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RUNNING ON DYNAMITE February 19, 2008

Posted by wetalkhablamos in cycling fans, sponsors, team astana.
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Professional cycling is in a mess. Chechu says it, and increasingly, so does everyone else.

For the fan, our joy of the sport is now a test of endurance. With each twist and turn in a grinding, endless climb, with its false summits and precarious descents, at times, it’s just not fun.

I wonder what it’s like on the inside. For Chechu and his team-mates. Just how do they keep it together?

Writing on new Team Astana’s website, Chris Brewer sees the solution in funding and organisation. He draws enlightening comparisons between pro-cycling and NASCAR.

In NASCAR, the pursuit of the dollar means that teams and racers will follow the money, and the venues they race at will benefit greatly, too … Race venues know that they must be in line with NASCAR rules or they risk losing their status as a sanctioned event (and the associated money).

Chris also advocates the importance of a strong, organising authority, one which generates an understanding that the greater good is worth more than any one entity’s individual needs.

The description of NASCAR reminds me of the UCI ProTour. Much criticised and probably flawed, its recent demise in Europe may be a critical factor in cycling’s survival. A huge effort is required by today’s organisers to right the system, and on recent evidence, it’s not certain that the present incumbents are up to the job.

For me, however, there’s another factor bludgeoning pro-cycling today, one perhaps not seen in NASCAR.

Cycling retains a long-established culture of doping, and its siblings complicity and secrecy.

In Cycling Weekly last year, I recall a feature about a young cyclist, following his dream, who gets his chance with a pro-team in Europe. On his first training ride, on the first climb, he gets dropped. He can’t follow. His extraordinary talent on the bike is left wanting, mediocre in this enhanced team. And so he faces the choice. Participate in the lie, or go home. Even rejecting the drugs, he can never betray his team-mates, his family. They call that “spitting in the soup”.

I don’t know this is true. But I do know that for as long as the Tour de France has existed, cheating has existed. Hitching a lift, or littering the road with tacks. Using drugs. Whatever.

The first rider to speak out on drugs was Henri Pélissier in 1920. He openly displayed his pills, and told the press what they were. “We run on dynamite,” he said. No one cared.

Il Campionissimo, the greatest of Italian champions, Fausto Coppi was asked on TV if he took drugs. “Only when it is necessary.” So when is it necessary? “Almost always,” he replied.

And this indictment goes on and on, up to the present day. Curiously, we still honour many of those who have brought the sport into such disrepute. And we give them jobs in cycling.

If professional cycling is not to self-destruct, its first step is to forgive itself.

It has to a draw a line in history. What happened before, happened. Everyone knew it, and everyone was to blame.

Not ideal, I know, but surely there can be no moving forward in the current climate of arbitrary recrimination. Cyclists must be able to tell their stories without fear and humiliation.

Cycling can learn from its past, but it must prioritise its future.

Nicky, Edinburgh

Together, our voice is strong. Please leave your comments below, we promise to use them positively to support Chechu’s team.

If you’d like to write a post for this blog, please contact Nicky via the website. Thanks for reading.

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