In Defense of Doping at the Tour de France
His ascension was nothing short of miraculous. His tenacity incredible. His rugged all-American good looks and Texas-born swagger combined to polarize public opinion of him: you either loved or hated Lance Armstrong.
I did neither. I’ve always had an affinity for the underdog, so I found myself betting on rivals Ullrich, Basso, and Vinokourov. But Armstrong himself was something of a scrappy underdog who earned my respect; I mean, the man had kicked cancer to the curb and gone on to a brilliant athletic career.
But love him or hate him, more than anything in the history of US cycling, Armstrong’s hero status boosted interest in the sport. The US Postal team fired up both national pride and interest in road cycling as an amateur sport. Road bike sales surged as the number of cycling enthusiasts increased by millions.
I was one of those millions. I fell in love with road racing the minute I entered a local amateur circuit race. I joined a team, trained religiously, and hired a coach. I even went so far as to get my USAC Coaching Level 1 certification. I found myself driving to San Francisco with my teammates to chase the Tour of California around, scribbling messages for Leipheimer and Voigt on the rolling roadways of Santa Rosa.
I had never been into spectator sports but I began meeting up with a group of die-hard TdF fans at the local french café to watch Le Tour on a big screen TV. For three weeks every July, our tribe would arrive, clad in sweaty lycra, our bikes leaning in piles against street signs on the sidewalk as we sipped coffee and nibbled flaky croissants while watching the race. What was it that made us sit transfixed, year after year, watching a sport which—let’s face it—is really not that exciting to look at?
Endurance races like the TdF don’t typify the American notion of “sport” which usually features broadly-shouldered, muscle-bound big dudes either playing ballsports or engaging in some gladiator-type stand-off like boxing or MMA. Pro cyclists don't look like athletes the way we've been trained to think about athleticism. What these skinny, lycra-clad dudes with shaved legs can do with a bike looks subtle, boring even; in reality bike racing is anything but.
So when the doping scandals erupted and pro after pro fell from grace—Armstrong falling hardest of all, being stripped of seven Tour de France titles and facing a lifetime ban—interest in the sport fell too. As interest fell, sales fell. The local race series became a ghost of its former self.
Millennials are not flocking to cycling as a sport the way Gen Xers did. In general, cycling fans all say the same thing: everyone dopes. After all, if your competition is doing it, how else can you be competitive?
It's been a few years since my last road race. I’ve traded my 700c’s for 650b’s in hot pursuit of hero dirt, rock gardens and sweet jumps. But there’s a part of me that still wants to love the Tour and road riding; there is so much history and culture around this annual event that I hate to see it tarnished by doping. Perhaps cynicism is justified, but it still tastes bitter.
Yes, doping sucks, but what sucks even more is giving up something you love because of other people’s bad behavior.
That's why I've decided if you can’t beat ‘em you might as well join ‘em. This year I’m going to enhance my performance—or at least my visibility—as an 100% human-powered athlete, through doping. Sock doping, that is. Better living through textiles.
This week I returned to the French bakery to watch le Tour, partly to see what Cavendish and Sagan could do, but partly to see if the old crew would be there. There were a handful of old-timers, sipping tiny espressos, munching sugary beignets, eyes fixed on the big screen, collective sighs on every crash, and triumphant cheers at the finish.
Maybe we're an anachronistic bunch, but together we carry the torch—for tradition, for competition, for skinny dudes in stretchy pants, pedaling their asses off, trying to perform well in one of the world's most grueling events. This July—like every July—we gather together for three weeks—as best friends, as comrades, and fans and as cyclists. We catch up on what's happened the other 49 weeks of the year in between races. And this year, and I hope every year forward, as a symbol of riding clean we sport our dopest socks.
Join the sock doping party! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and tag @cyclonebicyclesupply #dopesocks on your favorite sock doping examples. At the conclusion of the Tour we’ll choose our favorites and send the winners some dope socks to add to your performance-enhancing wardrobe.