Dr Hutch bemoans the fact that today's cycling scandals are just too damn scientific
I’ve learned a lot from cycling, things that you might expect. I know about human nature, I know about suffering (even if I don’t approve of it).
I know that just because you thread a cable in through one end of a concealed cable routing doesn’t mean it’s ever going to emerge from the other, and that the staff in an A&E department are always pleased to see a racing cyclist because they’ll be the first person through the door all week who won’t be drunk.
And I’ve learned some things I wouldn’t have expected. A lot of haematology, for a start. Some pharmacology, quite a lot of endocrinology and some orthopaedics.
The tramadol debate led me down the garden path of anaesthetics. And thanks to the strange logic of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision in the Alberto Contador case, I know how to work out the size of a cow from the size of a steak — it’s amazing how useful this has proved to be. Now we’re all going from steak to kidney.
Kidney function seems set to be the next battleground for Team Sky — it was reported last week that Chris Froome’s explanation for the adverse analytical finding of salbutamol in one of his samples at the Vuelta in September is going to revolve around a kidney malfunction that concentrated several days’ dose into one sample.
I don’t want to know about kidneys. I’ve spent two days on Wikipedia reading about kidney pathology in preparation for the inevitable long, drawn-out saga, and I want them back. I feel like I’m preparing for a medical exam, without the motivation of patching up sober cyclists in a crumbling NHS hospital to inspire me.
In recent years I’ve had to do the same sort of thing with topics like variations in allergy response at altitude and the use of clenbuterol in livestock farming. I’m a whizz at the University Challenge question no one else can understand, but that’s not really what I expected from my sport.
I want proper scandals back. Scandals with certainty, with good and bad, and with villains and heroes. I want scandals you don’t have to revise for. I want to boo with commitment, and cheer with as few qualms as 20 years’ experience of following cycling will allow.
I want to watch bike racing. I don’t want to sit on my sofa engaged in a triathlon of watching bike racing, reading biochemistry and contemplating advanced ethics.
Team Sky have changed their kit from black to white this year; they should have compromised and chosen muddy grey. It would have been so beautifully metaphorical.
Since trying to get a grip on the facts of most scandals has become so very difficult, most of us have resolved to ignore them, use different facts, or just have a different debate altogether.
At a cycling dinner last weekend, a man asked me what I thought about the current Froome situation. I said I was going to wait to see what the result of the pharmacokinetic tests and the subsequent hearing were going to be. He looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“So what do you think?” I said.
“Well, he is British,” he said.
“So we ought to support him.”
“He’s not British at all,” said his wife, “He’s more Kenyan, I reckon.”
Come the Giro d’Italia, if the case hasn’t been resolved (and my guess is it won’t have been), these two perspectives are going to be sat side-by-side on the sofa watching two different bike races on the same screen, one with Froome in, one with him out.
They won’t know which was the real one until perhaps months later. Philosophically fascinating. But not really what we all signed up for.