Doping and The Myth of A Level Playing Field

There are some who say that because almost every overall contender in the Tour de France was doping it doesn’t make much difference to the result. They were all at it so the results would have been the same if they were all clean right?

Only no, that’s not true. The idea of a “level playing field” amongst cheats in any sport is a myth so phoney that it has to be reviewed and shot to pieces.

Let’s start with the most obvious point: doping is not an egalitarian activity. Whilst there are rules to ensure bikes and clothing are relatively standard, this is not the case with banned substances or methods. There is no single syringe, no identical pill, no uniform dosage. To simplify, the cyclist that uses the most performance enhancing substances enhances their performance the most. By extension, this logic says the winner is the one who has doped the most as opposed to an equal field of riders each taking a comparable amounts of banned substances.

There’s an obvious health and moral point associated with taking more and more of these banned substances. Anti-doping controls first appeared in the Tour de France following the death of Tom Simpson in 1967. Fans weren’t outraged at the results being fixed, controls were primarily to protect the health of riders. So in an environment were many riders are taking banned substances they are also risking their health. We know several riders died from EPO abuse in the late 1980s and onwards and in more recent times some have withdrawn from races because of failed transfusions, bad reactions and more. Meanwhile steroids promote cancer and other means increase the risk of heart disease, pick your sport and you’ll find tragedy. A playing field is not level when it’s got dead bodies buried beneath it.

Next there is an asymmetric response. Having said there’s no single dosage, there’s certainly no single outcome. Our bodies are different in so many ways this is what makes sport, someone with big lungs gets an advantage in aerobic sports like cycling. But the diversity extends to our response to pharmaceuticals. It’s documented in medical journals and clinical trials but read cycling biographies too. Some riders find some banned substances work for them and yet others don’t. For example Tyler Hamilton says he never used much growth hormone but other riders have consumed extensive amounts of this, something testified by their oversized jawbones and jumbo forehead ridges. You see this well beyond rugby, see baseball or rugby. Similarly cyclists with a naturally high haematocrit count of red blood cells can’t consume much EPO before their blood data rings alarm bells whilst those with lower levels can take more.

Roux wanted the best drugs but could not afford them

EPO, growth hormone, cortisone… I took all the basic stuff that people were doing then. Everyone was taking this as a minimum. The biggest guys were using things that I just couldn’t afford. They were doing other things like synthetic haemoglobin, blood transfusions, which I could get hold of.

That’s my translation of Laurent Roux, these days a farmer but once a rider in the 1990s, in a statement in court as he demonstrates how sport is a winner-takes-all environment.

Win the Tour de France and big prizes, a large salary, product endorsements and more await whilst the combined income of the other two riders on the podium is probably less than the winner. The same logic means the top-10 earn far more than those outside the top-100. I’ve seen it said that Armstrong has a net worth of $125 million. Ignore the exact number but it means riders and teams with more money can afford more sophisticated and comprehensive pharmaceutical advice, creating a circle where more money funds more sophisticated doping which brings more rewards and so on. Armstrong kept Michele Ferrari was kept on an expensive and exclusive retainer. Other teams also had big schemes but as we saw over the years they were eventually caught. Similarly the UCI has worried about prosecuting big name riders in the past. When the UCI launched prosecutions with its bio-passport scheme it first went after shrimp-sized riders like Pietro Caucchioli and Tadej Valjavec to establish the precedent before tackling a potential millionaire like Franco Pellizotti. Like it or not the UCI has been cautious about tackling the biggest names, if only to take extra care before launching a prosecution.

Similarly money doesn’t just buy better drugs, it funds evasive techniques and supports subversion. A well-resourced team can hire lookouts to check for visiting doping controllers. It can fly riders to remote training camps where the testers can’t reach. It can use undetectable methods, “investing” in techniques at the cutting edge of doping. For example the logistics of transporting blood bags around Europe require significant funding; Tyler Hamilton recounts US Postal used a private jet; this gets more complicated and expensive if riders need to maintain a complex schedule of EPO microdosing, blood banking and infusion so that they can trick the UCI’s bio-passport with the illusion of stable values all year long. It’s not uncommon to see people refer to anti-doping controls as IQ tests, if people follow advice then they never get caught; meanwhile the little guys get rousted for bungling amateurism.

