I know what it feels like to sports dope
October 11, 2012
The recent news about Lance Armstrong and his numerous teammates, who are now confessing to having doped, raises parallels to cheating in the profession of science. I suggest you read the linked stories which all contain a fair bit of excuse making from the confessed cheats. “Everyone is doing it”. “I always wanted to be a cyclist”. “I was ambitious” and “They told me I had to if I wanted to survive at this level”. You will also notice that to a rider they appear to say that they made it all the way into the professional ranks without cheating. The hard way. With work and talent. So far the cycling doping stories are free of anyone claiming that they started out as a cheat from day one as a 15 year old amateur. And larded up with stories of long, hard hours on the bike as a teen.
Sounds a lot like academic scientists who make excuses for their scientific fraud, doesn’t it?
Another consideration which fails to emerge is the very nature of the top level competition, 20 days worth of hard racing, 4-8 hrs per day in the Grand Tours. Not clear it is possible for feats of sustained excellence to occur without doping, is it? Do you wonder about what it takes for a record of sustained excellence represented by multiple Cell, Nature and/or Science publications year in, year out from the same lab? You should.
Anyway, I thought I would revisit this personal observation, reposted from my blog.
BikeMonkey Cross-PostIt was someplace in the middle of my college years and I was home for the summer. I went to a circuit race that I’d raced a few times over the years. It was maybe a mile per lap, around a park.
Normally the circuit race is my game…..crits (under a mile, four corners around a block, typically) were cool, in theory, but I didn’t usually have a team capable of support and I’m kind of a wuss at the high-speed, elbow rubbing, apex cornering mid-pack thing. So a full-mile, maybe 1.5 circuit suited me well. Slightly less importance on repeated, high-speed cornering, lengthier straightaways to group up and the possibility of a short rise. Now, I sucked ass at hill climbs, true, but short power climbs, taken up out of the saddle were doable. Short enough and they were actually an advantage to me.
The course had a hill early in the lap after four right angle corners. Then it was about 30 feet of gain from 0.22 mi to 0.37 mi and then it was drifting up, almost flat up to 0.7 mi, then back down to the start line. Just after the course started downhill there was a acute turn, sharper than 90….crank it up to the 1.0 mi mark, bank a 95-100 degree left and it was about a tenth of a mile to the line.
Races were maybe 45 min at that point? I was in the Cat IVs so that seems about right. That would make it on the order of 18 laps or so? maybe 20. Not so far but believe me, you were hauling ass the whole time.
I always loved this course and had managed a prime (intermediate sprints within the race) or two over the years but had never won. My memory suggests that I was never in there for the finish…for whatever reason. Most usually because the climb had me at my limit. I could hang for most of the race, and be at the front enough by the start of the downhill to dice for primes at the bottom of the course. But in the end, someone would light it up enough over the climb late in the race for me to lose contact with the front.
Not this year…..
I was FLYING. I mean, I didn’t feel like Superman, toying with the other riders. I didn’t feel like I was riding a motorcycle. I was working my ass off, dicing it at the front through the danger zones, then sitting in. Chasing down breakaways a few times…. and above all else, strategically climbing the hill. No big deal, I was racing. And I’d get tired….and have to back off for a lap.
But every lap, I was in there. Coming through the left-hand turn that started over the crown of the hill, I would gain places, slip up to the front….shut dudes down. I may even have had to chase down some real climbers on a lap or two. And my HR would spike. But then I’d settle down and catch my breath and get back to where I needed to be.
And there I found myself, last lap. Up the right-hand side as we hit the corner in the middle of the hill…jamming up to the slightly strung out front 10. Slipping into the top five just before the turn onto the downhill…and then I nailed it. It was downhill so I don’t even remember the usual dramatics….flat or uphill and my back wheel was typically jumping around a bit when I spooled up a sprint. But I was goooooooone. Flew into the final bend a bit hot and I do remember juuuuuust not clipping the curb on the outside…and then it was up again and across the line.
Of course, I hadn’t been doping, not really. But I HAD been training and racing above 6,000 feet for many months prior to this race. No doubt I had a significant red blood cell advantage over many of my competitors that day. I certainly had one over my own historical races on that course.
This is what EPO does, of course. Increases oxygen carrying capacity. So does blood doping.
Several years ago I started to realize that this is why you see so much explaining and defending out of the cycling dopers that get caught. “Everyone is doing it”. “I had to if I wanted to keep my (domestique) job”. “I had a bad day and needed to stay with the team”. “You still have to put in the work!”.
Yeah….yeah you do. And no, you don’t feel like you are cheating.
What you feel like is …”finally! I feel right. Like I’m where I should be based on my training!”
I can see how it would be very easy to convince yourself it wasn’t exactly cheating.
But it is.