It would be wrong to say I harbored a dark secret lo these many years. Because it was only yesterday afternoon that I realized, “Wait, I’m just like Lance Armstrong! I was a doping cyclist!” At least, it appears I might have been.
OK, not entirely just like Armstrong. Like Armstrong, I’m maybe a bit of a narcissistic dickhead (I’ve got a blog, right?), but in my brief bike racing career, I had neither natural talent nor the willingness to train very hard. One year, participating in the local time trial series (the Race of Truth), I was quite literally the slowest licensed bike racer in Albuquerque.
But in a close reading yesterday of the regulations in place at the time of the fateful June 1, 2004 Tuesday Night Crits Cat 4 race, I realize that Armstrong and I have something more disturbing and sinister in common than I’ve been willing to acknowledge.
My affaire le dope dates to the late 1990s, when a physician wrote my first prescription for albuterol, an asthma inhaler. It was handy to have in the pocket of my cycling shirt as a hedge against the occasional bout of exercise-induced asthma. But when I first tasted the forbidden fruit of albuterol during a lung function test in the doctor’s office, I couldn’t help but notice that simply using the inhaler even when I wasn’t having an attack increased my lung capacity some 10 percent. What’s not to like?
You can see where this is going:
By using a USA Cycling license, you agree to know and abide by the applicable rules and regulations of USA Cycling and the UCI, including the anti-doping rules and procedures as set forth by USADA, the UCI or WADA and that you agree to submit to any drug test organized under the rules by the UCI, USA Cycling, USADA, or the official anti-doping authority of a foreign country where you are competing.
In the case of albuterol, the guidelines say this:
The dosage of albuterol or formoterol that may be used in sport without a TUE may translate into a wide range of “puffs”. You should examine your inhaler closely to determine the dosage. If you need to take more than the non-prohibited dosage you must apply for a TUE.
“TUE” is a “Therapeutic Use Exemption” – formal permission ahead of time, certified by a doctor, that you need the drug. If it please the Court of Arbitration, I hereby stipulate that I had no such certification, and that I sometimes took two puffs. Ignorance of the rules is no excuse. I have nothing to say in my defense other than, as a pathetically slow cyclist, it was a rush to be able to finish on the same lap as the leaders in the the Category 4 race, the slowest division on offer.
So when I came off the final turn that Tuesday night in perfect position, second wheel in the chase group with a perfect lead-out in the sprint for fourth place, I might have been a cheater. I might not have been. It’s possible my puffs fell below the 1,600 microgram threshold wherein you’re free to just puff away. But it was my responsibility as a licensed bike racer to make that determination, and I failed.
I’m pretty sure it was Tony Geller who lead me out, pulling off so I could sprint home the final 150 meters. And behind me, it was Jerry Kiuttu who I cheated out of a fourth-place finish (pdf).
Like Armstrong, I could argue that I’ve never failed a doping control. Cat 4? Seriously. But still, Jerry, I’m so very sorry.