What it is, friends.
Hope everybody’s staying cool and the last seven days have been kind. Welcome back to Le Blog, and with Le Tour now in full swing and already on to Day 5, we at MBR couldn’t be happier, even if it is just an excuse to watch some TV in The Shop. (Hey, it’s a slow day. Don’t judge.) I’d like to start by devolving, just for a second, into everyone's favorite topic of trite and inane conversation:
If you’re anything like me (i.e. a living, breathing human with a resting body temperature above 98 degrees), you’ve probably spent at least a few days of June like this:
or, if you're lucky enough to own thirty-five fans, this:
I get it, folks. On the absolute scale, we're nowhere near middle-of-the-country status when it comes to temperature. Whenever I start bitching about this early-summer heat, I hear hordes of contrarians reminding me that I should go stand literally anywhere in Texas for comparison.
Fair enough, but it’s worth noting that this year, Seattle's June heat records have been completely, hopelessly shattered. One can't help wondering if this is a fluke, trend, or new norm *COUGH COUGH* 1000% the latter *COUGH*. But when the friggin' Pope—head of one of the most notoriously conservative and scientifically sluggish institutions in the world—addresses the current state of the climate as a man-made problem that deserves our full attention, you listen.
But I digress.
The reason I mention the weather (aside from the casual reminder that the world's heating up and that you should be on a bike instead of in a car to help mitigate that) is to show you this glorious product of MacGuyvered ingenuity:
If the oppressive heat's been scalding your pasty skin and singeing the hair off your knuckles, then you need to make yourself one of these ASAP. I've made two so far m'self, and wholeheartedly vouch for their efficacy. (Side note: if you can't find the right dryer vents at your local hardware store, 90 degree PVC pipe elbows work just fine.) No cross breezes in your house? Can't afford a $200 air conditioner?Just stick one of these jerry-rigged ice boxes right next to your dome and you'll be revelling in your own personal frosty climate in no time.
So go make one, h'okay? H'okay.
Onward to bike things!
We return to our coverage and commentary on the Tour de France as it enters Stage 5. Despite still being early on in the race, we've already seen some rock-solid fanfare, nasty crashes, heartbreaking drama, and of course, controversy controversy controversy.
Like a pizza without cheese, it seems you simply cannot have a Tour de France without doping. We didn't even make it to the opening ceremonies without some new chemical scandal.
Earlier this year, a report commissioned by the President of the International Cycling Union or Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) found that doping is just as widespread now as it was during the Armstrong era. One source listed (perhaps dubiously) as a "respected cycling professional" claims that over 90% of the peloton are still cheating. Regardless of the statement's validity, it's still pretty damning for cycling and further threatens our professional ranks' respectability and (non)reputation as a "clean" sport.
So while Armstrong was the most decorated cyclist to be caught doping, he certainly wasn't the first or the only, and today's professional cyclists seem to have learned from his mistakes, meaning, of course, that they're just getting better at not getting caught. The UCI has been trying to clamp down harder on doping by introducing new measures and regulatory testing methods, and while this is certainly a step in the right direction, the positive effects are offset by other new rules like the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), which has created yet another loophole to be exploited.
This leads us to today's big question: Has the use of bodily enhancements and assorted goofjuices ballooned so much and spread its spiny tendrils so far and deep that it's too ubiquitous to stop?
The evidence is there. We know this happens all the time. It's widespread and it's virtually uncontrollable under UCI's current practices. I'd say it's time for a new paradigm.
Let me begin by offering a supremely unpopular opinion:
I'm still impressed by Lance Armstrong's 7 title wins.
I'm not lauding the man as a paragon of human morality. Yes he's a cheater. Yes he's liar, a bully, fraud, and, by many accounts, probably a total dick. He made millions of dollars off fraudulent behaviour and the goodwill of others. He let down billions of fans worldwide. There were rules were in place. He broke them. He cajoled others—even his own teammates—into breaking them. Now he's been stripped of his titles and will be paying the price for his actions for a long time. Good.
But dang he really rode the crap out of that bike.
For seven years he was virtually untouchable by the rest of the TdF peloton, who, by the way, were also doped up out of their minds. You might disagree, but I see that as a form of human achievement, however twisted it may seem.
I see two ways that professional cycling can continue while maintaining respectability:
1) UCI needs better policies, testing methods, and enforcement.
A no-brainer right? The Tour de France specifically has a long history of cyclists altering their states to combat the grueling race's hardships. In its earliest days, riders resorted to beer, wine, and even ether to dull the pain (which—at risk of coming off rather flippant—totally sounds like a feat in itself.) The regulations have come a long way and we've managed to crack down on at least the most egregious offenses. I don't claim to understand 100% the science behind EPO's alleged near-untraceability, but if your onsite drug testers can literally be avoided, or if a second opinion from a different medical professional yields positive test results, guess what? You can absolutely do better.
So, UCI, put some money into R&D, hire more staff, do whatever the heck you need to do to keep your organization clean, because right now you look about as silly as FIFA.
2) Let them juice up.
I can hear the cries from the purists already: “BLASPHEMER! CHARLATAN! NINCOMPOOP! YOU’LL SURELY KILL US ALL!"
In a perfect world, I'd agree with you. I'd prefer to watch athletes compete equally, as representations of their truest physical selves, laying everything on the line with just body, wits, and will.
However, as everything currently stands, UCI is far from perfect. The practices of pre-, post-, and mid-race testing have been proven complete failures, and there is too much money on the line (not to mention, you know, like honor and stuff) to be making these kinds of mistakes. If we're going to collectively agree to pay millions of dollars in endorsements to professional athletes, we'd better make damned sure that there's not even a possibility of them cheating.
So what if—and I know this is a big "if"—what if we let it happen? What if we decided that this is a losing battle and that perhaps, just maybe, this is the future of racing? What if we had a separate dope-fueled league and then, à la recreational marijuana, we regulated the hell out of it?
To be clear, I'm not advocating that cyclists induce any kind of harm in themselves, physically or psychologically, to win a race or entertain the masses. Many of the drugs used in the past two decades of doping allegations have been proven to cause a slew of long-term side effects. But what if there were safer alternatives? What if new enhancements were developed that were able to push the human body to its limits in a safe, controlled way? And what if we had an organization that was actually able to regulate the pharmaceutical intake of its athletes?
I know—that's a lot of "if"s. But this is about the future, and this discussion doesn't just apply to cycling. We are quickly approaching an era when bionic and cerebral implants will be, much like climate change, the new norm. The ethical debates have already begun, and it will be interesting to see how these extrabody enhancements will be viewed when applied to their however superficial and ultimately unnecessary uses in sports. Are we going to decide for certain that they have no place in true, unsullied contest of the human body? Or will we enter a new epoch where, literally, the best man will win?
One thing's for certain—you can't stem the tide of change.
Something something Bob Dylan.