Cycling can be a seductive subculture. Especially European bike racing with riders from different countries on the same team, performing incredible feats of endurance, and the race settings are stunning, to name a few attributes.
And there’s money. Lots of money and prestige at stake at the highest levels of pro cycling. So most of the riders look for an edge. Once enough competitors find the same edge the others have to use the same edge or get dropped. The underbelly of cycling gets pretty dirty.
What goes on in a developing country like Kenya?
The long distance runners of Kenya are probably considered the gold standard of their sport. Kenyan racers hold a special spot for spectators. In the minds of non-Africans, Kenyans run to get from place to place, whereas in the industrialized world we run for sport and health, so the Kenyans seem more authentic somehow. The big marathon races take on a David versus Goliath feel when Kenyan runners show up with their utilitarian rural skills to challenge, and often defeat, the industrialized sportsmen.
If you are a runner in Kenya what lengths would you go to excel?
Frank Shorter was the American marathon star in the 70’s. When asked who’d win the next major marathon he gave the same answer. He’d say the winner would be from a country without a totally independent, audited antidoping agency. And that the winner would be from a country far enough away that there’s not much international scrutiny.
It’s now a widely known secret that professional cycling in Europe is fostered and lifted to ever higher levels of effort through sophisticated doping regimes. Lance Armstrong’s personal medical and training advisor was an Italian doctor. In the 1980s, when Kenyan runners began to use their Italian doctors as agents, that should have been a clue that there might be some doping going on.
Some top Kenyan runners have failed performance enhancing drug tests lately.
I’m sure they train long and hard along with being gifted athletes, the same is true for Lance. But if you’re a pro and the other top competitors are doping, you have to as well or not be able to compete against the dopers.
If you’re a poor, but talented Kenyan runner, taking home a $100,000 winner’s check makes it worth trying to get an edge.