I’m not too proud to admit to having multiple phobias against various things. That’s phobia multiplicity. Having a phobia against something is very simliar to having a normal phobia, except that in addition to being irrationally scared of something, you also harbor a stifling grudge against it. Also possibly irrationally.
For example, I have been diagnosed with a phobia against having small calves. This is a condition where one hates how small calves look, which is further heightened by being aware of how puny their calves are. When I say “diagnosed”, I really mean “teased”.
I am pleased, however, to see how many Tour contenders have fuckall calves. Miguel Indurain, for example, had calves exactly like mine except his made his bike go batshit fast. Similarly, Chris Froome is letting all kinds of V out of the box with his puny calves. It lightens the heart to see fellow calfless riders perform so well.
But this, inevitably, brings up the question as to whether a rider can compete without calf-doping. Evidence is rampant, but the UCI stands idle in its fight against calf-enhancement. Johnny Drama bravely broke the OmertÃ and admitted to getting calf implants. Since those days, we’ve been taught to look beyond the beautifully shaped calf and ask, are those magnificent strokes powered by bags of saline? Our own Gianni should be investigated, hosting some of the biggest calves known to exist; I could fit two of my quads in one of his calves. Brett, to his enduring credit, is under no suspicion whatsoever of using calf-doping. The jury is out on Marko, and if Jim ever shaved his guns, we might make a reasoned decision on him. (Yes, there is a Keeper among us with hairy guns, but trust us, he lays the hurt down a-plenty. Still, as soon as we get him drunk enough, we’ll hold him down, shave his guns, and Sharpie a penis on each of his quads.)
The days of Pharmstrong and team riding at the front of the Tour for three weeks while controlling affairs with steadfast diligence has taught us it is prudent to be suspicious. As the Doping Saga of the days gone by unwinds, the one lesson that stands out from the past is that when one team makes a show of force, it means they are on something that the rest of the bunch isn’t. In that light, we are right to see a team at the front, controlling affairs and to raise an eyebrow in response. I am among the most skeptical, having supported and loved this sport through thick and thin for the better part of three decades. Suspicion is isn’t cynism – it’s realism.
Still, I find my attitude shifting. Just as it was unfair to the clean riders to claim a “level playing field” during the Doping Era – if it has indeed passed – it is similarly unfair to accuse the clean riders of doping in the Clean Era – if it has indeed arrived. There are a lot of if‘s, passed‘s, and arrived‘s in there, but nevertheless, it is a turning point in my thinking. On Saturday, Froome was marching into the pain cave, and you could almost watch the flashlight drop from his hand and everything start to go dark. It was glorious to see the unabashed suffering of a rider on his way to Yellow. Not having him look like he was on a Sunday stroll is a good sign, and if Sky is doping, they didn’t get Porte’s programme right the day after his spectacular ride to second place on the stage and G.C – or it was a clever ploy to deflect suspicion.
This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve been stung for giving the benefit of the doubt in the past. But on balance, believing is more fun than doubting, and hopefulness is more fulfilling than cynism. I am a fan, not a professional; “fun” is the reason I spectate – not for the empty satisfaction of having been “right” or having “known” someone was cheating. Some people have a phobia against being duped, but this is thankfully one I have managed to avoid; my view is that if I am cheated, that says more about the cheater than it does about me.
In that vein, I choose to believe that what we see today is a cleaner race than what we’ve seen in the past, and that perhaps Froome and Sky’s performance might have been impossible during the Armstrong Era. Even in purposefully optimistic paragraphs as the ones that precedes this one, I see my language hedging bets against itself. It is a sign of the times. But still, I choose to believe.