Blood doping is categorically the single biggest problem in the world of professional cycling. According to some riders it has been in the sport as early as the 1900’s. With this in mind the question has to be asked; can riders who have been convicted of doping be considered as greats?
Jacques Anquetil is regarded by many as one of the greatest cyclists of all time. He won the Tour de France an incredible five times, the Giro d’Italia twice and the Vuelta a Espana once. He also won the one day classic Liege-Bastone-Liege once, the gruelling Bordeaux-Paris once and the Paris-Nice five times. The stance he took on performance enhancing drugs was controversial as he was forthcoming on the use of them and said what other riders would only utter.
The Bordeaux-Paris is one of the most difficult races of all time because of its length. At approximately 560 kilometres long it was the longest single stage race. Riders would leave Bordeaux at 2am and would take riders anywhere between 12 and 14 hours to complete. In an interview with a government official over the issue of doping Anquetil replied by saying: “Only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride the Bordeaux-Paris on just water.” In another television interview he said: “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”
There is no question that Jacques Anquetil was using performance enhancing drugs, yet he is seen as one of the best cyclists ever to have graced the earth.
The case of Lance Armstrong is well documented. He profusely denied that he took performance enhancing drugs at any stage during his career. When his web of lies finally caught up with him, he was implicated in one the most elaborate cover-ups in sports history. What is the difference between the case of Armstong and Anquetil? The time-frame is certainly a factor as better drug testing practices were in place in the 2000’s. Another factor could be the stance they both took on the issue of doping, but that shouldn’t be counted as doping is an illegal practice.
These are two very different cases in which riders both achieved immortality because of their use of performance enhancing drugs, but both with polar opposite legacies. Undoubtedly Lance Armstrong will go down as the greatest villain in the history of cycling, whereas Jacques Anquetil will go down as one of the greats.
There are many more cases of riders who were convicted of doping but going on to achieve greatness. The troubled Marco Pantani is still considered one of the greatest climbers of all time. Alberto Contador will go down in the history books as the most successful rider post-millenia. Alexander Vinokourov was a serial doper but that didn’t prevent him from winning the Men’s Individual Road Race in the London Olympics. He left the Rigoberto Uran in his wake as he sprinted to success. In my mind, this is the greatest shame of them all. Uran has shown much potential and this could have been the kick-start in his fledgling career, instead he was robbed of this success.
Whatever your opinion of dopers and drug users, history suggests it remembers them as greats. They are not conveyed as pantomime villains who are booed and jeered wherever they go, rather they are embraced as heroes and kings.