Also money helps you squash any critics. Cheating your way to vast fortune gives you wealth and legal firepower. As we’ve seen Armstrong has been able to deploy legions of lawyers and a spokesman previous infamous for helping scandal-hit Bill Clinton and Goldman Sachs shape the message in their hour of need. So the more money you make, the more you can squash any accusers, the more you can control the message.

Finally remember that not everyone was doping. They weren’t all at it. The fact that many were doing it doesn’t negate the fact that they were breaking the rules. Even if those who were cheating did it on an equal basis they’re still robbing those who refuse to risk their health.

Don’t look to sport for an equal universe. The variety of human DNA and upbringing mean big differences in ability and attitude. Cyclists train in rain, snow or baking heat to get an edge on rivals.

At the same time we codify sport with a set of rules. Anti-doping means exist primarily for health but they help level the playing field, or in cycling terms, to equal the gradient or headwind. It is wrong to imagine the results in cycling since EPO emerged in 1989 would be the same if the molecule was never discovered, or that the Tour de France during the last decade would be the same without blood transfusions. Take Bjarne Riis who seemed destined to be a useful helper for Laurent Fignon but was propelled into a Tour de France winner with the plunge of a thousand syringes. But don’t dwell on him as he is just one example amongst many.

The story of doping is not simply a tale of pharmacology, it is also one of resources, planning and deceit and we can see these cannot be equal. With Armstrong and US Postal and his subsequent teams the vast sums of money cited by USADA show a doping programme on a scale that few other teams could match. It was therefore an unequal contest.

99 thoughts on “Doping and The Myth of A Level Playing Field”

  1. Don’t get me wrong with this point, I think doping is highly unfair and immoral. Yet, surely the idea of risks and advantages is the entire basis of sport?

    Would the teams with bigger budgets not have the best bikes, best research/training and best soigneurs? And therefore have great results which perpetuates their continued winning through greater finances?

    Is that not what we are seeing through the so called super teams?

    • In a way, this is my point. You can buy a windtunnel, you can hire the best riders. But this is all allowed under the rules. But banned substances are banned, just is riding a bike with a motor.

      But I wanted to put a few words together to say doping is not one equal process. It can go from a few stimulants in cold medicine all the way to flying across Europe in private jets to bank blood for later use.

    • I’d disagree that the idea of risks and advantages is the entire basis of sport. In my mind, the most appealing aspects of a sport such as bike racing, are the following: a test of willpower, endurance and strategic intelligence, carried out under a set of rules that all agree on prior to the “onset of hostilities.” It is a kind of substitue warfare, in which people can test the limits of their own self discipline, endurance, courage, mental focus, and athletic skill. But I think the surface manifestation of championship level athletic skill, usually emerges when the other ingredients are mixed together. At its base, to me, the sporting exhibition is an expression of the countless hours of training, planning, dedication, that the protagonists have committed to their campaign. And when one subset of those campaigners decides to play by a different set of rules, to take it in their own hands to use banned methods and substances to raise themselves above their opponents, then the basic value of the sporting endeavor is violated, destroyed, meaningless.

