Trickle-down doping a huge success

Lee Rodgers Columnist

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    ICU honorary president Hein Verbruggen has had to defend allegations surrounding cycling's doping scandal. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

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    Trickle-down theory is a term used to describe the belief that high-income earners should be thrown a bucketload of dirty cash to benefit all sections of society.

    Through pay increases, bonuses, tax relief and the like, eventually, like rivulets of champagne and pearls of caviar flowing from a restaurant table to be greedily scoffed by street urchins lurking beneath, some of this money is supposed to filter down to those waiting below.

    Yes, I know, but hey, some people still believe the earth is flat and others still (usually closely related to those who think the earth is flat) believe that the dinosaur bones that are scattered hither and tither across the globe are God’s idea of a crafty joke.

    Stick to the day job, God, or try some knock-knock jokes to get started. Massive bones hidden deep in ancient sediment to confuse us must have seemed hilarious after three bottles of Pinot Noir but, on sober reflection, you should have realised it’s not that much of a hoot.

    Anyway, the term ‘trickle down’ came from a comedian, and no, his name isn’t Ronald Reagan, despite the fact that the former cowboy turned cowboy-president is the figure most closely associated with the theory.

    The comedian’s name was Will Rogers, who mocked President Herbert Hoover’s Depression-era recovery efforts, saying that “money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy”.

    Some folk and indeed some governments still hold fast to the trickle-down theory, which is interesting, and by interesting I mean insane, as even the International Monetary Fund (which to the uninitiated is kind of like FIFA on steroids, HGH and crack cocaine) have confirmed that it is, in a word, bollocks.

    Read all about it here, it’s a bit of a whopper, but it’s fascinating stuff.

    Basically, five of the world’s top economists came to the conclusion that: “Income distribution matters for growth. Specifically, if the income share of the top 20 per cent increases, then GDP growth actually declined over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down.”

    They then did not add that, “and by the way, the earth is not flat and dinosaurs were indeed real, and that alone should be enough to let you wonder at both the incredible glory of life itself and the amazing confluence of factors and massively long odds that brought us humans to be on this messed up planet we live”. But they really should have.

    So, we’re agreed, trickle-down theory with regards to economics does not work, but I have good news: it’s working a treat in cycling!

    Seemingly Reaganite by heart, in the modern era of the sport we can thank former UCI president Hein Verbruggen and his sidekick Pat McQuaid, along with a host of team managers, proper dodgy doctors of near-death, a bunch or race organisers, sponsors and journalists who were ‘just doing their job’ and the top riders themselves for starting the process that now sees doping rife – yes, rife – among amateur cyclists.

    It was this lot, you see, that allowed the riders to dope with impunity, that had a vision of the sport which required a star system where amazing and unbelievable feats had to be churned out over cobbles, bergs and in the high Alps and Pyrenees. One that demanded, no less, that its participants almost universally turned their bodies into very thin pin cushions.

    There were some, bless them, that tried to do it clean, the dears, but they soon were dissuaded of that idea. They either had to walk away from the sport they loved – and let’s not forget they were pretty damn good to get to where they did clean – or to acquiesce and join the rest in doing fair impressions of a human drugs cabinet, hurtling along on two wheels, clinking its way to glory, success and lots of cash.

    This went on for years, with the odd blip in the master plan, like when the Festina staff member got stopped with enough EPO in his car to resurrect a Brontosaurus, and then with Operation Puerto, then with Marco Pantani and on up to Lance Armstrong who was basically T-Rex on HGH. But it was, on reflection, pretty smooth sailing there for a good while.

    The guys that doped and got popped? No fear, they now manage, many of them, big, famous, top-tier teams, or they work as commentators or coaches, or own hotels, or have hugely successful Gran Fraudos, sorry, Gran Fondos.

    But what happened – and why trickle-down works so well in cycling – is that a whole generation and then some of amateur riders looked at these pros and thought: “Well gee, if they are doing it and winning like Charlie Sheen with his AIDS, why the flip can’t I do the same?”

    So they did.

    They went to gyms and got steroids, went to doctors and got HGH, went online to some Chinese website and got EPO, picked up the package, went to the toilet back home, dropped their trousers and shot that tingly hot money shot of super dodgy EPO right into their arse cheeks.

    And then – winning – a fortnight later they smashed their buddies on the 100-mile club run and ‘who’s the sucker now, suckers!’.

    I am not exaggerating. This is happening all over the place, and when these guys get popped? They do like the pros, mumble a heart-not-felt apology and exit by the back door.

    But why are they taking this road in the first place? Because, you see, it really isn’t cheating at all. Just a short while back, Britain’s new junior national time trial champion Gabriel Evans, an 18-year-old from London, was caught for EPO. He admitted taking the drug, good lad. Then he explained why he decided to do it in the first place, saying it had become “normalised and justified” in his mind because he’d read about others regularly being caught, so therefore assumed there must be a truckload doing the same. Sound familiar? Lance Armstrong said the exact same thing…

    Boom. Trickle down. Alive and well. Another well-known case was that of Oscar Tovar, the 32-year-old winner of the 2015 Gran Fondo New York. The GFNY is run by Uli Fluhme and his wife, and it is a series of races around the globe with a strict anti-doping policy. If you’ve ever been sanctioned for doping, you can ride the route but cannot race. It also has a strict testing policy too, one that caught Tovar for synthetic testosterone.

    Flume explained why they have this testing in place and it’s basically because more and more amateurs are doping.

    “It’s important for us to do what we can to make our race fair,” Fluhme said, “of which doping controls are an integral part. Simply looking away and not testing the athletes is the worst decision that a race director can make because it forces everyone to take drugs to try to level the playing field.

    “We continue our efforts to provide our athletes fair racing conditions through in- and out of competition doping controls, despite it being a substantial cost for GFNY. The ultimate goal is not to catch cheaters but to deter them from racing at all.”

    We need more of Uli Fluhme, more people who can make decisions that will help people who refuse to dope to stay in love with their sport.

    If only those old school boys from the early ’90s and on, the commissaires, the bureaucrats, the doctors, the managers and the pros too had had the same attitude, we might not be dealing with the effects of this very successful trickle-down effect that we see coming to fruition so bountifully right now.

    Lee Rodgers
    Lee Rodgers

    Lee Rodgers is a former professional rider on the UCI Asia circuit. He is now a freelance journalist, cycling coach and runs the website www.crankpunk.com.