Sunday, June 15, 2008

The PRO Life

Suffering is the glamorous part of being a PRO. The visage of a PRO is never more dramatic or memorable than when juxtaposed against his immaculate PRO kit and state-of-the-art carbon machine with complementarily colored saddle, pristine white tape and gleaming chain. With his face twisted in a sweat dripping, snot slathered, lactic grimace, he is the epitome of effort.

We acknowledge the training the PROs do to reach their fitness, but rarely do we speak of the sacrifices they make beyond the restrictive diet. Sure, we know they can’t eat donuts and drink beer with every meal, but pedaling a bicycle at 40 mph to win in front of thousands and in front of television cameras that will broadcast your exploits into tens of millions of homes around the world requires sacrifices most of us are unwilling to make.

After all, the training is only part of the equation. Rest is equally important; under a 30-hour-per-week workload, PROs nap daily and sleep hours of which we can only dream. The routines of a PRO are simple, monastic: Eat, train, sleep. Repeat.

Strolling through shops in the afternoon: not PRO. Hiking in the woods with the girlfriend: not PRO. Driking margaritas on the beach at sunset: not PRO. Dancing at discos at midnight: not PRO. Taking recreational drugs: not PRO.

These are the basic, the elemental refusals a PRO must make his peace with if he wishes to reach the top. It is not so different from getting married: marriage means not playing the field, not if you wish to do marriage well.

What the riders want is not at issue. The crisis the sport faces is one of perception. The specter of performance enhancing drugs makes the athlete look like a cheat and cheating is unacceptable to the vast majority of fans and sponsors. Cheating is uncovered often enough that it is unpalatable to most sponsors.

If, indeed, all that was at stake was bicycle riding, no one would care. Pedro Delgado, Frank Vandenbroucke and Bjarne Riis would all have stayed at home were that the case. But this isn’t just bicycle riding; that’s what we, the television audience do. While we may race, for whatever reason we chose not to pursue the PRO life and its many sacrifices.

No, Delgado, Vandenbroucke, Riis, etc. were in pursuit of the age-old draw: fame and fortune. It may be that cheating doesn’t upset everyone, but most folks like to know that an athlete’s glory was achieved without outside assistance.

It is true that big money sponsorship has brought increased scrutiny to cycling. But no one has complained about the increased television exposure and salaries that came with those sponsorships. Were cycling still the sport of peasants sponsored 100 francs at a time, few would care. However, multinational corporations have an image (whether accurate or honed by the PR machine) they wish to protect. A company like Nike has enough problems with accusations of slave-wage labor not to want to battle the added image problem brought on by the scandal of a doped-up athlete.

Back when dope was an individual affair, which is to say, before science and organization entered the picture, stimulants and analgesics were the name of the game. “Pot Belge” has usually been described as a mixture of amphetamines, cocaine, heroine and caffeine. Recreational drugs, all. There’s been some speculation about just how much Pot Belge can help one’s performance, but whether it really helps or not, isn’t the point. The riders believed it helped and that’s enough to cast it in the dark light of performance enhancing.

With the advent of the biological passport and longitudinal testing as tools to verify that riders who race (that is, all riders, not just the ones who win) are clean, there are no vacations from the PRO life. That’s the deal.

There’s an implicit understanding when you get married: no hookers, no ex-girlfriends (or boyfriends). The same thing goes for cycling: no drugs. It’s a simple formula, really. The audience and the sponsors don’t want to ask questions about the nature of the win. If you have to ask which drugs, you don’t quite get the picture.

Longitudinal testing is intended to show that riders know the difference, that they understand the definition of cheating from the fans’ view. With fans and sponsors leaving the sport, there are no small infractions. There are no acceptable drugs. If drug testing profiles the substance, chances are it shouldn’t be in you, not if you want to be a PRO.

How Tom Boonen might be penalized for his transgression is pretty unimportant. He’s not going to the Tour de France. The green jersey will not be at the Tour de France. That’s a big deal. Would a two-year suspension teach him something more than missing the Tour de France? It seems unlikely.

Boonen needs to get a clue. Every time one rider tests positive, the whole of the peloton is cast in suspicion. It may not be fair, and the dedicated fan might be able to see through it, but big-dollar sponsorships and television coverage demand that price be paid.