      We have been brainwashed by the endless images of megalomaniacal leaders and stars pushing aside all honor, honesty, and integrity to reach positions of power and prominence. We, as the common people who pay the taxes, cast our votes, fill the stadiums- we have had our sensibilities blunted by the seemingly endless barrage of me-first consumerism. We’ve been tricked into believing that the aspirations of the star, the king- to weild absolute influence and power- should be our own aspirations, and thus that we should accept the amoral pursuit of power and money by our own peers, teammates, adversaries, family. But at least for myself, those promises of ultimate satisfaction ring hollow. When the disgraced doper / ex-champions sheepishly deliver their mea culpas, the pain of living a lie comes through as an honest confession. Many elements of these too – late admissions and pleas for forgiveness do come across as trite and insincere, but I’ve noticed that for most, the simple fact is that lying about cheating is not an easy thing to do. The average sports fan attaches their loyalty to a team for deeper reasons than a simple technical dominance. Deep inside, I would like to think that the majority of sports spectators watch, follow, cheer, and spend, because they believe in the value of an honest competition, one that showcases virtuous qualities in the competitors.

      • Brilliantly said. I’ve been following European cycle racing since the late 60’s and love this sport for it’s grandeur but not it’s actors. I find myself only cheering the riders I hope are clean that struggle to finish in the top ten.

      • +1/2 I don’t much like comparisons to war. Sport should not be looked at in this way, it creates jingoism and xenophobia. A lot of BigTex’ fans displayed some obnoxious behavior, a “kick their ass, eat their cheese” mentality that I found distasteful. War and its substitutes tear people apart rather than bring them together. Otherwise I would agree with what you’ve written, good job! Same for Inner Rings original post.

      • Amen.

        As an anecdotal aside, for those of us who ride for fun, and would like to see our kids and grandchildren do the same, what’s the point if the road leads to the antithesis of healthy living in the long term.

        I’m now in my 70s and still ride regularly in France. Recently in my area, there was an incident of pure black comedy, in which a bunch of old duffers decided to have an informal race, but juiced themselves in order to improve their chances.

        Three of them ended up in hospital. How ludicrous is that?

  2. Another common refrain you are responding to is “we will never eliminate doping so we might as well just let them all do it”. Your points are well taken. It has been said that the best we can hope for is to make the anti-doping regime so tight that those who dope will only achieve the slightest of benefit. With such controls in place one would hope that we can thus get to the point where the risks outweigh the benefits.

    The problem is that the UCI and national federations (and the IOC?) do not seem to have, or perhaps can not afford, the sort of commitment that would be required to bring the sport to this level of control, and then to keep it there when the next wonder drug or technique comes around.

    • Yep, taking some blood and urine from every single rider after every single race or stage, plus more out-of-competition controls, would go a long way. But imagine the logistics and costs associated with that.

  3. You are absolutely right about the “level playing field”. But the more important point in considering fairness is that it is unfair to expect riders to do the right thing in a broken system, where the rules are easily flouted with little fear of punishment. All they would have gotten for their trouble was losing results (in the grand tours, at the very least).

    This whole thing is not Lance Armstrong’s fault – though reading Tyler’s book it’s hard to feel sorry for him – it is the result of, again, a broken system. Just shaming these nasty dopers is not going to work, and I think a general amnesty, coupled with a stringent reform, would have been better for the sport than a possible decade of Tours de France with no winner. But what happened happened, and moving forward the sport needs to focus on how to improve enforcement, period. I personally think in grand tours riders should be allowed to transfuse their own blood under strict supervision. It’s kind of gross, but it’s hard to argue that a rider’s own blood is a drug, and it would get rid of at least one arms race. It’s not natural, but then neither is the Tour de France.

    As a side note – telling a professional cyclist that doping is dangerous is a little like dropping someone off on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and warning them not to smoke. I mean, come on. Did anyone really think that warning would take?

    • Under the WADA code blood transfusions will never be allowed. You have to remember that it is a potentially hazardous procedure (just view Tyler Hamilton’s bad blood bag), by legitimizing it you would almost be forcing riders to undergo the procedure which could lead to costly legal cases as a result of work place safety. Not only that but professional sport is the capstone of a very large pyramid. One of the main reasons that sports leagues the world over ban the use of syringes is to do with the message it sends to Amateur and Junior athletes. Imagine what regular blood transfusions would do in terms of negative role-modelling.

