Would You Dope?

Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Bike | 15 Comments

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.”

Would you?

**And is why I just keep practicing:

ghost falls draper


  1. RB
    May 27, 2010


  2. KanyonKris
    May 27, 2010

    Probably not.

    It might be fun to see what it’s like to be faster / stronger.

    If I raced on dope it would be to see what it’s like to mix it up with the fast guys. I’d try not to podium, but I may not be able to resist the temptation. I couldn’t accept any prize, I would absolutely know I cheated and didn’t earn it.

    In reality I’m not interested enough in the doping experiment to pay for the dope. And I don’t like needles or messing with my body unnecessarily.

    One interesting rationalization: Dope makes up for suboptimal genetics. Why should the guy with the biker body have all the fun? Their genes were just luck. Of course you have to work and train, but it’s obvious some bodies will never be great cyclists.

    • KanyonKris
      May 27, 2010

      To be clear, I was focusing on the reasons why I might dope – the reasons why I would not dope are much stronger. I’m happy riding my bike, even though there are scores of people who are faster than me. I go fast enough that I enjoy my rides, and that’s all I really need.

  3. mark
    May 27, 2010

    That tiny speck of doubt is necessary. Without it we may be certain we’d never fall from grace until we do. And were the fall to happen, it would be hard and fast. Better to doubt a little, know the weakness is there, and actively fight it.

    If I had access to EPO or HGH or whatever, I wouldn’t take it. I race for me, for my own satisfaction. I can’t imagine having any if I were doped. (Popping a Red Bull before a crit on the other hand…)

    If I were a poor kid from an eastern European country who was told to take EPO or get a job in a factory, I can’t say how I’d react. Because I’ve never been that poor kid in eastern Europe (or Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia, or wherever), so I’ve never faced a decision with consequences beyond race results that nobody cares about but me.

  4. Aaron
    May 27, 2010

    Most pro cyclists have absolutely nothing to lose by doping. They are given the following choices 1) dope and make a good living riding your bike with the possibility of becoming a mega-star cyclist; or 2) not dope and become a nobody, and go work at a bike shop somewhere (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If you chose option 1 and get caught, you will likely fade into obscurity and end up working at a bike shop somewhere. So yeah, I think the temptation would be tough to resist. I think if you want to curb doping in the pro peloton, the penalty needs to be severe enough to make it worse than had they not doped in the first place.

  5. Daren
    May 27, 2010

    I think most of us would eaily pass on cost-free, negative consequent-free, EPO or steriods. However, what about the more gray substances or training? Would you use an altitude chamber if you could? How many suppliments or vitamins do you take only because you’re a bike racer? Do you go to the chiropractor or get massages soley to improve your performance on the bike. At Leadville or LoToJa, do you take Advil after 6 or 7 hours? How about all the preride, during ride and post ride drinks and mixes? Caffine is a banned substance in sufficient quantities but I know many racers who load up on caffine like there’s no tomorrow.

    Is buying an advantage with better equipment/coaching or joining a better road team some form of cheating?

    There’s a pretty bright line when it comes to illegal or prescribed substances that none of us cross. However, when you look at it objectively, most of us, me included, push it closer to that bright line than we care to admit.

    • Grizzly Adam
      May 27, 2010

      What you are describing is called dedication. Is training more (or smarter) than your competitors pushing that line? What about, as Kris pointed out, people who have naturally better genes? Should they be handicapped?

      But I like your point. And you are right. It’s not always black and white.

  6. bob
    May 27, 2010

    Well said Daren and Aaron, years ago, T2 and I were discussing this, and he mentioned that if we are equal fitness and ability and I can afford gatorade and you can on;y afford water and we go do a 4 hour race, chances are I will win every time. Performance enhancing substance.

    There is a thin, bright line.

    I have said i before, that if I was on the edge and had the choice to take a pill in order to have a year where I could make over 6 figures by riding my bike, and there is no negative health consequence, I would do it. There, I said it. Not because of Blue ribbons either.

  7. Fatty
    May 27, 2010

    Not only would I dope, but I have doped. At least the lowbrow, low-cost way of doing it.


    Works great in helping you lose weight. I could claim that it doesn’t have any special effect in making you faster, but being lighter IS being faster. And the intent was the same: take pills to shortcut my path to fastness.

    I stopped mostly because it was hard to sleep at night (from the caffeine and ephedrine, not the guilt).

  8. Bg Al.
    May 27, 2010

    10 years ago I had a brush with “Fame”. I ended up on the #1 radio show in the area. We were “shock jocks” who made our living and name by the outragious lifestyles we portrayed and lived.After a couple years It became needed to drug myself just to do my job or people said I was loosing my edge. I did bigger things but they needed more drugs to make them edgey. I quit one day when I woke up and took a hard look around. I had given up my friends, family, health, and so much more to stay relevent. Floyd has not woke up to the fact that fame is a cruel mistress and needs feed and taken care of. I laugh and do my own thing now. I am happy. Floyd, will someday just ride because it feels good. That is the best dope.

  9. KDAY
    May 27, 2010

    Interesting. I assume many of us have thought this very same thing. A lot. I’ve spoken with some who have. There were times when it really worked and times when it didn’t. Maybe others were just taking something better? I’ve lined up with some really fast riders. The best in the world. I’ve watched them dance away from me in a matter of seconds and thought to my self… I’ve been training by brains out! Why can’t I keep up. What can I do better? So I tried new drinks, new gels, new warm-ups and still nothing.

    Not that I ever had a chance or even pursued one, I settled with the fact that I do the best with what I have or don’t have and that’s what makes it for me. I may never be a super star or make six figures by riding my bike, but I’m comfortable knowing that I’m honest to myself and others. I’m happy being me and riding my bike because I love to ride.

  10. Derron
    May 28, 2010

    Amen KDAY!

  11. Greg
    May 29, 2010

    I’d say no, if even for the sole reason that I hate putting drugs of any sort in my body. I hate the feeling of a drug changing how I feel, or how my body performs or reacts. I guess I just embrace the natural…or something like that.

  12. VT
    June 1, 2010

    Nope. I am a High School Theory of Knowledge teacher, and while my friends and I have discussed this many of the same examples (i.e. Lance in a wind tunnel, having scientists on the payroll, compre3ssion pants, carbon bikes, etc.), my two ultimate goals in cycling are to get into better shape, and to make it to the top of that mountain over there on my own power. Do I envy the little grasshoppers on the itty bitty bikes that prance right around my 6’4″ 215 lb frame? Sure, but I still make it to the top on my own terms. I could never look my son in the eye and be honest if I did not.

  13. Brandon
    June 9, 2010


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