By Patrick O’Grady
Champagne don’t make me lazy
Cocaine don’t drive me crazy
Ain’t nobody’s business but my own.
— Taj Mahal
Cycling seems to have taken a speed-wobble into an endless “TwilightZone” loop, a hallucinogenic Mobius comic strip written by William Burroughs,drawn by M.C. Escher and colored by Owsley that we have to keep ridingover and over, like some Spinning® class in Hell.
Trying to write about the sport these days feels like bobbing for silverfish in a septic tank on “The Ricki Lake Show” while a defrocked Catholic priestbelays you with his arms locked around your waist. The bad news just keepscoming back up, like the last rancid bite of a roach-coach burrito.
Dopers are scurrying out of the Giro d’Italia like rats from a burningcrack house. At least two of the American soldiers killed in combat inAfghanistan this spring were ardent cyclists. Back home, we share the streets with drunks, fools and crazies, and the trails are all on fire.
Frankly, it’s depressing. If I were eager to chronicle the battles ofcops and crooks, I’d get another newspaper job. There’s always a police-beat gig available for a night owl with a strong stomach and a broad streakof black humor.
But writing about crime, or much of anything else for newspapers, hasless to do with fighting evil than with being its biographer; you’re sureas hell not Superman, and most days you’re not even Clark Kent. That epiphany drove me out of reporting and into editing back in the Seventies, and it was a good, long while before I wrote anything under my own byline again.
When finally I did, it was about cycling, an activity I’d come to loveas both spectator and participant. And maybe that’s why I find this interminable drug scandal so irksome. I could give a rat’s ass how many diet-pill crumbs Bill Romanowski spit on backpedaling quarterbacks, who punches Brian Griese when he’s falling-down drunk, or what type of steroids Mark McGwire used to swat the cover off a 90-mph Rawlings. I’m not interested in football or baseball or hockey; don’t play ’em, don’t watch ’em, don’t care.
But cycling saved me from a life of drudgery, filling holes around theads at one fish-wrapper or another, and to watch all these dirty needlesfalling out of its professional haystack is like seeing Ollie North onTV wearing anything more fashionable than handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.The practice I object to is not doping, but cheating. When therules say, “No dope,” and you take some, you’re cheating. End of story.And I doubt that testing is the solution. Were drug testing both universaland infallible, cheaters would simply switch to doping their rivals, thensit back and chortle as the enforcers gave the suckers a bum’s rush, aswas alleged to have occurred when Stefano Garzelli rang the Dope-O-Meterfor a prehistoric masking agent that Caligula considered too outdated totreat his gout.So why do we even bother testing for drugs? After all, there is a certainirony in watching a pro racer swig from a bottle of champagne the sizeof an upright vacuum cleaner before toddling off the podium for his dopetest. I suspect that hospitals, nuthouses, prisons and cemeteries containa few more boozehounds and the victims thereof than surreptitious consumersof nandrolone, Nesp and EPO.Hell, I took things in college that the wizards said would turn me intoa puddle of hair, piss and bad DNA and I’m still on top of the earth, runningmy little circus act — though I might think twice about having a Bushmill’swith a Guinness back in mid-column if I had to pee in a cup afterward beforecashing the check. Maybe any adult willing to race a 16-pound amalgamationof wire, pipe and rubber for three weeks on Napoleonic cobbles, up anddown mountains and around European road furniture should be allowed totake anything he or she needs to lighten the load.And perhaps finally hoisting the white flag in the war on drugs, whichhas done as much to end athletic chicanery as four decades of an Americanembargo has to unseat Fidel, might even encourage a few new sponsors toreplace the ones that don’t want to be associated with an activity thatgets a bigger writeup in the police blotter than in the papers.Instead of Mapei-QuickStep, we might have Bristol-Meyers Squibb. Amgeninstead of Mercatone Uno. Bayer instead of Saeco (hey, they already providea saddle gel).With Eli Lilly & Co., Warner Lambert and the like as regular advertisersin cycling magazines and TV shows, and the pro peloton as up-front consumers,I could finally quit ranting about dope, you could quit reading about it,and we could all go back to discussing the important stuff, the littlethings that really matter, those inspirational moments that give bicycleracing such a magical appeal.Like those Bob Roll Giro commercials. Wow, whaddaya think he’son?
The polysyllabic jabberwocky, disjointed fantasies and recklessdisregard for the truth expressed on this page are the sole property,cross to bear, and ultimate undoing of the