no one line

On Doping, pt II
January 8, 2010, 4:43 pm
Filed under: politics, pro crap, the cycling world

With winter providing the time and necessity for tidying my affairs around the house, I bought a small netbook to replace my dead-and-gone laptop from years past, thus freeing up my sweetheart’s computer more frequently – no more secret fights about who would check their email first when we get home. I also set about updating my RSS feeds and organizing my info streams, which led me to be reading Cozy Beehive for a while as I stumbled across some interesting posts.

Most notable is a guest post from Joe Papp, on how pros defeat doping controls. Papp, years after his doping bust, seems willing to openly discuss his history and the issues and practices of doping in professional cycling.

I’ve written about doping before. Like talking about religion or politics (or worse, both) during family reunion, doping is a sticky topic. Make sure they’re your friends, not just your riding buddies, before the conversation becomes heated.

I remain somewhat agnostic, fiercely ambivalent, and I harbor a compassion for dopers. I can easily envision an all-encompassing, brutally demanding, utterly competitive culture of few rewards for the low-paid hardworking pro, where cheating is seen as the only way to stay afloat – and indeed, where the same holds true for team management of middling teams, with jobs and sponsorship constantly on the line, struggling to produce results.

Despite the fact that Papp was an experienced doper, he was dumbfounded by his initiation at Whistle. Soon after his arrival, he claims, Whistle personnel started him on a serious drug regimen, passing out a potent type of EPO. “I suspected doping would be part of the program, but I didn’t know how profound it would be,” says Papp.

Papp’s story tells of a long, dark rabbit hole, filled with damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t choices. This does not waive the role of individual responsibility, but it also informs the need for institutional responsibility, a doping control that does more than bust riders. And so we’ve seen Astana banned from recent Tours de France for institutional doping support, and we’ve seen teams like Garmin and Columbia take avowed, organizational-level anti-doping standpoints. Meanwhile, Shimano, drivetrain parts supplier to many teams, has publicly announced that it would demand the return of its parts from teams embroiled in structural or institutional doping allegations.

These recent steps are, I believe, far superior than the Salem Witch Trial approach of the past decade. However, more is needed. Cyclists, as a broad community, need to acknowledge paths of redemption for accused or convicted dopers, and they need to acknowledge that there are gracious and honorable ways for cyclists to admit their fault. To fire invectives and ruthlessly and bitterly cast aside dopers runs the risk of damaging the spirit of cycling as much as cheating. Most importantly, anybody willing to armchair-judge anybody caught up in scandal needs to acknowledge that were their roles reversed, they’d have no damn clue what to do or how to behave honorably.

This is nothing new. There’s no news here, but as we settle into the winter and face boring news when nothing is happening, as we settle into anticipating the spring classics and the grand tours, it’s worth keeping in mind.

2 Comments so far
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Great post, you’re right on the mark that while cheating might seem a black/white issue, doping (which is cheating) is a multi-layered, very grey problem that takes some thought to understand in its entirety. Punishment as the only factor of deterrence is not very effective, and as you say, there must be other steps taken.

I believe your statement, “Cyclists, as a broad community, need to acknowledge paths of redemption for accused or convicted dopers, and they need to acknowledge that there are gracious and honorable ways for cyclists to admit their fault” is the best I read on the subject and I will quote you relentlessly now!

As for their not being any news, maybe the news is that people are starting to take a more sophisticated look at doping and are considering the possibility that the “Salem Witch Trial approach” isn’t the only path.

Take care,


Comment by joepappillon

Well said. You know that my stance, laid out on my blog (pretty much by quoting or affirming Paul Fournel’s stance) is quite similar to yours. Black and white approaches to any ethical problem will, by definition, never work. Yet WADA and the governing bodies like to trumpet their “get-tough” strategies. I, too, like your paragraph about routes of confession and redemption.

Comment by Velosopher

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