Needles, Pills And Potions: Can Cycling's Culture Of Chemical Assistance Ever Be Overcome?

Ludvig Anton Wacker, a 21-year-old Dane with Sunweb's dev squad, has quit the sport and in going has taken a swipe at cycling's culture of chemical assistance:
"I'm tired of pills in sport. They may be legal pills, but I'm tired of pills in cycling and I think it's grotesque that it has to be so obvious," Wacker told Feltet.dk.

"It's so obvious. In the big races, people ride around with little containers in their pockets with pills and so on. I've never wanted to take anything myself, and then you know that in all the finals, the others are taking something you're not taking. There are painkillers and caffeine among other things. It's absolutely ridiculous the amount people take. Because you don't know what it might do to a rider's body in 20 years' time," Wacker said, before absolving the teams of responsibility.

"I think it's often the young riders who do it themselves. It's not necessarily the team that's doing it. The riders can get it themselves. It's very easy to get access to."
The debate about finish bottles seems to a seven year itch for the sport, it was 2014 when we last had it, Taylor Phinney one of the more vocal proponents of detoxing the sport. Tramadol then was the bogeyman and the focus of the discussion, when what should have been being discussed was the wider culture of chemical assistance, legal as well as illegal.

Michael Barry at that time wrote of gateway drugs, wrote of starting out on multivitamins and ending up on EPO, his words echoing comments made a generation earlier by the likes of Laurent Fignon, Paul Kimmage and Allan Peiper. From Tom Simpson to Bradley Wiggins the sport has a long history of riders who start out criticising the doping of others and end up talking of the need for medical care. Once the gate is open, many find it difficult to resist going through.

The extent of cycling's culture of chemical assistance, the extent to which cycling is a pharmacy on wheels, was exposed in the noughties when Le Journal du Dimanche revealed that 11 non-French teams starting 2004's Tour had requested permission from the Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments to import medicines which had no obvious application within cycling. The medical manifest of one team at the 2000 Tour listed 126 different products. It contained 684 individual packages which were calculated to contain 7,422 individual doses. The 2001 manifest for the same team covered 119 different products, made up of 790 packages containing a total of 8,334 individual doses. "These are not racers," the judge at the Festina trial is reported to have said, "they are cycling test tubes."

None of this is new. We all know of Henri Pélissier's dynamite comment from 1924. People have been talking about the use and abuse of stimulants in the sport since forever. Researching the history of the Hour record I came across this comment from William Rowe, the last man to set an Hour record on a Penny-Farthing, in 1886:
”I have consulted the finest physicians and doctors in the United States, and they tell me the greater part of my success lies in my abstinence. I feel myself that it is so. I am just as good one day as another. I never have an off day, whereas people who take stimulants are good today and nothing next day. It sometimes takes them a fortnight to get back into good order. Brother professionals have admitted as much to me. When I rode my greatest distance in the Hour, I had not done any work on a bicycle for a week on account of bad weather, and though I thought I should not be in condition, yet when I came to ride I found I accomplished the greatest performance ever done in the world – and all on tea, too, my boy!”
The culture of chemical assistance is not restricted to cycling, sport is just holding up a mirror to society. Add to that we also have the problem that part of the sport is funded by those offering magic elixirs to help you go faster in your Wednesday-evening ten. From supplements to Ketones we're told that Weetabix alone is not the breakfast of champions, you've got to drink this go-fast juice or eat that go-faster power bar. The economic interests of the sport limit what we can do.

We can't kick the habit, at this stage that's abundantly clear, a century and more of this discussion has shown us that we can't kick the habit, the culture of chemical assistance is too firmly embedded. But if we can't cut it out, can we cut it down, and somehow close the gateway from legal to illegal?
 
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we should always strive for fair competition
The question is how. By and large we are talking about legal products here. Back in William Rowe's day the caffeine in a cup of tea was enough to trigger him, the Pélissers's dynamite included sleeping pills, finish bottles vary but have at one time included champagne and sugar. We can knock out one drug here and one drug there - EPO, Tramadol, corticosteroids - but the underlying culture does not seem to be changing. How can we rectify that?
 
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The question is how. By and large we are talking about legal products here. Back in William Rowe's day the caffeine in a cup of tea was enough to trigger him, the Pélissers's dynamite included sleeping pills, finish bottles vary but have at one time included champagne and sugar. We can knock out one drug here and one drug there - EPO, Tramadol, corticosteroids - but the underlying culture does not seem to be changing. How can we rectify that?
Not sure the culture can ever be rectified, that is why it is the same in all professional sports although cycling gets a bad rap. Historically the culture in cycling is due to the physical demands of the sport. And the balance between skill and physical.

Cycling is heavily weighted towards the physical. Football, tennis, cricket, golf etc, are biased towards skill. You need supreme fitness to be a professional football player but if you don't have the skills you will never be a professional. Chemicals don't provide much help to skills. But recovery from a 90 minute football game just isn't the same as 6 hour races near your physical limits for days on end or being super skinny yet powerful is a desired state.

