With forty switchbacks of uninterrupted suffering ahead of me and the main peloton five minutes behind, I felt confident in my ability to prevail on the queen stage of the recent Tour of Chile. Concentrating on my rhythm and jeered on by my director from the team car, I struggled and inched my way up the behemoth climb, being careful not to look at the switchbacks above me. The time gap was disappearing just about as quickly as the kilometers-to-go. One minute with three kilometers to go shrunk to ten seconds at the kilometer mark. Marco Arriagada, the race leader and Chilean national hero, passed me in that last kilometer, ending my hail-mary attempt at glory on the day and relegating me to second.
They’re a peculiar enterprise these days, cycling podiums. Cheer for the winner with one hand behind your back as you await the results of the drug control. In this case, the winner of that queen stage Arriagada (he was also the eventual victor of the race overall) tested positive. We were awaiting the results of his B-sample, but recently the news broke that I inherited that stage win.
My enthusiasm over my first international race victory is thus quite tempered by the way in which it was achieved- by default. Marco, it seems, robbed my of a chance to stand atop the podium that day, the satisfaction of struggling up that climb ahead of the field. What comes to mind is the enormous amount of work and sacrifice this endeavor of professional cycle racing demands. Training through Utah winters; juggling college and training; forgoing desserts and larger salaries afforded by more traditional work; interval training in the rain- these are all part of what Marco stole from me.
My outlook on this darker side of our sport has evolved over the last few years. I’ve progressed from cynicism to acceptance. Further, the slimy headlines no longer bring me despair. In fact, they affect me in just the opposite way- I feel more and more confident and happy in my own decisions to race clean. At the end of the day, there will probably be cheaters in most endeavors that I pursue. For me, my happiness and satisfaction comes from the choices I make, not theirs. I’m content with my cycling career, and will be proud of winning that queen stage of Vuelta Chile as a clean athlete. I continue to be fascinated by the nature of our sport- man overcoming the resistance of nature and the determination of his fellow competitors. Doping would obliterate that interest for me, and my pride. I don’t normally like to champion the decision to be a clean athlete- it feels to me a little like bragging about filing your taxes- but in this circumstance, when the victory was allegedly snatched from under my nose, I feel compelled to declare myself so.
For me, there is no positive test that will destroy my interest in the beautiful sport of cycling. For every doping scandal, I also see the story of the honest, hardworking clean athletes struggling in second place or further anonymity. Longfellow penned my favorite of Princeton Cycling’s mottos- “Know how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.” Of all the things dopers rob, they can never take this from me and will never know its true meaning, for of this they have robbed themselves.
Thanks for reading, and train hard now that the sun’s out again.