Vive le Tour

     I don’t care what drugs Lance Armstrong took.
     The United States Congress doesn’t care either.
     Nor does the World’s Most Famous FDA agent Jeff Novitzky care, except so far as nailing Armstrong could promote Novitzky’s career.
     Professional bicycle racing is not plagued by performance-enhancing drugs.
     Performance-enhancing drugs have become an essential part of all professional sports.
     Rafael Nadal said right out loud that he took injections to numb his aching foot during Wimbledon this year. He said the painkiller lasted for 5 hours.
     Nobody hollered or said “Boo!” or accused Nadal of taking performance-enhancing drugs.
     No one hollers when we see NBA trainers on national TV spray freezing painkillers on Kobe Bryant’s shins, or anyone else’s, and send them back into the game.
     No one hollers when we see an NFL wide receiver wheeled off the field on a gurney into the locker room and return, miraculously, 10 minutes later and go back into the game.
     And no one that I can hear is hollering that steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs have become mandatory for college football players in major athletic conferences.
     That’s right: mandatory.
     “You don’t have any choice,” a PAC-12 football player told me. “They don’t ask you. They come around and stick you as you’re lifting weights.”
     Why has professional bicycling become the ugly poster child for performance-enhancing drugs?
     I’ll tell you why: It’s for the same reason George W. Bush invaded Iraq.
     Because he thought it would be easy – though that’s not where the problem was.
     Because the target was weak, and had identifiable places to bomb.
     Professional bicycling is weak in this country, so we’re bombing the Tour de France.
     I’m not a big fan of Lance Armstrong. I think he took drugs.
     So what? Drugs never won a Tour de France.
     The Tour de France is the toughest athletic event in the world.
     Distance racing is the purest and most beautiful of all sports. Because the way you win a distance race is to inflict so much pain upon yourself that everyone else gives up.
     You never touch your competitors. You inflict the pain upon yourself – until they can’t stand it anymore.
     Do drugs help? Sure. So what?
     Everything is a drug. Caffeine, alcohol, apples, a T-bone steak, brown rice and orange juice. They all are made of chemicals that affect your body in certain ways after you eat them.
     True, erythropoietin, human growth hormone and blood doping – transfusing yourself with your own blood – are more effective, short term, than apples. So? Who’s a better guinea pig for it than a willing professional athlete?
     These drugs, and blood doping, are almost certainly less harmful than the amphetamines that professional baseball players took for decades, without punishment.
     I wouldn’t take any of these drugs, but I’m not a world-class athlete.
     I’m sick of pro bicyclists being singled out as druggies, as though they are an aberration – as though the greatest endurance athletes in the world, who earn a fraction of a fraction of the money a fat backup NFL lineman gets, and who take a fraction of the drugs, are somehow a problem for sports, or for the United States, or for the world.
     Pro cycling is a beautiful sport, and the Tour de France is the greatest, most challenging, most beautiful athletic event in the world.
     To paraphrase the late, great Steve Prefontaine, most of the people who are hollering about drugs today take drugs to stay alive.
     What are they hollering about?

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