Monday, May 23, 2011

Doping: The New Meaning of the Yellow Jersey

Does it really matter?  Considering what Tyler Hamilton said on 60 minutes last night, if Lance doped and every other team in the pro peloton distributes their version of the white lunch bag in the team bus, does it really matter to me, as a fan?  Not really.  It’s still a fair race.  The playing field is still even, just lower than it used to be.

I keep going back to "Dear Doper" an article I wrote about doping a few years ago.  In more or less words, I said when I watch a bike race I show my true self.  I shout at the TV, spill my soda and hide my eyes when riders knock elbows in sprints.  My true emotions come pouring out.  All I expect from the pros is that they are showing their true selves. 

My Yellow Jersey signed by Johan Bruyneel
When I wrote that, I never considered if doping is an all-encompassing aspect of pro cycling as Tyler insinuates, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe, even with PED's, I am still seeing the real pro athlete.  Only now I have to accept that they use drugs to go faster and last longer.  Perception is reality.  The playing field isn’t really all that level to begin with anyway.

Cycling is a team sport.  There are domestiques and team leaders.  It’s not expected that every rider in a 180 strong field has a chance to win.  Of the twenty teams, 20 team leader type guys are expected to go for the win.  The implication that there should be a level playing field for all riders is silly.  It’s really domestique versus domestique, leader versus leader, team versus team which is the reality.

It's sort of feeling that way isn't it?
If the leaders up the mountain stage are all doping up to the legally accepted limit, I accept that.   I can expect a shot of cortisone may be necessary to ride between the team car and your team leader for three weeks with a jersey full of water bottles over enough elevation to make an astronaut reach for the puke bag.  The playing field is even.  The catcher gets the big mitt.  The receiver doesn’t wear knee pads.  The team leader gets the earpiece and Edgar Allen Poe.  It’s not too much to accept that the level-road of cycling includes performance enhancing drugs.

Mr. "T"
It’s already accepted.  The UCI sets limits for testosterone, hemocrit and a thousand other things that I can’t spell or pronounce.  Does that not imply that there is doping in the sport and we’re just setting acceptable levels?  If the limit for blood hemocrit is 50, who wouldn’t want theirs at 49.5?  Like the commercial on the nightly news says, if you’re a man with “Low T” wouldn’t you want your T to be at normally accepted levels and take some T?  It's not so much that doping is against the rules, it's going over the limits that's the big no no.  

From what Tyler is saying the trick is to dope up to the acceptable limits and scrutiny of the testers.  You give your top dawgs the good expensive stuff and the domestiques what they need to fetch cookies and cola day-in and day-out and make the time cut.  You give them a schedule and have your team “doctor” do your own in-house testing to know how fast they can metabolize each product and still eek in under the limit if a test would come around.  Some win.  Some lose.  Some lose and get a do-over.  Some have a prescription.  Some are the most tested athletes in the sport, peed in a million cups and cleaned them all.  The playing field is still even, only winning the yellow jersey takes on a new meaning.  

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