When USADA announced that Florida masters racer Michael Diamond, 63, had been suspended for refusing a doping control, the reaction was uniform: “What an idiot!” “He was fifth out of nine in a 60+ TT…what a loser!” “Why would anyone dope for the chance to win a salami and a can of Velveeta? What a dork!” “It’s a stupid fricking bike race! How could he?” Etc., etc.
A few weeks earlier, Michael Miller of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, was slapped with an 8-month ban after he tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine at masters track nationals in Trexlertown. Stack that on top of Roger Hernandez, 45 (refusal to test), Josh Webster, 38 (meth/phen), Peter Cannell, 37, (‘roids), Alberto Blanco, 30 (test), and Andrew Tilin, 46, (non-analytical positive), and you have a nice little group of busted, past-their-prime dopers. This doesn’t include the 2011 crop containing Joe Papp, Juan Pablo Dotti, 27, David Clinger, Phil Zajicek, and Lisban Quintero, “normal” dopers who were either pro or young cheats.
If you listen to the South Bay and SoCal scuttlebutt, there are quite a few old farts out here mixing and matching poisons to produce results that range from first place to pack meat. What the fuck is going on?
Get this straight at least: it’s not crazy
As much as our community likes wrinkling its nose and scoffing at the creaky losers like Mike Diamond, even as we like ridiculing them for choosing drugs as a vehicle to cycling mediocrity, the thing that’s strange about these gray-haired cheats isn’t their crappy results. It may be shameful because they’ve been unmasked as cheats, but the aged wankers juiced on ‘roids so that they can win the state TT are doping from the exact same motivations as Floyd, Lance, Jan, Ivan, and all the other guys who’ve stood on the podium at the TdF.
“Yeah,” you say, “but those guys are pros and they actually stand to win something by cheating. The Florida state TT for 60-69 masters racers? Risk your health for an ill-fitting jersey that you’re still six minutes out of the money for? Gimme a fucking break.”
This kind of criticism implies, of course, that whereas Diamond’s futility in a lame field for a “who-cares” title is laughable, your endeavors in the 30+ masters, or the Cat 2 field, or with the regional semi-pro team (bikes at a discount, gas money, entry fees, and a couple of spare kits) are legit. This reminds me of sex when I was a teenager. Many’s the time I’d look at a woman in her late 30’s and think, “Goddamn, how could anyone that old have sex?”
Then, in my late 20’s, I’d look at a woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s and think, “Man, that’s just too old. They should retire.” Pretty soon, here came the late 40’s , and suddenly I was discovering a whole new world of beautiful and alluring women to look at–forty, fifty, and up seemed downright normal. Many of my peers have friends or relatives who’ve had to put elderly relatives into nursing homes only to learn that lots of people in their 80’s and 90’s are still screwing like there’s no tomorrow, perhaps because for many of them, there isn’t.
The point is graphic, but easily grasped: it’s easy to understand how young athletes dope for a chance to win an Olympic medal, and to kid yourself that older people don’t take it just as seriously. As you get older you realize that the desire to win burns just as brightly among many an oldster, and just because people age doesn’t mean they become honest or ethical. Don’t we see that daily with the U.S. Congress?
Get a life? YOU get a life.
The other faux explanation for masters doping is that these clueless clods don’t “have a life.” They are so wrapped up in the silly, unreal, insignificant world of USA Cycling events that they somehow lose their perspective on what’s important in life. Hence they plunge off into the dangerous, expensive, and bizarre world of doping.
Is masters cycling such a weird, distorted place? Of course it is. But would we be better off spending the weekends at NASCAR? Or buried on the couch from Saturday morning ’til Monday night watching football and swilling beer? Is golf a healthier or a cheaper obsession? X-Box? Porn, anybody?
For people who say that the obsessed masters racer should be spending time with his family, I say this: what if he’s been married so long that he doesn’t want to? What if the kids are grown, or if they’re at the age where they think dad’s a dork, or what if there are no kids? What if dad or mom is holding together a miserable, crumbled marriage as best they can, and the time away from the family is the only thing that keeps it together?
There are a lot of masters racers in California with successful careers, loving families, and accomplishments in their other avocations who simply love to race their bike. It’s their thing, they love it, and they do it because they want to compete and to win. I think it beats the hell out of most other pastimes for 40-something men, and is a lot cheaper even when you throw in the $10k bike. Priced a Ducati or a Harley lately?
