Weird Takes on Doping in Cycling

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There has been quite a few articles concerning doping and the riders reactions the past week that are off the main stream.

First there is an article about a Bradley Wiggins interview with GQ magazine where he says he is a better rider than Lance and states, “He didn’t win those Tours fairly, so maybe this superhuman cycling legend was never as good a rider as me.”

What’s up with that? So maybe? As far as I can tell, Bradley has won the Olympics three times now and the Tour de France. Why would he question whether he is a better rider than Lance, who has been proven to have been doping nearly since he got out of diapers? It seems like a strange statement and comparison. Bradley has to know how much better these drugs makes you go. I wonder why he would question whether he is a better athlete than Lance?

Then there is the article where Alberto Contador says, “For cycling, it should be zero tolerance. I express myself less than certain others, but it is clear that there is no place for cheaters.”

Wow, the poster boy of wrongful suspension in the sport of cycling says that. From a guy that is sticking with he was unjustly suspended and had to sit out over a season and lose a couple Grand Tour results. Plus, he, and nearly every other Spanish cyclists currently competing, and retired, say that the whole Lance deal was a witch hunt. Seems to me a guy that was cheated out of his earned victories wouldn’t have a “zero tolerance” agenda, since his case in particular “proves” that huge mistakes can be made.

Finally, I read at the end of this article, that Marianne Vos is heading down to South Africa to train for a month before cross worlds. She did one cross race and now is off to South Africa.

Marianne Vos has the results of the best woman cyclist of all time. She has won the Olympic Games, plus the World Championships on the Road, Track and Cross numerous times. I’m surprised she doesn’t do artistic cycling too.

The problem with her going to South Africa is that it has a reputation much like Tenerife. It is a place were many pros go to train and procure doping products.

In this day and age of the sport, riders like Marianne have to be squeaky clean. The questionable action of putting yourself into a situation like this is just dumb. It’s all about perception. Maybe Marianne thinks she flies under the radar since she is a woman? I hope not.

There are lots and lots of places in this World to train in warm weather. If she is going to fly 7000 miles to do that, she should just fly to San Diego. Or even Austin. Both those places are a lot closer and are a much safer place to ride a bike than in South Africa. Plus, she could get used to the food, culture and time zone here in the US, where the race she is training for, Cyclo-X Worlds, is being held. The whole South African thing just stinks.

I think all the above articles were strange for different reasons. It’s sort of like someone came up with a bunch of different takes on doping in the sport, and threw them into a big hat and the riders just pulled a piece of paper out that said this is what they were going to have to talk about or do. Contador about zero tolerance was the biggest surprise here. But, the other two are nearly as interesting.

David George, an ex team mate of Lance’s, was recently popped for EPO in South Africa. I’m not sure why he wasn’t using Hemopure, which seems to flow like water down there. I haven’t heard of anyone getting caught for that particular drug.

26 thoughts on “Weird Takes on Doping in Cycling

  1. Ken

    I also read the Contador story with a bit of incredulity. Maybe Contador just means that the drug cheats who are too stupid to keep from getting caught, those that get caught but can’t come up with a “believable” defense, or those that freely admit to doping should be banned for life. I mean, honestly, why should these idiots ruin it for everyone else and take away the access to PEDs?

  2. Archie Boulevard

    While I don’t pretend that South Africa is immune to it’s fair share of doping issues, never before have I heard reference to South Africa as popular place to procure performance enhancing drugs. If there is a country with a worse doping reputation between South Africa and the US, I would think most people, especially in terms of recent major events, would point to the US first.

    The popularity of South Africa for athletes starts with the benefits of warm weather during the European season but the list of benefits grows from there. Not only is there a growing cycling scene in South Africa, particularly in mountain biking, but South Africa boasts beautiful training roads, high altitude areas, advanced sports science and training facilities, and, as any professional athlete will appreciate, a more relaxed, slower-paced society than that of Europe or North America. In addition, the multitude of athletes that gather during the European winter months means that there is a supportive community and plenty of training partners.

    There is no denial that there is a safety issue in South Africa; however, South Africa’s reputation is all too often coloured by primarily negative news coverage, the “CNN effect,” I like to call it. While the political and cultural issues are news relevant and must be considered, they should always be considered next to the positive experience South Africa can offer someone, athlete or any other. For a cyclists, the safety concerns are nothing smart decisions can’t counter-balance.