      I also think that the dangers of P.E.D’s are an issue that rings true with many athletes. Yes racing a grand tour is hardly a healthy activity but the dangers associated with racing a tour are only increased when the use of P.E.D’s are introduced. Many athletes especially before they enter the professional peloton express horror at the idea of having compromise their health and ethics. David Millar has shown that despite his firm stance as an amateur, entry to the professional peloton confronted him with a hard truth, that P.E.D’s were the only way forward.

      It would seem to me from reading the testimonies of the rider’s in the USADA case coupled with David Millar’s admissions that many felt that the speed of the peloton (allegedly increased due to widespread E.P.O use) neccesitated the use of P.E.D’s just to finish races. Now it may be true that with chronic training load and a heap of suffering they could have learned to cope with the speed of the peloton, but it would also be easy to suggest that if competent and widespread testing had been in place much earlier, many riders would never have been led to dope. Now yes doping then allowed these riders to go on and win but it started as a desire to keep

      • These are all valid points, and honestly I don’t think it would ever happen anyway. But it’s important to remember that Tyler performed P.E.D.s – as almost all riders did – in a hotel room by himself, without medical supervision, with bags of blood that had been sneaked around a continent as though they were kilos of heroin, rather than a fragile medical substance. It’s really surprising more riders didn’t get seriously ill.

        It’s just frustrating that one of the most dangerous forms of doping both doesn’t involve dope and is literally impossible to test for. Mightn’t WADA make it much safer by supervising it? If only a handful of riders got sick off the terrifying shenanigans that have been going on, couldn’t medical professionals make it acceptably safe?

        And almost certainly EPO use caused this nightmare scenario, but what if EPO were taken off the table by stricter testing? Wouldn’t some riders be tempted to turn back into vampires? They are, at least, questions worth asking.

        It tells you something about riders’ attitudes toward danger, though, that after Tyler’s truly frightening ordeal – it’s frightening to even read about – he not only didn’t seek medical help, but went out and RODE THE STAGE. And it’s hard to imagine a personality more tormented by compromising his ethics than Hamilton. I just think these guys are put in impossible positions, and we ought to think of ways to help them make good choices, rather than treating them like criminals. Maybe legalizing blood bags isn’t it. But they’re the hardest dope to imagine going away.

        • Also, I take your point about amateurs and juniors, but it’s really hard to imagine anyone in either of those groups having the money, logistical framework, and motivation to go banking their blood and sneaking it all over Creation illegally, just because pros are allowed to do it in grand tours.

          • It isn’t about the possibility that they may dope it is more that it sets a bad example plain and simple. Something to do with the idea of Olympic sport and the idea of taking part being the most important part. You know like the idea that the struggle is more important than the result? An example is the Brisbane Bears Australian Football League used to give LEGAL injections at half time in changing rooms. League made them stop simply because of negative role modelling, no question of 12 year olds injecting. It is more about appearance than anything else just to clarify. I believe that is one of the major themes of the Anti-Doping movement across all sports.

        • Apparently they are developing a test to determine whether an athlete is positive for blood doping using their own blood (autologously???? don’t know, homologously?????) based upon the number of old red blood cells present in a sample or the age of red blood cells or something like that. The obvious way for riders to get around this is to increase the number of reticulytes. How do they do this? Edgar Ellen Poe. So if they can find a test for synthetic E.P.O and perfect their blood doping test it is foreseeable that they could in the future catch a drug program with organisation comparable to a national postal service. Oh, right….

    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that blood doping is of limited benefit by itself, and only becomes a worthwhile doping technique if the user can elevate their hematocrit levels via EPO (or some other means) beforehand.

    • Not Armstrong’s fault? If it was just doping, maybe. But the conspiracy part, the threatening of termination to guys who didn’t want to do it, and the slander against those who sought the truth, that is ALL Armstrong’s fault.