Morality is not the subject here. We sit not in judgement. If you need to party like Lindsay Lohan, that’s for you to decide, but because a PRO’s body can be tested 24/7/365, a PRO is on duty for the duration. Those are the stakes of the game. Play it well and adulation and riches will be yours. Play it poorly and embarrassment will be thy middle name.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International


Anonymous said...

It seems BKW is a bit pissed at ol' Tom. Sure, he did something incredibly stupid. It is also readily apparent that he is having difficulty dealing with the amount of pressure he's under every day. He's like the Brett Favre of Belgium, though he career has not gone on nearly as long as Favre's yet, of course. Though I am no huge football fan (Fall is for 'cross) Favre knows a thing or too about suffering. He suffered through an addiction himself. Should we remember Favre for his pill-popping, or for playing at the level he did for as long as he did? Tom needs some damned help. Let's hope he gets it, so we can remember his career as one notable for amazing sprints and cobbled classics and not as a preamble to a tragedy a la that of "Il Pirata." I also hope my favorite blog on the internet doesn't feel the need to reproach the man in a third post. There's some great racing going on across the pond and in our own back yards. Is it not PRO to acknowledge a sad fact and move on to real business?

Anonymous said...


"Though I am no huge football fan (Fall is for 'cross) Favre knows a thing or two about suffering."

Anonymous said...

It was cocaine, not EPO. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

although drinking beer on the beach = PRO. Just ask Bert Contador!

Anonymous said...

Wow, This is probably the worst blog entry I've ever seen here. Way to support prohibition and the ASO's attempts at disneyfying cycling. Boo on you. (FYI: Non drug using elite racer)

PS: cocaine != EPO
PPS: Out of competition (hence the non UCI santion!)

Anonymous said...

surprised by the entry.

can't say I agree.

Anonymous said...

It's been repeated many times, but cocaine use is a sporting violation only when used during competition, and this was taken outside competition, so there was no doping violation. The result shouldn't have even been reported in the media, because it's merely gossip: that is, exposing the personal life of a celebrity for no reason other than public curiosity.

The media obsession with celebrity scandals is much more to blame for causing trouble here than any individual's partying. Let's allow riders to have a private life and focus our attention on their cycling persona.

bikesgonewild said...

...thank you, padraig...i can't for the life of me, believe so many people w/ in the cycling community just don't get it...

...adding the adjective "recreational" to the noun "drug" does not or at least should not, lessen the reality to an intelligent person...

...educate yourselves...being off-handed about drugs is foolish & dangerous...understand the health aspects of drug usage...

...& if that's not enough, then understand the criminal consequences...people lie, cheat, steal, ruin their own lives & the lives of family & friends...

...tommeke is the biggest belgian sports 'hero' since it or not, that means he's a role model...& that should say it all...

Anonymous said...

Twice, caught driving at very destructive speed, doing cocaine while a PRO under intense scrutiny of the sport, sounds like a cry for help, a little self destructive or something. I hope the guy gets some help.
The attention goes with the wins, I don't want to spend everyday on the subject, but humans can't not look at a car wreck. Tom you seem a wreck. Get well.

Anonymous said...

get over it guys,

i used to like this blog, but now you just seem like little girls.


you say:
"It may not be fair, and the dedicated fan might be able to see through it, but big-dollar sponsorships and television coverage demand that price be paid"

i say:
do i want this sport to be ruled by money? NO
fairness is worth a thousand times more than money or big audiences.

so we need to fight DOPING,
not a guy having fun after wining Paris - Roubaix.

if human behaviour scares off the big money, i don't have a problem with that.

most off us don't want a sterile sport.
it is the personality, humanity that makes this sport so great.

Anonymous said...

oh where 'o where has my bkw gone?

Anonymous said...

Obviously drug-taking of any kind really bothers you. But, PROs are people too. While most of the time their routines are "simple" and "monastic," they are still people and, believe it or not, occassionaly blow off steam. Just because Boonen is talented enough and has worked hard enough to become a PRO, should he now be held to the standard of perfection (and therefore not human) you've set forth?

Taking illegal recreational drugs is clearly not the intelligent thing to do, but it really doesn't have anything to do with Boonen being a PRO.

Rather than requiring athletes to be monks and nuns, we should be focusing on what matters -- making the use of performance-enhancing drugs non-viable. The standard they should be held to is simple: don't cheat. Everything else they do just makes them more human and more interesting.

