I read two insightful articles recently on ideas to address the pernicious problem of drugs in cycling.
Joe Lindsey, a writer at Bicycling, penned a response on the Freakonomics blog to the question of “why not just legalize it?” Joe points out that different drugs are approved for different uses (i.e. human/nonhuman) in different countries, so the definition of “legal” isn’t totally clear. Essentially the “legalize it” approach just moves the line in the sand, but doesn’t get rid of it.
If that’s the case, a friend of Fat Cyclist offers another idea, which boils down to a comprehensive physiological “baseline” monitoring system of all cyclists from an early age, combined with reducing the severity of penalties. I think the idea is that in combination, these procedures would give authorities an individualized picture of each athlete. Testing would be sensitive to each individual rather than based on group averages. Better knowledge allows for more accurate positives, and shorter, more frequent(?) suspensions are sufficiently disruptive to discourage doping without turning into drawn-out legal battles.
That’s the theory, anyway. I wonder if the former idea is feasible. Anyone who came in to the sport late- Katie Compton for example- would have no background data and would be something of a maverick- harder to test with the same degree of accuracy. On a larger scale, the plan would require extensive national testing programs. Countries that couldn’t afford that would be at an even greater disadvantage than they currently are.
The latter idea has some appealing aspects. Athlete drug-sanctioning procedures need to be short-fused. The athletes themselves have only a few years to be highly competitive. If they are facing a two year (or more) ban regardless, it may seem worthwhile to spend the time fighting their sanction in the hope of getting it reduced. Regular two week suspensions would merely put them out of action- and out of the sponsor/team’s good graces. Do it enough, and especially with the background data on your physiological profile, and you’ll be out of a job pretty soon.
I note that this still allows athletes to step right to the line (of testing positive) and get dinged only if they step over. This seems to say that the race is to find better masking agents- essentially the same situation as today. I guess that’s what the physiological baselines are for, and without them it seems like the only advantage is to avoid Floyd Landis/Tyler Hamilton-style epic legal battles.
In the end, I guess I’m not convinced that the profiling is feasible, and without it the sanctions seem to nibble at a corner of the problem without taking even a full bite out.