Thursday, October 3, 2013
OK, so I'm an optimist. I'm the one who sees his cup as half-full rather than half-empty. I would rather consider everyone innocent until proven otherwise.
Being a follower of an athletic sport is always an act of faith. When this faith is betrayed and the rug firmly pulled from under our feet, we need to look for some solid ground to stand on.
If we are still drawn to the sport, we need to re-build that faith. I managed, after an awful lot of reading, to come to terms with what had happened within the sport of cycling, and through that I built some faith in the ethics of certain people in the sport. Most importantly though, I developed an insight into the circumstances that made people make the decisions they did.
Two of the journalists most outspoken against Armstrong and the doping culture were David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Having read everything I could find from them and from riders like Millar, Obree and several others (as mentioned in a previous article), I could see that the British amateur cycling scene was, as it continues to be, a stronghold of idealism and clean competition. It had also become the most successful amateur track scene in the world under the direction of guiding lights such as David Brailsford.
Now that many of the protegees of this scene have made their way into the pro tour - many under the direction of Brailsford in Team Sky or in other teams with clear ethics - I have faith that at least this corner of the peloton contains worthy heroes. It's of no small significance that after spending the whole Tour de France following Team Sky, David Walsh remains convinced.
So yes, my faith is reserved for those I really believe in. This is always the case anyway - we follow our favourites. I continue to dig, and occasionally find new gems. So my list of “good guys” includes Froome, Wiggins and a gradually expanding group. It's still fundamentally an act of faith. I want to believe.
I can't be 100% sure of anyone. I enjoy immensely what Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert and Jens Voigt can do on a good day. Would I stake my life on them never having used chemicals to enhance performance? No, of course not. Now we have an exciting world champion in Rui Costa - from the same mould - who once served part of a suspension for a "controlled substance" that he and his brother were later found to have unwittingly taken as part of a dietary supplement. While for some it might dim the brightness of whatever he subsequently does; until otherwise enlightened, I believe in him.
As for numbers; from my 30+ years of training and racing in sport one truth of human physiology is inescapable: a world class athlete is mostly a result of nature, not nurture. Top athletes are genetically "chosen". The average guy won’t come close even with years of high-tech training, yet the gifted one can turn up at his first race and blow the field away. Genetics: blood values, VO2max, lactate threshold, pain threshold, muscle development etc have a massive range of variance from the mules to the Derby winners. Put the thoroughbred on a highly-structured and monitored training plan, and you may come up with power numbers that are off the charts.
I'd also like to point out that we share this history - and the accompanying sense of disappointment and loss - with the current riders on the pro tour. Many of these guys were inspired to get on a bike by the now fallen heroes of the blood-doping era. If you as a fan/amateur can feel so betrayed, the young person for whom cycling is their whole life will need some serious therapy to combat the unfillable void of shattered illusions and demolished faith. I hear many modern athletes speak of this experience, and I know they are determined not to ever go down that path.
To the cynics I will say this: if you really care about the sport, make the effort to dig as deep as you can to get as full a picture as possible. Doing this involves some pain, and will probably turn your stomach for a while as you sift through the really mucky stuff, but you’ll come out the other end with a deeper understanding of the problem, a connection to the humanity behind the decisions - good and bad.......and perhaps a few new heroes.
Nice Twistedspoke piece on Froome during the TDF