The Skeleton in the Peleton

Is it cheating to use drugs to help ride a race of 3764.9 km?

The winner of the 1996 edition of The Tour de France, Bjarne Riis,  certainly did.

Isn’t it merely a more civilised way of coping with the rigours of the world’s greatest test of endurance in the world of sport?  If anything, the drug-taking antics of various stars of cycling in the modern era are tame in comparison with what went on in 1904, the second edition of the event.  The riders who finished in the first four places at the end of the race in July (including Maurice Garin, winner of the inaugural Tour,) were all disqualified for cheating on 2 December that year.  The lengths to which they went to win are too varied and hair-raising to go into in any detail here, suffice to say that they included taking a train, getting spectators along the route to beat their opponents with sticks as they rode by, and fist fights between the competitors.

Bjanrne ‘Ribs’ Riis – 1996 ‘winner’ of the Tour de France

Riis’ misdemeanours came to light in the wake of a flurry of confessions by members of the team who helped him ride to victory.  Would he have made his confession of E.P.O. doping in 2007 if his team mates had been circumspect?  Riis’ name was removed from the roll of honour, and then reinstated.

In 2006 Floyd Landis won the Tour de France.  His astonishing recovery, and crucial stage win the day after his poor showing on Stage 16 in that year’s race, was due to doping.  Landis protested his innocence all the way to The Court of Arbitration of Sport, the highest Court there is for the settlement of sporting disputes.  However, in May this year he finally admitted to cheating to win the yellow jersey.  In all the clamour of approbation that followed the results of his drug-control test it is easy to forget the startling fact that he pusued a career as a professional racing cyclist with one leg shorter than the other.

My point is this: is the Tour simply too hard an event to win without help? We accept the support of teams of cyclists, bike mechanics, and directurs sportifs snaking their way through the peleton, talking  to their riders; why not something stronger than a double espresso, pasta and eggs for breakfast?

Floyd Landis – 2006 ‘winner’ of The Tour de France

It is an uncomfortable fact that Landis, who rode in Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service Team and delivered him his record-breaking series of Tour de France victories between 1999-2005, may have been doping then as well.  If so, then how kosher are Armstrong’s victories in the years that Landis rode on his team?  Armstrong was clean, no doubt, but to what extent did the most successful rider of the Tour de France win thanks to the extra help his team mate may have had?

The Church of Scientology is well known for it’s opposition to all things psychiatric. However, followers of the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard excepted, an impressive array of tablets is what keeps my pedals turning.  Do these drugs improve my performance?  My family certainly think that they do, both on an off the saddle.

By all accounts, Riis is well known for his ability to face down his critics; Landis, for all his protestations, did not show such mettle.  Is it this apparent lack of machismo on his part what he was punished for, or did he just cheat more than Riis?

Self pity is is among the laurels that we depressives like to rest upon.  Below, is a sharp dig in the ribs to people like me who too often resist the appeal to pull our socks up.

Here are some lines from

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue

Yet the noble despair of the poets
Is nothing of the sort; it is silly
To refuse the tasks of time
And, overlooking our lives,
Cry – “Miserable wicked me,
How interesting I am.”
We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

W.H. Auden (1907-73)

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