Saturday, March 27, 2010

Polish Dopers and What They Mean for my Saturday

Friday ends as the shittiest of shit days, only for Saturday to carry the dung right through to the weekend. I just came across the following quote from a article, which encapsulates perfectly the PTSD-like symptoms that will come to haunt the remorseful doper:

"Polish under-23 World Championship gold medalist Pawel Szczepaniak has explained the circumstances that led he and his brother Kacper down the road to a positive doping control for EPO at the World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. He insists that just weeks prior to the competition, where his brother finished just behind in second place, the brothers had yet to be involved with the seedy world of doping...

Now the talented young riders have learned their lesson about doping the hard way, and realize that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "My life is ruined and my brother too, " concluded Pawel. "Kacper hardly eats. All he does is sleep and stare straight ahead. We both go to a psychologist."

The anti-doping authorities need to wake-up and reshape their education modules to better reflect what resonates with and influences young riders so they won't dope. I'm telling you, it's not just appeals to fair play  that will stop doping. Szczepaniak's father earns 250 euros per month as a bus driver. Had the sorcery that led to victory not been discovered, the brothers' new contracts could have helped the family to increase its monthly earnings by an order of magnitude! But trotting out charts and statistics about long-term health risks and the unenviable possibility of becoming a uniballer before one's career is over are weak countermeasures. and ethics have to be taught in the rider's home, and this must be carried over into his club and amateur teams. If, like Matt Decanio, a U-23 finds himself in a foreign country, isolated and lacking a support system and confronted with enormous pressure to begin doping under team orders, it's the moral guidance established at home that will help him to avoid the rot for as long as it takes to either arrange extraction or figure out how to beat the dopers at their own game (note: here's where I think Bike Pure adds practical value: it provides a means by which geographically-scattered riders who don't wish to dope but are confronted with the pressure to do so can connect with each other and others in the anti-doping community to gain support and find the strength to stay clean).

In the right here right now, trotting out casualties like Pawel and Kacper, and even me, for God's sake, and letting us tell our stories as we struggle to rebuild our lives has the potential to add a dimension - an element, even - to anti-doping education targeting riders who are already likely to have access to products like EPO and who might be considering actively whether or not to use. I'll admit that I haven't organized peer-reviewed research to test the effectiveness of dollars spent on different forms of anti-doping education, but I guarantee that unless radical changes (or AUGMENTATION of curriculum) are made in the content and the messaging, the same-old-same-old "I Compete Clean b/c..." and "Fair Play Matters" is NOT going to deliver the impact that our anti-doping education HAS TO PRODUCE for our INTERNAL CONSUMERS - the athletes whose minds we're trying to reach.

Sure, juniors and U-23's need to all receive a standardized anti-doping education that deals with such topics as the concept of strict liability, and advises athletes on how they can reach a drug reference line (should it be available in their country) to check the legality of medicines before they pop a pill or inject. Hit them with the feel-good, "Play Fair because Life's Fair and Better that Way" slogans. Whatever. But then drag before them real live, breathing, shattered human beings who - much like them - are only there in their disgrace because of the same kind of love of cycling that's driving the new riders. Make the kids uncomfortable - but make the penalty phase of doping something less abstract and much more real for them. Granted, the dopers whose stories you focus on have to be ones who have Phoenix's for cousins and are working to rise-up out of the ash of their doping disgrace - and it sounds like at least one of the Szczepaniak boys sees the possibility of a new future. Poor Kacper is still shell-shocked - but what, are you surprised? People dope because they want an unfair advantage that will let them ride their bike faster than their competitors, and in doing so obtain so benefit otherwise inaccessible. Doping comes with a cost, some obvious, most hidden, and unfortunately, anti-doping education is not as sophisticated as it should be in order to help our young athletes make the best long-term choices.

I hope that the powers that be will consider the most effective ways of changing the peloton's mindset when it comes to doping - not just what is safest, simplest or closest to the model designed by the fella who came before you.


  1. Good shit, man. That woulda sucked if the polish kid actually was able to kill himself...

  2. Bah! You're looking to put a band-aid on a severed limb. If these kids think that thier lifes are "ruined" because they can't race thier bikes again (for two years) then thier perspective is way off to begin with.

    With that line of thinking, the polish gents, it is/was only a matter of time before somebody predated on them in one form or another.

  3. Actually, I don't think their perspective is off. Their father is a bus driver who earns 250 euro/month. Let's say that's their target, non-cycling wage then because they're not college-educated nor will they be. The each stood to earn about 2500 euros/month, or 10x each the wage of their father, and now that opportunity was lost through doping. Unlike someone like Ricco, who was able to dope long enough to establish himself in the pro ranks, these kids don't have any long-term record that they can trade on two years from now to get contracts. Then consider the fact that teams like Sky won't even HIRE riders who've had a brush with doping, which I think is going to continue and percolate down to all levels as an unfortunate trend (persecuting riders who've already served 2year bans by refusing to employ them after they've served their suspensions because of fear that organizers won't invite the teams employing ex-dopers), and they have pretty much no chance of coming back to pro cycling - which means driving a bus like their dad if they're lucky or working some other shit job @ 250euro/month...

  4. I tend to agree with Papp on this - thos bros are f'ed and a classic example of how doping puts lives in jeopardy.

  5. "Then consider the fact that teams like Sky won't even HIRE riders who've had a brush with doping,"

    First of all these guys didn't have a "brush with doping", they denied clean riders the opportunity to win the World Championships. Secondly, there are plenty of competent riders who have played by the rules. A convicted doper has, by definition, shown a disregard for the well being of his team, sponsors, fellow competitors, and himself. As an employer, I'd much rather risk my organization's reputation on someone with an unblemished track record.

  6. Anon, sorry you didn't like the verbiage. How about "riders who've served a sanction for doping but are now cleared for competition by the UCI and their national federations"?

    It would seem that you're in the minority, however, with countless reformed dopers employed on top teams - including Basso (Liquigas), Vino (Astana) and even Boonen (how many times positive OOC for cocaine?) on QuickStep.

    But thanks for commenting b/c you helped make my point for me - that it's no wonder one of the brothers wanted to kill himself, what with attitudes like yours towards first-time offenders who've served their sanction. Despite completing a period of two years' ineligibility, many riders will have no hope of returning to competition because of people with attitudes like yours - blackball the rider despite his having met the terms of his punishment. I wonder if Sky would hire Armstrong, given his links to doping (1999 EPO positives, back-dated TUE for cortisone to cover-up positive test result, admitted collaboration w/ Dr. Ferrari). Is Sky's policy that they blackball only riders who've been convicted of a doping offense, or even those who've been accused publicly of having doped but who were never convicted? Shit, even Petacchi was convicted of doping and wouldn't be welcome at Sky. Good for him that Lampre came calling.


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