Anonymous said...

perhaps it's because i stopped idol-worshiping these guys and the lifestyle 15yrs ago that i simply see this whole incident for what it is. poor judgment on the part of a guy who rides a bike for a living. hopefully tom figures it out.

the rest is noise.

i believe the general sentiment was stated here some time ago, somewhere:
many of us live cleaner lives than pro athletes.

go outside and ride.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:56 & anon 9:58 have it right.

What's with the deifying of "PRO"? Once you realize that heros and supermen only exist in myths and fairy tales, you will find that you can still enjoy watching the sport. Sure, it will look a little different to you, but you might even get a little more out of it.

Anonymous said...

secondary gain:

one some level in a culture of testing, you know everything you do registers in your blood.
no matter who we are, there's always a desire to be someone else. being this young, this famous, this fetishized by the masses, this accountable.. maybe the psyche needs a way out. maybe part of yourself needs a portal out of something that's really a guilded prison.

maybe a part of him realizes now that he's set for life, that there is no there there.
the subconscious is an elegant thing. its true motives are never fully discovered in the moment.


Jim said...

If Boonen wants to go into a back room and shoot himself up until he starves to death, I'm fine with that. But I really resent people who insist that it's jackassery to criticize his extremely public involvment in fairly serious illegal drugs, not to mention the reckless (drunk?) driving and his claims about banging an underage girl for two years, claims he now says were a joke.

If he wants the right to act like an enormous ass, it seems to me that the rest of us at least have the right to criticize him for doing so. I'm a fan of Boonen's racing, but find it inexplicable that people are ready to go off on Padraig for criticizing Boonen for doing stuff that would cost most of us our jobs and possibly our families. If you don't criticize really bad behavior, then tolerating egregious public displays of that behavior will tend to legitimize it.

Padraig said...

Our personal feelings--both for BKW and the readers--pro or con, aren't what's at stake here. To say BKW is pissed at Boonen misses the point entirely. If our readers--all of them--think Tom snorting coke when he's not racing is okay, that's perfectly fine. However, everyone needs to understand that the larger prevailing view doesn't share their laissez-faire attitude. And that prevailing attitude has a firm grasp on the purse strings.

Also, it seems unlikely that young Tom is in such a lost state that he needs rehab, which is what's being suggested any time someone advocates "help."

Put another way, it's unlikely that Boonen has a drug problem, small d. He is, however, now another footnote to cycling's Drug problem, capital D.

The point of the posts is to demonstrate the way his behavior is viewed in the larger context in which cycling is considered.

We can say that we're okay with big money walking away from cycling, but the logical endpoint of that line of thinking (and march of dollars) would be to return to the days when results for a stage of the Tour de France could only be found (in America) the day after in the New York Times.

Who really wants to go back to that?

jza said...

If your need role models for clean living, professional sports is the WRONG place to look.

Holding up cycling to some imagined standard of purity is ridiculous. Every great rider has their share of baggage, some just hide it better.

It's one thing to take a stand against ATHLETES WHO USE PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS (which any famous cyclist has). It's quite another to NITPICK ABOUT WHAT A YOUNG MILLIONAIRE IS DOING IN HIS FREE TIME.

Unlike most young millionaires, Tommy does have to pay some consequences.

Anonymous said...

Not to further beat this horse but "disgusted" 5:47 makes a distinction between caffeine and cocaine that unintentionally sheds light on the shades of grey at stake here. In Rough Ride, Paul Kimmage describes taking caffeine suppositories at a crucial point in a criterium. Low-level doping right? Probably didn't make much of a difference anyway. That's a little different than the common (and sacred) practice of drinking espresso before a race, because caffeine intake in those quantities and that setting is socially normalized, unlike illicit caffeine intake through an "unconventional" orifice. But although sipping black gold isn't metabolic or cardiovascular doping, it IS performance enhancement, AND a drug. It perks you up, and I certainly love a pull before a ride, but nobody's going to call it dope. So, the in-competition belts of espresso are fine, but in-competition caffeine suppositories and out-of-competition bumps of coke aren't? That makes perfect sense to most people, but for cultural, rather than logical, reasons.

It really comes down to the social interpretation of the timing, intent and quantity, of drug intake, as well as the type of drug. Padraig seems to be one of the only ones here who chides Boonen but actually understands what the confluence of all these factors means to the sport of cycling. Most of the rest are limited to a moral outrage at the type of drug and little to no analysis of any other factors. I agree with Padraig in some respects, but only in the context of what the sport has already been through.

