I wish I could say that I am shocked, shocked, to hear of another doping scandal in professional cycling. Sadly, Iím not.
Tyler Hamiltonís (the former Olympic and Tour de France cyclist) confession of drug use on 60 Minutes is just the latest in a long line of doping and cheating scandals that have plagued bicycle racing for over 100-years.
Whatís notable is that Hamilton implicates both himself as well as the whole culture of racing, Lance Armstrong and all.
Whatís wrong with my favorite sport?
First off, a little context. There have been accusations of drug use in the peloton for over 100 years. In the late 1890ís, cyclists were reported to have used PEDís (performance enhancing drugs) in the form of cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, and even strychnine, all in the service of gaining a competitive advantage.
Fast forward to the post-war era. In the past 50 years, most of the winners of the Tour de France have reportedly been suspected of, admitted to, or tested positive for doping.
More recently, the Festina Affair, Operation Puerto, and countless other scandals seemed to have confirmed what former pro racer Paul Kimmage alleged in his book, Rough Ride: doping (aka cheating) is widespread throughout the sport of cycling.
As is omerta: the code of silence, of never ratting out your fellow rider.
Until now. Reports suggest that George Hincapie, Lance Armstrongís former teammate and BFF, may have implicated himself and his patron in front of a grand jury.
Itís true that these are accusations, not proof. Remember, weíre all presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
As to the question I am so often asked, Did Lance dope? I can only say, ďI donít know. But it doesnít look good.Ē
As much as I deplore doping, I can understand why someone might choose to cheat. Itís nice to think, ďI wouldnít dope if I were a professional cyclist,Ē but Iím not sure itís that easy. Especially if you think your competition is ďpreparingĒ (biker slang for doping).
I say this not to absolve Hamilton (or any other rider who dopes) of cheating, but to put that cheating into context. Iím glad I never was fast enough to be put in the position of having to decide what I would have done.
So how to get the cheating out of the racing? If Hamilton is to be believed, cleaning up cycling must begin with a full accounting, a truth and reconciliation that acknowledges the depth of the problem. Only then does my sport of choice have a chance for redemption.
Is this possible? Yes. Likely? I donít know. Years of sordid allegations have shaken my trust and faith.
So why do I still care? For one, racing is beautiful, even if rigged and fraudulent. Also, like the title of Armstrongís autobiography reads, ďItís Not About the Bike.Ē Itís about fairness. Which is not possible if the playing field is neither level nor transparent.
Bike racing has plenty of drama. Itís also more interesting to me than the average theatrical production. And unlike Shakespeare, you donít know in advance how things will turn out.
Unfortunately, doping turns this drama into farce (think professional wrestling). It can also become deadly: in the past 20-years a number of young riders have died suddenly (sometimes in their sleep), possibly from using EPO.
Cheating (thatís what doping is) suggests that the means justify the ends, that winning at all costs is okay. Just make sure you donít get caught. Though even if you ďget awayĒ with cheating, it takes more energy to keep up the faÁade than it does to race up a mountain. The truth is, at the end of the day, living a lie hurts you the most, no matter how many medals and trophies you have on your mantle.
So will racing get cleaned up? I hope so, but frankly, Iím just not sure.
In the meantime, Iíll keep riding my bike.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.