THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF INNOCENCE AND THE CANCER OF DOUBT

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You may venture onto Twitter occasionally. Or a cycling forum. You might go to the pub and have a nice swear and a filthy chuckle about pro cycling. And something you’ll have noticed since it all went completely, horrifically wrong in the last decade is the Impossibility of Innocence. If you perform, do a great ride, win, or ride out of your skin, the accusations of doping – or at least the whispers – will begin, and gain momentum. A pro cannot win. Literally.

Photographs by Nick Hussey

This piece was created for and originally appeared on superb cycling commentary and chuckles site, Cyclismas.com

You may venture onto Twitter occasionally. Or a cycling forum. You might go to the pub and have a nice swear and a filthy chuckle about pro cycling. And something you’ll have noticed since it all went completely, horrifically wrong in the last decade is the Impossibility of Innocence. If you perform, do a great ride, win, or ride out of your skin, the accusations of doping – or at least the whispers – will begin, and gain momentum. A pro cannot win. Literally.

During the ‘Lost Years’ of the 90s and up until very recently indeed, there was good cause for this. Really, a divine failure was the only way to prevent the chattering. Absolute cut-and-dried non-dopers were denoted by a great talent that was thwarted by their inability to keep up. That was their marker as ‘clean.’ Failure. Lovable inability against the evil winners. And for much of my 27 years as a cycling fan, that was a pretty good rule.
But then, as the testing, the bans, the shame and most importantly the CULTURE of cycling changed, so too did the riders on top. It’s all happened so quickly in terms of years, yet imperceptibly as recent seasons rolled on. Nothing happened overnight. The dodgy winners finally lost their legal battles and the vocal (important word) anti-dopers clawed their way towards the front. The Omerta seems to be disintegrating as doping became ever more the drink-driving of sport. Once so quietly accepted, it was now looked upon with disgust.

Cultures weigh heavily on humans. Heavier than the punishments. Ask David Millar at Cofidis. Then ask him at Garmin-Sharp. Peer support is everything. There will always be transgressions and evil in any arena. Who knows how many right now? But as the years go by, we’ll get cleaner, and the junior riders coming through will see they can win clean. And in fact, they must. We are in transition, but the anti-dopers are winning, and that is the key.

Amongst these vocal anti-dopers are Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. Two Brits brought up outside the culture of doping acceptance. Brought up in an atmosphere of hatred towards cheating. They pushed their way to the front as the old guard got crushed. Lance wasn’t there to shout at and intimidate everyone anymore. The patrons of the peloton weren’t as strong. The innocents could breath and grow strong.

For a GC contender like Wiggins, physiological ability is everything. David Brailsford saw a traditionalised sport that he could fundamentally change through rigourous scientific process. Thus Team GB won lots of gold medals and Team Sky became financially viable. The cornerstone of all this had to be a policy of anti-doping. It was the rope that previously disenfranchised riders could cling to. Within three years, they had applied such intelligence and modernism that they were dominating stage racing as the world’s number one team. And herein lies the issue. Success breeds suspicion.

We are so angry about having our heroic memories crushed. So sick of wondering who IS and who ISN’T that any outstanding performance becomes a dubious performance. The Cancer Of Doubt crept into cycling fandom. No good ride was a good ride. Or maybe it was, but there’s no smoke without fire. Etcetera.

The joy and spectacle of human beings going beyond themselves, of sacrificing themselves for a noble and incredible performance was replaced by grinding cynicism amongst a large section of true, passionate cycling fans. Anger and hatred became the currency of the Twitter timeline and the forum post. I have done it, too. It’s no fun anymore. Its grim.

So what to do? This piece is not a manifesto for change within cycling. I cannot argue the minutiae of blood values and rates of climb. It is beyond my ability or time to absorb. I don’t want to anyway. I want to love cycling. I do love cycling. I must trust or be consumed by the sneering Cancer Of Doubt. I suggest that we look to our instincts. And to something (perhaps) as intangible as how cyclists interact with the world to see proof of cleanliness.

We are humans. We are not good at lying for very long. We are very good at seeing the doubt. We can say the lies, but we cannot live the lies. It destroys us. That’s why Bjarne Riis came clean. Guilt. Shame. Lies.

When the politician says "Well, thank you for asking that question, I’d like to take a moment to answer that in the fullest way possible. But if I may also…" Blah blah, obfuscate, avoid, bluster. We know they have something to hide. They didn’t SAY anything untoward. But the guilty avoid. The guilty move on. The guilty look away. The guilty are indirect. The guilty display their guilt through their lack of openness.

Team Sky are openly anti-doping. They speak about it with passion. It is a founding tenet of the team. Bradley Wiggins is openly anti-doping. In fact, that is far too subtle. He is ANGRILY anti-doping. His passion and disgust for cheating is worn as a badge. Remember when Cofidis were chucked out of the Tour, at no fault of his own? His loathing for Cristian Moreni, for instance, was vocal and public.

This is not the public-facing psychology of a cheat. Wiggins is passionate and open to a fault. He is often unlikeable (to many, I can see) for his sweary tirades and gruffness. But you cannot doubt his intentions. Can you? People find it very hard to lie outright for extended periods. To create the very pillars of your being out of lies, and to live with that for most of your life is corrosive. Brad has had problems with his mental health, and he does not act like the grey-faced sociopath who utters the words required and that is all. He bangs his fist and showers his views at you. He goes far further than he has to. Because it isn’t a ploy, its just him.

Which leads me to his tirade of just hours ago. I was readying myself to write this blog post, out of sadness and frustration at the unending cynicism and cruelty centered around his taking the Maillot Jaune. A genuinely emotional and wondrous period for a lifelong cycling fan being sullied by people I respect pointing and laughing and hating. I think Wiggins has been pushed to the edge. And he’s never far from it.

Wiggins was asked today by an AP journalist "what do you say to the cynics who say you have to be doped up to win the Tour de France?"
I say they’re just f*cking w*nkers. I cannot be dealing with people like that. It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives. It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of sh*t, rather than get off their *rses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it. C*nts."

Wiggins is a sensitive chap. He’s outspoken. To many, he’s rude. Its certainly not your average press conference quote! Imagine how many tweets addressed to or referencing him he must receive every day. He must scroll through thousands of them, perhaps hundreds of which, if we were to receive them, would have us boiling with rage and and a sense of injustice. How sickening must it be to be doubted? To do everything to exclaim your innocence, but still the vocal doubt poisons your victories? Imagine it. Take a monent. Your legacy, created through unknowable sacrifice, ruined. The injustice of it all. Whatever you say or do.

How CAN he be clean? He won! He was nothing before! Look at Froome! Him too. Team Sky at the front on all those climbs. It’s just like U.S. Postal. What more must pros do so that they and we can enjoy this moment? Cycling has changed. The Good are winning. It is wonderful. Me? I love it. He is REAL. Real is a great sign. We live in a public relations-fuelled world of nothing quotes. Unchanging, sponsor-led dullness, and indeed, perhaps, hiding.

Wiggins’ words are not those of a man hiding. Very much, (too much?!) the opposite. I respect his anger. We have to trust, or we are lost, in all areas of life.

We will never ever know for certain unless we attach live feeds 24/7 to the foreheads of each rider, so we can watch their every move. So we must look at their faces. Their actions. Their words. Their passion.

Let’s forgo the corrosive Cancer of Doubt.

Let’s not send professional cyclists abuse. They are humans too.

Let’s embrace innocence.

Let’s love cycling again.

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