After the cry for help by alleged doper Mauro Santambrogio maybe its time for all of us in the cycling world to put our anti-doping obsessions into renewed context.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Sometimes it takes a single event to make us sit back and think a bit more deeply about an issue we care about, which for many of us who follow or report on professional cycling would be the anti-doping fight.

It's hard to argue against the idea that clean sport is a universally good thing, we want to know that the success of our favourite athletes is accomplished using only the best of methods and not the most nefarious.

So we react with anger and disappointment when this test of character is failed by the men and women whose heroics we celebrate. We vilify. Storm the gates of the castle with pitchforks.

In the grand scheme of things doping in sport is just a test of character, not an offense which could or should cost someone a life.

The majority of us don't really know these athletes. Our role is little more than voyeur into their lives - we only see a small part of who they really are.

How an athlete reacts on the field of play can be revealing at times, but their true personalities are largely an iceberg to us, well hidden below the waterline of what we see in the media.

However, Santambrogio, who returned an A sample positive for EPO after the Giro d'Italia, where he won a stage and finished 9th overall, recently revealed the emotional pressure he was under after failing his test of character, and the mindset of an athlete at the highest level.

The B sample is still to be confirmed, and he may yet be allowed to race, but the Italian was clearly struggling, posting several disturbing Tweets after being inactive for over four months.

The first, "Addio Mundo" goodbye world, the second "I can't go on any further".

Recognising this was a cry for help, Santambrogio's 6000 plus followers immediately expressed an outpouring of support for the disgraced rider.

Three hours later he returned to Tweet, "My supporters gave me the strength to win this struggle. Thank you."

After some scurrying, Santambrogio was eventually contacted and interviewed by La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Ciro Scognamiglio, giving us some insight into his personality and struggle.

"I've been condemned as a sportsman but especially as a man, and that's what upsets me most. I was deeply hurt, I'm not a criminal. And I went in an instant from the heights to the utter depths," said Santambrogio.

"I hadn't become a champion in the race, but in my own way, within my inner circle, I felt a bit like a minor deity. I lost everything, I've become a leper. I couldn't take it, cycling is my world and I can't bear to stay away from it. Sunday I started watching the Lombardia, my favourite race, my hometown one. But I couldn't. I switched off (the TV) and went to bed."

A minor deity? I can't help but think that we as fans are responsible for athletes like Santambrogio even thinking they may be a god, even a little one.

Imagine being Lance Armstrong then and now?

Staying grounded when everyone around you is extolling your greatness must be the most difficult of tasks, making a fall from grace even harder.

"Last summer I went to Sardinia to get away, I took (the bike) but I never used it. Once as I was cycling around my home town, I heard a cycling fan say 'Santambrogio doped up, you disgraced cycling.' Then I started to imagine what people were saying about me. Look at those people sitting at a nearby table. Maybe they don't even know who I am. Yet, in similar situations, I imagined they were speaking ill of me. That's hard to take."

There was more. Santambrogio made an ill fated attempt to turn his hand at something else, baking, but can't yet break free from his life and identity as a professional bike rider.

"I did it (baking) a few times, from 2-3 am to 10-11 am. But to be honest, I still see myself as a cyclist. It's what I've always dreamt of doing and I never minded the sacrifices. If I had to train for five hours, I always put in an extra minute, never a minute less. These months have made me understand who are the people I can really count on, I can count them on the fingers of my hands."

He must have a lot of fingers if the support he received on Twitter is any indication. In that moment cycling fans proved they could separate the devil from the man, reaching out in support.

"But the love that I felt on the net after what I had written, did me a lot of good. Maybe I can't make it alone, I asked the help of a psychologist that I'm seeing tonight (the night after the interview)." I want to make it, I must make it."

I want him to make it, but as a man of character, not a 'deity', while understanding there is a flesh and blood human being behind the facade before condemning too strongly.