We are the Robots – a postscript


The discussion about radios and doping goes on unending, though hitherto they have been unlinked in most discussions (particularly the communiques of the main protaganists).  After posing the previous piece about the robotocs of the professional peloton I picked up the latest issue of Procycling, complete with an article on Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. The cycling readers will be only too familiar with this name which leaves a lingering bad taste in the mouth. For those unaware of him you can read a potted history here, but in brief he is alleged to have assisted in the doping of numerous top pro-cyclists.  It is an interesting if brief article but there is one stand out quote which connects straight to the argument I made in my previous post:

“A cyclist suffers more than any other athlete. He becomes quite easy to manipulate. He has a character that can be dominated before even he has gained domination over himself.”

Who gains control over this week and malleable mind is seemingly at the heart of the doping war. Who wins is unclear. But we cannot rule out scenes reminiscent of those for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars where a rider is torn between the good and the bad, the light and the dark sides of cycling culture.

Not that this ends here.  Another interesting snippet I picked up was Greg LeMond’s lecture at the Play the Game conference at Coventry University in 2009.  This is available from both iTunes and Coventry University’s website  and is worth listen to in its entirety. I have to admit, LeMond is a rider I didn’t warm to at first when as a young kid I first started watching cycling. Yet as the years have progressed I have found him increasingly engaging, particularly in relation to the subject of doping.  There are many interesting points in the lecture but the main points in relation to this post are these: first LeMond is adamant that riders do not trust the systems in place but that second, the riders are lab rats (27 mins in), a disposable resource to be played with, used and thrown away.  When we look at a rider like Riccardo Ricco and the reports about his early snare by the dopers it is easy to see how this can happen, especially amongst the less educated or worldly-wise group of riders, particularly those from less well-off backgrounds.  The fact that he mentions increased suicide rates is extremely disturbing, another way in which cycling mirrors life but where it need not and where the systems need to better protect them.  The fixation of some riders in their twilight years and retirement to social and non-performance enhancing drugs should not some as much surprise. Understanding the reason why they start in the first place and breaking that cycle is a fundamental element of any attempt to prevent doping.

However, there come moments when we realise that even though we might think the riders are robots, that we the viewer consume what we are given without care, something happens to break that and shake us back into reality. If the suicide of riders isn’t enough, the death of a rider in competition is a true shock.  On Monday afternoon whilst seeking some joy on my birthday I turned to the Giro d’Italia only to see the unfolding news of Wouter Weylandt’s death.  It is at times like this that we recognise we are human, we all have feelings and we ultimately exist without complete control of anyone else but ourselves.  Of all the opinions, tweets, reports and blog pieces I have seen on this news, Flammecast’s still remains the one that conveys this the most:

There’s not much can be said that hasn’t been already said about this terrible tragedy, I just want to express my condolences and extend my heartfelt sympathy to Wouter’s family, friends and colleagues. The Riders in Giro have the unnerving task of doing today, what brought Wouter’s life to a premature end yesterday. Racing their Bikes.

I know  in my mind I’m still somewhat childish and I still think that Vaughters is only a good winters training away from giving me the call to go ‘Pro’, I feel at times when I ride that I am the same as Wouter, I am breaking away from the Peloton, I am attacking into that final section of Pavé. This is sometimes forgotten, that these men and women of the pro peloton give us this beautiful feeling of freedom of release, of enjoyment, the excitement of riding our bikes. We are connected to one another by these feelings.

Yesterday that connection was filled with sorrow, and we will carry that with us as we ride.  Rest in Peace Wouter.

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