  4. as we read the list of ferrari’s all blacks I think it’d be worthy to have a list of the cleans, if such small amount of people could form any sort of list

  5. It is not just that USPS doped, along with most of the teams of the top contenders for the TdF in those years. It is that USPS and its backers (yes , I mean you Nike, Oakley, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Tom Weisel, Subaru, Trek, Shimano) all fomented a ruinous campaign against anyone who had the courage to speak the truth. Lives were made difficult and careers ruined to protect the cash cow that USPS and LA were for their advertising. If true, the intimidation campaign of LA and his lawyers borders on the criminal (LA confronted a federal witness (Hamilton) during widely kniwn ongoing federal investigation). This is an example of how confident that LA was in regards to being “above the law,” even federal law, because he had so much protection for so many years. I have difficulty understanding how anyone would think that LA and USPS doping was leveling the playing field.

    • Easy: they are on the payroll. Still today you have folks writing about Lance who made money off of him. Directly: take — one example among many — the “specialist” about cycling in the Washington post, a truly despicable and corrupt person who continues to shame her paper (end herself) by defending Armstrong! Indirectly, the vast majority of cycling journos who acted at best as cheerleaders for an obvious cheat.

    • As an ex-employee, I can tell you that what Lance has done is small beer compared with the usual behaviour of Bristol Myers Squibb. A totally unethical company.

  6. INRNG…indeed, what about Trek and the other sponsors. It is extremely unlikely that none of them knew of the doping issues, and they had a huge incentive to keep it going since “winning sells bikes”.

    In fact, if the LeMond saga is considered, Trek in particular must have known something was afoot.

    Thus how to separate the seemingly complicit corporate sponsors and thus the source of money for the teams and the sport at large, and thus the incentive to cheat, from the sport itself and still keep the sport going?

    Also I’d like to see a separate story just on LA’s sponsors and their reactions to the scandal. I do not know what Trek is doing, I have heard about Nike standing by LA, etc…

    • About Nike standing by Lance: it should come as no surprise — in fact it makes perfect sense — that a company that makes money off of virtual slave labor in China, Vietnam and elsewhere should sponsor a psychopath like Lance Armstrong. Tell you what, I would never EVER wear anything with Nike on it, ever. And from now on, I will politely challenge anyone on any group ride that does. Yes, the Nike wearers have Lance on their side, but somehow that doesn’t seem quite so daunting as it once was.

  7. Speaking of the corporate sponsors, some good material here on Oakley and the 2005 process:

    If any of the allegations about sponsors being complicit in the doping scandals are true I would be both very disturbed, but also not surprised. However this would raise the stakes in any possible reform of professional cycling as a sport. If the funding providers are corrupt, who will pay the salaries and provide sponsorship? The Japanese keirin league operates (or exists) due to its reliance on betting, but in some way keirin may provide a way forward as at least there are no equipment sponsors. All riders use effectively identical equipment.

    Here is a short quote from Wikipedia:

    “Since so much money is at stake, the Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (Japanese Bicycle Association or NJS) – now under the JKA Foundation – requires that all keirin racers in Japan ride and use equipment that meets their standards. All riders use very similar bicycles, so that no rider will have any advantage or disadvantage based on equipment. In addition, all riders must pass strict licensing requirements.”

  8. Jonathan Vaughters also talked about the (non-) level playing field in his Bicycling interview:

    Commentators saying that “Lance would’ve won anyway”, or similar, are in epistemological denial. There’s no way we can possibly make that claim with any degree of accuracy. And the evidence strongly suggests that it would not be the case, if we were to try and test that claim.

  9. “I wanted to dope, but I couldn’t afford it…”

    He would have found the money to dope if he thought it was a sure fire investment in his career. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a twinge of moral outrage at escalating his regime.

