I suppose it’s a rhetorical or hypothetical question. But one that occupied some of my mind while riding last night. Knowing that most of us will never compete at a level that requires testing or control, and knowing that amateur racers improve drastically from year to year, I think it is a fairly safe assumption that you’d never be caught, or even suspected of any wrongdoing.
And so I wonder: would you dope?
Now, before you deny with pomp and circumstance and a heart felt “absolutely not”, step back and really think about the question for a moment. Nobody will know. Your fitness will skyrocket. You’d earn that belt buckle you’ve been chasing, or age group blue ribbon. You’d own the local on-your-honor time trials. Delusions of grandeur would become reality.
Most likely nobody would think twice.
“He’s been training a lot this year.”
“His new job is really flexible.”
“He hired a coach.”
And so on. If money and access were no barrier, what would stop you?
Well, probably money and access are barriers. And probably not the only ones either. Certainly a sense of fair-play and moral obligation to oneself and to each other are factoring into that decision. And after all, dopers suck. But then, those lofty ideals were no doubt, once steadfast and sharp in the minds of those mighty, fallen heroes. As I have thought more about Floyd Landis, and the legion of other cheating cyclists, baseball players, track stars, and body builders (and NFL, NBA, NHL…) who take illegal performance enhancing drugs I wonder if they are any different than financial regulators, accountants, lawyers, doctors, politicians, or anyone else who blatantly exploit systematic loopholes, ambiguous laws, and unwritten rules of conduct. In other words, lots of people cheat at work. Not that strength in numbers is justification for… anything.
In some rather public cases those cheaters are paraded in front of television cameras and shamed into exile. But what of the lower profile, more mundane acts of thievery and deceit? What of the ninth man on a cycling team, only present because he’s quiet, and happy to haul water bottles back and forth through the peleton? What about the scores of unknown “minor” league cyclists who ride for years unrecognized, under-appreciated, and otherwise anonymous in a sport dominated by an elite class of high dollar racers? Any of us who have ever aspired to be something more than what we are as an athlete can understand the temptation, pressure, and obligation they must feel when the appointments with a certain doctor or laboratory appear on the team agenda.
I like to believe that even if the perfect scenario sat plain faced in front of me—and that I’d never be caught or even suspected—that I’d still have the fortitude to walk away. To stay clean. To compete honestly. What would I really have to gain? I’m nearly 33 years old. And I suspect, even doped to the gills, would not have the engine or skills to beat Alex Grant or Bart Gillespie or Chris Holley. Who’s to say that I’d even compete on any higher level than I do now? EPO or not, I still flail mightily in tight, twisty, singletrack.*
*Which will make Monday’s race… interesting.**
But then, that opportunity has never arisen. And I doubt it ever will. It’s certainly not something I am seeking or pursuing. And so specualting how I would react is rather easy and inconsequential. But I’ll admit that there is a small, lingering, speck of doubt. A small voice that whispers “of course I’d do it.”
**And is why I just keep practicing: