Via Cyclingnews, in turn via the web site of Pasquale Muto, a rider I'd never heard of before, who recently tested positive for EPO:
“An athlete’s career is an archipelago of satisfaction, scattered in a sea of fatigue and sacrifice. You should never let the difficulties get you down and you should never celebrate the victories too much. Staying humble and motivated is and always will be my challenge in sport.”
Sometimes the guy who dopes just to do his job, just to get to race bikes for a living in the middle of the pack, is both the biggest victim and the worst villain. This quote from Muto, included in the Cyclingnews article, could not sum up for me better the things I often tell myself in order to be able to emotionally cope with the nature of bike racing, where the ratio of suffering to success is so, so skewed. You suffer so much, and you win so rarely. I've had the feeling many times after winning though; that feeling of emptiness that reminds you that the winning was not the point, that very little changes, that you're the same person still and you shouldn't prop yourself up too much. You'll be back down at the bottom again soon enough. And you find it easier to deal with the bottom when you're there next, because you recognize there is essentially no difference. It's all bike racing.
There are wins that do matter emotionally. Wins that are milestones and feel like rewards for hard work done. Winning at Downeast this year was certainly that way for me, as was winning the last stage of the Ras in my first year as a pro, my comeback year, at age 30. I celebrated my wins and then tried to catch myself and come back down to earth, because for most of them, and for most of the time, it feels like Muto describes; occasional moments of satisfaction - not even joy, just satisfaction - poking their heads above the surface of an ocean in which you spend the rest of the time just treading water, choking regularly, trying not to drown.
It's easy, then, in that context, to sometimes have some sympathy for the guy in the middle, the guy out at sea, who dopes just to keep from drowning. It's condemnable, certainly, and it contributes to the problem we're trying to fix. Joe Papp, for instance, "is a hero to most but he never meant shit to me," if I may borrow from Chuck D. And so maybe I'm falling for something here in Muto's case when the news of the positive test is coupled with this vulnerable, poignant, and eloquent quote that captures a spirit of the sport many never experience outside of the gutter. Maybe I'm being suckered. But it speaks to me about the motivation to dope that comes not just from a desire for success where the culprit is trying to get ahead, but from the anonymous rider under pressure, whose desire is to ease suffering, just to be able to cope with the job itself.
I can snap myself out of it and say "go get a normal job, you asshole. You stole a spot on your team from a rider who might have been able to do it clean." That's the real truth, and of course I know this. But I'm having a hard time here taking the hard line with a character who can speak such a beautiful lyric on such a terribly beautiful sport.