Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Build Or Burn

Cards representing riders that didn't get on the roster for V11

The fall out regarding the Trans Iowa registration spilled over into an unexpected discussion on Facebook regarding a prank entry sent in to look like it was from Levi Leipheimer.

In that discussion there was an opinion expressed that I've seen before and, to be quite honest, thought was a bit of a scorched earth type of response to anyone accused/convicted of cheating by doping in professional cycling. I think this Tweet that I saw from one of the contributors to that thread pretty much sums up the whole "anti-Levi" part of that discussion.

"Im over cyclists defending and pardoning convicted dopers. We need lifetime bans & higher standards, esp in self supported scene #doperssuck"

First of all, since I put on an unsanctioned, unlicensed, totally free event that invites cyclists to accept and try to overcome a challenge, a challenge based on a trust that the riders will take it on honestly and with integrity, I was challenged to see the situation in the same "scorched earth" way. It is not my intention to change attitudes about Levi Leipheimer, or to somehow be a magical changing force in cycling regarding a "war on doping", but I will simply offer my observations here and ask that you, the readers, take some time to think this over, if you care to.

John Gorilla and Sean Mailen in T.I.V7 (Image by W Kilburg)
I feel that the things that happened which precipitated the cheating of Pro level cyclists and their handlers was on a level so unlike that of the situation we see at Trans Iowa, that saying that I should somehow reflect a certain protocol regarding doping in Pro cycling is unreasonable. I feel that to "ban" someone based upon Pro Road cycling's set of guidelines would probably mean I should also follow those guidelines as well, no? Well, I was told that doing anti-doping testing for Trans Iowa would easily eclipse the $8,000 mark. That simply is not feasible. Nor is it necessary, in my opinion.

Does cheating in Pro level road racing "suck", as the slogan that the anti-dopers often use says? Of course it does. In Pro cycling circles, it is a thing to be discouraged and punished at that level if that is called for. But guess what? Trans Iowa is not a Pro cycling event, and if I am to be totally honest, I cannot have "dopers suck" coming out of my mouth, nor say that , "...they should not ride in Trans Iowa", when I cannot even prove it hasn't happened at Trans Iowa, nor prevent it at all from happening in my event. That doesn't mean I don't care about this issue, but I realize what I can and cannot control, and wasting energy on being a hypocrite when it comes to doping and Trans Iowa is not a wise way to spend my limited energies.

In my view, it isn't an issue about "the rules". It isn't a "Trans Iowa" issue, it isn't a cycling issue, and it isn't even a Pro Road cycling issue. It is an issue of human character, however, and it also should be an issue of how we build up or tear down character. In my opinion, forgiveness and love win out over crucifying and castigating every time. Should there be consequences for ones actions? Absolutely. But there should be a path to forgiveness and restitution, if possible, as well. I speak in terms of spiritual things, but this can be applied to cycling's issues with doping as well. I don't think Levi or his other contemporaries should be allowed to race in the Pro ranks or in licensed events that fall under the auspices of Pro cycling's governmental umbrella. However; there are things these cyclists could do. Positive things. They should not be "banned from cycling", whatever that means to those who make that broad generalization.

The "reward" of a T.I. finish isn't worth doping. (Image by P LaCava)
I get why people feel that way though. They want to "crush the spirit" of the offensive practice and/or the riders involved.  Perhaps it is maybe a thought that by having this swept away by "banishment", they somehow will feel this issue will be gone and those folks will feel "better about the sport".

Well, to frame it in terms of another hot button topic, you can take away the guns, but that doesn't change the characters behind them. In other words, if there is a reason to cheat, and the reward is greater than the price to be paid for cheating, then cheating will find its way into the sport. Taking the dopers out isn't fixing the problems, it just addresses the wrong doing that already happened. Cheaters will justify their actions if it means they get what they came for in terms of results and the money, fame, and extras that come with that. Whether they do that by means of yesterday's doping, a new form of doping, or cheating in some other way, it doesn't matter. It isn't about the means, but it is about their choices and why they make them. It is about the "culture of Pro Road cycling". The bottom line is in a person's character and values and whether or not people have the correct choice available and are able to make it. It is a tricky thing to navigate.  

That's where I feel Trans Iowa, and some of the other gravel events, differs. In these events, a finish at the front doesn't really mean all that much more than it does if you come in last place. Take for instance T.I.V10, where Greg Gleason won overall, but the vast majority of the attention for any one finisher was arguably focused on Jay Barre who came in near to last and on a fixed gear bike. Or consider Charlie Farrow, who had the full respect of all in attendance, and didn't finish at all, but came up six miles short. How do you quantify that kind of thing? Is that worth cheating in Trans Iowa? Cheating yourself? To my way of thinking, the risks are not worth the "reward" you might get out of "cheating" by enhancing your performance with some drug. Not that anyone would know, or not that I could even hope to prevent that. As I said earlier, I have to trust that the riders will have honest intentions and do the event with integrity. If I felt that was violated, I would quit putting the challenge out there. In terms of Pro cycling, this is so far from their reality, that it cannot even be compared to Trans Iowa. 
Image by Wally Kilburg from T.I.V8

The bottom line then becomes a question of whether or not I might allow a rider of Levi's stature to attend and ride in Trans Iowa. If that were to ever happen, that a rider of this stature and situation were to actually correctly enter Trans Iowa, I would then have to answer that question. Right now, that is not the case, and I doubt it ever will be a situation I find myself in. I'd like to think that it would be a deal where folks would have an open mind, eschewing "scorched earth" thought, and be willing to see that there could be a way for a rider of that stature to be included in something that is so far removed from Pro Road cycling it is laughable to compare the two. Yes- they are both "cycling", but the rules and the situations are not remotely even the same. Heck- most riders of Levi's stature wouldn't even consider an event such as Trans Iowa a "real race" anyway.

Am I an "apologist" for dopers? I'd like to think I am more of a "realist" when it comes to whatever it is that goes on with doping and Pro Road cycling. For one thing, the vast majority of "average cyclists" in America probably don't even know or care about the travails of Pro road cycling. (To wit: my co-worker, a young 20's something male, doesn't even know who Levi Leipheimer is. And neither does my 70's something Mom.) Cycling will move forward regardless of those ne'er do wells. I think they should suffer the penalties doled out by the UCI, but as for the whole of cycling, I think there is something positive that could be had here versus a blanket statement of rejection. We can either build bridges, or burn them.

That's my take.


MG said...

Amen, Brother...

S Sprague said...

Great post GT! What MG said...

Josh Lederman said...

Well said.