Drugs are bad, mkay: why I still care about dope in cycling

In Paul Fournel’s wonderful essay on doping in Need for the Bike (Trans. A. Stoeckl, 2003: 123-125) he notes that it is doping that often makes racing hard, rather than the opposite, and that the effect of doping on onlookers can be more potent than its effect on competitors. Fournel is pretty agnostic on a personal level: for him, doping is too embedded in the sport to ever go away.

Whilst I agree with some of Fournel’s analysis, my own views have evolved in a rather different direction. I have written on this blog about the psychology of anti-doping, about the boundaries between forbidden performance enhancement and what is acceptable (in relation to music), and about our perceptions of doping and their relationship with notions of truth. It has become clear to me that doping matters to me in a way it does not to Fournel, and in this essay I will try to explain why. Continue reading

Bicycle racing, doping and crucifixion: Alfred Jarry revisited

The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race

When Alfred Jarry wrote his interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion it must have seemed a neat metaphor: the self-imposed yet stage-managed torture of the hill-climb is an apposite image to evoke self-sacrifice. Jarry also accentuates the technical and media-saturated aspect of this crucifixion: the crown of thorns becomes an advert for a puncture proof tire.

Of course, what with Lady Gaga, Madonna and Lloyd-Webber, the representation and artistic co-option of religious themes has become so commonplace as to evoke ennui; although of course some can still get overheated by a Piss Christ or Jerry Springer the Opera. As the juggernaut reaches ever closer to Armstrong and his cohorts and facilitators we seem to desire a quasi-religious cleansing (or stoning). Jarry’s essay serves to remind us that we should recognise the absurdity of such reactions, their atavism. Cheats and dopers deserve to be punished. But we deserve the same (oh, yes) if we don’t recognise our own complicity in this spectacle of the absurd.

For an antidote visit the wonderful world of Rainer Ganahl, such as this gem of mountain performance (with cowbells): The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race or I wanna be Alfred Jarry, 1903 / 2011 or if you don’t have 16 minutes, ALFRED JARRY’S CALL OF NATURE.

Shooting the messenger: how to lose at anti-doping

In Italy, Mafia informers are shot or blown up. In cycling, dopers who inform on others aren’t blown up or shot, but they do risk being vilified for their actions by the very community they are acting to defend: some lose their jobs, some are insulted on twitter and in internet forums. Of course, their efforts to defend cycling from doping are paradoxically self-interested: most give up information in order to benefit themselves in some way, just as some keep quiet for the same reason. It is very rare for those directly involved in cycling to break Omerta otherwise (maybe Frankie Andreu is a nice example, although he had just a little help from the formidable Betsy). Continue reading

Cycling and depression: finding a balance

Ex-professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton (in the news again recently, which you will know unless you were asleep for 60 minutes) claimed in 2009 that his second positive test for doping (DHEA) was the result of his taking a herbal remedy to counter longstanding depression (Bonnie Ford of ESPN as usual does an excellent job of summarising here). Hamilton is not the only professional cyclist to have suffered from depression during or after their career, and I have often wondered about the relationship between training workload as a cyclist and mental health. I recently read two blog posts about depression by active cyclists (Scientist, you’re a failure & Drugs and Mental Healthcare) and this got me thinking about how exercise and mental health interact. In this post I write about my own experiences, share some academic research on the topic, and speculate a bit about depression and cycling in general. I am not a mental health professional (although I am an academic working in the area of empirical psychology) so please take my words with this in mind.

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Tyler Hamilton blows the whistle…

Tyler Hamilton has finally broken his silence on the FDA Lance Armstrong investigation, joining fellow ex-professional cyclists Floyd Landis, Joe Papp, Bernhard Kohl and Jörg Jaksche in attempting to tell the recent “truth” about the role of performance enhancing drugs in our beautiful sport (I admit that truth/reality are difficult concepts these days, see here and here). Like Landis (and unlike the others mentioned above), Hamilton spent a lot of time, effort and money bolstering claims that his doping positives were erroneous, and he not only risks attack from those in cycling who would like him to keep quiet, but also those who see the volte-face as hypocritical. In this post I look at his stated reasons in light of the cost-benefit analysis athletes perform (consciously or unconsciously) when they make decisions about talking openly and honestly about doping. Continue reading

Cycle racing and the perfect crime

I just read a wonderful blog entry from Cycling Inquisition on the appropriation of nationality and the hyper-real manner in which fans of cycling willingly give up their grip on reality in favour of the fantastic (or not-real). I was foolishly inspired to write something on how we have lost the ability to distinguish the real from not-real in judgments of sporting performance.

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Barry Bonds trial verdict: first thoughts

I posted yesterday about what I had learnt so far from the Barry Bonds trial and here are my first thoughts on the outcome.

The jurors managed to find Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice, but not on three counts of perjury. In the light of my first point yesterday this is an odd outcome and has led the prosecution to call for a mistrial on the three perjury counts. Interestingly, the jury seemed convinced that Bonds was doping and obstructing justice, but not that he lied about it his doping; they were not all convinced by the witnesses’ plausibility, hence the slightly strange outcome.

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Six things I learnt from the Barry Bonds trial

Many seem to think that the efforts of sports’ allegedly corrupt governing bodies to combat doping will be eclipsed (or aided) by the work of police and government investigations. However, the track record for fighting doping and sporting fraud in the courts is mixed: just look at Operation Puerto, where so far the efforts of the Spanish police seem to have come to naught in legal terms (although recent news suggests Puerto may yet come to trial).

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Music lessons: ergogenic effects need not be pharmaceutical

In the epilogue to a recent book on blood doping, Robin Parisotto (member of the UCI bio-passport panel, interviewed here by nyvelocity) discusses the future of doping, and suggests that music’s effects may be sought out by athletes and trainers who previously might have resorted to transfusions or rEPO. The use of music to enhance sporting performance is arguably a kind of doping or artificial ‘assistance’, and indeed is now being treated as such by some sports (e.g., the IAAF, rule 144(d)), although efforts to ban music in some sports (especially mass participation events) may run into stiff opposition from athletes and coaches.

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Doping and the placebo effect

Remember Dario Frigo, caught at the 2002 Giro d’Italia with bags full of saline which had been sold to him as the blood doping agent HemAssist (see Lindsay, 2011Tucker and Dugas, 2011 for an interesting take on this drug in cycling)? Frigo claimed never to have used the drug, but if he had used the saline he believed to be HemAssist it is quite possible it would have had a significant effect on his performance…

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