What are we to make of the news, which emerged last week, of two separate doping scandals involving amateur British cyclists? Gabriel Evans, who is just 18, confessed to using EPO, while British Masters Champion Andrew Hastings was stripped of his title and handed a four year ban for injecting steroids.
Despite the lengthy sentence in an odd sort of way, with the lion’s share of attention falling on the younger rider, Hastings might feel like he got away with it.
Within minutes of Evans’ announcement on Timetrialling Forum, the thread had exploded. A few early responders were prepared to grant forgiveness; some raised doubts as to whether his confession was as full and frank as it seemed on its face; a number of posts exuded such frothing outrage you could practically see veins popping out of foreheads, white-knuckled fingertips stabbing at keyboards. “He should be banned for life”, and less publishable variants thereof, was as common a sentiment as any other.
Compared to many internet grandstanders, so confident in their assertions, I’ve found my own feelings much harder to pin down. My instinct had been to dismiss both, man and boy, as idiots and move on as rapidly as possible, but for some reason I wasn’t able to do that.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve come pretty late to cycling, as spectator and participant. I became fully cycling-conscious only when Cadel Evans claimed the maillot jaune in 2011 and so did not actually live through its darkest years. Of course I’m familiar with the recent history, glorious and grubby, but it is only as history that I have encountered it. While cycling’s reputation of course preceded it, I have no idea what it actually feels like to be in love with a sport that so clearly, callously, cruelly Does Not Love You Back; one that treats you with utter contempt and betrays you at every opportunity. Unlike many, who may have got used to that, my relationship with cycling has always been one I’ve felt I can trust.
And when it comes to cheating, we ought to be talking about feelings, before thoughts. If, while watching a race, you find yourself suspicious that all is not as it seems, why bother to watch at all? If you’re on the startline of a TT but can’t feel sure the guy a minute down the road is playing by the same rules, what’s the bloody point? Why give it everything?
I race in a different category to Hastings so have never come across him. There’s a reasonable chance I went up against Evans at some point this year though, and a friend of mine knows for sure that he did. Neither of us was robbed of a podium step but at least six people - the guys that finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th - definitely were. Evans and Hastings stole something from them that money can’t buy, and in doing so stole from our sport, and from us.
All of which is why, after a week’s reflection and a few hundred more in the legs, this hurts more and makes me angrier than it did at first. Yes, I think we all make mistakes. I think Evans’ age is relevant and should be factored into his punishment. I don’t think this ought to ruin his life or even keep him away from cycling forever. What I do want is for them both, and anyone else who might consider picking up a syringe, to understand the distress their actions cause and the injuries they inflict. I want them to know how it feels.