Riders returning from drug bans. A tricky subject, isn’t it? Throw the book at them, some say. Lifetime bans. Let them rot.
They’ve served their time, others argue. No one is perfect. They should be allowed to right their wrongs and live the rest of their lives accordingly.
I have always leaned towards the latter viewpoint. The US calls its prisons ‘correctional facilities’, yet incarcerates millions of its citizens for inordinately lengthy sentences, effectively ending any hope they may have of returning to the outside world as useful members of society. There needs to be some chance of redemption. And twenty years in the slammer tends to knock that out of a human being. They have made mistakes. Should their lives be forever ruined?
Professional cyclists on the whole remain pretty quiet on the subject of fellow miscreants – on the record, at least, and certainly whilst still part of the pro circus and in need of a new job every two years. They are, after all, still surrounded by the old guard in team management who experienced very different times.
There is a younger generation of riders emerging that are vociferous on returning dopers, however – Luke Rowe springs to mind, for one. Fellow professionals may not have the power to exclude caught offenders from racing, Rowe argues, but they sure as hell can make their lives uncomfortable: blank them, cut ’em up, don’t let them in the line. Make it clear they are unwelcome, basically. They’ll get the message soon enough.
Why am I bothered about this? A rider showed up at my local cyclo-cross race last week having just completed a 21-month ban. I never imagined being in the position of lining up on the grid with someone like that. It is an uncomfortable feeling.
And it has forced a re-evaluation of my stance on drug cheats returning to the sport. When third-cat riders are getting busted and winners of sportives are charging up – Gran Fondo New York winner Oscar Tovar was recently given a two-year ban following a positive test for synthetic testosterone – it impacts directly on us ordinary Joes. And it gives us firsthand experience of how clean pro riders feel about the cheats in their midst, as opposed to theoretical pontificating. How do these guys even dare show their faces in the peloton again?
At professional level, the old “everyone else was doing it so I had to” defence no longer holds. There are no excuses in the modern era.
At amateur level, you have to wonder what is going through their pea-brained heads. Bike racing is a hobby. If you need illicit drugs to fuel your pastime then you belong in a 1990s throwback Ibiza techno club, not a local cyclo-cross race.
So I’m with Luke Rowe and the new generation of riders on this one. No more Mister Nice Guy. It’s time to get ugly.