We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

It's the System, Stupid! Race Distances and PEDs: A Spurious Link

A few years back over at the excellent Italian Cycling Journal blog, there was this post on why, coming up to the Giro d'Italia, the author agreed with Italian public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti's statement that doping in the sport was because "The races are too tough. They need to reduce the kilometers. It’s impossible to think that they [the riders] can complete these races as they are without using banned substances"

More to the point for me, Roberti then went on to state that "Unfortunately that’s the system ... The sport relies on sponsors and sponsors don’t pay the teams unless they win and to win they need to use banned substances." I think it's this second statement that has far more pertinence if we're talking about the fight on doping, and left this comment on the page.

"I've never been convinced it's the distances, but rather modern commercial interests that are the problem with regards to performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. A well-trained pro cyclist should be able to race over 100 miles a day, repeatedly, without the need to dope, unless riding at 45kph 'criterium' speeds. Reduce the distances any more and the Grand Tours for example, the jewels in the sport's crown, will become a 21-day travelling circus of speed rather than stamina, favouring riders with different abilities than the 'Tour' riders. This is a hard sport, and so the Tours have to be gruelling, to provide epic 'exploits', the 'jour sans', a day ruined by 'la fringale', with the winner being someone capable of handling such demanding workloads and blessed with quick recovery. Desgrange said something along the lines of "My ideal Tour is one where only one rider finishes", and whilst I'm not advocating a return to inhuman 400km-plus stages, it's a fact that Merckx and Hinault didn't win Tours with 7-hour stages of 200-250km through the mountains because they doped, it's down to natural ability, to mental toughness, because they could race smart, use their teams and recover day after day, but at average speeds well below what we see today. All the while you have short-sighted sponsors putting pressure on teams, managers and riders to win at all costs or lose their livelihoods, there will be an unbearable temptation to dope. Addressing this by finding what you might term 'traditional' sponsors who are in the sport because they really understand and believe in it - like Mapei's Georgio Squinzi - and having a competent governing body and associated agencies working in partnership to smash the doping rings, vet the 'soigners' and ban the real cheats in a consistent manner will we see the speeds fall. I think it would be a catastrophic mistake if we reduced distances thinking that making things physically easier for these athletes would stop them doping. If we do we'll lose the unique, engaging character of our wonderful sport completely."