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By Fred Dreier
With last year’s needle-prick and transfusion tube scandals still fresh in my mind, the big question surrounding all of that hubbub remains unanswered: What is the proper way to punish a doper?
Sure, you can slap ‘em with suspensions, fine their bank accounts dry, drag their names through a trough of mud and make their public image darker than an Angus steer’s tuckas on a moonless prairie night.
But will it do any good?
Of course, the teams, too, have their own “Don’t do it” policies. But with the pressure to win augmented by the long list of hungry replacements (who will do anything to be on the team) weighing heavily on every professional racer’s shoulders, one can’t help but see the real message in a team’s anti doping policy:Dope and get caught- we never liked you anyway.Dope and win, we’ll pay your rent another year.Don’t dope and lose, hasta la pasta!Do these policies do any good? Seems to me it’s more of a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach.
Even though this coming racing season is coming up on the horizon, last year’s plethora of dopes is still on my mind. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering if the resulting punishments are really scaring-off the would-be could-be dopers. Perhaps the problem would be solved by real threats. Deep threats. Serious threats.
The Fight Club approach
Thus far this year, the most persuasive anti-doping policy comes from the pro team Nerac.com. At the team’s first official meeting at the Nerac.com HQ in Connecticut, team director and former track racing star Patrick Heidkamp laid down the team’s anti-doping policy.
Any team member found guilty of doping would willingly withdraw from the team. He would also pay for the 10 other team members to fly to his house for, what team member Aaron Brown described as, “a round of free punches.”
I know what you’re thinking: The guy was joking, kidding around, pullin’ legs.Heidkamp hails from Bergisch Gladbach in Germany and does nothing to keep his more Teutonic tendencies in check. If you have doubts, take a gander at his answer to the question, “How would you describe your sense of humor?” on the team’s website.
I’ll be sure to let you know if any Nerac.com team member receives a good old-fashioned German butt-whuppin’ this season.
So, as far as I know, none of the ProTour teams have instituted similar policies, but this writer can’t help but picture 250 spandex-clad skinny dudes laying waste to Oscar Camenzind, David Millar or Johan Museuuw.
“I said one hit, Jan!”
Say what you will about the threats of violence – the Nerac.com team has placed its anti-doping policy at the forefront of its agenda, even ahead of winning races. It’s a strange attitude for a top-level team to adopt, don’t you think? Isn’t the whole reason these guys hop on a bike to win?
“The guys who were selected for this team weren’t chosen just because they can ride a bike well,” said Brown, who just finished an Engineering masters and works at an aerospace firm. “They were selected based on intelligence and integrity.”
With a roster that includes Guatemalan Olympian and former Team 7-Up star Oscar Pineda and cyclo-cross star Adam Hodges Myerson, the team isn’t exactly a bunch of lightweights. Still, with the Tour of Connecticut and the U.S. Pro Championships on the team’s calendar, the team has its work cut out.
But the Nerac.com boys are not the only team who has placed the integrity of racing clean ahead of just winning races.
Taking an alternate route!
Jonathan Vaughters’ TIAA-CREF team of baby-faced under-23-year-olds is based on a strong no-dope ethos. At the team presentation at a fancy Denver restaurant two weeks ago, Vaughters outlined his grand plan for ending the doping culture: Get ‘em while they’re young.
Instead of needles, Vaughters is giving his guys altitude tents and intricate training plans. Anyone who has spent time in a U.S. elementary school in the past two decades will recognize Vaughters’ approach – its straight out of the DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). He believes that by preaching the anti-doping gospel at a young age, the guys will be less likely to hit the junk later in their careers.
Remembering the kids I went to grade school with who later matured into true bong-gods, I can’t help but feel a little skeptical, but I wish the guys the best of luck. As far as I know, Vaughters is not planning on instituting the Nerac.com “tough love” policy, should anyone test positive.
Now, I truly respect Vaughters’ efforts to create drug-free teams, however I can’t help but put on the skeptic’s face when I ponder just how he plans to achieve the goal. Again, central to the team’s focus is the philosophy preached for centuries by dads everywhere:
It’s not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game.
I remember dejectedly sitting in my little league outfit (I should… it was only 10 years ago) after grounding into the last out of the season – the loss kicked our team out of the regional playoffs – and hearing similar lines come out of my own Pop’s mouth.
Now, I don’t remember the exact thoughts that buzzed through my 13-year old skull, but I can assure you they had nothing to do with accepting the life-lesson just offered up by my old man. His philosophy went against everything my culture had ever taught me about sports. I worshipped Super Bowl champs, World Series winners and Bo Jackson (Bo knows why). I wanted to win more than anything, any way I could – playing the right way, be damned.
Who knows? Maybe this is why I’m not the starting center fielder for the Red Sox. Now, a strikeout didn’t spell the end of my baseball career. But not winning can, and will, spell the end of a bike racer’s career.
Now, the guys on TIAA-CREF don’t have to worry about that pressure –it is a development team. But that will be a worry for the guys later in their respective careers. TIAA-CREF is bubbling with talent, including former Saturn hammer Will Frischkorn and 20-year old phenom’ Craig Lewis, but the team has a tough road ahead. While it maintains that winning is not the primary goal – training properly and staying drug free is – the best way the team can validate this philosophy is to win, or at least do well.
And if (and hopefully when) the dope-free boys of TIAA-CREF become the dope-free men of tomorrow’s European pro peloton, we can all look at Jon Vaughters as the dad who helped change professional cycling.
Like most followers of professional sport, I tend to seek out parallels that exist in the realm of organized athletics. With this in mind, please don’t ostracize me for admitting that I recently thumbed through Jose Canseco’s much-hyped book, Juiced. While it took some effort to pick through Canseco’s twisted child-like ego boost, it took me no time at all to pick out the Jose Canseco of the American peloton –any names come to your mind?
Canseco presents steroids use in baseball to be so accepted that, “It was as commonly accepted as getting a cup of coffee or a drink of water.” He gives names, but does not provide definite instances or concrete proof, choosing to remain vague and nondescript in his accusations.
He writes, “Sammy Sosa…It seemed so obvious, it was a joke. Mark McGwire was an experienced steroid user. His physique speaks for itself.”
If you haven’t been to former Prime Alliance rider Matt Decanio’s website yet, check it out –it is the Juiced of the American racing circuit.
Well, yes, there are many differences between the two: the seemingly crazed DeCanio raves about the horrors of performance-enhancing drug use, while the bumbling Canseco discusses the health benefits of “properly-administered” steroid doses.
One can’t help but feel for DeCanio on this one, for his efforts, strange as they may seem, the guy lost his day job and now has to work nights.
Canseco, however, scored an undisclosed wad of baksheesh for “exposing” drugs in baseball by providing about as much evidence as DeCanio did regarding cycling.
Still, until Big Mac, Sosa, or any of the other names Canseco lists as ‘roid ragers, hits the Latin Bash Brother with a libel suit, I can’t help but take his word for it.