    While I would also argue that it is best to train for a race where it is being held, in terms of food and culture, I’m not convinced it is necessary to adjust to these two elements to perform in a race, even at a high level. I cannot argue against the benefits of being adjusted to a time zone, but it is nothing arriving a few weeks early can’t solve.

    It terms of Marianne’s decision to train in South Africa, in addition to the above positive reasons, maybe it is because the Dutch national team has trained there in the past. Perhaps the subsequent familiarity was enough for Marianne to overcome the CNN effect and see the potential South Africa has for her training. Also, consider the huge influence of the Dutch culture in South Africa that would make a cultural transition easier; there is no language barrier; good and readily available food; affordable cost of living; and, despite the long travel time, no time zone change from Europe.

  3. Erin Hartwell


    I always appreciate your point of view. However… Marianne going to train in South Africa should not raise an immediate alarm. As an athlete, I trained extensively in South Africa (Mpumalanga and Gauteng regions) and took the Wales national team there in 2003 for a warm weather training camp. The place is safer than you think, replete with some of the best road riding on earth, and typically less expensive once in-country than the U.S. or southern Europe. It’s a far better training environment than So Cal during the winter as you’re guaranteed good weather—not always the case in San Diego in January. Trust me, I’ve spent enough time at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista kitting up for a ride in freezing rain to consider other training locations for the next season!

    Additionally, there’s no time change and it’s an easy overnight flight south from Europe: 10 hours or so from Amsterdam—about the same to LA. In Marianne’s case, there’s the added bonus that they speak Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch. The reality is, we’re American and therefore a bit biased to our environs. The rest of the world’s reality is that there are better places to train than in the USA that don’t have anything to do with doping, but, in fact, have to do with great terrain and weather, good food and drink, lower cost of living, and an attractive ease of travel. Not to mention that I am confident some dopers have probably turned a wheel or two in southern Cal’—but we’re not going to label the entire So Cal community dirty, no?

    Just my opinion. Keep up the great writing man. It’s fun to read.

    Erin Hartwell

  4. old and slow

    I concur on the suitability of South Africa for a winter training site and I’ve ridden bikes all over the world myself. Any country that large and that developed will naturally have exceptional places to train if you know how to look for them, (see Brazil and Florianopolos.) Before the cartels arrived, there were at least a dozen places in Mexico that would have preferred to Austin even if the money was the same.

    Sean Kelly didn’t lose his Olympic elegibility racing in South Africa 35 years ago by accident. He was dirt poor with little support from a national federation and it made more economic sense to race down there than any place else on earth at that time of year.

  5. SalRuibal

    They should train in Cincinnati, up the Ohio River from Louisville, KY. There are many cyclocross events in the area as well as good Dutch, German and Belgian restaurants and neighborhoods. But there is a very potent drug available there: Cincinnati Chili. Since Marianne is used to riding at the front, a big pre-race bowl of three-way Gold Star Chili would help her keep the pack at bay. No one would want to ride her wheel.

  6. Blob

    Wiggins isn’t just a big fucking tool, he’s almost a bigger pretender than Lance.

    Only became a “tour favorite” after the soft-pedaling Astana let him hang on so Lance wouldn’t look like a fool in the first season of his comeback, then he managed to win one just because everyone was terrified of Froome going nuts. IF the drug-addled SKY lets Froome ride free next year, Wiggins will come up with some reason to return to the track full time, and Contador will retire.

    I had the dude myself, but it’s All Froome until otherwise indicated.

    Thanks for the lead on Hemopure, too, Steve.

  7. Nancy

    Just found some tweet and interview from Myerson saying that cx had less doping due to less racing day and also about Nys and his tenure at Rabobank while it was systematic doping. Also, that Berden is a goat in Belgium.

    I still appreciate Sven’s technical abilities but it raised some doubt.

  8. Bill K

    Wiggins must be a “clean” rider. First off, he says so…..and secondly, he’s never tested positive.
    What a wanker.

  9. dim

    Of course, she could be going to South Africa because the weather is nicer than Holland, and an awful lot of South Africans can speak Dutch, or at least she can get by there lingually.

    Its a very big call to make to suggest that going to South Africa is “dodgy”. Going to the South of France is dodgy, especially Nice, going to Spain is dodgy, especially if visiting the doctor, parts of Germany near Freiburg are decidedly dodgy, Appreciate your point, but theres barely a place in teh world that couldnt in some way be pointed as being a bit of a dodgy place for a cyclist to go.

