It’s complicated. Of course it is. Cycling’s history with doping. It’s so complicated, in fact, that I can’t even type the name of a certain cyclist, because if I do that, the internet will bring people here to read about him, and then I am capitalizing on his fame. It is not lost on me that the cycling media benefited from the Age of Doping. The whole thing had this car accident quality. You wanted to look away, but couldn’t.
It was hard not to get sucked into the moral vortex of it.
For a while I was angry about blood doping and the riders who did it (i.e. all of them). It’s cheating, and that’s wrong, but really I think what bothered me most was being treated like I’m stupid. I may well be, but I hate to have it pointed out.
Today, I have this perverse sort of nostalgia for those days. The racing was exciting. The personalities were bombastic. The coverage was better. The Tour de France became Wrestlemania on two wheels, complete with heroes and villains, bizarre plot lines, outlandish claims, and men in tights.
The downsides are pretty easy to pile up. Young cyclists had their dreams taken away, or were forced to make a deal with the devil. A lot of talented riders got cheated out of a living. There was bullying. The women’s side of the sport got tarred with the same brush as the men, without any of the benefits that accrued to the latter. And in the end, blood doping destroyed the sport’s credibility. Today’s riders are arguably cleaner, but they’re still riding out of the shadow of the blood doping era and may be for a while.
Cycling’s dalliance with drugs for performance enhancement didn’t begin with oxygen-vector doping, and it likely won’t end there either, but up to this point, the reign of the cyclist-who-can’t-be-named probably represents the low point on this particular timeline.
This week’s TCI asks this, though: Is pro cycling better off for having gone through that whole saga, even if it may take decades for it to return to its place in the sporting pantheon? Did doping need to reach some logical conclusion, before letting cycling moving on? Or would we better off if we could wipe that history off the books? Are you over it yet? Do you feel the nostalgia I feel? Or is that just crazy?