With respect to the "monkish" PRO life, however, being "on-call" for a drug test seems trivial when cast in stark relief against actual on-call surgeons who may be interrupted during their fourth glass of wine to go cut someone open. This logic should suggest controls on physician drug intake of all types, and we all know that reports of alcoholic and drug-addicted doctors are legion.

Andrew J. Bernstein said...

Boonen is one of the most electrifying racers on the road. When he races we all win.

If Boonen had been caught using a performance enhancing drug in competition (or a non-performance enhancing drug in competition) I would have been the first to turn my back on him. But that was not the case. I believe that pro riders should be allowed to live their private lives in private (with the exception of out-of-competition tests for performance enhancers, obviously).

The point being, part of what has made Boonen such a successful racer has been his attitude. That attitude is forged, just like all of ours, in part by the people he surrounds himself with and the way he spends his time.

So he likes cocaine? Who's he hurting? If it clears his head and helps him get focused for the races, the benefit is for everyone: fans, sponsors, promoters, etc...

If he broke the law, punish him for that, but if not, let the guy race or we all loose out.

Anonymous said...

The rules as they are to be interpreted and written pertain to banned, performance enhancing drugs used in competition; given the fact that this is was an out of competition positive, the cycling powers-that-be, have no jurisdiction in banning a rider who has not violated any in-competition doping controls. Then again, the rules are dependent upon the whims of the head’s of state’s. How fitting that those demanding protocol be followed are the first to proclaim, “Protocol?!”

Perhaps I'm being semantic here, but in my mind this is yet another example of the ASO/WADA/Pro Cycling overstepping its reach and trying to wrangle greater political control by attempting to overstate their relevance by sticking their noses in what is, by definition, a civil matter outside their jurisdiction but certainly not outside their (presumptuous) sphere of influence.

The reasonable person sees how hypocritical, irrational and flippant the ASO, et al have been behaving, especially in the last two years, and how these "judgments" are simply another example of the ad-hock, flight by the seat of their asses, "conviction" that they've passed without unified direction.

As for the civil issues that Boonen faces, these are issues that if any of us faced, we'd be be afforded the luxury of privacy and discretion; the fact that this is aired to the world, simply because he's a professional athlete, once again points to the lack of class and professionalism currently at work in the ranks of Pro Cycling's management structure (and the media in general). And it speaks toward the erosion of credibility of that same structure; this type of billboard, broadcast witch hunt not only makes the cycling community look ridiculous, but it erodes the credibility of that community as a responsible business - don't air your dirty laundry if you want to be taken seriously and don't create sensationalistic press dramas if corporate image (and money) is at stake.

For the record, I am not arguing against the civil consequences of his actions, for which he is responsible, like any of use would be; what I am against is the obvious use of this incident for political posturing, infighting, self-righteous judgments and finger pointing.

Anonymous said...

also, when you look at this stuff it immediately loses context and it gets out of scale and the conversation becomes misaligned with the fact that this is really a personal story.
there's almost no way to talk about it on a public scale without it being lost the act of being consumed.

and that sets up all kinds of political crap and personal agenda and it all becomes meaningless. a guy did some coke. he got caught, there are consequences for him both visible and invisible.

in truth this is really a private issue and the only meaning that matters is for boonen to work out. it just doesn't really have any true global meaning or significance. it isn't about us, it isn't about cycling, and its insignificant to the rest of the world.


RMM said...

Quite obviously, you are trying to justify your previous "Tornado Tom" post with this post. You can expound upon the "PRO" concept all day, but that does not change the fact that what Tom did was a personal matter. If his sponsors choose to penalize him, that is a business decision. If Tom faces legal sanction for a criminal drug violation, then that is a personal legal issue. If you, as a fan, choose not to purchase products that Tom endorses, then that is a consumer decision. But to try to say that what Tom has done is tantamount to doping is absolutely ridiculous, no matter how you spin it. Just because Tom's behavior does not fit YOUR definition or PRO, does not mean that Tom should face any sanctions from the world cycling community.
Tom is still a great bicycle rider and, as far as we know, is fast IN SPITE OF his use of illicit non-performance enhancing drugs.

Anonymous said...

FREDDY, FREDDY, where are you??

