is, along with doping, these guys also enjoyed the success that goes with it: podium finishes in monumental events such as the Tour de France, fame, success, and money. The pay range would be from $300,000 to $3 million a year (a lot more if you are Lance).
These guys go on to say they quietly stopped cheating on their own accord, and continued racing “clean.” Then in the years of “clean” racing that followed they all seem to incredibly achieve similar success to that seen in the years in which they were doping.
They even pat themselves on the back and say how they are proud of the steps they’ve taken to improve the sport and clean it up. Maybe they just found a larger love of the sport? Or maybe now is a good time to call bullshit.
What have they done to improve the sport, I ask? Because I could go on for days about the ways in which they have negatively affected it. In most cases they’ve suffered minimal to no negative consequences at all.
I find it very hard to believe that every doper out there suddenly decides to quit on his own accord, and I also object to the idea that even if this were true, the rider is now “clean.” This person has taken his body way farther than what is naturally possible, and has lifelong adaptations to this, so even if he were no longer on drugs, he would in all likelihood still hold an unfair advantage.
There are other characters in this story however, and those are the non-dopers. Yes they do exist. Initially we heard that there are two choices: dope, or quit the sport. But there is a glaringly obvious third choice, and that is to not dope, and just continue racing clean. Seems simple enough to me, it’s the choice I made along with many of my colleagues.
You can win clean
I am a professional road cyclist. I’ve been chasing and living my dream for the past 15 years. I am firmly against doping in sport.
I think it’s toxic to everyone involved, including the doper, as the psychological damage can be huge. I don’t believe these guys set out to be criminals, but at some point they choose to be. To me, if you dope you defeat the purpose of competition altogether.
I compete to see how good I am, and test the limits of my capabilities. If I dope, then I am really cheating myself. I am happy to remind anyone that will listen that you can indeed be a professional athlete without drugs. You can even win.
I competed in my first world championships at age 18 back in 2001. To be brief, I got worked. No phenom story here: I suffered and finished many minutes behind the leader.
Cycling is the most difficult sport I’ve ever tried, and suffering is an essential part of the game. In the few years that followed I did not suddenly jump over to Europe and race the Tour de France, I slowly plodded along, racing for a wage of somewhere in the neighbourhood of zero dollars a year. (Yes, I have learned how to budget money very well).
I had a rough window where I basically gave up — it seemed like an insurmountable gap for me to jump to the elite ranks, but I was lucky and had tremendous support from family, friends and fellow teammates. We all committed to each other that we’d stay clean, and kept convincing one another that it is indeed possible to win clean. This mantra went against the popular sentiment, but we held to it.
In recent years I’ve won a national championship, stepped on the podium in Europe, and won professional races in the U.S. In short, I am a successful professional athlete, and I made the third choice, not to dope, not to quit, but to persevere.
When a doper is caught and his medal is stripped, it doesn’t significantly change anything for the others that he has affected with his indiscretion. When Canada sends three riders to the Olympics or World Championships, and one of those riders is a doper, that means a clean guy who’s fourth in line is left home. We can’t go back in time and change this.
Livelihood being stolen
Canada financially supports its athletes at the elite Olympic level. This is called “carding” and I have qualified for this financial support several times, but have never actually received any money. I’m not complaining, and Sport Canada has done nothing wrong, there are simply a limited number of “cards” available, and if a card goes to a doper, as it has in the past, this means a clean rider is left without.
This is money — an athlete’s livelihood — being directly stolen: it happens with carding, with prize money, with sponsorship agreements, and with selection to compete at events like the Olympics and World Championships. I have yet to receive a cheque in the mail from a doper with a letter saying “sorry Will, here is the money I stole from you.”
When I hear the interviews and the dopers say things like: “I crossed the line,” I am disgusted. Several American guys caught this month all said the same thing about crossing a line. As far as I’m concerned, “crossing the line” is when you swear in public. When you defraud a nation, steal from sponsors, and your fellow racing compatriots and then lie to the world about it, you didn’t “cross a line” you are a criminal.
Before I sound too crusty I want to say that I love cycling, and I am proud of my accomplishments. I am doing the best that I can do, and I know it is the real me achieving my goals. I haven’t won the Tour de France, but I might yet win a stage of that very event, I am not finished racing yet.
Me and many of my original teammates have never had to look over our shoulders, never had the sleepless nights filled with guilt, and I think we are happier, healthier people because of our decision to race clean. Many of us are still racing and, in fact, I feel as though our mantra that you can indeed win clean has not faded, it has grown stronger.
There are more anti-doping controls in cycling than in any other sport, and there is a real movement to race clean. Many current and former dopers have no regrets and just did anything they could to get ahead, but many more are ashamed, and do regret it. Many are depressed and in a sorry state, and I hope this is what the next generation is aware of.
I see young kids coming up with the goal to stay 100 per cent true and clean. This goal needs to be fostered by all of us. What I want to see is clean riders working with coaches, becoming mentors, managing teams, and helping to develop the future of the sport.
Cycling a challenge
It is so common that a former doper becomes the authority on how to be a clean rider, but in my estimation this is totally backwards. A cheater cannot tell a young kid how to race clean, because he has never done so.
The cheaters all justify their decisions as saying, “it was normal at the time, it was institutionalized.” If they can’t own their personal mistakes then get rid of them. Why is a lifelong ban from the sport so bad? There are many other jobs out there, get a job somewhere else. I want to work with drug-free riders, and set an example for the next generation.
Cycling has been a great life for me to pursue. I am lucky to have had so much support and encouragement in my community. Cycling is a massive challenge, but I am happy to have travelled the world to compete. I have achieved goals, and represented my sponsors, family, country, and perhaps most importantly myself, in the best way I know how. I don’t have guilt, depression or criminal charges to deal with, nor do I need a publicist to help me with damage control.
There are a lot of other clean riders out there too, guys that keep it simple: train hard, race hard, and stick to the mantra that you can win clean.