If we look at other sports I think there is a similar culture. For example, swimming has a culture of chemicals and many swimmers have been caught. Some swimmers were busted putting pills in their mouth, not realizing what was in the pill was banned under the WADA rules.

But my point is we should never stop trying to do something. It provides a deterrence from gaining an unfair advantage.
 
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Why does something need to be done?
To close the gateway from legal to illegal.

Of course, we could argue that that gateway is a figment of the imagination or a more wordy way of saying thin end of the wedge.

Or we could argue that something needs to be done because from the get go people have been speaking out on the subject and calling for something to be done.
 
Separating that point out: this is the argument that Anquetil made when doping was banned in the 1960s, that athletes should be allowed use what the rest of us use. If you're really making that argument, should we roll back the years and unban doping?
Most doping products are prescription drugs or illegal, so this is fairly easily answered. I think it also points to the only likely answer to the issue, legislation outside of sport.
 
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Me, I don't have a problem with extensive caffein use and much of what has been said and come under scrutiny recently seems to be deflecting from the "real" doping: ketones, painkillers, caffein (really?)
I understand the idea behind the no needle policy and it's a good one: Make it harder for the mind to get from totally legal and harmless to doping. Make them realize when they cross a line. I would compare it to banning smoking in order to keep people from going the soft way to cannabis, then further...
And I take it that's the main argument to ban all other enhancing substances as well. Although I don't support it, it's worth thinking about it. On the other hand it seems like it would be a problem, especially since you don't just step from innocent child to pro. When all the leisure athletes and everyone in their everyday life take it it becomes hard to argue why it is okay for them but not for the athletes. And that, ultimately, undermines the fight against doping, because people will not see doping as something that ruins lives, but anti-doping as strangling free people unnecessarily.
So, back to my first sentence, I think there is way more going on in the peloton than just these substances which some may not like, which might, taken too often, have a negative effect, but which are simply legal. When riders complain about the use of those it doesn't seem to be as part of this discussion (should they be banned in order to erase the soft crossing zone), but more like a distraction from actual doping substances or even an outcry that is aimed at doping but nobody dares to name the real problems. It doesn't help, in my opinion, because it just makes the public and media focus on these, comparatively harmless and legal substances instead of looking for the real doping products.

What can be done? In the end, nothing. There will always be doping, nothing will change that. But consequent testing, investing money into anti-doping, chemical, medical and moral education for juniors and pros, a point athletes can turn to anonymously to give information to (like it is possible here and there with sexual abuse and molesting) at least help.
 
Is the slippery slope the same slippery slope led to marijuana being criminalised and mass incarcerations in many countries? The same drug that’s now becoming legal in many places at a rapidly growing rate. Has a slippery slope ever been shown to exist? I don’t remember dopers coming out and saying it was the finishing bottle that pushed them over the line. They all knew what they were doing was wrong.
 
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I think it also points to the only likely answer to the issue, legislation outside of sport.
If I'm reading this right you're saying legislation could help reduce cycling's - sport's - culture of chemical assistance.

Let's start with supplements, the vitamin injections of our day. They're an issue inside and outside of sport. What sort of legislation could rein them in?
 
Let me bring Arnaud Démare into this, as it's not only Ludvig Anton Wacker who is talking about cycling's culture of chemical assistance, he is simply part of a wider debate that is going on:

“I wonder about the peloton, but I’m only saying what many people are seeing,” Démare said. “Not everyone has the same restrictions on certain products like ketones. I am part of a team that has made commitments, as have others. But the whole peloton is not like us.”
 
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It's up to the qualified people in anti doping to write a list of substances which are in fact evidently "doping" on a real tangible level, not just theoretical (& certainly not from a "gateway to doping" perspective either, which would be ridiculous).

Because a reverse argument can be made, i.e. anything & everything is technically "performance enhancing"... even drinking water. Ban water, energy drinks, energy bars etc. & voilà, performances will tank.

I'm saying the anti-dope attitude can go way, way too far & veers off into a form of quasi Amish "purism" detached from reality. Personally speaking I don't think taking caffeine or painkillers is "chemical assistance", it's just common sense & normal.

Let me bring Arnaud Démare into this, as it's not only Ludvig Anton Wacker who is talking about cycling's culture of chemical assistance, he is simply part of a wider debate that is going on:
It's a common hobby in French teams like Marc Madiot's FDJ, i.e. throwing mud at opponents & insinuating cheating in the peloton. Pinot did the same.

I find it distasteful, to say the least.
 
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Has a slippery slope ever been shown to exist? I don’t remember dopers coming out and saying it was the finishing bottle that pushed them over the line.
I could dig out quotes from Paul Kimmage, from Laurent Fignon, from Allan Peiper, from Michael Barry without too much effort. With a bit of effort I'm sure I could find more. Now me, personally, I don't like the slippery slope / thin end of the wedge clichés cause they're reactionary bollox. But there are people in cycling who have spoken of things as innocent as vitamins ultimately leading to doping. Of a culture that starts with legal products and ends up with illegal ones. Of a gateway, if you will.

The issue here is not the individual products but the culture itself.
 
