Lance Armstrong

"No Dope, No Hope"—Why Should Spectators Care About Lance Armstrong and "Doping" In Sports?


Wants to use American know-how to compete

It's official. Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah last night that he "doped' his way to victory in the sport of cycling. So what? Well, the only reasonable objection is that he violated the rules; but other than that, why would any spectator care? Is the thrill of witnsessing a hard-fought competition thus somehow diminished? If enhancements undermine the competition, why not require cyclists to ride the same sort of bikes that were used in the first Tour de France in 1903? Surely the use of optimized light-weight bikes today is an enhancement?

Speaking of the 1903 Tour de France, "doping" was then an acceptable part of the race. At various points, cyclists evidently used ether, strychnine, and amphetamines to gain an edge. In 1998, a German rider told Der Spiegel:

For as long as the Tour has existed, since 1903, its participants have been doping themselves. No dope, no hope. The Tour, in fact, is only possible because—not despite the fact—there is doping. For 60 years this was allowed. For the past 30 years it has been officially prohibited. Yet the fact remains; great cyclists have been doping themselves, then as now.

Some people will argue that athletes must be protected against the temptataion to use enhancements because they could harm their health. However, athletes already take all kinds of health-harming risks just to play their games. Why shouldn't adults be able to make up their own minds about the risk/reward calculus of using biological enhancements? The best way that policymakers and sports officials can reduce the harm to athletes that might result from using enhancements would be to bring their use out of the shadows and let it be done with the benefit of medical oversight and good research.

A while back, I proposed an experiment in which sports leagues could be divided into the Naturals and the Enhanced. As I wrote:

Why not solve the future problem of gene doping and the current problem of steroid use in professional sports by creating two kinds of sports leagues? One would be free of genetic and pharmacologic enhancements—call them the Natural Leagues. The other would allow players to use gene fixes and other enhancements—call them the Enhanced Leagues. Let fans decide which play they prefer.

Why not indeed?

See my 2005 column, "The Loneliness of the Gene-Enhanced Runner," for the related issue of "gene-doping." Click below to watch Reason TV's "Lance Armstrong Cheated to Win. Is That Wrong?"

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  1. Why not indeed?

    Because it’s a moral issue. Doping is bad because it is bad, m’kay? Bad, bad, bad!

    1. I don’t think people care as much about the doping as about the lying about doping. Doubly so when you’re talking about Lance Armstrong.

  2. “No Dope, No Hope” – Why Should Spectators Care About “Doping” In Sports?


  3. Nobody would have ever heard of Lance Armstrong if he hadn’t used the same technology as the guys who came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, hell, 50th, in every big race he was in.

    What a load of horseshit, even if you DO think bread and circuses spectator sports are something important (which I really don’t).

  4. Jonathan Vaughters (former doper cyclist, current boss of team Garmin) has some excellent thoughts about why we shouldn’t allow doping. It’s a pretty good interview overall, and worth a read:

    1. I read his explanation, but as far as I can tell his major complaint is that instead of the race being decided by the arbitrary factor of who has the highest hematocrit, they will be decided by the equally arbitrary factor of who has the lowest hematocrit but is still competitive (because that guy gets the most benefit from doping).

      I personally don’t see any reason to prefer any of these arbitrary factors to the other.

    2. Shorter version:

      Now that I MANAGE a cycling team with a LOT of money, and I can hire anyone I want, and if they don’t win a race I can just send them back to their job at Starbucks, I would much rather that my competitors didn’t have as large a pool of cyclists to choose from. I’d rather they had to rely 100% on an exceedingly rare convergence of genetic luck.

      But when I RACED, I wanted to maximize MY performance.

  5. Ronald,

    You will be stunned (okay maybe not) how much your argument falls on deaf ears when made to sports fans. They simply don’t want to hear it for some silly reason. I know this because I make it all the time. Particularly the point about how normalizing the use of such substances could significantly enhance developments making them safer.

    With baseball anyway, it was simply about the records. How dare the steroid freaks break the cherished records of the amphetamine freaks.

      1. Ron and Voros together, in the same thread, replying to one another.


    1. Those prone to idolizing sports figures will engage in magical thinking about their personalities and the nature of the competition playing out before them.

