Spaniards talk about the need to ride and cheat

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While many say they don’t understand why, others say it’s the cyclist personality, the desire to be rich overnight, pressure and the fault of WHO.

24 July 2008

MADRID - "It won't be easy to forget what has happened these past few days," moans Iván Gutiérrez.

The Caisse d'Épargne rider is not alone.

Among the majority sportsmen who are clean of drugs in this year's Tour de France, the newspaper headlines about doping and the arrest of three fellow competitors - two Spaniards and an Italian - in recent weeks have left them embittered at what has become of their sport.

With its image tarnished each season by the use of performance-enhancing drugs by an unscrupulous few, world cycling is facing an uphill struggle to achieve a level playing field.

Cyclists themselves are at a loss to explain why some competitors still run the risk of doping rather than making do with the physical abilities handed to them by nature.

"You can't go against your own genes. I wasn't given a body that would allow me to win the Tour de France, for example. So I adapt to that and I set other targets. If you're good enough to be 10th, then you will be 10th," Gutiérrez says.

"But many riders, and I'm talking about the young ones, find it hard to understand the fact that you can pedal without taking anything," adds Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha.

Why? Some riders, like David Millar of the Garmin-Chipotle team (who is himself a former doper turned anti-doping activist), are inclined to believe it is a question of individual mentalities - some riders are willing to go to any lengths to win.

Vincenzo Nibali appears to agree, pointing to the example of Riccardo Riccò, the Italian who caused the Saunier Duval team to pull out of the Tour last week and led the company to drop its cycling sponsorship as announced yesterday, after he was accused of doping.

"[Riccò] was arrogant," the Liquigas rider scoffs.

"His attitude of wanting to go against everything a priori bothers me. We competed together in some of the lower categories and he always did whatever he wanted, inside and outside of cycling."

Other cyclists believe external pressures are to blame, particularly from unscrupulous doctors and medical staff eager to provide performance-enhancing substances, rather like a drug dealer at the doors of a discotheque.

"They're always there to offer you something, but it is up to the individual to decide how they want to have fun: with or without pills," Flecha notes.

Indeed, like many disco-goers who believe a drug is necessary to have a good time, some cyclists are led to believe that unless they dope they will never win.

"Athletes are the victims. They have developed in a corrupt atmosphere that protects doping," exclaims Sandro Donati, an expert at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) who blames the World Health Organisation (WHO) for turning a blind eye to the development of performance-boosting drugs by pharmaceutical companies.

"The word 'doping' doesn't even appear in the glossary on the WHO's website," Donati complains.

Ultimately, however, to dope or not to dope is an individual choice - and one that, as recent events show, is all too often influenced by greed.

"A lot of people have grown up in a culture in which it seems that if you don't dope you can't race.

They don't listen to anyone else and they want to be millionaires overnight," Flecha says.

[El Pais / Eleonora Giovio / Expatica]

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