Last year I rode with a guy who was, uh, fast. He was in his mid-50s and when we hooked up he had already been going crazy hard for a month, thirty days of back-to-back riding that included unbelievable mileage and intensity.
We only rode together a couple of times. He was unbelievable. A big dude who climbed like George Hincapie when he was in his “mountain climbing” doper phase. You’d be sitting on this giant dude’s wheel and thinking, “Physics.” And then he’d toss the physics book into the ditch and climb like Quintana.
At the time I didn’t think he was doping. Don’t laugh when I say this, but it never occurred to me because I’m not really that suspicious or cynical when it comes to cycling and drugs.
Instead of chalking up his performance to drugs, I chalked it up to the fact that he was getting back on the bike after a long winter, he had stayed fit in the gym and on the trainer, and after all of the big miles and intensity he’d crash and crumple like any other normal old dude who pushed too much, too far, too hard, for too long.
This year our paths crossed again, and although I didn’t ride with him, I did see him briefly. His upper body was unbelievable. According to one of the guys who did ride with him, he claimed to have put on fifteen pounds of muscle over the last year. And he looked it.
That’s when my eyes rolled so far back in my head that if they’d had numbers they would have looked like a slot machine. There are a lot of things you don’t gain when you get old and creaky, and one of them is lean muscle mass. Maybe you firm up what you’ve got, and maybe if you eat perfectly and diet perfectly and do all the other hard things that no one in their 50s can possibly do, you gain a couple of pounds of muscle. But fifteen-plus pounds of lean upper body muscle in twelve months?
That, my friends, only happens with a lot of time in the gym and a shit-ton of steroids.
I was discussing this with a friend who is very young. He seemed to think that if you were young and doing steroids to get buff, you were not very smart because the risk of side effects is so huge. But, according to him, if you’re in your 50s and juicing, the risks are much smaller. You’re already old and bald and sexless anyway, and the side effects take way longer to kick in. Plus, in Dick Doper’s case, there was no crime other than the illegal possession of the drugs.
“Look at it like this,” my friend said. “He’s not racing so it’s not like he’s cheating. He’s not ever going to get tested so he won’t ‘ruin’ his reputation. He does it to feel good about himself, maintain the delusion that he’s exempt from the grinding passage of time, and he’s not hurting anyone else. What’s wrong with that? Do you hold it against people for standing in the mirror and counting their new veins?”
“Yeah, but that asshole crushes you on the bike. Thanks to the drugs, on informal, competitive rides he always wins. He’s practically unbeatable.”
“So? Don’t ride with him.”
“I don’t. Not after last year.”
“Then what’s your complaint? He’s taking your Strava KOMs?”
“I don’t play Strava.”
“So you’re simply jealous that another old bald impotent guy is faster than you are? You want to be the fastest old bald impotent guy?”
“Didn’t the Rolling Stones have a song about that? Something about not always getting what you want?”
I resisted the urge to smack him, which urge was made easier by the fact that he was 6’4″, a martial arts specialist, and a cop. “It seems lame for some reason.”
“Is there a law or some kind of ethical rule against being lame?”
“No, but …”
“How is it different from buying faster equipment? You can buy mechanical speed just like you can buy the chemical kind. Is it lame when you can afford electronic shifting and light wheels, and some young kid is pedaling on a heavier, slower bike?”
“Of course it is. The difference is that you buy mechanical speed so it’s okay, but Dick Doper buys chemical speed on top of the mechanical kind. And that pisses you off because it makes him faster than you.”
“There’s a huge difference. I’d think he was lame no matter how fast he rode.”
“What is the difference, then?”
“Mechanical advantages are obvious. You can’t lie about them. And except in a few circumstances, the advantage they give is small and can often be compensated for by smart riding, drafting, or even by playing head games with your opponent. It’s a lot harder to hide your disk wheel. But chemical speed is secret, and its effects are different for every rider. For some guys, it turns donkeys into racehorses. For others, its effects are much less pronounced. Any given aero wheel will reduce drag the same amount no matter who’s riding it.”
“Piffle paffle,” he laughed. “You’re butthurt. That’s all.”
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!