For Matthew Keenan, the quality and speed of racing at Paris-Nice is evidence the fight against doping is working.
Like a moth to a flame cycling media, fans and officials are drawn to a doping story. Better yet a doping saga.
Yet when discussing the topic with non-cycling people many of us, myself included, often defend our sport with phrases like “at least we’re catching the cheats” or “at least we’re doing something about it unlike… insert your sport of choice here.”
Among the common phrases used by the administrators of cycling, and of just about any sport for the that matter, is that each cheat who is caught is evidence that “we’re winning the war on drugs.”
If it really was a war and all the sports of the world were lining up off the coast of Normandy on D-Day cycling would be the first u-boat onto the beach. And while we’re taking the lion’s share of the casualties the other sports are sitting back and waiting to assess the damage before committing their troops.
With this analogy in mind it’s ironic that the German’s are the ones running for cover from cycling with reduced television coverage because of doping. Let’s not even discuss their record, particularly the East Germans.
This fascination with doping is partly because like the damage done by an unfaithful partner the trust has been broken and we’re often second-guessing the sport we love.
Even though everyone should be judged innocent until proven guilty, most of us have, at least occasionally, privately questioned surprising results. Like a pure climber delivering a better than expect performance in a time trial or a sprinter surviving some mountain passes ahead of known climbers.
With all the talk about doping I think I’ve developed a nervous twitch on the subject. So much so that after seeing an aggressive first stage of Paris-Nice finish 30-minutes behind schedule I declared this a good thing for cycling’s reputation. Then the following three stages were also behind schedule.
Yet it has been incredibly entertaining racing.
The breakaway got under the radar on stage one for a surprise Thomas De Gendt victory. Greg Henderson won a textbook sprint finish on stage two. Matt Goss took stage three, plus the yellow jersey, following Peter Sagan’s dramatic crash on the last corner. De Gendt then went in the break on stage four to regain the overall lead while Thomas Voeckler claimed the stage honours. Followed by Andreas Kloden, somehow, beating Samuel Sanchez to the line on stage five and becoming the new owner of the yellow jersey. Only to have Tony Martin win the stage six time trial for yet another change in race leadership as he moves to the top of the table.
The quality of the racing at the slower than expected speed has given me some hope that maybe we really are making progress.
I know we’ll never completely win the “war on drugs” just as there’ll always be crime in the rest of society. But just as crime must always be policed, even though it will never be eradicated, so too the battle to catch the cheats must continue.
My anti-doping utopia is to be free of the second-guessing and comfortably believe the results I see, unless of course a positive test is returned.
Could the anti-doping technology ever really get that far ahead of the game? I hope so.