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Cheater. Liar. Relic in a bad way.
This is what came to my mind when it was announced that Chris Horner would be back in the U.S. domestic peloton. To my knowledge, much of the NRC peloton has a similar take on the issue. I am not excited to be racing against him. What he has to teach us or his young teammates is undermined by a very questionable past. His return should mean far less to the sport than the media has been portraying and only holds the potential for disaster: more teams folding and more races going away.
A much different picture of this man has been painted by the US media: describing a crafty, charismatic, old guy full of vitality, life, a never-dying passion for bike racing, and an eagerness to give back to the next generation. While I don’t disagree that Horner is an interesting character and someone I’d like to root for under different circumstances, I do not and will not ever let myself fall into this fanboy mentality.
The problem with being a fanboy is that you set yourself up for disaster by continuously letting yourself get fooled by people you know aren’t being truthful. Being a fan of the sport is good as long as you analyze every performance and ask yourself, “Was that real?” If it wasn’t and you’re still rooting for the guy, then you’ve transitioned from fan into fanboy–someone who idolizes and cheers for an entity solely because that’s the popular thing to do.
Most people want to root for the best guy, and do so blindly without batting a critical eye at what should be blinding red lights. The rallying force behind a top-end athlete or a rising politician somehow blocks out rational thought, and what takes its place is almost like religion: blind faith in something because it feels good and easy and goes with the flow. What’s crazy to me is that people are actually surprised when their Tour pick gets popped for clenbuterol or their senator turns out to be a pawn of the same corporate machine as the rest. Don’t we all know the game they’re playing by now?
Many journalists are guilty of this doe-eyed idolization as well. They forget that facts form opinions, not the other way around. When dealing with famous people, journalists are often just as star-struck as the rest of us.
Sponsors and team owners/managers seeking quick returns (or maybe just their short-term survival), either monetarily or with results, are to blame as well. Hiring ex-dopers or known-but-not-yet-caught dopers is often a sure fire way to get results, yet they know it’s not the right thing to do to create a sustainable team or sport. We need to look at the long-term effects of hiring cheats and realize that it’s not only immoral, it’s downright catabolic from a business sense. Again, I’m speaking about the longterm life of the sport. Doping on an individual level or when looking at short term monetary gains is smart. Sponsors can make a fast return, pull the plug, and act outraged once their team gets popped. Same goes for the management. And as an athlete, you’ll make a lot of money, acquire fame, and you most likely won’t get caught. Even if you do, so what? It’s not like you have to give that money back.
My advice is to approach everyone with a healthy dose of skepticism.
It’s unwise to idolize public figures with whom you have no personal relationship. Basing your opinion on someone’s accomplishments gives you only half the picture. We’re defined by our actions both on and off the field. That’s why everyone I look up to are people I know and trust, not images on posters or the covers of magazines.
With every race Horner competes in, he’s taking away a spot that could go to a clean, deserving athlete. There are only eight spots on a squad for any particular race and he’s taking that away from some 20 year-old that has a lot more to gain by competing in Redlands than Horner does. A stage victory at Redlands means nothing to him, while to the rest of us it would define (or at least be the beginning of) our entire careers.
It’s true that Safeway might not have come on board as a title sponsor with Airgas (Horner’s new team) without him signing, but do we really want sponsors involved in our sport that are here solely based on a doper’s presence? What happens when/if said doper gets caught and the whole team goes up in flames? Bike racing is in this decline because of situations just like that. Entire teams fold because of one doping case (sans Astana) and 25 people end up without a job once the sponsor pulls out. Up to 100 for a Pro Tour team.
The fear of being part of a doping scandal is scaring away potential sponsors from clean teams and clean athletes. This affects me directly, which is why I’m so pissed off. I consider the US scene to be clean (at least 90%). I could be wrong about that of course, but welcoming a big time doper into our folds will make it harder for honest athletes to get results and even more difficult to get sponsors if he gets popped.
We’re letting a cheater take the reigns of a clean team, beat up on clean competition, and there’s absolutely no public outrage. I don’t get it. Why aren’t more people speaking up about this? He’s essentially picking our (nearly empty) pockets and all we do is turn them inside out for him, smile, and thank him for blessing us with his grace. It’s theft. It’s a case of Mancebo all over again. A clean athlete will lose almost every time when up against two decades-worth of EPO-fueled training and racing and we’re going to sit back and let it happen like cowards.
You may not believe that Horner is a cheat. Fair enough. If so, please take a moment to think about it and really question if his performances are human or fueled by a lab.
Here’s a few reasons to question his cleanliness, minus the firsthand stories that many of us have heard from his former teammates and competitors.
1) In the 2013 Vuelta (which he won at age 41) he produced VAMs above 2,000. This coming after almost three weeks of racing of course.
2) He was banned from starting the 2014 Vuelta due to low cortisol levels, caused by cortisone use, which is one of the most heavily abused PEDS. He had a TUE for bronchitis. Sure.
3) He’s widely believed to be one of the redacted names from USADA’s Reasoned Decision and he didn’t immediately deny it when questioned.
4) His Biological Passport shows signs of a blood transfusion during the 2013 Vuelta. He had a higher hematocrit at the end of the three week race than at the beginning, plus a lower reticulocyte count.
5) Horner defended Armstrong until the bitter end. “I don’t believe Armstrong has cheated in any way to win those victories and he’s gone through an insane amount of testing. Do we have pictures of it? Video or testing? Because without that you really don’t have anything.” –Chris Horner, June 2012. Again this is 2012, when almost everyone had come out with information about Armstrong’s doping ring. Was it really possible that Horner didn’t know about it?
6) The guy has such a questionable past that none of the more respected teams in Europe would sign him.
2015, here we go…