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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mike Hanley from Team 7-Eleven to Now: The Official's View on Doping

Mike Holds up Scott McKinley in 1988 Tour of Texas Pit
Most of you know Mike Hanley as the chief referee at Ohio Valley cycling events.  In the 80's he worked with Andy Hampsten and the 7-Eleven Cycling team, the team that led the American charge on the then European dominated peloton.  Mike offers a professional, historic, and an official's perspective on doping that only a select few in the sport can deliver.  He answers the question of what it means to us, the amateur/local racers and riders, and what we can do to preserve and grow the sport.  I am both humbled and honored he gave his permission to share his opinion.  Thank you Mike. 

by Mike Hanley
Executive Director
Indiana-Kentucky Cycling Association

(Indianapolis, IN) After the first Oprah/Lance interview I sit here wondering what my friends in cycling think about the recent developments in the Lance Armstrong saga. 

Most of you know me as the chief referee that runs the majority of the races around these parts. And a few of you know that I work behind the scenes with race organizers to develop the annual schedule of events. After watching the first Lance/Oprah interview I feel the need to share my thoughts about Lance Armstrong and how recent revelations/admissions may impact what you and I do as amateur bike racers.

Professional cycling, like most endurance sports, has a long history of performance enhancing (PED) drug use. In the early days, there was a distinct advantage over the competition when athletes at the top of a sport were experimenting with PED's. Over the past 30 years, coaches, team doctors and sports scientists, have developed a sophisticated system of doping with the goal of circumventing current testing methods. That has been the game behind the scenes and that's why Lance has been able to claim he's never tested positive.

The one thing that Lance said during the Oprah interviews that I thought was truly relevant was that he didn't feel he was cheating, just ensuring a level playing field. I get that. During the 1980’s I worked for the 7-Eleven Cycling Team which was the first organized American foray into European cycling. I didn't know it at the time but we learned a lot about racing in Europe, and the most obvious lesson was that we needed to get on the program. A program that was firmly entrenched in a culture of doping that included all the champions in recent memory and a majority of the riders in the peloton during the most formative years of the sport. How can we expect Americans to be successful at a European game if we aren't entitled to a level playing field? What I'm saying here is not justification for Lance’s behavior or an endorsement of PED's, its a question of 'how is one to be competitive when facing a stacked deck?'

I'm proud to say that 7-Eleven, for the most part, and specifically Andy Hampsten, raced clean. There were times when we pushed the envelope (or, more accurately, certain riders took chances) but overall we were the new kids on the block and we brought a distinctly American (read, clean) approach to pro racing in Europe. It wasn’t easy. But with a tireless staff, great coaching and a brilliant team doctor we earned every win and the eventual respect of the European cycling community.

Lance Armstrong’s confession was watched by millions of people who, I’m afraid, now believe that all cyclists are dopers. I hear it every day. However, when applied to amateur racing, nothing could be further from the truth. Doping, on the local and regional level in the U.S., is virtually non-existent for two reasons. First, the cost of PED’s is prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthy. And second, U.S. rider demographics are predominately over 30, educated, professional and family oriented.

If those of us on the front lines of local/amateur racing hope to quiet the outrage associated with Lance and professional cycling, and preserve our heritage of club sport and athlete development, we must take every opportunity to inform our friends and families that Lance's world is about fame and fortune, not what we do as amateurs and weekend warriors. We are riders who simply love the sport for the lifestyle and health benefits it offers and who will never succumb to the pressures of competing in Europe.

1 comment:

Greg Bennett said...

I agree