Should We Just Let the Tour de France Dopers Dope Away?

Now that virtually every cyclist in the Tour de France has been booted for doping, is it time to consider a radical rethinking of the doping issue?

Is it time, perhaps, to come up with a pre-approved list of performance-enhancing agents and procedures, require the riders to accept full responsibility for whatever long-term physical and emotional damage these agents and procedures may produce, and let everyone ride on a relatively even keel without having to ban the leader every third day?

If the cyclists are already doping, why should we worry about their health? If the sport is already so gravely compromised, why should we pretend it hasn’t been?

After all, doping in the Tour is nothing new. According to this article, it was cycling that introduced the sports world to doping:

[T]he history of modern doping began with the cycling craze of the 1890s and the six-day races that lasted from Monday morning to Saturday night. Extra caffeine, peppermint, cocaine and strychnine were added to the riders’ black coffee. Brandy was added to tea. Cyclists were given nitroglycerine to ease breathing after sprints. This was a dangerous business, since these substances were doled out without medical supervision.

Are there parallels to be made between legalizing narcotics and allowing cyclists to use performance enhancers chosen from an approved list? I wonder what Gary Becker would have to say on the subject.

Chris S.

Although I'm hardly an expert on the subject, a former colleague of mine was a competitive powerlifter. He explained that there were to major powerlifting circuits: one focused exclusively on the amount of weight lifted, with no drug testing; the other relied on rigorous testing (periodic testing to maintain membership, testing immediately prior to lifting to compete) to ensure drug-free lifting.

Each circuit had its own adherents and fans.

Might this be a workable model? Establish a "clean" league, and an "anything goes" league?

Chris S.


That's an idea that's been floated many times. The problem is a professional sport needs sponsors to make money.

Fans may like the spectaacle of doped up superhuman athletes, but mainstream sponsors won't want to be a part of it.

That is the case with wrestling (or ultimate fighting), which is why those sports rely on revenue from pay-per-view.

I suppose cycling could go the same route and market itself as a freakshow.


I think it comes down to the role you believe sport plays in our society. If you view professional sports merely as entertainment, doping will not hurt the sport any more than breast implants have hurt the motion picture industry. But if you view sports as something more and the athletes as role models and you are going around wearing yellow bands with inspirational words on them, then the athletes had better be clean.


I think an 'accepted list' is ridiculous. What they're doing now is breaking the rules. What makes you think they won't break new rules? The only 'rule' that you could introduce would be 'anything goes'. I'm sure some segment of the population would keep watching, but it would suck for everyone (fans and racers) who want a clean sport.

The really frustrating part for me is that the same scrutiny isn't being applied to other sports. Some IOC members are talking about removing cycling from the Olympics. Wouldn't that be irony if Barry Bonds were in an Olympics without cycling.

Anyone who doesn't think doping is rampant in any sport with money involved is fooling themselves.


I was just on & they have a fan poll about doping in cycling. The results expose how impractical public opinion is on this issue. 85% of all respondents (these polls usually generate 100K+ voters) believe that cycling can NEVER be dope free. Then two questions later, 82% (just about all the same people) believe that any cycler caught doping should receive a "lifetime ban"! So basically, public opinion is that we should shut down the sport completely!


The pressure has to come from within the community. Right now it looks like a culture of "he does it, so I better do it too to stay competetive".

I say ban all current professional cyclists and coaches for life and start from scratch with the up and comers who can be brought into a non-doping culture.

Either that or make doping mandatory.


People who think cycling is the only sport with a doping problem have their heads in the proverbial sand. Cycling isn't the only sport with a doping problem; it's just the one whose athletes get caught the most. Because top names are tested and pulled, cycling loses its credibility even while it's trying to clean up its act.

That said, I really don't think an "approved" list is the solution. I agree that it comes down to the role that sports play in society: are they grand metaphors for the human spirit? Or are they simply entertainment? Of course, there is also the problem of, as posters have already stated, what's to stop competitors from crossing that line?

No, the WADA needs to step up its game. Harsher penalties for, not just athletes, but teams and sponsors are needed. The American sports leagues of the NFL, NBA, and MLB are far more guilty of not taking doping seriously than is cycling. Case in point, the NFL hands down a "harsh" FOUR GAME suspension for a first time offender.

We need to break the doping omerta, the culture of acceptance of PED use in professional sports.



"85% of all respondents ... believe that cycling can NEVER be dope free. Then two questions later, 82% ... believe that any cycler caught doping should receive a 'lifetime ban'! So basically, public opinion is that we should shut down the sport completely!"

There's a flaw in your logic. A basic logic principle is that just because all of A are B doesn't mean that all of B are A. Or, just because all [riders who are not dope-free] are [riders] doesn't mean that all [riders] are [riders who are not dope-free].

You're equating the idea of "all riders not being dope-free" with the idea of "EVERY rider is using dope."

Let's use an example of how the 80%+ of people could have it right...