    2. Voros, in your opinion (assuming you even want to answer), what was the cause of the increase in offense in MLB from 1994-to about 2010? PEDs, and if so, which ones? Smaller ballparks? Changing ball construction methods, allowing for baseballs with much higher coefficients of restitution? (Aside, why doesn’t MLB have an “Iron Byron” test for this, like how the PGA does it, instead of that silly ~80 FPS test they use?)

      Rise of video/pitch tracking equipment, allowing batters to get a better jump on which pitch was coming?

    3. I blame sports writers for some of the anti-PED hysteria that exists today. Former athletes have admitted that PED use was rampant in the 70’s and some believe that the problem was worse back then. But when records in baseball started to fall and the public wondered about PED’s, sports writers had to create the perception of PED being a recent problem rather than admit they had looked the other way for decades.

  6. Get back to me when they ban high altitude training and dietary supplements.

  7. If there was a food that contained testosterone or EPO or whatever, the public would absolutely and certainly accept that it was perfectly valid and fair for an athlete to eat that food to build strength.

    No doubt in my mind.

    That means that the public’s ultimate real objection is that it’s a pill or an injection, and that makes it “scary”, “bad”, and “cheating”. Because your average public dumbass has what amounts to a religious or superstitious fear of pills and injections.

    Also no doubt in my mind.

    1. pill or injections = DRUGZ

      N drugz are bad, mkay. You shouldn’t take drugz.

  8. I haven’t cared about a bicycle race since 3rd grade.

  9. I have shocking evidence that Ron Bailey uses writing enhancing drugs, like caffeine.

    1. That sounds like it’s from one of those dangerous drinks, like energy drinks or coffee.

  10. If it’s against the rules, it’s cheating, regardless of whether everyone was doing it. For whatever reason though, fans have some visceral reaction to steroid use, that they don’t for, say, a pitcher that scuffs the ball. Maybe it conjures up images of Ivan Drago and Ben Affleck in that after school special.

    Also, Lance Armstrong deserves everything that’s coming to him. He has proven himself to be a vindictive sociopath who didn’t hesitate to ruin the lives of people who told the truth so he could cover up his own lies.

    1. Let’s be distracted by the unimportant “cheating” in a stupid sporting event instead of considering the actual cheating on accounting practices by banks and government.

      The entire purpose of show-biz witch hunts is keep people from drawing and quartering their goddamned politicians.

      1. Whoa man, you totally opened my eyes. Until I read what you had to say, I never followed what was going on in the rest of the world, and thought that all of the bankers and politicians always did what was best for me.

        I just cancelled my season tickets and my cable sports package and am going to start my own revolutionary organization that will tear it all down.


  11. We should instead spend all of our time obsessing over the most important issue mankind has ever known in its history: the temperature.

  12. let’s say I show up to drag race someone. We’re both running essentially the equivalent cars with the same approximate horsepower, transmission & rear gear ratios, and tires. We both agree that no power adders – nitrous or boost – are to be used. This should be a “driver’s race” where it all comes down to getting off the line as soon as possible with minimal loss of traction.

    However, when the green light goes, I win because I hid a 50shot of nitrous inside the frame. Is the race fair?

    1. However, when the green light goes, I win because I hid a 50shot of nitrous inside the frame. Is the race fair?

      Would you want the government to spend years and $$$$s searching for the 50shot he hid?

      No, the race wouldn’t be fair, and the governing body should punish him. But when you have an agency like the USADA(sp), I have an issue with that.

    2. No serious race would be run like that.

      There are one-design races in many sports, from sailing to car racing. They are strictly policed.

      But there are no one-design humans, well, except for identical twins. You can’t claim that two cyclists are the same, in the same way you can with two sailboats.

      So whatever you think about doping, the analogy is invalid.

      1. *bap* – there are races setup like that.

    3. Two cyclists line up at the starting place thinggy. When the starting gun, or whatever, goes, one goes faster than the other cause he ate his spinach. Is the race fair?

    4. You thought it was fair when your minions used it to catch up to the tanker.


    5. let’s say I show up to drag race someone.

      First you’ll have to coerce me into giving a flying fuck.

  13. Who in America even gave a fuck about guys biking through France before Lance Armstrong won three of the damn races?

    Some people will argue that athletes must be protected against the temptataion to use enhancements because they could harm their health.

    Because people can willingly make trade-offs between their health and their finances. Or free people can, at any rate.

