One of the ways in which The Pecking Order can be either upset, or reinforced, in cycling is by taking things that one ought not to take. Joe Papp described this in one of the things he wrote about his experiences with being on the needle - that he came back into riding from I guess getting his college degree and found that guys who'd previously climbed like lead pipes were hauling ass away from him on climbs, and that guys who'd been mid-packers were all of a sudden lighting it up. That was his "I don't think we're in Kansas any more" moment.
Keep in mind that I don't really pay a ton of mind to pros and their needles. What they do on their worst days is certainly ages beyond whatever I would have been able to do in a lifetime of bike riding, even under perfect natural circumstances. It's a good show and the drama and scenery are awesome. I do find rides like the Ricco Tour '08 spectacular to make for bad viewing - the ersatz-ness of a ride like those fairly leap off the page at you. But it's entertainment, it's not life.
Basso seems to have been a guy who broke the pecking order with the sauce. Who knows when he started with the heavy juice (I categorically ignore the "I didn't inhale" nonsense), but when he moved from Fasso to CSC, he consolidated into a position of "belonging" where he'd previously only been under rare and exceptional circumstances. This break in the arc ("point of inflection") seems to be a tip off.
People on programs in amateur racing do piss me off. I believe that it happens - hell, I KNOW it happens since guys regularly get sat down for it. I believe that it happens around here. I have no particular person in mind when I say this, it's just sort of an abstract thing. There are certainly people around here who I well and truly believe don't do it, some icons of the local scene in particular. Maybe I'm wrong in some of those cases.
In response to the Zirbel news, some guys on the Velonews forum are calling out for doping at all levels of the sport. Of course there should be more testing, right? Makes all the sense in the world. On the other hand I'm pretty certain that it would kill the sport. I'd seriously have to think hard about continuing to race if I was accountable for what's in my body to the same degree that top pros are, and I think most people would too. For the pros, it's a job. For weekend hackers, it isn't.
The weekend hackers also have more to lose, in a lot of ways. The guy who's got a job that requires a security clearance but who also likes to race and either unwittingly takes something banned - with no doping intent - or has a false positive has to lawyer up to ridiculous degree and probably bankrupt himself fighting off the situation (no, Beav and Katie, not THAT "Situation" - you can't fight that one off), or else lose his security clearance and lose his career. Is racing worth the risk of that? Makes a broken leg seem like a limp through the park.
I suppose it's full of holes even to think that there's a workable condensed list of banned things and techniques. It'd be easy and attractive to say "any of 'x' class of steroids, any transfusions, HGH, any exogenous testosterone, and any red blood cell enhancers are the banned amateur list." I know there are guys out there who'd take advantage of that list and play it to the hilt with any and everything that's not specifically banned. It would be nice to say "a prescription is equivalent to a TUE in categories 2 and below." Again, there are plenty of doctors out there who are only to happen to sign prescriptions for stuff. Maybe I don't REALLY need my prescription nose shots. They increase my quality of life (i.e. they make me not say "f this I'd rather be dead than go through this") but maybe the effects they take away are really just my genetic cross to bear? My doctor wants to see me be reasonably healthy and continue under his care. I am both his patient and his client - if he won't give me what I want then there's another doctor who will. This isn't an indictment of the medical profession, it's a recognition of the reality of what they do. Ethics is nothing if not a discussion of shades of grey.
Wouldn't it be great if the Kenny Williams (that's that Seattle guy's name, right) of the world would just realize what they're doing is wrong and stop it? You'd sooner get Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi to agree on the way forward for our country.
Maybe the sign-in waiver at cycling races should have an additional statement that says "I certify that I've put nothing in my body with unethical intent to boost my performance in this or any other race." That's the heart of the matter right there, isn't it? I mean a guy who whiffed a joint with his buddies in the parking lot before the White Stripes concert is just as guilty as the guy who is on the most serious of programs in the eyes of WADA and USADA. The difference is intent.
Who knows? But it does suck that the guys (and women) who break through the pecking order are due both or greatest cheers and our greatest skepticism. That blows.