Friday, June 19, 2009
Drug use in cycling is a frequent, if unpleasant, topic here at BKW. It is a cancer that has the potential to destroy the top echelon of cycling and take with it hallowed events that we await each year with the anticipation of a child looking forward to Christmas.
In the fifth season of the A&E series “Intervention” the producers profiled a former cyclist addicted to crack. Some of you may have seen episode 64 on Chad Gerlach, the one-time U.S. Postal Service rider who was booted from the team after clashing with team management.
Gerlach was crushed by his turn in fortune. Though he signed with other teams, he turned to crack and eventually stopped racing fell into a life on the street.
The once promising pro’s problem wasn’t one of performance enhancing drugs, and so it may seem his story isn’t relevant to our typical coverage of drugs in cycling. However, his story is significant in that it shines a bright light on how so many people see all drug use through the same lens; it’s all illicit to a large swath of America.
Gerlach’s family persevered in their love for him and belief in his abilities, which led to the intervention and resulted in his rehabilitation at a facility in Florida.
To the casual viewer, the dream of returning to the pro peloton could easily have seemed unrealistic, a goal so unattainable as to be a setup for relapse. Yet that promise drove Gerlach. After his release he began training again and—incredibly—returned to the pro peloton this season, riding for Lifetime Fitness.
Gerlach just gold-plated his comeback by winning the opening stage of the Tour de Nez. Four laps into the criterium Gerlach broke away with Jonathan Baker and lapped the field. At the finish, Gerlach easily outsprinted Baker to take his first pro win in more than ten years.
The philosopher in me sees simple confirmation in the power of the love of friends and family and what we can achieve when we believe in ourselves. The pragmatist in me sees a story as removed from reality as a romance novel, the very exception that proves the rule.
I know many cyclists who view the entire peloton, to a man, as almost certain dopers. They eye testing programs such as Rasmus Damsgaard’s with the wary distance reserved for used-car salesmen. They are non-plussed by David Millar’s fervor for racing clean and reason if he was lying then, then he is probably lying now.
Gerlach deserves his consideration in our thoughts for how someone can truly turn his life around. An about-face doesn’t have to mean a retreat. We shouldn’t need a lesson so stark in its drama to teach us, but we’ve been trained into suspicion by a mountain of lies. It doesn’t mean we should never believe.
In defying the odds not once, but twice, first by getting clean and then by sprinting for the V., Gerlach ditched the naysayers. We can be suspicious all we want, but what he has in his heart today even the best of us can envy.
Episode 64 of Intervention is available on iTunes.
Image courtesy Lifetime Fitness.