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David L. Stanley

Cycling's Culture of Doping: A 2018 Update

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".


In 2015 David L. Stanley took a hard look at cycling's culture of doping. It's worth a re-visit.

Here he takes a look at where things stand at the start of the 2018 racing season:

Early in February, I was riding the rollers and watching the Olympic Channel, because in Michigan, that’s what one does in early February when there’s not enough snow to cross-country ski but there’s too much snow and cold to go for a proper ride. On the screen, I watched the official 1988 Calgary Winter Games video. I remember those Games well. I was 30, an aging bike racer who had to decide whether to get a real job or go to medical school. Through the lens of 2018, it was fascinating stuff.

The latter part of the film focused on Nordic skiing; the rivalry between Norway, Russia, and Italy. The most staggering takeaway in this Nordic saga? Our utter ignorance. Bill Koch provided the expert commentary. Koch took silver in the 1976 Innsbruck Games, prior to the Pyeong Chang Games three weeks ago, the only American to medal in X-C skiing. (All hail Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins. Hail!) He spoke in awed tones of the severity of the Russian secret training camps.

Bill Koch

Bill Koch going very fast on two skis.

“Those camps are so hard and competitive, that’s the reason that the USSR hasn’t competed much on the World Cup tour this season. And they’re all at altitude, too. They probably get much tougher competition among themselves than they would with the rest of the world on the Tour. So, they can train hard, focus on recovery with massage and hydrotherapy, eat well...”

Secret camps. Special health treatments. It seems that the Russian doping scandals didn’t start in Sochi or Rio.

You might also remember Marja-Liisa Hemoglobin, er, Hamalainen from the '84 Sarajevo Games. With very few racing kilometers, she demolished the field. Her then-husband, Harri Kirvesniemi, was one of the pioneers of sports doping in Europe. But we didn’t know.

Maurilio de Zolt. Italian ace. Started skiing late in life. Made the Azzuri at age 27, after only three years of racing. He barely raced each year yet dominated during the Games. We’ve seen that movie many times since, yes?

I understand, everyone in every sport was doping at the time. In 1984, I raced at track nationals in Trexlertown against the LA 84 Games US men who blood doped. They went really fast. I saw women at the track who had changed appearance – from athletic, healthy women to nearly masculine – because of their steroid use.

Thirty years later, we’re still doping. Maybe motors are widely prevalent. I’m not a man on the scene so I can’t say. Maybe Froome was doping illegally with salbutamol for his asthma and ergogenic purposes. I’ll wait until the verdict to pass judgement.

But to the bigger point, we didn’t know exactly what was happening in the peloton in 1988, or 1998. By 2008, thanks to Betsy Andreu, we started to get a glimpse of one particular scandal. Today, I suspect we still don’t know how far down the rabbit hole the needles fall.

Bill Koch, in 1988, was awed by Russian “preparation.”

We soaked it up as Phil and Paul lame-splained Armstrong’s pas normal outrageous feats during the early 2000s.

I fear we’re no better off in 2018.

We were at first ignorant. Next, we were complicit. Now, we better be angry.

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