It’s August and silly season is “officially” all over us. Everybody knows the talking has taken place during the season and especially during the Tour, nowadays it’s all about the formalisation itself, aka the signature on the dotted line.
Some riders have been assigned as stagiares and are new to the pro peloton, while others are not to be found in the pro ranks next season due to lack of performance, old age or other reasons. Among those who are returning to the pro or pro conti peloton are riders having spend a year or two away for being doped. What to say about this? The ones who have failed to live up to the expectations of fans, teams and public, who fooled not only themselves but others who trusted them? What makes their return ok?
The idea of this post has been in my mind for a long time, or perhaps the right way of putting it is that many times has this subject crossed my mind. As you all know, doping has been a part of cycling as in every other professional endurance sport for many years. I have mixed feelings bringing it up, too, sometimes I’m quite tired of hearing about it, feeling that too much emphasis is being put on those who cheat instead of those who don’t. But, with this post I hope to learn more about why some rider are forgiven, while others not.
There are examples of riders who doped who are being welcomed back into the sport and now find themselves ambassadors/spokesmen against dopers; David Millar is one. Why are some riders – convicted or currently under investigation – treated differently than others?
Contador’s racing in the Giro and the Tour seemed to make more people forgive/forget the Damocles sword of doping hanging over his head.
How important is the scale of offence? If a rider’s caught at 32, is it plausible to suspect him of doping his/her entire career? Are all dopers the same, and if not, how do we measure that?
Everybody won’t get a second chance
I read an article in procycling.no where Thomas Dekker’s return was covered. I found that very interesting and I developed a new earned respect for Vaughters, not that I didn’t have it before, but the article made me think. Dekker’s tests from 2007 were retested, proving postive for EPO, and the following years were hard on him. After many conversations and discussions with Vaughters, Dekker went through intensive testing prior to be selected to ride for Chipotle, Garmin’s development team. Dekker had to prove to Vaughters that he was capable of being a rider on a certain level without doping, and according to procycling.no Dekker had to cooperate with WADA. Dekker himself said he “feels a responsibility to inform young riders about the dangers of doping.”
People deserve a second chance, right? Nobody’s perfect and mistakes are being made by everyone. I know from earlier debates on twitter that some do not agree with me on this, but that is how I feel. I feel there is a huge difference between now and before. Ok, money’s on the table and riders need a job, but times are changing. It is not the same as back in the 90′s, even though judging by today’s races and stages, it sometimes seems difficult to understand that. It is possible to get an exciting race climbing over only one HC mountain instead of riding over three HC in a stage.
I still get just as upset when a new positive test is revealed. I find this whole debate difficult since feelings are involved too. As a result, a person’s attitude or opinion towards a sport is not entirely rational, making argumentation often agitated.
I must say I don’t view riders I’ve admired the same way after they have been caught, I think no one does. A large chunk of respect for that individual will always be gone, and I will always wonder if they still dope. Like it or not, that is my view.
Done their time
Some riders and fans say that since riders have done their time, it is ok to welcome them back, just as any other criminal is/should be in our society. But is it that simple?
I read on twitter today that what we as fans feel about riders prior to the offence is more important than people will admit. One matter several have mentioned is the doper’s willingness to admit their sins in public. This will over time improve the rider’s image. I guess it something about stepping up and taking responsibility that makes us more able or eager to forgive. Like in ethics and morality, honesty is important for how we judge people. It is easy to forget that the riders have disappointed their family and friends, too. The thought of letting loved ones down, who trusted you, must be awful.
Like others I know, I have stopped explaining that “cycling is a clean sport,” that “things will improve over time.” But these days I see light at the end of the tunnel. The super-human performances are not as visible as before. I take this as a good sign. When somebody is performing well, I will from now on say that “well, someone has to be best.” I choose to keep my faith, because there are some signs that we are witnessing an increasingly cleaner peloton. I will put my scepticism and cynicism behind me, after all, with riders like Sagan, Kittel, Pinot, Degenkolb, EBH and Gilbert, the future has never looked so bright.