  10. Sarah

    The Netherlands National Team have been training in South Africa over winter for years – and part of the attraction, I’m told, is the lack of jetlag – which is especially important for Vos, who races CX over winter. They are also in the middle of the racing season there, so riders training there can race, too, in ways they can’t in Europe.

    Here’s the thing – where IS there that’s good for winter training for Europeans though? I am hugely anti-doping, but I can’t think of ANY place that dopers haven’t used. And to suggest that training in the USA would = clean just makes me laugh, in the context of the USADA case…

    And re Vos under the radar – she’s a passionate, outspoken critic of doping, and the lack of good doping testing. She’s also tested every time she podiums – which is practically every time she races – as well as through the Dutch programme – she’s certainly not under any radar, given that she races, wins and is tested year-round, and has been throughout her career. I find it HUGELY offensive that we’ve got to the point where going somewhere some USA blogger doesn’t understand equals doper.

  11. John Galloway

    Leaving aside the more glaring leaps of fancy this shows a profound ignorance of the cultural links between the Netherlands and South Africa. Maybe good weather, a familiar culture and the same time zone as home are good enough reasons for Vos to choose South Africa.
    Hang on, Austin Texas you say? I hear Lance lives there, surely all the cyclists are dopers? ;o) Except they aren’t and I’m not simplistic enough to join the dots in the way this blog post does.

  12. tilford97 Post author

    Here’s a link to article about riders heading to South Africa now that the Spainish authorities have somewhat cracked down on doping. During the late 80’s and 90’s, many Professional riders spent a bunch of time there. There was a rumor that when you entered a race in South Africa, many of the riders white’s of their eyes were slightly purple from all the experimental oxygen vector drugs and such.

    I completely understand the connect of Holland and SA. And understand there isn’t a time change. But when a certain location is being pegged for a place to go and train supercharged, it makes sense for riders like Marianne to avoid it in this day and age.

  13. Skippy

    Leave Marianne alone , if you were able to ride alongside her as she trained for the London 2012 Olympic Road Race , you would have seen how strong the Dutch Ladies Team were . Had been riding in london direction with the Aussie Ladies at a far lower tempo when i spotted the Dutch coming down the road . Took several kms of 110% effort to get on their wheel , and even then , it was only because the team car had trouble getting through Leatherhead , did i get a chance to catch breath .

    Having been in San Diego area i can appreciate why Horner chooses to live and train there but would prefer Sth Africa’s lower standard of living for my budget .

    From what response that people have made to the petitions that i have advised previously , it is obvious that the Racers , management and fans are all reluctant to change the ” Status Quo “!

    Everyone is happy with a ” SSDD ” attitude !

    Saw shamilton on BBC World News , today , 4 x ” it’s time ” about phat & heinous , but nothing about Paul Kimmage or ” Rough Ride ” , who would read this book , from a ” Confessed Doper ” if Kimmage & Walsh had not opened the door against ” Omerta “?

  14. dim

    “according to cycling news” “Rumour” “80’s and 90’s”

    From that you conclude that its a silly place for Marianne to go? Seriously, thats the sort of warped calculation that end up as definative proof on the cyclingnews forums.

    On that logic the mere fact that she is Dutch should be enough to raise suspicions (PDM) or maybe she shouldnt visit Belgium (Mapei), France is out (festina), Spain is out (Ferrari, Fuentes), going to Italy is suspicious (Blood tranfusions happen there), Any of the Islands in the med are out (well known doping spots), Australia (Chris White etc), and certainly dont go to the US, hell, half of their top riders have just admitted to doping and even the masters are doping over there.

    Maybe she should just lock herself in her room and not come out.. (no, that wouldnt work, locking yourself in a room is soooo Serena Williams)

    A quote from your blog on Adam Meyerson
    “Adam is one of only a handful of guys that have ever accused me of doping. And maybe the only one to do it in person. It was a rash statement, on his part, in the heat of the moment. And he was gracious enough to apologize for it later.”

    Im sure you will be pleased to apologise to Ms Vos

  15. dim

    By that logic, considering the number of pro’s in the US who have now admitted doping, add to that the US Olympic team that was doped by Carmichael, Joe Papp supplying half the domestic peloton, masters riders getting popped, even amatuers at Grand Fondos getting popped, I would say that anyone who continues to train in the US is at best, foolish, at worst, highly likely to be doping.

