Cycling is epic, even heroic at times. Passion is at the very core of it, producing athletes of immense grit and determination, but also crooks and opportunists.
Teams are expensive to run, and although wages don’t compare to those in other sports like football, teams have huge costs to cover.
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Ethical choices are determined, and too often dismissed, by capricious requirements of organisers, officials, team owners and sponsors.
As a result, races are organised in countries with dubious regimes, sparse crowds, bleak landscapes — but lots of cash. Long-term plans are often sacrificed for immediate rewards, as relationships with sponsors are very fragile, and investments must accrue returns swiftly.
The demand for success is urgent, and the pressure on the riders to perform is enormous. Doping’s influence barely needs emphasising. Many heroes have fallen from grace as the lure for glory and the need for the next contract holds sway.
Institutionalised doping in cycling is declining but is by no means gone. Illicit chemical and mechanical enhancements are still being used.
Highlights: Cycling Weekly’s debate on how to combat doping
Doping is not only illegal, but it is also dangerous. Many cheats make their name in the sport and get results, and even those who are caught typically return to cycling post-suspension and find new contracts, write books about their demise or get lucrative jobs in the media.
The result is a filtering-down of sporting malpractice: wannabe professionals try to find that edge that would propel them up the ranks; amateur cyclists get a taste of glory in the local TT, crit race or sportive, and push the boundaries of ethical behaviour — easily finding PEDs online.
They risk their health for a moment in the limelight as the punishment for being caught is not proportional to the damage done to the sport.
Change has to come from the grassroots. Outrage is not enough. Education from within teams and cycling clubs is essential to show that the only feats that count are those conquered by dedication and sacrifice.