The big news this week in the world of New York Bike is that another rider has been caught doping at the Gran Fondo New York (GFNY), which will undoubtedly set the bike world (and Twitter) atwitter with condemnations and accusations and imputations. And most of these exclamations will fall somewhere in the “what kind of loser dopes for a gran fondo?” realm, but there is a little more to the story than that, although the “being a loser” section of the pie chart of doping rationalization is by far the largest slice. The incident does warrant a deeper dig though, and I sadly, am uniquely qualified to do that digging for reasons I will mention shortly—are you feeling the tension I just built there with that opening paragraph? Boom! Writer-ing!
Firstly, doping for amateur competitions is undoubtedly a Richard Bag Move (RBM) inspired by some sort of desperate deficit of character that drives one to ingest unnecessary or even illicit products in order to BEAT OTHER PEOPLE WHO AREN’T GETTING PAID TO RIDE BIKES EITHER. There’s always been a weak justification for doping by professionals that said that they were only ingesting veterinary-grade drugs it to keep their jobs, but for an amateur racer to “shoot horse” so to speak, is especially desperate because they aren’t protecting their livelihood, in fact they are paying for the pleasure of potentially growing hooves or tails. Of course, this implies that amateur dopers think rationally about their actions, which is obviously not the case, because they are paying good money to toy with their health to accomplish, um, something?
Now is the time when I should probably explain how I am qualified to type about this situation. You see, my former teammate, Original Richard Bag (ORB—I don’t use his real name to protect him, I use a made-up name because I don’t want to add to the interest he gets from the notoriety of being the ORB, a notoriety I think he actually enjoys—plus, you can just Google “GFNY doping relevance” and get all the information you need) was caught using EPO at the GFNY in 2012. The story quickly morphed into “master’s racer takes EPO to win a Gran Fondo” which wasn’t exactly the case. ORB took EPO for other reasons: to win races like Battenkill, to earn the esteem of others (that one kind of backfired) and to be a Richard Bag—a high placing in the GFNY wasn’t his sole goal—it was a side effect.
Which brings us to this year’s Richard Bag (RB), Oscar Tovar of Colombia, who was caught with synthetic testosterone in his system (Another Colombian, Yamile Lugo, who finished third in the women’s field was caught using an exogenous steroid—you didn’t think we were going to forget about you Yamile, did you?). I’m pretty sure that Oscar isn’t an android (because he would’ve been signed up to compete in the GFNY android division), so his body doesn’t just produce synthetic hormones—that means he took the time and effort to put that testosterone there. And this is not a small detail. Messing around with your hormones isn’t like slamming a Red Bull, you have to sneak around to get it, you have to develop a program for taking it and you need to figure out how to escape detection (obviously Oscar wasn’t too good at that third detail). And for most amateur dopers the way to escape detection is to not have to worry about escaping detection at all, because almost every race doesn’t have doping controls.
The GFNY is a HUGE event. Last year there were over 2,500 finishers. And it’s a credit to the GFNY’s organizers that they have drug testing at their event. Having USADA test at your event costs thousands of dollars, and for 99% of the events out there, paying for USADA at their event is financially impossible, as their events would turn into a blood drive instead of an athletic competition, because all of their budget would be spent on drug testing. And the RBs of the amateur racing world know this, in fact they rely on this set of circumstances. The absence of testing at almost all other events ensures that they get to shoot extract of bovine boink hormone and never see a blood test.
Of course, this isn’t the case at the GFNY. They get caught there. Perhaps they get caught because they lack the skills to elude testing or they just have built up such a strong exoskeleton of denial that they figure the tests won’t come back showing their blood is glowing with robot plasma, but the important point is that they get caught. And they get outed. Publicly. By the GFNY. And that’s not a small detail—because some organizations would be tempted to quietly announce a positive test at their event, lest they get labeled as a “doper’s event”.
Let me be very plain, the GFNY is not a doper’s event—it is an event that catches dopers.
Other events probably have the same or even greater percentage of riders that are “on the RB sauce”, they just don’t have the money to test their riders. The GFNY has the money, they do the testing and they have caught a bunch of RBs, and the world of bikes is better off for it.