Monday, 21 January 2013


I've been asked a lot lately of my opinion on the recent doping revelations. I suppose it is assumed that, being a cyclist, I would have one. But each time, I've found myself a little dumbfounded, and short on any real answer, simply because I've never thought deeply enough about it. I guess it was my limited exposure with doping itself; I have so far managed to avert every opportunity for the discomfiting drug testing procedure, and the cleanliness of the sport today has meant I have never encountered this dark, awry alleyway within the world of cycling, which so many have found themselves slithering through, masked and invisible, yet so plainly seen in the sporting limelight. It is easy to label them liars and cheaters, and cast them away into the ever-growing assemblage of 'winners-that-never-were', to blame them for the downfall of the honesty and simplicity that had made cycling such a beautiful sport. In fact, it is difficult to see it any other way. But one word stood out to me in Lance's confession, a word which prompted me to consider it in another way.


Those of you who are athletes will understand the way that sport can alter you. We weren't born with competitiveness. We weren't born with passion or desire. We weren't born with that compulsive need for control. Those things grow within us over time. And depending on how we are raised - what we see, hear and do throughout our early years - some things will grow more than others. I jumped on a track bike when I was thirteen years old. Up until then, I'd only ridden a bike two or three times before in my life, so the novelty factor kept me going. And for a year or so, I rode purely for the enjoyment it brought me. I raced every weekend and often finished so long after everyone else that the finish line had been rolled up by the time I got there, or Mum would come and find me in the car, to make sure I hadn't crashed, and I'd be soldiering my way along as hard as I could. Because once I crossed that line, it didn't matter where I had come, as long as I had given it my all.

It didn't matter to me that I was riding a twenty kilogram steel bike back then, because my aim wasn't to win. But over time, I got better and I won a race or two. And that's when the seed was planted and my desire began to grow. Five years later, and that desire is strong enough to propel me through hours and hours of grueling preparation for the race that I want to win. Because that is now my aim. The sport has altered me.

I believe this is what Lance meant by 'momentum'. The changes that this sport has brought about in me have been so gradual that, until I stopped and considered it deeply, I had never noticed them developing. I never acknowledged my thriving need for success. It simply became the way that I am. And, because of it, I do things now that I would never have done as a thirteen year old having a blast out on the road. I prepare myself to win in every way that I can. I visualise it. I assure myself that I am capable. I do what I need to in order to win.

But with my desire comes morality. I can distinguish right from wrong. I carry the honesty and decency with which my character was molded as a child. I want to win because I want to prove to myself what I am capable of. And I will work for it truthfully.

I can only assume that as one's career progresses, so too does their momentum. As they edge their way closer to that ultimate goal, and the magnitude of their success, their ambitions and publicity augments, it is easier to become caught up in that momentum, and the measures they will consider taking in order to bring their dreams to fruition will become increasingly extreme. Those seeds of desire planted so long ago in their minds flourish in the abundance of triumph and fame. And some begin to overgrow. Some lose control, and allow this need for victory to fill their minds to the point where there is little room for anything else. And there is little room for morality.

Lance did not believe that he was in the wrong. He didn't believe that he was cheating. Because he saw the drug-infested peloton as an even playing-field. Doping was just a part of the job, no different from putting 'air in our tires, or water in our bottles'. At that time, it was impossible to win any other way. The sport as a whole was losing it's morality, because the momentum of the cycling culture was inciting new measures without limitation. One thing led to the next, and no questions were asked. The wrongs and rights were tossed aside and the only thing that mattered was who would ride into Paris wearing yellow.

In no way am I suggesting that the actions of Lance and his fellow doping convicts are excusable. They are far from it. I am merely stepping back and trying to understand the cause of such a pandemic. I refuse to believe that so many athletes could toss aside the integrity and virtues that the human race are built upon without a common determinant. In my opinion, that determinant was momentum.

The greatest anguish is that which is felt by those who held onto their morality throughout all of this. So many were robbed of the success they deserved by deceitful humans with twice the red blood cells. It is tragic, to say the least, that these athletes will never feel the triumph of the podium's top step. But the pride of having held strong to their virtues when it was so easy to succumb to deception, is worth infinitely more than a gold medal achieved through falsity. They will never have to look into the eyes of those who believed in their success, and tell them that it was all a lie. They can look back on their careers and feel gratification, rather than guilt and disgrace. They can know within themselves that they were champions of more than just a bike race - they were champions of righteousness.



Post a Comment