“We impose what we call ‘strict liability.’ ‘I didn’t know’ is not acceptable.”
Still, how likely is getting caught? “There’s about a one-in-a-zillion chance that an amateur at a local race will get busted,” Mr. Tilin has said.
Effective policing is a Catch-22 – because testing isn’t prevalent, there’s no way of knowing how common amateur doping is, which makes policing less of a priority.
Last year, the CCES did conduct more than 3,700 tests across sports disciplines. But each one costs between $500 and $700, and the centre, an independent not-for-profit organization funded by the government, wants the emphasis placed on Olympic-level athletes.
To support amateur testing, the CCES has helped to institute a “fees-for-service” testing regime in Quebec that allows the provincial cycling federation to pay for spot tests through higher membership and race entry fees.
That seems to follow a trend in the United States. The Wall Street Journal has reported on a number of state cycling associations raising funds for testing at races, Florida among them. “You’d see some guy in his late 40s or 50s just drilling it,” Jared Zimlin, president of that state’s bicycle association, told the press. “We figured nobody would ever want to race here if they think they’re going to get their butt kicked by some 50-year-old ’roid monster.”
But other cycling bodies in Canada have been slow to sign on. “We have to better understand our cost structures before it’s an option,” Jim Crosscombe, head of the Ontario Cycling Association, told me.
One possible hesitation might be higher fees, which could chase racers away from what is already an expensive endeavour. Given the sponsorship dollars pumped into the sport, however, there may be other factors at play: Testing can help to clean up amateur cycling, but will also point to a problem that for now is unquantified and rarely publicly discussed.
Taint is hardly a selling point, especially for big-name events – for instance, the Tour de Victoria, “powered by” Goodlife Fitness, coming up in September, at which Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal will lead Lycra-clad legions across his home island.
Sponsors were certainly affected by hard evidence of doping at the pro level. The Dutch bank Rabobank ended 17 years of sponsoring pro cycling after the USADA published its report on Mr. Armstrong’s drug use. The bank argued that its “trust in the cycling world” was gone. It said it would continue to sponsor amateur events. But what if increased testing turned up cheaters at that level too?
As for the power of larger cycling bodies, Cycling Canada, which ignored repeated requests for comment on this article, adheres to World Anti-Doping Agency regulations. And it has launched a Race Clean initiative. The tag line (modelled on a Quebec program) is “Own Your Victory.” Besides bumper-sticker inspiration, though, it’s unclear how this will challenge amateur athletes who ride dirty.
In the end, riders themselves have to weigh how much the presence of dopers – however rare it may be – affects their passion for racing. On cycling forums, news of amateurs caught doping elicits everything from indifference to deep frustration.
“My perspective is that I race completely clean, and when I race, I’m racing against other competitors,” one amateur writes. “Yes, it bothers me that some might have taken advantage of questionable opportunities which I reject out of hand.”
“What is comes down to, in all cases, is why are you riding?” pro-turned-coach Andrew Randell says.
“It’s about what we value. Currently, people are maximizing their self-worth at the expense of cycling. It’s not just a sport thing, it’s a societal thing, all this rampant cheating.”
For me, there is only one way forward: I want to race, live and not just against competitors on a shared app. As Mr. Randell says, “There’s something about sensing those bodies next to you that can’t be replaced.”
But for the sport to grow and thrive, testing needs to become de rigueur – a Sword of Damocles must hang over every racer’s head, ready to cleave our helmets in twain if we cheat. It’s a dangerous sport, and always will be. But the biggest danger of all should be the humiliation of getting busted racing for that cheap plaque.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article published online and in Saturday's newspaper incorrectly said cyclist Greg Cavanagh, an amateur cyclist who tested positive for testosterone last summer, was a member of the Wheels of Bloor team in Toronto. In fact, Mr. Cavanagh was a member of the SUL (Shut Up Legs) team. In addition, the article quoted a cycling coach. His name is Andrew Randell, not Andrew Randall as published.