Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dammit, Tyler

The hubub of Battenkill was enough to drown out a small piece of big news -- Tyler Hamilton's retirement from cycling due to a second positive doping test. The rumors that he tested positive at or before ToC turned out to be true after all, and the immediate reaction was exactly what you'd expect: what an asshole.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. This time around, he admitted his guilt and claimed the banned steriod (DHEA) he tested positive for came from his anti-depression medication, that he knowingly took this winter. In his words:

"What I did was wrong and yes, I did know it [DHEA] was on the list of banned substances. I also knew that USADA could have shown up any day and at any time to test me. But, I was going through a very rough moment and I was desperate. I heard about it and I thought I would try it out as an act of desperation"

Backing up his story is this quote from cyclingnews:
"There is no scientific evidence or basis for this steroid to be a performance enhancer," said Scott. "It is fair to suggest that the probability of DHEA having a performance effect on anyone, at any amount taken is inconceivable. There is no good reason to take DHEA, this is a very foolish drug to take because it is readily detectable, but it has no performance enhancements."

So, it appears that Hamilton will end up being banned (possibly for life) for taking a performance enhancer that doesn't actually enhance performance, but might mitigate depression. Tough break. Before you feel too bad for him, remember that he has a 2004 Olympic Time Trial Gold Medal at home, thanks to a botched B sample test -- so he's caught a few breaks of his own.

The most common response from the cycling community has been "good riddance," and it's hard to blame them -- Tyler's presence, with or without a second positive test, was a reminder of just how dirty professional cycling was just five years ago, and a question about how dirty it may still be.

And that's the real issue here. It's easy to say "Fuck Tyler Hamilton," because it focuses your anger on a person. It's easy to hate people, much easier than a complicated, organic, and faceless "system" -- and it makes total sense, as long as Tyler was one of the rare cheaters in the pro peloton. A pro peloton that didn't even have a test for EPO until 2000, a test for homologous blood doping until 2004, and still doesn't have a test for HGH.

Right.

Let's consider a scenario: you're a phenomenally talented young bike racer in the United States. Maybe your last name is Armstrong or Hamilton -- or maybe Keough or Mannion. Your dream, as long as you've ridden a bike, is to race on the road in Europe -- and you might just be good enough to do it.

After spending a decade of your life working toward this dream, making bike racing your career, you finally make it to the big leagues and find out that everyone is cheating. Luckily, the team doctor will help you cheat too, and since everyone else is doing it -- you're really just leveling the playing field.

Or, you can quit the sport you love and give up every athletic dream you've ever had, and go back home with nothing but your integrity to show for the first twenty years of your life.

Don't forget that you'll never be able to tell anyone why you came back, unless you want to betray every other professional cyclist out there, aka "your entire social network."

So what would you do?

Fuck Tyler, indeed.

19 comments:

Jordan 4/22/2009 11:19 PM  

cycling has never been a clean sport. The tour was initially only finished with a hefty dose booze and even ether in order to the dull the pain on 400km sections.

I read an article two summers ago in the times that quoted Fausto Copp, who rode to yellow in 1949 and 1952, on his response to being asked if he had ever used amphetamines in the tour:

“Only when necessary,” he said.

How often was that?

“Most of the time,” Coppi replied.

Doping control only began after Tom Simpson collapsed and died on Mt. Venoux in 1967, with amphetamines in his jersey.

RMM 4/23/2009 8:56 AM  

Where there is sport, there is cheating. It has always been that way.
Think about how many jackasses attack on the wrong side of the yellow line in cat 3 and 4 road races, sometimes to form the winning break. Gamache Cyclery pulls this in every race and in every category. Why, because it works and you don't get caught most of the time.
People dope because it works and you don't get caught most of the time.

kevin 4/23/2009 10:38 AM  

I've thought about Hamilton’s situation for awhile and it doesn't make any sense, unless he wanted to get out of pro cycling for good.

I'm sure he got tested often, so knowingly taking a banned substance was literally career suicide. Sure, depression is no joke, but there is no shortage of drugs aimed at controlling it, and the majority of them probably don't contain banned substances. For Hamilton to find, and take, one of the few that he knew contained a banned substance means he is either an enormous jackass, or he wanted to get caught.

At least this time he has an excuse that kind of makes people feel bad for him, which was probably part of the plan.

Mom 4/23/2009 11:59 AM  

I just feel bad about every aspect of this. Have a soft spot in my heart for Tyler -- saw him race & win up Mt. Washington, met his parents and brother, rooted for him many times at the Tour de France agonizing over his broken collarbone and ground down teeth due to the pain. What a mess. Oh, Tyler. Sigh.

gewilli 4/23/2009 12:38 PM  

"So what would you do?"write a book like Paul K...

startfinish 4/24/2009 12:35 AM  

If Tyler would only end this saga with some kind of feel good redemption, we could expect to get a pretty good made for tv movie with lots of bicycles out of this. Tyler's life ought to be good for an after school special at least.

I can almost write it myself - Young man works really hard to acheive his dream, young man acheives dream then screws it up by constantly crashing in all the big races, young man marries the women of his dreams but can't keep her happy, blames the bike saddle, young man is unjustly beaten down by the system but prevails, then the young man meets Micheal Ball and his world falls apart. Could just be a coincidence. Then, he turns his life around yadda.... The rest is boring because there are no more bicycles.

But who would play Tyler?
Who would play Micheal Ball?

And thanks for the link to my place.

solobreak 4/24/2009 1:05 PM  

It's not that he wanted to get caught, he just didn't care if he did. There is no point in writing a book either. Everyone already knows that doping was institutional. There have been few changes in team management, so even if the sport has cleaned up considerably, all the perpetrators remain in place.

