Idolizing the doping generation

In July of 2002, I was in my local bike shop glaring at the new the road bikes dangling from the ceiling. I would try to reach up and grab the tag to see how much each would cost, but my father made sure I didn’t look at the super expensive ones.

Photo courtesy of BethSchneider/PezCyclingNews

As I was squeezing the brakes of a new demo bike, I heard a mechanic yell, “That’s four! He’s on his way to be one of the greatest American cyclists in history.” It was the final stage of the Tour de France, and Lance came around for his fourth consecutive win.

That moment when he crossed the line, everyone stopped what they were doing to hear the commentators idolize the man from Texas. It was truly a remarkable feeling as a twelve-year-old to watch a modern day hero. Everyone was impressed with Lance’s ability to handsomely beat all the Europeans, including myself. Signs were hung around the shop with yellow lettering and Lance’s cardboard face was proudly displayed in shop windows.

July after July, I would be glued to my television. I would wake up early before summer camp and watch the Postal Service team make a mockery of other squads as fellow Americans ran along the twisty roads of the French Alps waving American flags and showing the Texas ‘hook ‘em’ signs. It was during this era of cycling that I decided to hang up my soccer cleats and retire the baseball bat – I knew I wanted to race bikes for as long as I could.

Many would say that I was naïve to the politics of cycling during that era. To me that’s okay, because I felt that I was in the same boat as thousands other Americans: we all wanted to believe that someone could overcome such a terrible illness and then be one of the strongest riders in the history of sport.

After the 2009 edition of the Tour, Lance took third place after his retirement. At this point I was working in a shop, where I watched the podium celebration on the television propped above my workbench. My manager walked by the television and said, “Man, Lance got third place in the hardest bike race in the world from coming off the couch. That guy sure can ride a bike.” It was at this point I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Since my start of college in the fall of 2009, I begin to dig deeper into the local pro racing scene. This was my first time talking and riding with domestic professionals, and hearing their side of the story. These riders chose not to partake in performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), mainly because it was dangerous and they believed they could beat the system. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the damage Lance (and various other dopers) has caused for these riders and how their careers have changed forever.

It’s a shame, the man who inspired me to compete in the sport I love is now the biggest disgrace to cycling and, potentially, the biggest disgrace to sport ever.

James McCabe/Old Gold & Black

In my room back home in New Jersey is a Shimano poster I picked up during the 2005 Tour of Somerville. (In case you can’t tell, it’s of Lance riding to victory in the 2003 Tour.) I hung it in my bedroom, alongside several of my race numbers. I kept it up there until Thanksgiving break of this past year. As I glared at the empty space on the wall I asked myself, who should I put here now?

Several names come to mind: Katie Compton, Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson and Ted King just to name a few. (The only problem now is finding an actual poster.) Although I’m 22, it’s still important to find faith in this generation of American cyclists after growing up and idolizing the ‘Doping Generation.’

Watching Oprah on Thursday and Friday night will be bittersweet. A part of me is happy that the truth will hopefully come out and be the start of an investigation that will discipline riders and members of governing bodies that assisted the doping generation. On the other hand, a part of me is sad to watch a hero fall. Who was once someone that gave me inspiration is nothing more than dictator ruling with an iron fist wrapped in lies and money.

If this scandal has shown us anything, professional sport is still littered with drug abuse. From baseball to football to basketball to cycling, PEDs are still being used and needs to stop.

After I’m done watching on Friday, I hope Lance will mean it when he says, “today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances,” because at that point, I will no longer wish to focus on Lance, but focus on all the good that cycling is today.

  • Brandon

    Nice column! great voice and honesty about a tough subject. Looking forward to reading more of you. Keep writing!