    1. Besides, I’m not sure that ultramarathon racing, on bikes or on foot, is necessarily a health-maximizing activity for most people, either.

      Neither is working in an office all day.

      The average desk jockey is screwing him/herself up more working full time, than the most doped-up pro cyclist ever has.

    2. Who in America gave a fuck about bicycle racing even after Armstrong started winning the Tour de France? As far as I can tell, it’s about like the Olympics. He became a celebrity without actually encouraging anyone to follow the sport.

      If he broke the rules, he broke the rules. Personally, I think the rules are a bit silly, but I can understand the sport wanting the competitors to be on an even playing field.

      1. Personally, I think the rules are a bit silly, but I can understand the sport wanting the competitors to be on an even playing field.

        Thing is, they were. Look at this chart from the NYT about top finishers in the TdF and dope allegations/busts. You weren’t winning, or coming close to it, unless you were doping. Euros are just bent that Armstrong, unlike the guys riding for Festina, etc…, didn’t get caught and had more money to dope than they did.

        Again, cycling had to do something about the PEDs in their sport. Too many sponsors were taking a hike, and the PED use was actually killing guys off the bike. Too high a hematocrit, and your heart can’t pump blood effectively.

        1. Yeah, I know that, and it invalidates the notion that Armstrong won only because of his “doping.” If he was clean in a field of clean competitors, the guy still probably would have won.

          However, I also think it’s important in sports that the rules be clear and consistent, precisely so there isn’t any controversy or cloud when someone wins an event.

          The rules on performance enhancers were very unclear for many years in most major sports, and athletes have been using them forever. Cycling was just a little more so than most other sports.

          My guess is that in a few decades, athletes modifying their body chemistry (even their bodies themselves) will be taken for granted, and that’s fine with me as long as it’s done openly so that the sports consumer know what they’re watching.

  14. If there was a food that contained testosterone

    “Rocky Mountain Oysters”?

    Serious question; I have no idea.

    1. Alberto Contador tried to claim there was.

  15. Part of me thinks thinks that I may have been born about 1000 years too soon, but then the other part of me points out that we haven’t changed much in the last 1000 years.

  16. Can anyone quantify the difference doping makes in sports ? How much slower or weaker would Lance Armstrong be, how many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have made ? I’m just not clear on what would have changed – no T de F wins ? half the home runs ?

    Even after taking PED’s, I probably would not be able to walk a cycle up the Pyrenees, much less ride at a good clip.

    1. My understanding is that PEDs are really only training enhancers. They don’t innately make a person bigger/stronger/faster. They enable the body to heal faster and thereby allow a more strenuous training regime with fewer/shorter rest periods.

      Your body builds muscle in the rest period between workouts, not during the workouts themselves. In a workout you are literally “injuring” a muscle so that it regrows bigger than before. If you work out a muscle too often, you actually inhibit its growth, since it doesn’t get the needed rest.

      PEDs enable that growth to be faster, so that the rest periods don’t have to be as long.

    2. To add to this, PEDs obviously allow an athlete to grow more muscular than they would otherwise, but they also allow aging athletes to stay competitive longer than they would have otherwise.

      This is probably where Armstrong got his real advantage, assuming he got any. His natural athletic decline would have occurred sooner than it did, and he wouldn’t have won seven Tours.

  17. IMHO the reason there is such a visceral reaction to this is because a lot of sports fans have competed at the amateur or higher levels and when you go in and bust ass without the benefit of PED’s that result in small gains in performance and the guy next to you is getting massive gains in performance from a PED (and trust me they are very effective) then it really pisses you off. The work in vs results out equation is massively altered by the PED and that fundamentally changes the competition. The notion that a synthetic substance is altering the playing field is repugnant to most athletes ideal of what sport should be. But if the athlete is committed to playing at the highest level, then they are going to get over that repugnancy and dope anyway.

    1. Why should I care at all about protecting anyone’s vanity? There is no need to protect Lance Armstrong’s vanity any more or less than Josef 325th-Place’s vanity.

      What it REALLY comes down to is people idolized someone who they later realized isn’t worth idolizing. The problem isn’t in the person they idolized, the problem is in the person doing the idolizing. But playing the blame game is easier than self-examination.

      1. “The problem isn’t in the person they idolized, the problem is in the person doing the idolizing”


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