Drugs, Pubs and Cycling

The majority of posts on Irish Peloton tend to incorporate plenty of past race results, trivia and random facts. Many of the sentences begin with ‘he was the first rider to win’ or ‘only three riders have ever…’, etc. etc. Amongst the barrage of doping stories that have emerged over the past couple of weeks, it’s hard to stay motivated to write such relatively unimportant sentences. Alberto Contador, Ezequiel Mosquera, Riccardo Ricco, Oscar Sevilla, Roy Sentjens and Kirk O’Bee have all contributed to a very gloomy period for the sport. Suddenly, posts filled with stats about who won what back in the eighties or nineties seem irrelevant and insignificant.

I’m also a huge football fan, and as such, like many others, I enjoy watching the odd match in the pub. The atmosphere in a packed pub filled with fans of opposing teams can be fantastic banter. The odd time (although I try not to make a habit of it), I’ve ended up on my own in a pub watching the football. But it’s grand, you sit up at the bar and you start talking shite to the guy next to you. Ten minutes later you’re arguing over which David May goal was more important, the one against Porto in the Champion’s League quarter final, or the one against Middlesbrough on the last day of the 95/96 season. With football, there’s always someone to talk to and something to talk about.

But as a massive fan of cycling, there is no such outlet. I’ve got very few friends and family who are willing and able to talk about cycling with me. Most of them are probably sick of me turning the conversation to cycling all the time. Wandering into a pub and asking the nearest crusty had he heard the result of Paris-Tours would be beyond futile. My Dad, who is thankfully a cycling fan, recently returned from Belgium where he had been gigging. Having never been there myself, I was intrigued to hear that talking to barflies about cycling is a popular activity there (incidentally, the consensus, he gathered, is that Sep van Marcke is due to be the next Belgian classics star). But this idea of being able to burn the ear off almost any stranger in a country where cycling is the national passion is completely alien to me. I yearn for this kind of culture to embed itself in my own country.

Sadly, with the latest doping stories, and especially the Contador one, I almost have my wish. Finally people want to talk to me about cycling. “Ah, here’s Cillian, he’s into cycling, ‘What do you think of the Tour winner getting busted again? Sure they’re all on drugs aren’t they?'”. I try to explain that it may not be as clear cut as ‘the Tour winner tests positive’. So I start droning on about Clenbuterol and beef, but then admit that actually Contador has been stopped from riding the Tour twice before. Then I’m asked “And what about Armstrong, he’s in the shit again isn’t he?”. By the time I’m finished my shpeel about how cycling is doing a lot more than most other sports to combat doping, and that Operation Puerto actually included a rake of footballers who were never named, I’m forced to admit that in the past twenty years, the only Tour winner that hasn’t been suspended for drugs, or been under suspicion for drugs, is Carlos Sastre. One year out of twenty. Pitiful.

But I persist, telling stories of BikePure and guys like Marco Pinotti. How Nicolas Roche just finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour, ‘that’s like Shamrock Rovers making it to the Champion’s League semi final’. How the An Post team are signing up the young Irish talent and giving them opportunities to ride big races against the best in the world. How Matt Brammeier has just signed for HTC-Columbia, ‘that’s like Gary Twigg signing for Manchester United’. But it’s no use. The average sports fan that knows that Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche used to be good, can’t see past the headline ‘Tour de France winner tests positive’.

It’s embarrassing, and it’s frustrating and it’s hugely discouraging.

But it’s not going to make me stop watching. And it’s not going to make me stop writing my stat-heavy trivial articles. My only wish is that the UCI cuts off their anti-doping arm. One governing body clearly cannot simultaneously promote the sport and police the sport. There’s too much of a conflict of interest. When the next time a big name rider tests positive (sadly, I have no doubts that there will be a next time), I want to be able to say to my friends, ‘yes, but, the powers that be are doing everything they can to rid the sport of doping and catch the cheats’. Because at the moment, I cannot utter this sentence to my friends, and believe it myself.

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  1. Richard Lee - October 8, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    I have that predicament here only with hockey. Don’t get me wrong I love it. The only other time was when I lived in Montreal and I could go into a coffee shop and the Tour was on. I thought, “boy they just know over here!”
    Definitely a great step up for Brammeier good luck to him.

  2. irishpeloton - October 8, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    Yeah, he only declared for Ireland recently. He used to be a part of the British setup, so he used to be a team mate (and also a room mate) of Mark Cavendish. So he reckons he could form an integral part of the lead out train.

    I’d have more people to talk cycling with if I got up off my arse more and went for a few group spins!

  3. Barry - October 8, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    “I’d have more people to talk cycling with if I got up off my arse more and went for a few group spins!”

    Sunday 9:30 in Dundrum?

  4. irishpeloton - October 8, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Yeah, about time isn’t it?

    I’ll be in Dublin and won’t be hungover, so I’ve no excuses.

  5. Stephen Salmon - October 10, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

    Doping who is who isn’t?? Won’t stop me any more from following and supporting cycling! It did when Armstrong started winning but the seeds had already been sewn in my when Delgado was caught only for the substance to be banned weeks after the tour finished. I slowly began losing interest then. But the emergence of Bike Pure and some ex pro’s coming out etc has slowly began to restore my faith again. Especially as Dan Martin and Nicholas Roche are signed up to their oath! I’m like you man … only know people want to hear my thoughts especially in work. I dont defend them in the slightest. I for one am convinced AC is a doper and there are many more and to me the slightest hint and you’re guilty!! Life ban!! Unless an absolute accident or freak thing happened. But very hard to believe them because these are professional sports people with doctors and all the support they need. No excuse for putting something you dont know everything about in your body! But i am lucky too i have 2 close friends mad about bikes! their knowledge is like yours…puts me to shame! Thanks again for great article … Stephen

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