  10. Thanks for this balanced article. I couldn’t agree more. As an aside, I know from personal experience that the protocol for administering blood transfusions is very strict. For example, a patient who has lost blood in a surgical operation may need 1 or more units of blood (a unit being 500 mls). The protocol requires that for the first hour the person’s temp, pulse and BP are taken every 15 minutes, then reduced at decreasing intervals. This is to ensure the person is not at risk of infection or other complications. When I read The Secret Race I was appalled at the seeming ‘cavalier’ attitude taken by the riders regarding the dangers of such blood doping practices. But what is even more appalling is that such practices were not only condoned but systemically abused for monetary gain by the likes of Ferrari and Del Moro, who in my mind should be stripped of their medical licences. Any sort of ‘truth and reconciliation’ effort should be aimed at weeding out the likes of these scurrilous and amoral individuals. I understand Del Moro is still working in Valencia’s sport institute with athletes. The whole idea is utterly appalling and indefensible.

    • Think about the conduct of the US cycling team at the ’84 Games! It’s been reported some of those guys had blood drawn with no attempt to return the same blood, If you were Type A, you got some of that back but that was it! All done in a motel room a few miles from the Dominguez Hills velodrome in SoCal. Of course it was not against the rules then, just UNETHICAL.. and rather dangerous…but as usual the “just win baby!’ attitude prevailed.

  11. Another stand-out blog thanks, but I’m interested in this passage: “…growth hormone but other riders have consumed extensive amounts of this, something testified by their oversized jawbones and foreheads. ” Who are you referring to? Is this something obvious from photos, or just in the flesh? I ask because it’s something that has totally passed me by. Cheers, Oli

  12. INRNG – you finally did it; you made me feel sorry for Armstrong with this tale of excessive “medical” charges.

    Looking at how big Tex’s bills for Ferrari were, I got to wondering whether the good Dr and his son were “blackmailing” him. “You’re the only one getting this compound/protocol, but I need you to pay more to stop me giving it to everyone else”.

    Or perhaps he just failed to negotiate a group discount?

    …just a thought…

  13. Fantastic piece as always. When speaking to my non-cycling friends about LA their standard response is that it was a level playing field so he would have won anyway. It was an argument that Matt Rendell also ably dismissed in ‘The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography’.

  14. One more thing about doping and differences between humans’ bodies. Nature doesn’t like to waste anything. If you have naturally occurring hematocrit level at 47% it doesn’t straightly mean that you’re better than guy with 36%. Red blood cells of second guy almost for sure have bigger capacity for oxygen, so he needs less RBC to carry the same amount of oxygen. His RBC are just better! What if we make him produce more of those cells by treating him with EPO and bringing him up to 47% level? Two guys got the same amount of RBC in their blood, but one of them got amazing advantage through his erythrocytes.

    • Excellent point. If you give two competitors equal amounts of PEDs and think that somehow levels the playing field you’d be wrong. The “let ’em all dope” idea falls apart pretty quickly if you spend just a little time thinking about it. Of course those who say this don’t bother with that. Anytime you start a conversation about BigTex, you risk the spectacularly uninformed meeting up with the fiercely ignorant to make a mess of it. Inner Ring does a great job minimizing this effect, THANKS!

  15. Great post. I’ve had several discussion with friends who argue the “let them all dope” gambit. That’s never sat right with me, but I’m no orator nor debater and couldn’t voice a sound counter-argument. Thanks for providing me with a brilliant one.

  16. Great op-ed. This plan had to of been a master business plan of NIKE + Thom Weisel=BUILD a $125 Million Dollar Armstong(man)? Why else would the top-sporting brand in the world still defend a sporting cheat, bully, monster, addict, unethical man such as Lance Armstrong now….just because of his foundational work? I think not. This is several RICH Americans playing “the market” with an unregulated, broken, unfair, and corrupt UCI/Professional Cycling market place. They saw that they could fix the game, they(with Lance’s insight about how he could get the best doctor+drugs with the CAPITAL INVESTMENT from NIKE & WEISEL) the Livestrong foundation was another COVER….I don’t believe he gives a SHIT about cancer or it’s survivors or victims….one could just look at the words of Lance’s personal assistant/mechanic Mike Anderson here: when Lance said he hated doing the Livestrong events.

