From the pages of Velo: Gimme Shelter

Columnist Dan Wuori asks for amnesty for vilifying dopers while pretending to understand the circumstances of their choices

Editor’s note: As we ring out 2012, we look at 12 of our favorite stories of the year. Dan Wuori’s “At the Back” request for amnesty for those of us who have passed judgement on riders caught doping first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Velo magazine.

As a part of its transition to democracy — and away from a past marred by Apartheid-era human rights abuses — the interim government of South Africa seated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. Like other such bodies, the commission’s purpose was to shine a light on the abuses of the past, allow violators the opportunity to seek amnesty from prosecution, and, ultimately, bring closure and unite the nation around a new path forward.

Our time has come, cycling.

The 2012 season has been nothing short of transformative. We have seen our greatest modern champion accept a lifetime ban, his team’s leadership charged with a massive doping conspiracy, and a tell-all book so startling that it instantly reshaped our understanding of the sport we love. Now the only question is, what will we do about it?

Signs suggest that the sport’s leaders may be considering an amnesty process of their own, with UCI president Pat Mc- Quaid suggesting his potential willingness to declare a “black era” within the sport during the years of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France reign.

Though greater minds will be left to determine the details of such an offer (particularly as related to the disposition of any vacated results), I’m ready to suggest a little truth and reconciliation around the edges — amnesty for the rest of us.

As a fan of the sport, I’m seeking amnesty on behalf of all who have sat in judgment of a “doper.” While the use of performance enhancers at cycling’s elite level is hardly a revelation, it is only in recent weeks that we have come to understand the extent to which “clean” and “dirty” may (in some cases) describe nothing more than the success of one’s deception. For vilifying “the caught” while continuing to hold the guilty in high regard, I ask forgiveness.

As a related matter, I seek absolution for even pretending to understand the rationale of the riders involved. The world rarely offers simple black and white choices. And though I understand the righteous indignation of those who elected not to participate (often sacrificing their careers in the process), I can also understand the predicament of driven young men who rose to their sport’s highest level only to be met with a devil’s bargain. I wish I could say how I would have approached the same choice, faced with the prospect of abandoning my dreams or breaking the very same rules as those surrounding me.

In this same spirit of forgiveness, perhaps we can end “The Lance Wars.” I’m keenly aware of Armstrong’s polarizing influence within the sport, but the truth is that he’s neither all sinner nor saint — just a man who may yet come to realize we can accept him as something less than a superhero philanthropist. True believers are not to be ridiculed for finding inspiration in his story. Skeptics are likewise not simply “haters” bent on spreading lies about his increasingly less credible assertions. Both have valid points and each could find a little more respect for the other at times. Now let’s move on. (Lance, you should come with us. Really.)

With this amnesty, of course, will come our own sanction, in the form of less explosive racing. As much fun as it was to see riders glide away from the pack as though they were capable of surpassing the limits of human ability, the truth is that even elite athletes are not. We’ll simply have to settle for them being better than we are.

The good news is that recent data suggests a cleaner sport, with speeds and power outputs down substantially since the EPO-fueled days of yore (visit the Science of Sport website for a variety of detailed analyses). And, in theory, the UCI’s biological passport is a major step forward on the anti-doping front.

But the true path forward requires that we say, “Enough is enough.” Enough of pretending the problem was limited to a few bad eggs; enough of allowing the truth to languish; enough of a leadership structure that — at the very least — has been willing to look the other way for far too long.

The time has come for truth, reconciliation, and a real path forward. Perhaps it begins when we tell our heroes we forgive them — and ourselves.

Dan Wuori once wore a helmet with a visor. He requests amnesty for this, too. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.