The State of Cycling
The sport I love is in chaos. It's currently imploding under an enormous lie. It's not a lie that's unique to cycling, but for a variety of reasons this sport is currently exposed more than any other. That lie is doping. Here's the reality for the elite athletes in many sports:
The fans are led to believe that cheating is against the rules. Seems like pretty simple logic. The athletes experience is entirely different. They dedicate their lives to reaching the top of their chosen profession, and eventually they arrive upon a difficult realization. The unspoken code of athletics is, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying." All around them they see evidence that the athletes they once admired from afar are not quite so superhuman as the television has made them appear. Now on the inside, they are introduced to codes of silence and unwritten rules. They discover that there is a man behind the curtain and that the strings he pulls could make or break their career. They have choices to make: Do they take the next step? Do they turn their back and quietly walk away from their dreams? Do they blow the whistle?
If you think the second or third choices are the easy ones then you probably haven't stopped to imagine the dilemma that these men are facing. With only a small window of time in which to fit their career, make their name, earn their fortune, it's not so easy to "do the right thing." With everything invested including the support of loved ones and the dreams of a lifetime it's not so simple to simply walk away.
Imagine climbing Everest, a conquest that's usually years in the making. Even once you've reached Nepal the ascent is an arduous task requiring many ascents and descents for acclimation. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to get an opportunity to reach the top. Now imagine that your summit day arrives and that, having invested all of your resources and energy into gaining the peak you're surprised to come upon a yellow police line half-way up the final slope. The peak is within sight, but it's closed today for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Up the slope you can see that others have ignored the warning. Do you cross beneath the piece of tape, knowing that it's an illegal act, but confident you're not likely to get caught? Or do you turn around, giving up on your quest within sight of capturing it, thwarted by a rule that others seem to be ignoring? Is the decision easy? This isn't a perfect analogy to doping in sport, but it's closer than you might like to think.
Chemists, doctors, sponsors, advertisers, team ownership, fans, and other facilitators have put athletes (cyclists in this case) into a very difficult position. Man up or be seen as a quitter. The second choice isn't an alternative that sits well with many athletes. The pressure to cheat often feels greater than the pressure to abide by the rules, but even the act of cheating isn't set up fairly. If the athlete cheats with drugs it's almost impossible to do that without the help of others, but if he gets caught he usually faces career ending punishment. The facilitators rarely face anything. They just find another athlete to put under pressure. These facilitators are the true beneficiaries of cheating. In my conversations with elite athletes I've found that nearly all of them want drugs driven from their sports, but speaking so boldly, for them, could be career suicide.
It's a situation that must be cleaned up, not just in cycling but across the athletic world. As a fan of this beautiful and complex sport I hope that it can survive the cleansing. More than many observers I have confidence it will. Partly that springs from a very fortunate circumstance. I know Saul Raisin. This kid is good... not just athletically, but morally. Saul survived his terrible crash because of the tough lessons he learned in the sport of cycling. He's proof of how powerfully this sport can shape lives, and he's about to show the world that it's possible to accomplish incredible things on a bike while riding clean. Saul is an outspoken opponent of drugs and the drug culture. If sport is to survive we need a lot more athletes to follow his example. That's why I repeat what you may have already heard some cycling fans cheering. "Go Saul! Go!"