Never meet your Heroes. You can’t avoid it when the ex-Heavy Weight Champion of the World is in a lift in your office building. Big Frank Bruno was going up whilst our biggest cycling hero Bradley Wiggins is going down. Frank Bruno provided some of the most vivid sporting memories of my childhood, to say I was shocked to be shaking his hand is an understatement. Shocked about Wiggo’s TUEs? No.
Wiggo’s story is changing almost as often as he changed gears on the way to his 2012 Tour de France victory. The UK media love building up homegrown sporting heroes, almost as much as they like knocking them down. They did it to Frank Bruno. Whilst he’s not broken any rules (that we know of…yet) they’ve got Sir Bradley firmly in their sights.
Put aside his too convenient use of TUEs, timed to coincide with his 3 big Grand Tour attempts, that ‘no needles’ in his autobiography meant ‘not those kind of needles’, what does it say about our sporting heroes? It says we put them on a pedestal from which the only way is down.
There isn’t much difference between Team SKY and Armstrong’s US Postal. They both ride at a tempo that can destroy the peloton and they both employed institutionalised doping. The difference? Team SKY did it within the rules.
This puts Wiggins TUEs in a different light. When your employer tells you to do something how often have you said – No? If you’re offered the chance of promotion, a pay rise in return for doing something that doesn’t quite feel right – it takes a brave and courageous person to say no. Wiggo was just doing his job. He’s just has to ride the bike. He’s no doctor. It was his colleagues at SKY that were responsible for his preparation.
What does it say about our athletes? Complicit Robots? Naïve Robots? Or just supremely hardworking, dedicated and genetically superior employees. Elite athletes are just like us then. Human. Employees. They may achieve super human feats (by fair means or foul) but they’re just doing their jobs.
Hard work and dedication can achieve great things (in sport). We shouldn’t expect more or put athletes on pedestals if we don’t like it when they fall back down to earth.
If it’s too good to be true. It probably is. I had 3 rides planned on consecutive days. My crankset fell apart in mile 1 of ride 1. Following the Fancy Bears’ TUE hack the wheels have fallen off the Team SKY Deathstar.
STOP. It’s easy for us to get on the moral high ground. What would we do? Professional cycling is cut throat. It always has been. Read any history of the Tour de France. Without so much money in the form of advertising at stake, then the decision to bend the rules wouldn’t be so inevitable.
Why are we surprised?
Sir David Brailsford (then just plain Dave) after convincing his financial backers (SKY) that they would profit richly from a CLEAN British Rider winning the Tour de France for the 1st time had to deliver. Once Sir Dave got under the skin, immersed himself in the world of professional road cycling did he find it opaque, dirty, tawdry? Tough. He had to be successful. You think Rupert Murdoch would allow for anything else?
I don’t know the ins and outs of professional cycling. It’s a guess, having sold the Clean Team Dream Sir Dave had a choice – WIN with:
A) a clean team;
B) an unclean team;
C) a team that rode unclean legally.
We know he chose ‘C’ and called it Marginal Gains. He talked bespoke mattresses for riders and cooling down on rollers post-race he didn’t talk about the use of banned steroids with an accompanying TUE. He didn’t make the rules and he didn’t break the rules.
He did make the choice to take the ethically questionable option, the one that when it inevitably comes out looks dodgy, doesn’t feel right, undermines the Team SKY brand. That will hurt Sir Dave the most. He’s talked about Team SKY being a brand as recognizable as Barcelona FC. He’s not there yet as Teflon brands like Barcelona FC shake off the mud. The Team SKY brand is badly tainted. Less for the usage of PEDs more for their cyclical actions and hypocritical rhetoric.
I don’t blame Sir Dave. I don’t blame the spectators. Race Organisers create sensational parcours – 2 ascents of Alpe D’Huez twice in 1 day – to attract mega global TV audiences for the advertisers that bankroll the sport. They raise the stakes. They make professional cycling win at all costs. Whatever the price. The irony is that when the inconvenient PED truth comes out the brand premium of all involved in cycling is eroded.
How to stop drugs in sport? Stop watching. Get out and ride. (With or without a Doctors Note).