Opinion: Should we just stop asking about doping?

Matthew Beaudin takes offense to Pat McQuaid's request for the press to ease off its line of doping questioning

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ST. NAZAIRE, France (VN) — Just let it go.

The intolerable white noise of doubt. The thought to question, thanks to the past that’s latticed our hearts, our minds, in doubt. That wet blanket of disbelief.

Just let that — all of that — go.

That is Monday’s message from Pat McQuaid, the president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, when it comes to journalists asking about doping.

“I think the riders deserve another thing than to be asked about doping as the first question when they show up in the press conference,” he told AFP, a French news agency.

“I think the media have to understand the riders of today don’t deserve to be judged on the mistakes of their predecessors, of the riders of a generation of the past now. Riders of today need to be respected for what they are trying to do, which is to race clean and race without a doping program.”

There’s nothing to see here. Move along.

He may be right about the first point, though there’s never a good time to ask about doping. Not the first question, nor the last. Bradley Wiggins proved that last year, when he called the journalists a bunch of “c*nts.”

And certainly today’s riders do not deserve the collective guilt of an entire press corps that’s been worked over by dope and PR machines in the past and promised to do better next time around.

It’s the greater part of McQuaid’s message, though, that’s particularly concerning for those who cover the sport, and those who watch it closely. It’s as if he’s telling us he’s gotten the situation — a situation he once presided over — under control, and that there should be no more doubt.

It’s hugely ironic that a man who sat atop the UCI’s Road Commission during the tenures of Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, etc., would tell us that the sport is changed and we have no right to question it in spite of dominant performances or even positive tests, of which there several at the Giro d’Italia. Maybe journalists shouldn’t have reported those?

Give us a break, Pat.

McQuaid appears to be scolding the press and declaring the sport clean as he runs for reelection as UCI president, and anything doping-related is bad for business. McQuaid released his manifesto on the very same day he said the peloton deserved better than it was getting from the press corps. That doctrine included, among other points, a need to “preserve the new culture and era of clean cycling.”

If only cynicism was so easy to quell. If only we could talk ourselves into an ignorance that would be good for all of us, regardless of the truth or its pursuit. It’s a tough pill to swallow from the head of the UCI, no matter how much better the sport is — and it’s very much better.

This is the same leader who presided over one of the darkest eras in the sport’s admittedly dark history now saying doping questions should stop, and that competition is pure. We believe that much, yes, even if it’s hard to quantify. The guys seem human now, and they never did before. That much most agree upon. But we don’t need to be told to change the tone from the top.

A larger issue, and one that McQuaid has no control over, is the cost of doubt. Because journalists question the sport does not mean they love it any less. And yet there is no doubt that the currency of belief, and the topography of achievement, are diminished now, after years of scandal and races with no winners, from the Tour de France down.

At its best, this is a system of checks and balances. It’s true that no journalist ever “got” Armstrong. He was Teflon. But suspicion? That’s always existed, before Lance, and well after. And for good reason, given the sport’s sordid ways. There’s an element of it that’s healthy, especially now, even years removed from the EPO-drunk generation.

If the press corps — which isn’t as miserably cynical as one may think — just stops asking the jagged questions, it then willingly surrenders itself to author mythology, no matter which riders it’s writing about. This isn’t about one person’s suspected cheating here at this Tour de France at all, but we’ve been down the road of faith before, and no one liked the dead end it became.

Hard questions and fans’ skepticism won’t ever prevent cheating, but there’s a protection in the blanket of historical awareness as opposed to the papier-mâché of blind faith, or in all-out belief, which is what McQuaid seems to hope for based on his remarks Monday.

Eyebrows will raise as long as cyclists climb mountains and as long as human beings improve, which is basic physiology. This is our new reality, sadly, and perhaps one we should have always operated in. No one likes it. But to implore the scribes, and by proxy, the fans, to stop asking about doping?

That’s a whole new level of ignorance.