Is the slippery slope the same slippery slope led to marijuana being criminalised and mass incarcerations in many countries? The same drug that’s now becoming legal in many places at a rapidly growing rate. Has a slippery slope ever been shown to exist? I don’t remember dopers coming out and saying it was the finishing bottle that pushed them over the line. They all knew what they were doing was wrong.
We are digressing not sure which country you mean but that certainly wasn't the case in my country. Hence you are making a strawman. But you can be very sure oft cited as harmless MDMA is a slippery slope to Ice (crystal methamphetamine).

The point is there need to be some kind of control over chemical substances but it doesn't mean the controls can never be watertight. Professional budgets mean what we allow as harmless today some smart people will work out how to exploit that. Hence the slippery slope.
 
Is the slippery slope the same slippery slope led to marijuana being criminalised and mass incarcerations in many countries? The same drug that’s now becoming legal in many places at a rapidly growing rate. Has a slippery slope ever been shown to exist? I don’t remember dopers coming out and saying it was the finishing bottle that pushed them over the line. They all knew what they were doing was wrong.
Good post. In regard to the bolded, I don't believe it has, in repeated instances. But there are coping mechanisms and cultural drivers that, when combined, do
appear to lead to doping or illicit drug use. For example, we know issues with chronic pain can lead to addiction, and other factors contribute as well. However, having pain and taking pain medication is not a "slippery slope" towards addiction.

Changing culture and addressing the use of supplements and drugs in sport is extremely challenging work and requires ongoing practice. I think keeping discussions around what is happening is very important.
 
We are digressing not sure which country you mean but that certainly wasn't the case in my country. Hence you are making a strawman. But you can be very sure oft cited as harmless MDMA is a slippery slope to Ice (crystal methamphetamine).

The point is there need to be some kind of control over chemical substances but it doesn't mean the controls can never be watertight. Professional budgets mean what we allow as harmless today some smart people will work out how to exploit that. Hence the slippery slope.
I don’t think it’s a strawman at all. It’s a very good example of another situation where that argument was made, it’s was false by any measure, and the start of that slippery slope is now fast becoming legal. Unless you can show evidence that people taking legal drugs and supplements has been the cause for a large amount of doping in sport I don’t think it’s a good argument to impose additional restrictions on people trying to do their job.

your second point seems to imply the worry is they’ll somehow dope with what’s legal, is that correct?
 
If I'm reading this right you're saying legislation could help reduce cycling's - sport's - culture of chemical assistance.

Let's start with supplements, the vitamin injections of our day. They're an issue inside and outside of sport. What sort of legislation could rein them in?
Sorry, how are they an issue? The only issue I can think of is the ones with doping products in them, but there is legislation in place and systems for athletes to avoid these.
 
I could dig out quotes from Paul Kimmage, from Laurent Fignon, from Allan Peiper,

Well there are some contemporary quotes. The most recent retiree of those is Fignon and he's been dead for a decade.

Have you actually ever played sport? Go and play in you local Sunday football league. Loads of people use caffeine and painkillers. It's lot the great crisis you think it is.

Sadly cycling is now burdened with pearl clutching 'fans' who desparately need a doping scandal, so now look at an asthma inhaler as though it's a kilo of heroin. They need to grow up
 
Some of you may have read some of my stories in the mountain bike thread, but I tried my hand at being a pro dirt racer in the '90s and it was pretty common to either join existing teams or form composite teams to compete in road races (mostly spring races). I was always shocked at the duffle bags full of legal pills. I rode with a D-III team one year at a few early stage races and was double shocked at the zip-lock bag full of pills they took each night after dinner.

I'm not sure if I have an opinion about what should be done. I do find it hypocritical when a masters racer who is on T bags on some kids for taking supplements though, which was really common in this neck of the woods (it might still be, but I haven't raced for 7 years now so I don't know).
 
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I could dig out quotes from Paul Kimmage, from Laurent Fignon, from Allan Peiper, from Michael Barry without too much effort. With a bit of effort I'm sure I could find more. Now me, personally, I don't like the slippery slope / thin end of the wedge clichés cause they're reactionary bollox. But there are people in cycling who have spoken of things as innocent as vitamins ultimately leading to doping. Of a culture that starts with legal products and ends up with illegal ones. Of a gateway, if you will.

The issue here is not the individual products but the culture itself.
And it's not just the likes of Kimmage, Fignon and Proper either. The likes of Hamilton, Landis, Zabriskie and Vandevelde have also explained how they were offered increasingly potent and illegitimate substances as their careers progressed. MEanwhile many of their contemporaries are still working in the sport at the highest level, with no untoward scrutiny or discrimination cough Matt White cough Steels cough Julich cough

The other issue is that the last truly big bust that ended with riders completely spilling the beans was Op Puerto, and when Festina happened in 1998 world sport was collectively shocked by the depth of doping in sport.

Unfortunately until someone else gets busted and is forced to explain what has been happening since 2008 (when ADO's were blatantly told not to do their jobs too well anymore) people such as Wacker are going to be met by ridicule and handwringing. This thread and the article comments are perfect examples.

As for "These products are legal", yeah, well so was the holocaust (ok extreme example)
 
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