    And as for all the others who have just pointed the finger at Lance and his sick actions(plus their own USING/Cheating….well they too need to leave the sport. Take all their money earn while USING and return it to a foundation to develop youth cyclists. That goes for everyone racing or in management/coaching. CLEAN HOUSE. Maybe even have the TDF for it’s 100th year just be a NATIONAL countries race with u23 cyclists? ASO should not work with the UCI anymore that would start the ball moving forward to equality profit sharing for riders who can actually be paid equally from TV revenues and individual sponsorship deals(get rid of if you sign to a TEAM you have to ride/use what the TEAM uses)….there is no race without the racers….just open roads.

  17. inrng, would like to see you a do a piece on the riders whose EPO/banned ergogenic aids use has led to serious health risk and death. To narrow it, perhaps limit the era to the time-frame now under scrutiny.

    keep the bright light burning, Beth

  18. How the ‘system’ works. LL fired from Omega for his admission to USADA of doping. Still seems that if you keep your mouth shut you will be looked after. And the man who fired him is also a self confessed doper. You really could not make it up.

  19. I’ve just finished reading the ‘Reasoned Decison’, followed by David Millar’s Racing Through the Dark, followed by Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. I am slightly in despair.

    I remember crying when I was 12 years old and my Dad told me Ben Johnson had been found to be taking steroids after I’d been so overwhelmed by the whole race and spectacle of the day before. I don’t really consider myself as being naive, but I keep trying to believe in people. I really want to keep doing so or I don’t know how I can watch any sport and enjoy it.

    I think what worries me most after reading the document/books mentioned above is the inference that if a cycling team dominates a big race, or seems particularly strong during a particular season then they have most likely found a new way of doping that everyone else has yet to catch up with. I am a massive fan of Sky, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, but I now have a really uncomfortable feeling that as a team, they were ‘not normal’ this season. Maybe I am naive, but I really want to believe that the team and the individuals are clean. I think the last of my childish faith would be utterly destroyed if I found out otherwise. Please somebody reassure me that my faith is not misplaced.

    Here’s hoping for a future I can believe in.

  20. “Whilst there are rules to ensure bikes and clothing are relatively standard, this is not the case with banned substances or methods.”

    Absolutely right, and I think this point often gets lost when people ponder how much difference doping really made to the final results of races. It doesn’t really matter – the point is, it’s against the rules, which you agreed to obey when you entered the race. You could also see the doping problem as actually a *cheating* problem: cycling can’t enforce its own laws.

  21. Congratulations to Inner Ring, the continued maintenance of such high standards of writing, clarity of argument is much appreciated.

    My 5 cents worth

    Sport like war drives evolution, everyone seeks an advantage in some way shape or form, the goal is “to win” and the world values grand gestures & theatre over quiet steady achievement

    Unfortunately this story is NOT NEW! Like many I was beyond gobsmacked with the Festina affair of 1998. Read Willie Voets Breaking the Chain. He was the guy randomly stopped on the Belgian border and found to be driving a car full of doping products. I hoped that the ramifications of that would lead to an improvement overall. All we saw was Darwinism in action, the organism evolved, refined, became more insidious and sophisticated, all of which grew under the supervision of the UCI & related bodies. Perhaps their eyes averted because their heads were buried in the sand, more likely as they wallowed in the trough of money that Armstrong & others brought in as he took the beautiful sport back to the world on the back of a fairy tale intertwined with a lie.

    The cynic in me says that Hamilton & Landis et al were just jealous, Armstrong was not just best rider he also had the best doping model, they got caught & they were peeved that he didn’t.

