Cycling has become a two tier sport. Last week, just two days after Philip Gilbert had become a deserving World Champion a customer who has clocked up over five thousand kilometres so far this year came into the shop. As we chatted about various things I remarked how impressive Gilbert was in the Worlds. The guy just looked at me and asked ‘Was the Worlds on ?’
There are now two distinct types of cyclist, those who cycle and are fans of the sport and those who cycle just as much if not more and have no interest whatsoever in cycle racing.
The deluge of doping scandals that has plagued the sport for so many years has removed the credibility of the racing side of a beautiful sport from the hearts and minds of those who are not cycling fans.
Cycle racing is cannibalising itself from the inside out, with some of the biggest stars also being the biggest perpetrators of corruption within the sport. But something at the weekend opened my eyes to where cycling currently rests within the realm of other sports, even though it still has a long way to go.
David Walsh is, and has been for many years the foremost General of the press in the war against drugs in cycling. I have read much of what he has written on cycling and been enthralled and confused, disappointed and frustrated by the well thought out arguments,to the point of ambivalence with the racing side of the sport. He has done fantastic work uncovering scandal after scandal and has written eloquently about the scourge of drugs in cycling.
Recently he opened a twitter account and his 140 character updates have been interesting. But last weekend his tweets gave me a lightbulb moment that enabled me to see a chink of light in the dark clouds that now rest over the cycling world.
‘Justin Rose’s putts on 16,17 and 18 will remain a special memory, especially as his victory over Mickelson was a game changer.’
‘A strange thought struck while walking down the fourth hole at Medinah, who should the UCI sue, Paul Kimmage or lance Armstrong?’
‘Poulters 5 birdies on the closing 5 holes of the last fourball match on the course was the single greatest feat I’ve seen in any #Rydercup’
‘I didn’t believe Europe could win and had the honesty to say it. Go elsewhere for platitudes. Congratulations to a brilliant team.’
‘MJ was at the golf, made me think of Poulter and Shefflin from Kilkenny.”You’re not a great player until you make those around you great.” ‘
One of the lasting impressions I have gleaned over the years from reading his Sunday Times articles was that those with the most money in cycling were some of the biggest dopers, always ahead of the curve. Think Armstrong and the very expensive Michelle Ferrari. Now if big money in cycling points towards big doping where would that put the €450,000 that the winner of the three week Tour de France gets compared to a golfer who can win $11 million over the course of one weekend .
The Tour has a total prize fund of just over €2 million in total. The Australian open tennis tournament has a prize fund of over $30 million. Wayne Rooney gets paid £140,000 per week plus bonuses to play soccer.
Walsh also tweeted after his interview with Tyler Hamilton ;
‘TH recalled a short conversation with Postal doc Luis de Moral from 1999 ‘you guys take nothing in comparison to footballers’
Whilst the performance enhancing benefits of drugs in cycling are obvious and have been well documented, what benefits could there be for a golfer ?
HGH will enable a golfer to hit the ball 20 to 30 yards longer, said Gary Player the 9 time major winner who had been offered the drug. Tiger Woods has admitted to using platelet rich plasma otherwise known as blood spinning.
Stimulants make a golfer more alert, less sensitive to pain and allow the golfer to exercise at a higher rate for longer.
Beta blockers help calm the nerves and minimise stress related shakes.
If one of the most anti doping journalists in the world is not asking serious questions about these sports it shows just how far ahead cycling is in the journey towards a cleaner sport.
Each and every racing cyclist is aware of doping and banned lists. To ride any National Championship event or The Ras in Ireland a cyclist who takes ventolin for their Asthma needs to have a TUE form completed by their GP. Young professionals are now endoctrined into an anti doping culture with so much stigma attached to a positive test that they now fear for their contracts if they test positive. Teams such as Garmin Sharp are succeeding at the highest level whilst adopting a zero tolerance to doping in a real and not just superficial way. Other teams are still lagging behind but with so much dirty laundry now flooding out from the likes of Tyler Hamilton amongst others the doping ship of cycling has been anchored and hopefully is about to turn into fresh and cleaner waters.
Whilst journalists have been more effective than the governing body of World cycling in setting a culture change in progress, will the same happen in sports like Golf, Soccer or Tennis where the money involved is so much greater ?
Today cycling is the byword for doping in sport, hopefully in five or ten years time cycling will be the example that other sports will be trying to emulate when trying to cleanup their own acts and all cyclists can be fans once again.