Friday, 20 July 2012

Winning clean - a lesson for everyone


In the Tour de France on Sunday, some lunatic threw carpet tacks on to the road at the top of one of the big climbs, causing 30 riders to suffer punctures, and one rider to fall and break his collar bone. It was an action of crass stupidity, that not only threatened the safety of riders who already take plenty of their own risks haring down the mountain, but also threatened to affect the result. One of the riders affected by the tacks was Cadel Evans, the reigning champion, who at that time was lying in third place.

That it didn't have any real impact on the leader board was down to the decision by Bradley Wiggins to call a truce, and suspend racing until those affected had the chance to catch up.

There are many traditions in the Tour de France - they are often whimsical, and to some seem incongruous, particularly when compared against the legacy of doping that exists within cycling. It may surprise you to know that within professional cycling there is a heritage of fair play, and an honour in the way that one conducts oneself.

When Bradley called a truce, he was acting as the patron of the peloton. The patron is often the yellow jersey wearer, but may also be one of the big names - someone who has won the race before, for example. And it is their responsibility to act as opinion former and moral guardian, when unexpected things happen. The need to end hostilities was instantly recognisable to Bradley, but not everyone agreed. One French cyclist buggered off into the distance, and only slowed down when his team told him that he looked like a bit of a pratt racing ahead when everyone else had decided that would be unfair..

Reconciling this attitude of fair play, with the legion of dopers that have previously dominated the sport can be difficult. Many people still need some reassurance that riders are cycling clean, and I think that Bradley has given us a lead on this with the way that he has behaved.

I thought back to other times when riders have either stopped or failed to stop when their competitors have suffered a misfortune.

In the early 2000s, Lance Armstrong gwas knocked off his bike when his handle bars got hooked in the strap of a spectators bag. His main rival, Jan Ulrich, waited for him to recover, only for Lance Armstrong to attack as soon as he had caught up. Lance Armstrong has never been caught doping, but it is indicative of something that he still remains embroiled in charges against him, years after he was the main force in cycling.

In 2010, Andy Schleck's chain came of his bike while he was attacking Alberto Contador. Contador rode on, and beat Schleck for the title by the amount of time that he gained that day. He later had this title removed from him, after he returned a positive test from a urine sample taken the day after this incident.

There are many examples that I could give, but the theme that I am trying to outline is one of ruthlessness. These examples display, I think, a single mindedness in these people, that is perhaps emblematic of dopers. Exploiting the misfortune of others on the way to victory is a surrogate of the same attitude that applies to doping. It is the obsessive need to win, at any price, that obviates other important themes, like fair play, level playing fields, and the realisation that it is just sport.

Bradley displayed the exact reverse: he was embodiment of the idea that winning means nothing, if you win either by cheating, or taking advantage of the bad luck of others. There are many people who doubt that Bradley has been riding clean. They clearly haven't been following his career very closely: he is not some rider who came from nowhere. He is a triple Olympic Gold medal winner who has adapted and trained for a different challenge.

Bradley races clean because winning dirty means nothing to him, and represents the basest betrayal of his sporting ideals. It is for the same reasons that he waited for Cadel Evans. Win clean, win fair, or don't win at all might be his motto.

In a world that often seems to celebrate the victor regardless of how they got there, it is refreshing to see someone risk their chances of success because of their sense of honour.

At the investigation of Ben Johnson's doping in 100m at the Seoul Olympics, the doctor who supplied his drugs told the enquiry that in 1984, 20 medals were won by athletes that he knew were doping.

How much honest athletic endeavour has gone unrewarded because of the cheating that has gone on in the past? In our emphasis of success, we have forgotten some central tenets of fair play.

That is a shame but at least we have Bradley Wiggins to remind us what it is all about. There are undoubtedly riders doping this year, but this year, they are losing to someone who has done it the right way. And that in itself is something worth celebrating.

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