Say that currently the sport is 50% riders who dope and there are 1,000 professional riders. That gives us 500 who dope and 500 who don't.

If 400 of the dopers are caught and given a lifetime ban, that leaves us 500 who don't dope and 100 who do. We now have 16.67% of riders who dope out of 600 riders.

If, a year later, 250 riders join the sport and 50 of them dope, that gives us a total of 150 (100 previous + 50 new) who dope and 700 who don't (500 previous + 200 new) for a total of 850 riders. This is a 17.6% doping rate.

If 100 of the dopers are caught and given a lifetime ban, that leaves us 700 who don't dope and 50 who do. We now have 6.67% of riders who dope out of 750 riders.

And so on and so forth. The idea is that lifetime bans would promote a "cleaning up" of the sport, as shown in the example by a decline in the percentage of dopers.

I don't think anyone is foolish enough to think that any sport will ever be dope-free, but handing out lifetime bans would likely go a long way towards limiting how prevalent the problem is.



Actually, I'm getting more and more impressed with the testing that the tour does. Makes Lance look even better. Makes baseball look like a bunch of charlatans.

And let's face it, the tour is largely boring without a Lance or doping scandals. So watching the fools keep getting caught is kind of fun.

Bill Basso

Not every rider has tested positive. The set of riders who have tested positive is nowhere near All. Two have during the race and one has tested positive in an out of competition testing before the event started. As a statistician you can see the fallacy of claiming three out of nearly two hundred is "virtually every".

Despite what many sensationalist Headlines and misguided journalists have been saying Tour leader Rassmussen did not test positive. He was not banned. No leader in this year's tour was banned. He was given a warning for not informing the Danish sporting authorities of his where abouts so he could be available for random out of competition testing. He was allowed to continue competing. No sanctions were imposed.

What happened was his team fired him for lying to them when they learned from eyewitnesses he was training in Italy not Mexico as he had claimed.

What is happening in cycling is important. Sport is not sporting if it requires a staff of doping experts to keep you competitive. That is cheating and if it were to be allowed to continue it would be no better than Wrestling, Baseball or American Football.

It is misleading to say doping in sport started with cycling. It has been around as long as there was sport. The ancients doped. Dante mentioned how athletes were tempted to drug abuse and had a place in Hell for them long before the bicycle was invented.

Cycling is the first sport to stand up and seek a solution. Drug testing in sport first started in cycling after the horrible drug related death of world champion Tom Simpson forty years ago.

In Europe, cyclists are being criminally prosecuted for fraud which is what the use of performance enhancing drugs is.

People shouldn't be outraged that some athletes are being found guilty of cheating. People should be outraged that so many sports actually encourage it. And it's not just the Eastern Bloc, or the Chinese, or the Europeans... it is us too. Look at the growth of average size in all US Pro sports. It's not due to obesity.

So please, stop trying to compare cycling to the WWE. It is nowhere in that realm. Instead, demand the same standards that cycling is putting forth to be placed in all sport. How can you take Baseball seriously until Barry Bonds is fired just like Rassmussen was. Bonds should be in jail not chasing Hank's record.

That a #1 team would be willing to fire it's best athlete just for suspicion shows how serious the sport of cycling is.

It's not time to backpedal. It's time to take this problem as seriously as cycling now is because you can be assured there are High School and Junior High coaches all throughout the US who see nothing wrong with shooting up children with veterinary grade pharmaceuticals from mexico and used needles just so they can excel.

Legalize it and kids will be buying "Barry Bonds Brand Stanozol" in the school bookstore. And this is what you are calling for when you want to legalize doping.

It's bad enough to see top baseball players pitch over the counter stimulants that they use to keep their head clear so they can play. This mentality needs to be stopped from the top down. Otherwise, get your toddlers on a program now if you want them to make it through gym class.



Is cheating in athletic competition inevitable?

Are the cheaters in sports akin to the insider traders on Wall Street, the lawyers that rip off their clients, the accountants that misstate earnings, etc.?

What I mean is, we give people responsibility and trust them to do the right thing, but there are always a few that break the trust for their own benefit.

Personally, I think some people have always cheated at whatever they do, some people would never cheat at anything, and others are in the middle, susceptible to influences from both sides.

I still can't believe that guys got caught this year after all the extra scrutiny.


I agree that cheating is inevitable. Doping atm is cheating because the rules say so, not because of some eternal rule of sports which says it has to be man (or woman) against man, no help, the better wins. In cycling, we have all sorts of material advantages anyway - helmets, shirts, shoes and all parts of very high-tech bikes. A new development brings an advantage which has nothing to do with "may-the-better-man-win".

Legalizing doping, whether with a positive list or without, just widens the definition of "material"...


This is what make me laugh so much at the people who think Barry Bonds' should have an asterisk by his name when he breaks Hank Aaron's record because of his steroid use.

Do you think he's the only person who's been using steroids? The pitchers, escpecially relievers who often pitch 3-4 night in a row, have been using them just as much. They just haven't been caught yet since most of them are fairly anonymous players who nobody cares about.

