Speech: Le Tour de France and Drug Cheating

“To change the man that did those things, maybe not the decision, but the way he acted. It was unacceptable, inexcusable. He was an asshole.” Lance Armstrong, just one of hundreds caught using banned substances to boost their performance in ‘Le Tour de France,’ an annual 23-day-long road cycling race that has been running for over 100 years. It is one of the most notorious professional sports events for athletes using performance enhancing drugs such as EPO,  testosterone, nandrolone and many, various other illegal drugs and practices.

Over the years, an illusion has been created in Le Tour de France. This illusion being that when you look at the peloton of riders, you see it is filled with amazing athletes with incredible strength and endurance, when really who actually is in that peloton is a deceiving version of a rider who wouldn’t be in the position or at such a high level if it wasn’t for the use of the many drugs or steroids they are taking.

Road-cycling the monstrous mountains of France for 23 days in a row would be quite the lung buster, especially when you’re coming up against the best cyclists and teams of athletes in the world, who can ride over 200km in just 4 hours. To put that in perspective, thats like riding your bike over the Crown Range to Queenstown and back, averaging a speed of 50 km/h. If you were in that situation, don’t you think it would cross your mind to cheat in order to beat everyone else at some time? For many of the competitors in Le Tour de France over the years it certainly has, and too many actually go through with it and do cheat, by using performance enhancing drugs, and quite frankly, ruining professional sport.

On the list of sports with the most drug users, road cycling is right at the very top, with 3.7% of cyclists at amateur, semi-professional and professional levels caught. This may not sound like very much but once you get to professional levels it increases drastically. For example, over the seven-year span from 1999 to 2005, 87% of the top ten finishers in the Tour de France over those years were caught doping, thats 61 out of 70 riders. How would you feel if you were one of those other 9 riders who was genuinely riding, trying to win, but with no chance because everyone else has unnaturally made their bodies have a much better aerobic respiration system and has taken away the problem of fatigue as they have taken away their bodies anaerobic ability to produce lactic acid. Those riders would’ve almost definitely taken out the win if the other cheating riders didn’t decide to ruin everyone else’s chances and create an uneven playing field.

One of those riders, who is now probably now more famous for cheating than what he actually achieved when he was riding is Lance Armstrong. He went from being someone that parents told their kids to aspire to be like, to someone that parents tell their kids that they’ll disown if they ever do anything like what he did. However, earlier in his career he was seen as quite the hero, and rightly so. Over the years from 1999 to 2005, Lance won 7-consecutive Le Tour de France titles, which is the most in the tours history. This streak starting just two years after going through aggressive chemotherapy for testicular cancer. For the next seven years he was a labelled as a legendary athlete who defied the odds. His glory lasted for 7 years, up until 2012, when he admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he was using EPO throughout what was thought to be an illustrious career. He was immediately stripped of all 7 of his titles and an Olympic bronze medal that he won in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics. But what is probably the worst thing is that he lost all his sponsors which included huge brands such as Nike, Trek Bicycles and Oakley which were paying him over $20 million US in endorsements even after he retired. After other professional cyclists saw the scandal with the money he lost and the millions of ex-fans giving hatred towards him and what he got taken away from him you would think they’d decide to never go down the path of doping, but you’d be wrong. Still athletes, not just cycling are still frequently getting caught all over the world for it and therefore ruining their careers, reputations and also giving themselves long term health problems. Although, most athletes are only dealt a 2-year ban from professional sports meets after being caught, which is virtually granting them a second chance. Which is not fair to anyone else that is true to the rules of the sport and is happy to compete on an even playing field.

So as you can see, the temptation of cheating is certainly high but how it affects you and everyone else around you should be the deciding factor in making the decision not to do it, because if you do, you may end your career much like Lance Armstrong, an athlete that is now hated and left with nothing, but did actually have the potential to be really good at what he did. And to the many athletes who still compete after being caught using doping drugs, consider yourselves lucky, because your career should have ended the moment you were caught cheating and discovered to have been ruining the careers of true athletes.










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