And what if we’re not married or attached to anyone at all? What if, at age 45, we discovered a healthy, fun, social pastime that lets us travel, train, compete, and meet new people? What if we’ve found the bike, just in time, as a surrogate for a terrible alcohol or drug addiction? What if bike racing is the activity fending off other, deeper emotional problems? Is racing a bike such an obviously imbalanced, distorted thing? (Okay, of course it is.) Still, I don’t think you can really say that it is without knowing quite a lot about the person in question. Unlike some other adult leisure activities that come to mind, this one is pretty harmless.
Drugs are just another piece of the puzzle
Just like I don’t believe that people automatically lose their will to win when they realize they’ll never be UCI pros, and just like I don’t believe that people who are obsessed with amateur cycling are by definition imbalanced, I likewise refuse to believe that there’s anything abnormal or strange about doping to improve performance among masters racers.
If you’ve made it to age 21 you must have come to grips with the fact that it’s both normal and predictable for people to cheat, lie, and steal. That’s what lots and lots of people do. Not all people, and not all the time, but the possibility of cheating, lying, and stealing must be taken into account any time you deal with another human being. Cycling’s no different.
Masters racers who have invested huge amounts of time, money, and emotional energy into their avocation have every incentive to dope. There’s little if any risk of getting caught. There’s an endless online database in the form of websites, forums, and chat rooms where you can greatly minimize the dangers posed by using drugs. There are numerous doctors, particularly in L.A., who specialize in “anti-aging,” which is shorthand for drug dispensation to achieve any number of non-medical needs. Want to go faster longer? There’s a protocol for that. Want to go faster shorter? There’s a protocol for that, too. Just add the tail of newt, venom of scorpion, and web of spider. Want to raise your aerobic capacity? Can you spell E-P-O?
People in their forties are likely to have the time to train and the disposable income to afford the drugs. After putting together the top-end equipment, hiring a pro coach, logging the miles, and doing the races year in, year out, it’s natural to look for that extra edge whether you’ve been winning, almost winning, or pack foddering. Put another way, what’s left? In track disciplines where the margin of victory may only be a second or two, the right drugs incorporated into the right training plan can push you up onto the top step of the podium. At least, that’s the theory…63 year-old Mike Diamond didn’t do much to prove it, as his only USA Cycling results showed a desultory level of participation and awful results his entire career.
The bottom line is that doping is another logical and readily available weapon in the racing arsenal, just like aero wheels, ceramic bearings, slick shoe covers, aero helmets, and aero fabrics. Why not use it, especially when, without question, there are successful competitors in SoCal amateur races who are?
That darn “cheating” thing
Since the verdict is out regarding the long term health effects of a doctor-prescribed, carefully monitored, moderate doping protocol, the only real reason not to dope is your internal sense of right and wrong. If you grew up believing that cheating is wrong, you’ve got a pretty good firewall that will keep your hand out of the cookie jar. If you have a wife like mine, who combs through every receipt and credit card statement with a fine-toothed comb, and who would raise holy hell at a $2,500 monthly bill for drugs and doctor visits, your firewall is stronger still.
But even if you believe cheating is wrong, you may not believe that doping is cheating if you also think that most of your competition is doing it. I don’t know where I fall on that argument, but it’s moot because I really don’t think that most masters racers dope–so for me, doping is pretty clearly cheating. In any event doping requires you to lie, so that makes it even more repugnant.
Your band of improvement
Those pesky moral imperatives–don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t even dream about hiding money from your wife–make the issue pretty clear cut. Yet there’s another reason that masters doping doesn’t really add up…for me. Since I started using a power meter, I have learned, more or less, my physical limits. The best 20-minute power I’ve ever put out is 325w. It was on July 17, 2011. Almost all of my other best 20-minute wattages have been in the 300-310w range.
To take it a step further, my three best 1-hour outputs have been 280, 285, and 295 watts. I may be capable of more, but not much more. Given my age, my ability, and a host of other limiters, this is pretty much as good as I’ll ever be. Drugs may be able to significantly boost these parameters, but so what? Take away the dope and, with lots of saddle time, I’ll still be a 295w FTP kind of guy, give or take a few watts.
Everyone’s different, but for me, knowing that my band of improvement is only a handful of watts beyond 295 makes the allure of drugs nil. It’s a kind of self-awareness and self-satisfaction, that is…enough. If only the men and women trying to find something extra through cheating and drugs could understand that whatever capabilities they have in their undoped state, it’s enough. If only.