Also, let's not forget the popularity of greenies (amphetamine pills) during Aaron's era. Everyone makes him out to be a saint, but I'm sure he popped more than a few of them during the 60's.

Yes, what Bonds did is morally and legally wrong. But let's not pretend that players haven't been trying to illegally enhance their performance throughout the history of baseball!


I agree with Bill Basso's Bombastic post- we shouldn't be naive- remember pandora's box- the problem with legalizing doping is that the children will soon follow


It seems our knowledge has opened a pandora's box, and it can never be closed again. We can only do our best in a world where the problems it has created are minimized.

This whole thing comes back to an issue of trust. If you are going to ban substances, you are going to have to trust your athletes or have them consistently prove they are not on said substances. Sunlight is is the best disinfectant.

Because you can't trust everyone I would advocate just letting everyone in every sport just "East German" it up and use whatever agents they can to enhance their performance, be it chemical agents or artificial limbs what have you. By doing this you have eliminated the said activity as cheating. It may not be sporting, but it would be legal.


Firstly, the reason a large number of dopers found in cycling has to due with the fact that these riders are "guilty before proven innnocent" . Their are large media leaks in the sport and each rider is given an "A" and "B" test. Prior to the "B" tests these riders are booted from the race and/or their teams no questions asked.

If Barry Bonds and numerous others were in the sport they would have been canned a long time ago.

Doping is prevalent in cycling because these riders want to win and assume everyone else is on dope also. Doctors, team managers, soigneurs turn their heads because the chance for sponsors to receive "TV time" (in Europe they don't have the commercials like we do).

"Nature culls sick herds of animals. Cycling is just going through a natural culling . . . sad to say, but true. The riders and teams that have chosen to be clean will survive this." -- Jonathan Vaughters, manager of U.S.-based Team Slipstream




Dude, you put way too much energy into crunching the ESPN data I provided. But it's good stuff, nonetheless. In my post, I should've mentioned that I believe all cyclers are dopers - which would support my theory that if all dopers are banned, then the sport would collapse (because all banned cyclers would be replaced by more dopers who will quickly be banned themselves).

Bill Basso

Indeed mfw13, doping is a long standing problem in sport. That is no excuse to accept it today. It's time to put an end to it and today we have the technology to do it.

Go to Flojo's grave (or any on that long roll-call of athletes who died young of mysterious circumstances) and tell me her wins were worth it. Or at least tell me you can be absolutely positive she didn't dope because controls in sport were in place to be certain. The reason these "fairly anonymous players" haven't been caught is because they aren't tested.

Testing in most sports is non-existent even for the winners and when it is used it is such a joke I can't believe athletes can give the "I've been tested constantly and never tested positive" answer without at least winking when they respond to questions about drug use.

In the Tour, two of the three caught were no hopers; domestiques who only doped to survive and just make it through their job.

All must be held to the standard and it must be a high standard not just some easy to fool pee test at a specific time. You can take pretty much all the steroids you want to and still pee clean if you are also doing an IV of lipids so the drugs are mixed with the fat and excreted through the intestines not the kidney. Or you can just use your nerdy pal's pee.

Drug testing needs to test not just for known drugs, but for values that are suddenly out of range for a specific athlete. These changes in values could indicate newly developed drugs or illness, but it would be important to catch to assure athlete's health and well being.

It's no coincidence that the Tour's final stage this year goes past the front door of one of the leading labs for drug testing. We have entered an age where reliable drug testing is quick, cheap and available. It's time to start using it before more famous and anonymous players die. It's time to start caring about them.

How many people sat glued to their televisions cheering on Flojo as she took Olympic gold and set world records are even aware she no longer breathes? Compare that number to the number of junior high kids who can tell you what drugs Barry Bonds is on and where these drugs can be obtained.

It took a long time to get athletes to accept concepts such as proper nutrition, training strategies or safety gear such as helmets. Now it's time to start to get athletes to accept that sport must be clean. Testing needs to start in Junior High and be as common in sport as competition itself.



One big problem with the "legalize it" approach is that any cyclist who doesn't want to put his life at risk by doping will be forced to either dope against his will or quit a sport he loves. Why should we punish the ones who want to compete legitimately? As an amateur racer, I can tell you that the pressure for results starts very young (12-14) and intensfies every year. There are very few large junior-only races in the US, so juniors who want to get better and get noticed have to race against the adults. If those adults can dope, the juniors will need to in order to compete. Do we then allow 15 and 16yo kids to dope? Sorry, but that isn't the answer. ASO could go a long way to fixing the problem by reducing the number and length of the stages. If we didn't create superhuman obstacles, maybe we wouldn't need to be superhuman to compete.


Ah, cdnewman beat me to the point I was going to make. Indeed, it should not effectively be required to accept all the consequences of doping to be able to compete in a sport. That's really the polar opposite of what sports are supposed to be about.