Most conversations about competitive cycling that go on long enough will sooner or later get to the controversial subject of performance enhancing drugs.
In the midst of the Tour de France you have likely very recently had one just like it. The times Pogacar and Vingegaard posted up the Col de la Croix on stage 13 were faster than Lance rode it, almost as fast as Pantani, once again raising speculation.
Doping has been synonymous with professional bike riding for decades, with several documented cases of riders and teams being bust, some even dying in races, loaded with dangerous substances.
Cynics would argue that racing for 3 weeks, nearly 200km per day, at 40km/h, let alone winning, isn't humanly possible without drugs.
In the last 20 years there have also been numerous cases of amateurs being caught out and banned, and this is not unique to cycling. 7 of the 8 sprinters in the crazy fast Seoul Olympics 100m were caught and banned. Even ball sports have been affected. Sport is too competitive and lucrative to expect athletes not to seek marginal gains, especially if like so many they believe their competitors are doing the same.
There was a time when those who accused flamboyant, seemingly insanely driven and talented riders like Pantani or the American hero Armstrong of being dopers, were branded as negative cynics. Then, after the most sensational sporting drama in history, that played out over a decade, even the most committed sports fans realized that doping was very real and in need of policing. Runners, rugby players, swimmers and all forms of sports people were caught and banned in an era where even teams from entire nations like Russia were denied access from competing in the Olympics by the IOC.
It's been a decade since Lance finally confessed to his disgraceful career on the Oprah show. He lost all 7 of his TDF winner jerseys. The fact that nobody else was awarded any of those wins says a lot about how widespread drug abuse was in the pro peloton. Raw emotional stories shared by high profile riders in the aftermath gave us all deeper insight into the dark underbelly of sport that was almost impossible to escape for anyone with career aspirations. It's hard to imagine how anyone clean could have competed successfully in those times.
Sponsors dropped teams for fear of repercussions and still today aspiring pro's and amateurs struggle to secure endorsements. Blood passports and out of competition testing has been ramped up in efforts to reduce the influence of drugs in all forms of sport.
Wada (world anti doping association) and the likes have far greater insight on steroids, human growth hormone, testosterone, blood rinsing and EPO among the many scientific formulations they knew too little about. In recent years cycling has in fact led the way among sporting codes for cracking down on cheating. Let's not even Let's not even start with concealed engines.
So where are we now we wonder? Riders are still climbing the legendary alpine ascents at the mind boggling speeds they were back then, and world records continue to fall despite stricter controls than ever. Sporting teams and individuals earn millions making untraceable doping affordable and a lucrative gamble for those who dare to venture into the grey space.
We were very fortunate to secure some time to discuss this complex subject with two extremely knowledgeable South Africans.
A young talented multiple SA Champ David George rode in 2 Olympic Games prior to joining the infamous US Postal team in 2000. It was there that he was first exposed to the play the game to survive state of affairs. David was banned from pro cycling and has openly acknowledged his wrongs. He's spent years sharing his hard earned wisdom and expertise to assist riders with tech, training and bike fit. He's a real asset to our sport.
Dr Ross Tucker is arguably the most outspoken sports scientist on the subject of doping. He was a voice of reason, at a critical period of time, using stats and facts to shine an educated light on rumors and allegations. His insightful commentary and well articulated articles were very popular with both cynical and faithful sports fans around the world seeking reason and sanity in this confusing and stressful era for sports fans. His popularity was for obvious reasons not shared by sports governing bodies and teams. As he says he wouldn't find work in the industry after questioning some of the very obvious cover ups and scams of that dark time. Bravo brave Dr Tucker!
Plug in, pour a drink and listen to this fascinating open conversation between 2 these two highly intelligent and experienced minds:
We'd love to hear your opinions on the subject. Some say make it legal and karma will prevail, others say set new rules including jail for life for new age transgresors. In the meantime, as both these men suggest, ride your bike because you love it and it's so good for you 🌈