Monday, August 20, 2012

Bicycle Racing – A Sad, Current State Of Affairs.

Being we live in a world of instant partisanship let me preface this article with the disclaimer of having absolutely no dog in this fight.  More than ever, bicycle racing is now viewed on the same level as championship wrestling – All make believe.  Why did I write that?  More importantly, how did the sport get here? 

When did honesty die a quiet, lonely death?

I have been a casual observer at best of bicycle racing for most of my life.  However, it was not until the summer of 2010 that I began to take serious note of the goings-on within the Pro Peletons of the world.  And what I saw was not all kosher. 

With the aftermath of doping allegations from the 2012 Tour de France and the proverbial “Other Shoe” which fell almost daily from the London Summer Olympics, the existing divide has only grown larger.   

Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) in all levels of sports are alive and well.  From the Pro’s down to the Amateur ranks, they are everywhere.  So bad is the penetration of PED’s, that even when someone is truly clean, no one believes them.  Heck, a year ago I was at a local bike shop listening to some local racers proudly proclaim, “If I had to take EPO (Erythropoietin) to keep up, I would do it.”  Wow, and these are the local guys!

When I ran track in high school the subject de jour were steroids.  There were rumors of some schools pushing it on the athletes to get ahead.  I paid it no attention back then.  Boy, I should have. 

We have become a society of skeptics and finger-pointers, and investigations (a loose term, at best) like “Operation Puerto” only add to the stigma which is cycling.  Throw in the suspension of Alberto Contador for a positive Clenbuterol test, the on-going Lance Armstrong “Well, he must of taken something!” affair, to Frank Schleck's recent Tour de France positive test for a diuretic, and the ramifications of the sport’s image can clearly be seen.  Heck, there are even cases of Cat 3 and 4 local racers being busted for EPO!   

The current “Busted” climate is not only scoring a positive on a pee test, but apparently every little nuance and innuendo is enough to trash a reputation and a career.  Maybe rightfully so, but must we be so rabid as to eat our own at a moments notice?  Some of it is pretty cut and dry.  Some of it is just too foolish to watch.  

A case in point – Lance Armstrong.  Must this circus go on any longer?  I mean come on, either the man is guilty or he is not.  A check of any story on Lance has the ever present “He doped,” “No he didn’t dope” crowd in the comment section of any on-line forum or printed media.  The longer this goes on the more the sport looks foolishly insane. 

The main point of focus here should be where will it all end?  Then again, will it ever end?

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has not been asleep at the proverbial switch, and they are well aware of the situation and public’s perception of cycling.  It is, however, just like any other “operation” – The status quo will not only be tolerated, but it will be encouraged as long as the positions of power in the organizational structure remain and the money comes into the sport.  This is true of many governing bodies, be it Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), NASCAR (the France family can write the book on this), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), you name it.

The sport cannot look at itself objectively anymore, not that it really ever did.  When cheating becomes the status quo, in any sport, do not think for a second one is fooling all of the fans while organizations are busy fooling themselves. 

The driving ethos becomes money not the spirit of competition.  Once this happens, it is now a show and no longer a sport (again, see NASCAR).

Sadder still, cheating is all around us, whether it is your kids’ soccer match, to cutting in a line at the theater, to telling a lie, to fudging on a resume.  Cheating has been, is now, and as long as we tolerate it, will be with us well into the future.  If we do no put a stop to it, expect the future to bring a whole lot of asterisks’ next to individuals’ names, along with the shattered dreams of those whom gave it an honest go.

Reality becomes fantasy, and fantasy become reality.  Who really earned it, and who was only putting on a show? 

Maybe Shakespeare was right – The World is indeed a stage.

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