The problem with zero tolerance is you remove all incentive for anyone to come clean. If a rider comes forward today, without being caught, and admits to doping in the past, they get the same punishment as someone who does everything to avoid detection. This discourages disclosure. The governing bodies want it this way, as they turned a blind eye or even participated in coverup for so long, they don't want the truth to ever come out.

Young riders can still refuse to dope, no matter what the pressure. I'm sure some manage. The real problem to me is that if they still manage to win, many people still assume they dope. How many times have you heard "they all dope?" They don't all dope.

Colin R 4/24/2009 1:12 PM  

Writing a book wouldn't change anything, but I'd still pay a fair chunk of change for an honest account the culture inside of the pro peloton in 2003.

It would still take huge balls to out Lance. That's the real reason it'll never happen.

solobreak 4/24/2009 1:27 PM  

People believe what they want to believe. Lemond gets treated like a jealous nut. He's friggin' loaded, nearly as wealthy as Armstrong. He has nothing at all to gain, yet nobody takes him seriously. Someone like Hamilton, with zero credibility, and a need for book sales cash? The only people who would pay attention are the choir he'd be preaching to.

My point is the dopers getting away with it isn't as big a deal as clean kids being presumed guilty. That's the real shame of the situation.

I've also never seen anything informative about just how powerful dope is. Maybe some of these guys who rant about their power meters can go on EPO for us and blog about the performance gains? They don't call it performance enhancing for nothing, but is it impossible to win without it? Or does the best rider not need it?

Colin R 4/24/2009 1:34 PM  

Are you kidding me, solo?

It's one thing for Lance to shrug off doping accusations from crazy Frenchmen and Greg Lemond, who don't have any real proof.

You're telling me that Tyler could write a book detailing a systematic doping program run at US Postal, complete with all the details and Lance-implication you'd expect from someone on the inside, and wouldn't be a big deal? I'm skeptical.

solobreak 4/24/2009 1:44 PM  

Tyler would have no proof either. It's his word. Same as Lemond and Andreau.

In this country people don't care. Nobody's torn those W stickers off the bumpers of their trucks. Baseball and football are as big as ever.

I try not to confuse the crap I see in the media with facts too. I generally leave that to others. You sucked me in here...

kevin 4/24/2009 2:47 PM  

solo, Dope is pretty potent. A few years ago, Outside magazine had someone (an amature cyclist, coincidentally) go on a doping program, and write about the effects/results...

http://outside.away.com/outside/bodywork/200311/200311_drug_test_1.html

solobreak 4/24/2009 3:22 PM  

We actually rode 6 gaps with that guy last year. I did not talk to him though. HGH sounds good on the eyesight restoration value alone!

Colin R 4/24/2009 3:35 PM  

Solo, I still disagree. Lemond isn't an insider. Andreu has never written anything even resembling a full expose on US Postal and systematic doping. If I recall, he has only admitted to taking EPO personally because he was feeling pressure about his own tour performance. It's not hard to reconcile his story with the concept that "Lance is clean."

If someone from the inside has actually written about/admitted to systematic doping at US Postal and it was swept under the rug -- please provide evidence of such.

solobreak 4/24/2009 4:05 PM  

Honestly I don't follow what shows up in the media very closely. But in the civil trial against Armstrong, for example, the judge merely ruled that the insurer was legally bound to pay Armstrong the bonus, yet Armstrong was able to successfully spin the story into him being exonerated of the doping claims. That was not the case at all.

I honestly don't think there are too many people who know the details. If there was a systematic program, they weren't all on it. Certainly Armstrong was faster than everyone else who ever rode on the team, right? So was this just dope? After all, even as a kid, he was better than everyone else. We saw him at age 18 in Maine and he lapped the field at the Biddeford crit, twice...

Colin R 4/24/2009 4:24 PM  

If there was a systematic program, they weren't all on it. What makes you say that? Hamilton, Heras, Landis... all busted after leaving Postal. Andreu admitted to using as well.

Anyway, my original point is that one of the reasons he may not be able to write a tell-all book (at least not an interesting one) is because it would implicate Lance. Maybe he doesn't have anything on Lance, but stuff like the alleged conversation about Lance dumping Floyd's blood refill make me think it wasn't as secretive between riders and team managers as you do.

Even if the linked anecdote is is just "secondhand gossip" (one of the parties claimed that), the point is that these guys would talk frankly with each other about blood doping.

solobreak 4/24/2009 5:05 PM  

Look at it this way: they left Postal, they got caught. Nobody on Postal ever got caught. The Postal guy always won the Tour. So:

a) They didn't know the alleged program well enough to duplicate it without getting caught.

b) The programs they got caught using weren't effective enough for them to beat the Postal rider.

This leads me to conclude that they were not on the same program as the successful Postal rider. If they were, they wouldn't have got caught and would have been faster (this is assuming the alleged doping program is truly the key to success at Postal, and that the individuals who left Postal were intelligent enough to execute a similar program with similar results).

trackrich 4/25/2009 12:35 PM  

One of the flaws in the very last comment is that one would think doping is an adder on top of a baseline. Two guys who start with different physical attributes are unlikely to get to the same place on the same program. For that matter, I doubt everyone's bodies processes the juice in the same way. Now if the really successful programs had really good pharmacists then they were able to figure out those fine details for each rider. Doping 2 guys to the same level isn't going to correct for one of them being a tactical moron (or his coach being so). I think at this point I refuse to take a side. I want to believe there's clean genetic freaks in endurance sports but evidence to the contrary keeps coming up which makes it harder.

Luke S 4/26/2009 8:44 PM  

Colin-if the guy who wrote that article is the same Stuart Stevens I'm thinking of, he's on the board of NENSA.

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