Doping scandals start with a rider or a team, garlanded with superlatives, leaders’ jerseys, cash and admiration. Then they move on to rumour and innuendo, followed by a positive test, or an incriminating investigation.
Immediate, vehement denials are backed up by attempts to discredit the test or the investigation, usually spiced up with a weird excuse. It all rapidly gets very tiresome.
Eventually we get to, ‘Oh for God’s sake, what’s the point of trying to enforce a clean sport, just let everyone take what they want, and we can all have a quiet life.’ If we’re not there yet, we will be soon.
Really, what would be the harm? The obvious comparisons are with other, non-doping rules. For example, the troublesome, nigh-on impossible to understand rules about bike design and rider position? Surely there’s a case for abandoning those? Gentlemen, shake hands, return to your wind tunnels, and come out fighting?
HPV racing is where we’d end up. Bike racing would happen in bullet shaped projectiles that, if the current HPV records are any guide, would do something around 60mph on the flat, a bit less up a hill, but much, much more downhill.
Their descending speed would be such that it would not be long before someone launched themselves off a mountain hairpin at several hundred miles an hour, and died horribly. Still, in our new world of laissez-faire, well, he knew the risks when he shut the lid. Anyway, show me where in the rules we banned an ejector seat.
Parachutes could be installed for such emergencies. Then it would only be a matter of time before someone floated down the mountain a bit, landed back on the road, and kept going. Lance did basically the same thing with that bit of cyclocross in 2003.
Next, someone would take advantage of that to develop an HPV with extendable wings that popped out, allowing the rider to glide down the mountain. And maybe a propeller? You’re not human if you don’t find the vision of a bunch sprint thundering under the finish banner in pedal-powered aeroplanes just about the best image you’ve ever had in your head.
Thing is, all of that would be OK. It would be different, but it would still be sport, indeed most of the components of this fantasy already are sports. You’d still buy a ticket. A doping free-for-all is not the same thing. It’s not, because sport is all about inclusion.
Even if all you want to do is watch, it’s about being part of a community that can watch and understand, even feel, what a sportsman is going through. In cycling, you can look at a rider on a climb, and appreciate the effort, the sacrifice, the agonies of what it’s like to do what he’s doing. Even if you’re a very modest rider, your own experience means it makes sense.
Nobility of spirit
It makes a lot less sense when the rider is fundamentally different from you, when the rules of not just cycling but basic physiology and psychology have been changed. To be basic about it, you don’t know what the thing he’s doing is like any more.
Maybe it’s the same, more probably it’s not. Your sense of involvement with the sport withers, your interest evaporates, and you switch your affections to X-Factor. (Or, at least you will till you spot that it’s not a dope-tested event. It won’t take long to notice.)
Sport is about honesty, integrity, nobility of spirit. It’s about keeping the TV rights revenue-stream perky, and the sponsors queuing up. But most of all it’s about everyone.
How To… Stay Warm on a Budget
Contrary to Daily Mail opinion, cyclists cannot stay warm through self-righteousness alone. Nor, in these straitened times, is it as easy as it once was to find freshly suffocated kittens with which to insulate ourselves.
The scoundrel cyclist might stay warm by vigorous pedaling. But the gentleman rider, proceeding at a sensible pace, needs some sort of insulation, even on a tight budget.
Gloves are probably a first priority, since with cold hands, one will not even be able to telephone for help. Look no further than a pair of Marigolds. Windproof, waterproof, comfortable stretch fit, and a nice bright colour for hand-signals, they might have been designed for the job.
Admittedly after fifteen minutes or so the hands inside will look like something a vagrant might find in a rubbish dump and take home for tea, but it’s a small price to pay.
For the feet, plastic bags. One can simply pop them on over the shoes and tuck them into the bottom of the tights, with a hole for the cleat. Those who wish to maintain an air of gentility, and avoid street-urchins shouting, ‘Every little helps!’ after them, will want to cover their bags with a pair of old socks.
A newspaper is as good a chest wind-breaker as it has always been. One should beware of leaving it there for too long, or it turns to papier mache, and becomes useful only for taking a cast of the torso. (A gift for the boudoir, perhaps?) An iPad is considerably more durable, and just as wind proof.
Acts of Cycling Stupidity
A few days ago I was riding to a meeting in London. I had plenty of time, and for once looked as if I might make it to my destination without having sweated clear through a jacket,
Suddenly my peace was interrupted by a taxi roaring past my elbow at a distance I’d reckon to be more than an inch, but less than an inch and a half. He beeped the horn angrily at some people crossing the road, nipped through the lights, beeped the horn at some more pedestrians, and disappeared out of sight.
The taxi was covered in a large advert. And here is a lesson for us all. I resolved to take revenge on the multinational corporation who sponsored this maniac. Rest assured, I shall be very, very picky about what brand I choose on my next purchase of a jet engine.