The more KOMs, the more fame. And the further cyclists go to hit those numbers. The company is being sued by one user’s family after he died in pursuit of a KOM. “Strava doping” is also an established concept. In most cases, it refers to drafting behind a car – or driving in a car. But a system that functions entirely on trust presumably provides a haven for real dopers too.
Even Lance Armstrong has joined Strava (with typical grace and humility, his profile reads, “According to my rivals, peers and teammates I won the Tour de France seven times”). Many users were outraged when doping’s capo di tutti capi signed up. Michael Horvath, the app’s CEO, was less concerned. “We want to be careful not to become a police state,” he told Bloomberg.
Therein lies the problem. Sure, this app, and all those Fondos and local two-bit races, are meant to be about the sheer joy of riding as fast as you can. It’s a cliché we learn in kindergarten – if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself. But cycling is not quite a solo sport: The sheer joy of riding comes in part from riding together – time and effort and sweat are in the service of achieving excellence above others. Without testing, without “policing,” can we really know what excellence means?
“The reality is, I became obsessed with racing, and maybe even more, with being a part of something,” wrote David Anthony, a 45-year-old Internet entrepreneur who was among those caught in the dragnet at the Gran Fondo New York. “It took these external forces to literally knock me off the bike and out of the ridiculous place I allowed myself to get into.”
I’m too nervous to hoover unpronounceable drugs into my body, but I don’t pretend never to have considered it.
“Performance enhancers” – whether Viagra, sleeping pills, superfoods or Red Bull – have become commonplace. We dope to live, and this increasingly bleeds into our sporting ethos. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, “Man I wish there was a pill for this” while riding up a hill that ends somewhere beyond the clouds.
And as apologetic as Mr. Tilin may be in his book, he has admitted that racing on dope was “super-duper fun.”
The pharmacological fecundity with which amateurs may directly tweak their performance on a bike includes pills, creams, serums, powders and unguents. Some drugs, such as cocaine and speed, are blunt tools. Others, such as the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO), originally cooked up in expensive labs to help chemotherapy patients endure the ravages of treatment, are precision-tuned instruments.
When EPO arrived in the early 1990s, it forever changed pro cycling, in which winning came down to a fraction of a per cent – you either juiced, or you were blown off the road. But even juicing doesn’t guarantee a win: Individual athletes don’t react in a uniform way to EPO, so the stuff never offers an even playing field. A racer is only as good as his personalized doping program, which is directly related to the size of his bank account. Hence the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s dogged pursuit of Mr. Armstrong and other industrial-scale cheats.
But if some amateurs are inspired by pro performance on EPO, they are rarely busted for it: It’s expensive (three month’s worth can cost several thousands of dollars), is difficult to come by, has to be injected at set times, and can lower the heart rate to such an extent that it can cause cardiac arrest.
Instead, testosterone, or T, seems to be the dope of choice. It’s what Greg Cavanagh was using when his urine sample tested positive.
T is also one of the primary weapons in the never-ending war against aging. In most men, levels of testosterone start dropping off at the age of 25 at a rate of about 1.25 per cent a year. Patches and creams, readily available at anti-aging clinics or online, are designed to “correct” that deficit – and by happy coincidence, there is no quicker shortcut to feeling more youthful and aggressive in the saddle.
They are not without their side effects, and not just for athletes. In cream form, testosterone traces can be left on towels and bathroom taps, leading to “second-hand doping,” a problem if a cyclist has children or a pregnant woman in his household.
Other drugs also carry verboten substances – but may or may not be tied to cheating. Among the problem meds, for example, are allergy pills, ADHD treatments and antidepressants. It’s up to cyclists to check their prescriptions to make sure that they are not ethically compromised, says Mr. Melia of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.