There have been a couple of stories over at Cyclingnews.com on the general theme of doping. In the first, Frei Explains The Motivation Behind His Doping | Cyclingnews.com, BMC’s Thomas Frei explains his motivation behind doping with EPO. He failed an EPO test, and declined to have his B sample tested – admitting guilt, he seemed to be relieved to have the truth out. In this article, he touches on the motives behind getting involved in doping. While I appreciate that there is always the possibility that his public statements may to an extent be self-serving, they do seem to me to be quite illuminating.
“Of course I would have gone on doping. The money tempts you, it is the same for everyone,” said Frei in an interview with Swiss website NZZ.ch.
As for his slide into doping, this comes across as something straight out of Trainspotting:
As for himself, he said that he started his pro career clean. “Then came the hard stage races, and I learned that infusions were used for recovery. Everything was legal, but I still didn’t want any of it. But at some point it started [for me], because everybody does it. The doctor gives you the first shot, and then it isn’t long until you give yourself the first illegal shot.”
He said he took EPO, because “you stand in front of a huge mountain and don’t know how to get over it. Your ambition eats you up. After all, you want to become more than just a helper.”
The section I find interesting is how the teams work. While they aren’t directly saying to the riders “You must take this to be competitive” (well not since the days of Festina), there does seem to be a tacit acceptance. Teams never enquire why a rider shows a sudden and dramatic improvement in form, and of course where not only is survival through long hard stage races an issue, but pay and future contracts reflect performance, the temptation to dope will always be present. Frei finishes with:
“From the bosses you only hear, ‘We don’t want any doping cases.’ But what they really mean is something else.”
And this seems to be key. It seems to me that riders are victims as well as culprits complicit in doping. The teams want strong athletes that can deliver performance, and in the face of (probably hard to eradicate) doping practices choose to turn a blind eye in favour of disowning the rider when he’s caught. To my mind the teams end up being complicit. While there’s ostensibly a new anti-doping breed of cycling teams out there, the cynic in me wonders “says who?” – who can we believe in a murky world of black market doping, where investigations get shelved with only partial justice (e.g. Ullrich busted, Valverde still riding while dodging investigations), or cases where justice and retribution are so long coming that an athlete may well retire before punishment.
A second story, High profile Italian doping case close | Cyclingnews.com, seems to indicate that a high profile Italian cyclist may be busted before the Giro d’Italia gets going next week. This follows widespread analysis of blood values – the “biological passport”. So far, five Spanish and Italian riders have been busted for blood value manipulation.
It does seem as though the response of the dopers (and one might surmise in the light of major doping rings) the doping industry has been less in the direction of stopping, or trying new products and more in the direction of fine-tuning the doping process with the objective of making detection less likely. Much of this focusses on what’s probably the most effective drug for an endurance athlete, EPO. Strategies for evading detection have included microdosing (as in the case of Frei), and the use of modified EPO derivatives such as CERA. CERA, of course, was being pushed as an undetectable form of EPO, a promise happily unfulfilled as the rash of offenders detected over the last few years testifies,