Friday, 2 November 2012

Bibliophilia: From Lance to Landis by David Walsh

Always had a fairly neutral opinion about Armstrong. Guess what he achieved was impressive, but like all other sports or activities, if I’m not engaged in it, I just don’t care. Just can’t hero worship sports stars. When all the brouhaha broke about him a few months ago, I thought it was a bit questionable to condemn and essentially convict someone without an actual trial. But the more I hear, the less dubious I am about the decision. I guess it being in the news again made me grab the book. I am even less doubtful now. After reading up a bit more on it all, and about some of the other players mentioned in the book, any doubt I had has evaporated. Some of my google searches turned up a Wikipedia page with cycling doping cases. Partly I was surprised that it is not really recent phenomena (it goes back as far as the 1890s, guys taking caffeine, cocaine and strychnine concoctions), and also how many names are in each year in the last 20 or so. It is a looong list.

Reading the book made me realize how huge of a circus it is. Besides Armstrong wanting to keep the gravy train rolling, there were a lot of other people in that train. A long tail is behind each rider, and that whole mass of people all have a vested interest in the whole mad endeavour keeping right on rolling. Is it any wonder doping was hushed up given how much money is involved in TdF and other cycling races.

The book describes promising young racers who were essentially coerced into doping, often unbeknownst. The entire time I’m reading some of these accounts I couldn’t help but think of a friend who as a teen was a very promising cyclist, and despite not wanting to dope, if a shitheel in a car hadn’t ended his cycling career, would he have been placed in that untenable position, by corrupt, unscrupulous coaches and the like? Would he have been doped without his consent and knowledge as happened to several young racers described in the book? Would adverse health effects because of it have befallen him as happened to those young racers, effectively ending their careers, before they could even be caught?

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