NEW YORK - FILE: Lance Armstrong, cyclist and founder and chairman of LIVESTRONG, looks on during the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 22, 2010 in New York City. It was reported on June 13, 2012 that the U.S. Anti Doping Agency has filed official charges against Lance Armstrong. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
There's a certain cyclist, and the world can't stop talking about whether or not he took his blood out, spun it around a bunch, then put it back in his body. Let's call him ... Lance A. No, that's too obvious. L. Armstrong. He also might have just injected something that would mimic the removal-spinning-reinsertion process without actually having to mess with test tubes and a centrifuge. Nobody's certain. But even if he did, it shouldn't matter a single bit, because L. Armstrong is a cyclist, and cyclists tend to dope.
Part 1, "Cyclists Friggin' Love To Dope, You Guys," is below. Part 2, "Dave Walsh Can Totally Prove L. Armstrong Doped," will go up later this week.
In 1903, Henri Desgrange needs to sell newspapers, so he creates a race. He makes it six stages long, with each stage about 250 miles. Sixty men enter, 21 are able to finish. This is a disappointment to Desgrange; he was aiming for a sole finisher. Beyond the length, cyclists had to carry their own supplies, fix their own bicycles, and deal with fans of rival riders beating them up in the middle of the night. (Eventually racing is confined to daylight hours to cut down on this problem.) Desgrange didn't invent cycling's "Yeah, but what if we did something really crazy?" attitude, and doping predates the Tour, but it's Desgrange's madness that inspires riders to give their doping a certain panache.
By 1923 Le Tour is 15 stages long and over 3,000 miles long. Henri Pélissier wins it by more than a half hour. In 1924 Henri and his brother Francis quit the race. (Henri had been wearing a bunch of jerseys for the cold mornings and then casting them off as it got warmer. This is against the rules because merde, man, jerseys do not grow on trees.) Furious, they give an interview to a rival paper. "Do you know how we keep going?" he asks the journalist. "Look, this is cocaine, chloroform, too. And pills? You want to see pills? Here are three boxes - We run on dynamite." His brother backs this up: They run on dynamite. This is a bit of modesty from the Pélissier brothers. They left out the strychnine and the always-named-but-never-specified Horse Ointment.
By the 1930s, Desgrange has had enough. He makes things perfectly clear in the rulebook distributed to each team: Drugs will not be provided by the tour, obtaining them is strictly the responsibility of the riders. Perhaps inspired by his example, a decade later Fausto Coppi will take his own bold stance. Reluctant but resigned, he insists he will only take drugs when it is absolutely necessary. Questioned when that is, he clarifies: "almost always." He rides "La Bomba" (amphetamines) to five Giro d'Italia wins, two Tour victories, the world championship, a half dozen classics victories and the hour record, then to the grave at the age of 40.
Tom Simpson wins the doping championship of the 1960s, finding himself atop Mt. Ventoux all wired up but severely dehydrated. He wobbles, and falls over. "Put me back on my bike," he tells the spectators. They oblige. He wobbles to the other side of the road, and falls over dead. (The words will be his legacy, rather than his death. When Chris Horner crashes in the 2011 Tour, he is too concussed to continue the race, but not so concussed that upon being tended to he forgets to say "Put me back on my bike.")
Tom Simpson´s last meters (via Peterko74)
My point is this: Cycling doesn't look for glory in the capabilities of human beings, it picks a particular act of glory and then figures out how to con the human heart into not exploding until the day's won. Wonderful, incredible cycling, a sport that I love, has the whole stupid thing backwards.
After Anquetil the scandals get more rote and less dramatic, so I'll stop with him. In 1965 Jaques Anquetil wins the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. 10 stages, 972 miles. He sits down, has a dinner of steak tartare and two beers. He gets on a plane, flies to Bordeaux, and by makes the midnight start of Bordeaux-Paris. 18 hours and 350 miles later, he reaches Paris first. He wins the Critérium and Bordeaux-Paris back to back, in what is quite possibly still the most ridiculous accomplishment in cycling history. In a television interview, a suspicious government minister asks him how on earth a human being can do such a thing. Well, Anquetil tells him, you don't do it on mineral water alone.
Part 2 of this series, on the wealth of evidence against Lance Armstrong and the lack of a smoking gun, is now up. You can read it here.