Things are pretty bad in the cycling world right now. Or are they? I am still not sure. What I am sure about is that all of my favorite riders from the 90s have either been implicated, convicted, or have confessed to using performance enhancing drugs. Should any of this come as a suprise? Not really. Cycling is either facing its inevitable demise or its finest hour.
The idea that a PRO can subject themselves to a three-week Grand Tour and expect to finish let alone win with only mineral water and a fig bar is the kind of story you tell your kids at bed time. The physical punishment these warriors endure is incomprehensible and there is no way a natural body can recover following the day-after-day abuse of a Grand Tour. Despite the overwhelming evidence of rampant drug abuse, I don't want to view cycling through a tainted lens of doping. That is to say, I know there is drug (ab)use and I've known there was ever since my interest in cycling began. I simply want to say, "not my kid". I guess I am in denial and this is the first step in recovery.
I stood in front of my cycling magazine collection today and 90% of the PRO cover faces are gone from the PRO world. BUSTED. See you in two years fellas - if at all.
In many ways, the PRO world is a suspension of disbelief. When I hear about the wattage a PRO produces or see them grit their teeth in the mountains, I wonder: how much of this performance is natural talent and how much of it is the 50,000 training KMs. And of course, how much of it is chemically-enhanced? The suspension of disbelief is much like a magic show.
Do I want to know how they saw the woman in half or how a magician can pour a pitcher of water into her hand and it disappears? No, I don't. And I don't think I would enjoy the magic act (or cycling for that matter) if they were simply doing things that I am perfectly capable of. Watch how Houdini packs his suitcase while blindfolded, see how I magically dip my frites in this mayo. That doesn't sound very entertaining. Baseball enjoyed a good run in early 2k when homeruns were commonplace at every game. Was that a result of steroid use? I must admit, it was cool to see highlights where balls rarely landed in the infield. Is the sport of cycling capable of retaining an audience and big dollar sponsors without the punishment of the grand tours and subsequent drug use?
What makes cycling so enthralling? The venues, the superhuman performances, or the suffering the riders endure? I see very little TV time dedicated to a Belgian Kermesse. Without a superhuman difference between athlete and spectator the allure begins to fade. And since the dawn of cycling, a superhuman difference required some type of enhancement.
So, what is to come? Where are we going and how much damage has cycling sustained? Is it repairable? And before we ask if it is repairable, maybe we should ask "can the sport return as its former self without performance enhancing drugs?"