Anonymous said...

argh... BKW grows less interesting by the post.

doping won't kill the sport; lack of interest will kill bicycle racing. the break-down in urban planning and a [growing] global love of the automobile is the real threat to the sport. quite frankly fewer and fewer young people ride bicycles. as such it's just not on their radar. fast-forward to young adulthood: the high cost of the *right* gear, the pissy attitude of more experienced riders, and the daunting prospect of mixing it up on decaying roadways with latte-swilling/cell-phone chatting/ tinted-window suv-driving soccer moms late for the pilates session with that new instructor ("i wonder if he'd go for me if i wasn't married like on that episode of desperate housewives...")...

boonen made a mistake in his personal life -- like everyone else that ever read this blog. the difference is that the vast majority of us are not -- and will never be -- interesting enough for others to blog about our transgressions.

if BKW wants to go straight-edge and dress-down everyone for substance-abuse problems that's fine. but warn us so that we can make a decision whether to tune in or not.

"disneyfying" cycling as one writer put it -- sums it up...

at the end of the day, i love cycling and will continue to ride and follow the sport. but we have to quit taking ourselves so seriously if we care about the sport like we say that we do.

Anonymous said...

I am usually stirred into heated agreement by what oldfonzie has to say. He hasn't yet posted, and I suspect because of time differences. Nevertheless, it seems to me that enough has really been said on both sides of a polarised debate. Call Boonen an idiot, foolish, disappointing, irresponsible and not PRO and you are probably well right and no doubt justified. Say that he has a lot of pressure, faces huge personal and public demands and feels compelled to "escape", is crying for help and again you are probably right.

We can re-heat these debates over and over again, but they do not much more than further polarise. Debate is healthy. Overworking the same questions, however, is tiresome.

We'll have to agree to disagree . . . but lets sit down, analyse and have polarised views on what always turns out to be an interesting European season of racing.
Aussie Joe.

Anonymous said...

"My name has been in the news recently and in a negative way. I realize that I have ashamed the confidence of my family, my friends, my team and my fans. I wish to stress my apologies for all this."

"I myself am not perfect and I will accept the consequences. I hope you understand that despite all what has been said and written, right or wrong, I will not make my case here now."

"The next few days I will take things easy and get some perspective on all the emotions. I'm lucky to be able to count on support from people close to me. I know I can count on the confidence of the team as well, for which I'm very grateful."

"I also hope I can count on some understanding from my fans, I assure them I'll do anything I can to be back on top and they should be looking forward to my utter engagement in this."


Anonymous said...

Lance inhaled...

Anonymous said...

''Put me back on my bike....''

Old Fonzie said...

The standard explanation one reads for the definition of Omerta is silence, a defiance in the face of authority. This didn't seem to tell the whole story, it sounded to Sopranos.

So I looked it up. It's pretty interesting. It comes from the Sicilian word for man, and means manliness. Even more interesting, it is derived from the latin word for humility.

So it's taken me awhile to figure this out. I mean doping has taken over the sport. It has become the defacto authority. So technically, the manly thing to do is to stick it to the man and just say no. This is the new revolt we are under.

I am glad Tom is not taking the rap for the drugs. He's come out saying it was slipped in his drink and he went home feeling ill. I'll accept that. Give him an out. It could be true, either way I hope he's going to take things a bit more seriously when he's home watching someone else don the green jersey. I mean everyone knows you have to keep your eye on your drink. Even Lemond preached that years ago.

PRO, as cool and showy as it may seem, is at its heart a show of humility. Good sportsmanship is about humility, omerta. It's all part of being a bike monk as my college room mate used to call it.

Anonymous said...

there will always be someone who even with a hangover, jetlag and a cold can drop and the bike monks in the pack...we can all think of that guy who can outparty and outride everybody
love 'em or h8 'em

Anonymous said...

looks like ole fonzie is as easily swayed as they come. pretty pathetic, but typical! hey clinton didn't inhale fonzie, you believe that?

Anonymous said...

At first I enjoyed this blog, but it's gotten to the point where it's taking itself waaay too seriously. Simper on all you like about not eating chocolate EVER and excercising restraint when someone offers you half a glass of red wine when you've already had what you've allowed yourself this week, just because it doesn't fit in with this romanticised ideal of what you call the PRO lifestyle; fact is, Boonen demonstrated he can party a little and still smash all comers. Get out and ride your bike for f***'s sake. Come over to my place for beers after if you like.