I’m going to do something I don’t do often enough, say that I was wrong, I’m going to eat my own words. I’ve been reading Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, and while nothing in it has completely shocked me, seeing it all written down for the whole world to read is beyond shocking. I’ll offer a more comprehensive review of The Secret Race once I’m finished with it, but for now lets take a look at Lance.
I think almost everyone who has actually followed bike racing knew that Lance doped, the evidence has slowly built up over the last decade until, like a giant stinky pile of trash outside your window, it could no longer be overlooked. Unfortunately the truth was that I was completely happy overlooking it. I believed what was good for Lance was good for cycling, that doping was so ingrained in cycling that it would never go away, and perhaps I believed that doping was playing fair.
I’ve read both of Lance’s books, I’ve read “Lance Armstrong’s War” which paints a much harsher picture of him, and I’ve read David Walsh’s “From Lance to Landis,” which basically takes a steaming dump on his reputation. I knew that Lance wasn’t the big hero that he gets made out to be by his followers, I knew that he was a cutthroat competitor driven like mad to win, and I also knew that he desired to wealthy and famous, so nothing really opened my eyes when I read Hamilton’s portrayal of him.
I’ve always played it cool when it comes to Lance, made it off like I wasn’t a fan, scoffed at dorks in full Livestrong kits, or the nerds that always seem to have the newest Postal, Discovery, Astana, or Radioshack kit. Truth is I was spending July watching the tour because Lance was in it, I began following the tour online in 1999, and have followed it closely ever since. Truth is that I was rooting for Lance like everyone else and I enjoyed the boost that cycling received because of his wins.
So I posted awhile back making fun of Travis Tygart and the USADA for going after Lance’s tour victories. I didn’t really see a point in shooting down someone like Lance especially for things he’s done so long ago. Ultimately I figured that the USADA case would slide off Armstrong like water off a seal. I was wrong. I walked into a McDonalds the other day and he was on TV, people were watching and someone said, “Well I guess he’s a cheater too.” When his sponsors left him I knew it was over, this is America, you’re nothing without corporate sponsors.
Instead the USADA has shown that the untouchable is now touchable. No one is safe, even if you get away with it now it’ll catch up to you later and no matter how many good deeds one does they have to play by the rules.
I have always thought that doping was fine because everyone was doing it and it made an even playing field. The one revelation I learned from Hamilton’s book is how doping doesn’t effect all riders equally. He gives the example of Marty Jemison, a Postal rider who had a naturally high hematocrit, essentially Jemison was nearly at the legal limit for red blood cells without any doping, he was a great rider and would have probably been even more successful if everyone else hadn’t doped up to his level.
Hamilton explains that Doping shifted your limitations away from your blood allowing more intensive training and racing without burnout. When Jonathan Vaughters selected riders for his Garmin Slipstream team he purposely picked riders that doped with little effect figuring they would ride strong in a post doping era. It seems to be working.
Finally the playing field wasn’t level because it became evident that whoever had the best doctor had the biggest advantage. Michel Ferrari was the best and even more importantly Lance paid him enough so that he wouldn’t work with any of his contenders. Level playing field goes out the window.
So are we past doping? Vaughters makes an excellent case that we are in this month’s Velonews. He shows scientifically how the climbing times on monumental European ascents increased about 6-10% during the EPO era and have fallen about 6-10% since 2008 and biological passport was instated. Blood doping tends to increase performance by 6% in elite cyclists.
So what do we do with the EPO era, I think its safe to say that almost everyone was doing it, especially up into 1998 when the teams were managing doping programs. I’m hearing alot about a “Truth and Reconciliation” committee that would expose the true extent of doping and then forgive everyone. Sounds like a good way to move on to me.