    Yes, I know, that logic makes no sense at all.

  16. Sarah

    You do know that Vos is 25 years old, don’t know? I’m not sure how you imagine what happened in the late 80s/90s relates to her career…

    And you haven’t answered the question we keep asking – where IS a doping-free place to train? And how can you use that article as “evidence”, and still say she should go over the the USA instead?

  17. tilford97 Post author

    dim and Sarah- No one has accused Marianne Vos of doping. I didn’t. I never implied it. That being said, we are in a special special time of our sport. One where perceptions do matter.

    Marianne Vos is a very special case. I can’t think of a person in the modern era of cycling that has her credentials. There is not a man in the sport that can medal on a World or Olympic level in every discipline, road, track and cross. I don’t think there every has been. I’m pretty sure she could do the same on the MTB bike is she so desired. So, her results make her suspect on their own. That is the whole basis of the forum thread on her.

    I agree you can be anywhere and dope. But, when Gazzetta and Equipe report that riders are started to head back to South Africa, which was a hotbed for doping in the sport of cycling in the past, and where the controls and laws are much more obscure and doping is more easily done, then that is news.

    There are tons of places to ride bikes and train in the winter. I would love to go to South Africa and ride before cyclo-x worlds. But, I’m not Marianne Vos. She needs to be squeaky clean. Obviously testing alone doesn’t make a rider squeaky clean. The testing is bullshit. So, the riders actions are taken into consideration. That is a big problem. Guilt by association. And everyone in the sport of cycling has that association.

    Honestly, I don’t care if her grand parents live in South Africa. She is such an important person in the sport that she needs to sacrifice some normal activities so a questionable perception doesn’t arise. I really don’t see any men that are planning to race in Louisville taking the month of December off from racing and heading down to South Africa to train.

    I realize that Marianne is a completely different beast. But, when things are not of the norm, then more questions arise.

    Hopefully, things are changing and these injustices will disappear. Until then, it’s up to the riders in the limelight to do what “seems” right, even if it means sacrificing some.

  18. dim

    So to avoid questionable perception she should forego training in a warm country that has no language barriers in the same time zone, and go where????

    Onto.. QUote ” I really don’t see any men that are planning to race in Louisville taking the month of December off from racing and heading down to South Africa to train.”

    There is a huge difference between the bulk of the European men riding cross and Marianne. For instance, all the guys such as Nys, Albert, Pauwells etc are riding the winter cross season as their main focus, so they are racing week in week out, So taking a couple of months out to train isnt really feasible. The road riders on the other hand, they are scattered all over at the moment, some of the continental brits went down to Joberg and Durban, its cheap to stay there, easy to get to, some have gone further afield. None of them have decided to go the jet lag route and fly to australia or usa (although i beleive a couple of the brits are heading out to oz just after christmas for tdu prep and criteriums)

    Vos on the other hand has been riding road all year, she rode one cross race because it was convenient for her and then goes back on her winter break again, she wont be riding any cross in a big way for a little while. Just as a note, if you didnt know, she is riding track in Manchester, England in a few days as well. So logistically its perfect, ride cross, fly back to the warm, train a bit, same time zone, then a quick flight to england, take part in the track event (shes riding a three event omnium), then go back to warmer climbs.

    If you can name somewhere that is warm, offering some competative riding, is in the european time zone, and offers easy access for her to get to cross races in holland (amsterdam as you know is the worlds largest airport) or the UK for track events, then where????

    Where should she go???

  19. tilford97 Post author

    dim-I said what I said. If you want to call what she is doing as a winter break, so be it. It is a 12 hour direct flight from Cape Town to England. That is 24 hours of flying round trip for a track race, during a winter break. So, if what you’re saying is true, she raced cyclo-x November 25th in Gieten NED, flew to South Africa to train for, what 4 days at most, then is flying back to England to race in Manchester on December 1st. And that is what you call perfect logistics?

    I’m sticking to what I said. Thanks for the input.

  20. tilford97 Post author

    Dim-You, Dean and I can go to South Africa anytime we want, and draw no attention. Marianne obviously doesn’t have that luxury in this age of cycling. I think we both understand the difference.

  21. dim

    It would draw all sorts of attention if i went there. Im already viewed with suspicion for my naturally high haematocrit. :S


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