    My disgust is that the smoke emanating from Kimmage, Walsh, Andreu et al should have sparked something, that is where the McQuaids, Verbrugginns, et al have an equal if not a greater responsibility and are yet to be held accountable. Armstrong, Saiez, Fuetes and the rest of the dopers all grew & prospered in the rotten framework that the UCI built and administered, it happened on their watch, in my eyes they are the ones ultimately responsible for the fraud. They have a greater moral responsibility as they are chartered with the overall health of the sport, …. and have comprehensively failed.

    I doubt whether Hamilton & others would have blown the whistle unless they were put on the stand, to USADA thanks for having the courage to see it through.

  22. I’d add something else to the level playing field argument. And that is that doping changing the nature of the racing. The more power there is in the peloton – particularly amongst the domestiques – the faster the racing, the bigger the drafting effect, and the smaller the time gained per % increase in power. The power differential required to gain a break is much higher if the speed is high; favouring heavier riders, time-trialists, over climbers. The playing field is of course never level, because it depends on the course. But widespread doping changed the way the course played, in Lance (and other’s) favour.

  23. The concept of a level-playing field is a myth that will not die. The so-called level-playing field doesn’t exist with or without doping. In fact, each and every competitors does everything they can to “un-level” the playing field in order to gain an advantage. From genetic predispositions to training protocols to nutrition plans to technology, some have an advantage over others.

    A case in point is your example of the lack of a level playing field for those who use EPO:

    “Similarly riders with a naturally high haematocrit count of red blood cells can’t consume much EPO before their blood data rings alarm bells whilst those with lower levels can take more.”

    The irony is that you “prove” your point while citing the existence of ANOTHER unlevel playing field. Is one person’s better responsiveness to EPO any more or less fair than another’s genetically-determined high hematocrit?

    • @Millard, I think you misunderstand the concept. Of course competitors have, and seek, performance advantages. The point of the “level playing field” is that they do it within agreed rules – the competitive framework is agreed by the competitors in advance. The rules are there precisely to enable us to find out who has the best genetic predisposition/training plan/coach while removing confounding factors as far as possible. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand sport.

      (PS – nice website! I genuinely LOLled.)

    • Oh and just in case it’s not clear:

      “Is one person’s better responsiveness to EPO any more or less fair than another’s genetically-determined high hematocrit?”

      Yes, because one is allowed within the rules and the other isn’t. That’s the only reason and it’s the only one you need.

      • Taking refuge behind “rules” doesn’t address the issue of “level playing field”. The rules DON’T promote a level play field either and haven’t necessarily been designed with that objective in mind.

        • You’re still missing the point. A “level playing field” doesn’t remove all advantages – it removes *unfair* advantages, as defined by the rules of the sport. Outside those rules you’re no longer doing the same sport, so fairness doesn’t really come into it. Read INRNG’s Summary at the end of the piece again.

          • I understand what you are saying but perhaps I am not articulating my point clearly.

            As I read it, INRNG’s article is in response to the assertion that “if everyone is doping, then it is a level playing field”. He is specifically talking about those who play outside the rules.

            I disagree with his and your assertion that anti-doping rules facilitate a more “level playing field” when it comes to actual practice. Maybe if they worked. But they don’t.

            I would argue that anti-doping rules, because they have been ineffective and widely ignored by competitors, have only increased the importance of resources when it comes to doping. In other words, they make matters worse in this regard.

            Resources would not be such an important factor if doping were permitted in a medically-supervised fashion. However, this is an option that very few people are willing to entertain.

          • OK, that is actually clearer. If I understand correctly you’re now arguing that the illegality of PEDs increases the difficulty and cost of acquiring them, so further biasing the sport in favour of those with the most financial resources while also endangering the health of people who can’t afford to do it properly.

            Hmm. I think I agree about the effect but not the cause. I’d argue that those effects are real but that they make the case for improvements in policing and detection rather than for moving the goalposts. If you accept a certain amount of controlled doping you’re explicitly saying “we consider these things (eg response to EPO) to be part of what it means to be good at our sport”, and I think that’s self-evidently wrong.

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