Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Winnowing: Race Junkie

Race Junkie is a blogger who is most truly resplendent in the full-foaming rant. On this occasion, she takes off the rabid mask and adopts more respectable form, reflecting her day job as a civil rights attorney.

[Back to the Introduction]

In the two-odd years since Operacion Puerto broke bang in the middle of the Giro d’Italia, bringing a good hundred cyclists into disrepute and effectively ending the careers of, well, Jan Ullrich mostly, the big questions remaining in the fight against doping seem to be: should it be done, are we doing it the right way, and, on a related note, does it seem to be working?


Should it be done? Of course.

Leaving aside the moral argument that winning through cheating is a cheap two-dollar watch of a victory, which it is, I don’t think a very young or very flush rider—or team manager, for that matter--with history-in-the-making riding on his or her choice is in the best position to make an objective judgment as to whether taking some dubious concoction of unknown long-term safety or efficacy is a good idea—that’s right, I think we need to protect riders from themselves, as well as the avarice of those who literally profit off their success.

Are we doing it the right way?

Sometimes. I’m no scientist, but rigorous out-of-competition doping controls seem to be a good idea to keep some folks from amping up their pre-race training only to reap the benefits by racing clean at showtime, and during-competition controls are unquestionably the right thing to do for the sake of the riders—dirty and clean—and the sport itself. I think the problem is in the process: as in the Landis case, setting up the “right” outcome through press blitz only obfuscates the truth, and not requiring an independent lab to analyze the “B” samples guarantees that the lab and the people who hired it have a vested interest in proving they got it right in the first place. For my money—and I say this as someone who benefits from gross rumormongering—confidentiality and objectivity should be the top priorities to ensure both perceived and actual justice.

Finally, is it working?

Well, certainly the governing bodies’ argument that snagging so many dopers only proves the controls are working is ludicrous, in that to me it only proves that (1) the new generation whose mindset we’ve presumably changed is just as dirty as the previous ones, and (2) as soon as one method’s detectable, the race is on to find the Next Big Thing that’ll outwit the tests.

But can we stop, just because human frailty so often outpaces science? No. Because one day, once again, I’d like to gasp at the beauty and power of a spectacular win without having to wonder, just a little bit, whose guiding hand, or needle, is behind it.