By Bruce Ketchum
I’ve read with interest what the media have reported regarding the various sports doping instances that have occurred recently in pro cycling. I would like to provide a story with a different perspective….just for fun.
Imagine yourself for a moment as a young man, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, just beginning to grow strong. A local businessman, resting on a shaded park bench, heavy in his middle age, spots your lean, robust body in the play yard with your soccer buddies and calls you over. He spins you around roughly and notes your proportionately long legs and says under his breath in a strong accent, “Ah… good pistons.” He then asks you if you’ve ever ridden a bike. You tell him that you and your best friend once stole the rich kid’s
bike and rode it for a week before getting caught.
This elicits a hardy laugh from the old man, and within a week you are fitted with a quality racing bike, clothed in the latest gear and are a new member of the local cycling club. For the businessman, he gets to race again – through your eyes. This time, though, it is with far greater strength and speed than his poorly designed body could ever have mustered.
You learn the sport quickly and grow strong. Your father, although tired and weathered from his years in the field, sparkles with pride when family and friends mention your name with other cycling greats in the same sentence. He no longer yells at you, his frustration with
life seems forgotten with your new cycling success. His boy is going to break the devil’s grasp. A grasp that has held his father and his father’s father for so many years in these fields.
Every spare cent the family earns goes to you so you are supplied with the best equipment and so that you can eat a couple servings of meat each week – something your father insists on to make his boy strong. Schooling is not considered. Everyone in thevillage understands an unspoken language. You are their hope for success and removal of poverty. If it means missing school, so be it. While you spend long hours on your bike, your sister and mother spend longer hours in the field. Like previous generations, their fingers are permanently stained red from endlessly picking stigmas from saffron flowers. When saffron is out of season they tend to grapes or wheat or whatever they can to support the family. Your father, after years in the field himself, has earned the trust of the wealthy grape grower and now tends to his land. When he is not working at the vineyard, he is at home tending to his star boy, cleaning and servicing your bike, keeping it in ever perfect condition.
At first it is great fun, and like any boy that age, life goes on with few worries. It is not until your late teens, when you are at the top in the region, that you begin to understand the sacrifices your family has made for you. You realize that you are the family’s only hope to escape poverty. The pressure is hard, but part of your cycling
prowess comes from your rugged determination. The stress only drives you harder.
You are twenty now, signed to a small pro team for the first time. Unlike home, where you were the strongest in the area, on this team you are only an average player. Your duty is to work hard and live in the shadows of the team’s top sprinter and climber. You don’t like this. With the team’s small budget, your earnings are only enough for living expenses. Very little is left to send home. This troubles you greatly. You strive harder. Your
determination gives you a reputation.
You are twenty-two, you trade teams as often as there are seasons. You are still an average rider. Letters, now with less patience, come from home asking for stronger results. People are starting to talk. Your father, perhaps defeated, seems to be aging rapidly. You fear he has given up on you. If things don’t get better soon, you will have to return home and work in the fields along with your brothers and sisters. You have no education or skills. You will surely go to the fields where the devil will grip you for good. You feel that shame will hang over you for the rest of your time. The entire family has sacrificed everything for you and you feel you have failed them.
After a hard tour in central Italy, a virus runs through your squad and the manager insists that you see the doctor. He is a man that grew up not far from where you are from. You talk of acquaintances and he takes you to dinner. It’s a good meal, the best you’ve had in months. The doctor seems well off. With the help of some wine, you open up to him explaining your troubles and frustrations, how you’ve let down your family. With nods and friendly gestures, he seems to fully understand and sympathize. You concede to him you have
tasted the candy of the civilized world and you would rather die than go back to that village.
The doctor’s understanding smile then stops and he addresses you seriously. He explains to you how all the pros are using medicine to be strong and fast. He says racing at this level is so hard and unhealthy that the medicine helps them survive.
You don’t understand the medical jargon, but you’re wrapped in the doctors enthusiasm. He tells you under his guidance you could be one of the best in the world. He drops some impressive names that he has helped and you are further convinced that this is the way to
go. The doctor then goes into the salaries and prize earnings of his clients and you are further convinced. He tells you that you will finally be able to get your family out of the fields and buy them a beautiful home looking out on to the Mediterranean Sea.
You ask, “Can we eat meat every day?”
With a laugh, the doctor says you can eat meat three times a day if you so wish. He explains the catch.
“Without a doubt, the money is very good,” confides the doctor. “All I ask is that you give me ten percent of all your earnings along with medicine costs. The other 90 percent is yours for you and your family.”
There is no hesitation in your answer. Medicine is good for you.
There is half a season left and the doctor‚s program makes you stronger than you ever thought imaginable. Your end of year results are impressive enough that a major pro team, one that plans to race the Tour next season, picks you up for what they call a bargain. The
$150,000 contract is overwhelming to you. The money, as you receive it, is sent home and your family and the village have regained hope and pride. The team treats you very well, so most of your earnings go straight to your family. You feel a burden lifted. Racing becomes
fun again, as it was when you were a boy.
You work out a deal with the good doctor for the following season. For 15 percent of total earnings, you get a full training, nutrition and medicine program. You quickly show your strength in the early classics, pulling in some consistent and impressive results. As
prescribed by the doctor, you back off for a time and against the wishes of the team you secretly prepare for the Tour. Your role will be to assist the team leader. You think you are better than he is, but you understand the game.
The Tour goes very well for you. Two top-three finishes in the early stages and strong climbing throughout the middle and end stages leaves you 15th overall on the final day into Paris. Your results catch the attention of many teams, particularly because of your age.
Not yet 24, and with the guidance of your doctor, you sign a lucrative multi-million-dollar, four-year deal with your country‚s top trade team. A generous signing bonus allows you to buy that home on the Mediterranean for your family. Your oldest sister enters
university. And meat is served at every meal.
This story simply looks at sport doping in a different light. It is purely entertainment and by no means an endorsement for drug use, nor an endorsement by the author or this publication.
By Bruce Ketchum