There’s cheating in every sport. Every one of them. But what’s nice about most sports is the stoppage of play and the acknowledgement of cheating. Cycling doesn’t have that, which makes it unique. I somewhat enjoy the self-policing and “we-stop-for-nothing” aspect, but it can also be a detriment. A guy slashes someone’s stick in hockey, breaking it in half? Fine, it’s against the rules, the refs blow the whistle, and that player goes to the penalty box for a couple minutes. An offensive lineman holds a defender so he can’t sack the quarterback? Whistle. Holding. Ten-yard penalty. Everyone calm down, everyone regroup, wrong is righted, all is good.
There are no stoppages in cycling. The peloton is fluid, dynamic. Positions change constantly, conditions of the course vary. And when races are run by money-hungry promoters rather than clubs, and hence you don’t have a moto ref during a road race (what?!), you end up with no recourse for cheating-on-the-fly. And this doesn’t even take into account the doping, or before-the-competition sort of cheating that inevitably takes place, which I’ll get into later.
On Sunday I raced the Koppenberg race in Superior. To make a long short-race story short, I avoided the Lap 1 crash, found myself in the lead group, and promptly got dropped by the lead group on every turn up the “hill” in seven of the eight laps. I’d catch back on before the dirt began again, roughly 3 miles later, so my race was this constant back-and-forth, with the group, dropped from the group, on-the-back, off-the-back, sit-in, time trial sort of affair. It was brutal. I’m out of shape. But I was within my slightly-unrealistic goal of a Top 10. After a couple guys had been spit out the back (even farther out the back than I was spit each lap), I found myself in 10th on Lap 2, in 9th on Lap 3, and then in 8th.
Here comes the cheating.
During those first few laps, we all saw a rider who I don’t need to call out here — I spoke with him after the race, and tactfully gave him a few pieces of my mind — either flatted or was caught up in that first lap crash. We all saw him walking backwards on the course, shouldering his bike toward the start/finish, during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th laps. So here we are in Lap 4 or 5 or 6, I don’t even remember and it doesn’t really matter, and while I’m toiling away in no-man’s-land (I was technically “Group 2” at that point) attempting to get back up to the lead group after they’d dropped me on the previous lap, who’s bringing up Group 3 but Mr. Crashy-Outy? Since he hadn’t actually been riding his bike for the past 30 minutes, he was fresh as a daisy, and despite his 40+ years and 20+ years of bike racing, decided to hop back into the race and haul Group 3 up to me, past me, and up to the lead group. They whizzed by me, and once they made contact with the leaders — all within my sight — Cheaty McNoTact essentially pulls out of the race and I zoom by him.
“Was that legal, _____ ?” I ask him, rhetorically of course, because even fucking Cat 4s know that what he did was shitty and immature and against the rules we all signed up for.
Hence the nebulousness. Here was a guy who blatantly broke the rules, and unfortunately so did the 8 or so guys who sat on while he pulled. They all knew he was a lapped (3x) rider, and wasn’t allowed to pull, but they graciously accepted his pull anyway. And somewhat rightfully so. I know if I was the guy struggling at the back of that group, and suddenly McCheaterson is at the front of my group pulling, I’m focusing all my energy on sticking to the wheel in front of me, not to getting to the front and asking, “Excuse me, aren’t you lapped and shouldn’t you not be pulling, good sir?” So it’s hazy. People will sit on, knowing the cheating is happening. With no one to police, and racers at or near their limit, they’re likely to go along with whatever’s happening.
Another thing is the yellow-line rule. Nearly every road race we amateurs do is run on open roads, meaning at any given moment, a car may be in the oncoming lanes. Hence, the yellow-line rule. Thou shalt not cross the centerline. Else ye go splat. But every single Cat 1 in the country has raced a road race where crossroads were prevalent, and the yellow line rule was abused, and they’d be fools to not have gone along with it and positioned themselves completely on the left side of the road to maximize the draft they get from the rider in front of them. We’ve all been there. But again this comes back to refereeing, or lack thereof. If the ref actually does what he/she is supposed to do, he’ll (it’s always a dude, let’s admit) DQ the offending riders, and that’s that. If riders get pulled early in the race, they know the yellow-line is actually being enforced, and they won’t “cheat” by going on the left side of it. But at least with the yellow-line rule you can do something about it (either decide to “cheat” along with everyone else, and it’s maybe less of an actual cheating, or stay on the right/correct side of the road and not cheat and maybe expend a bit more energy if there’s a strong right-to-left wind prevalent).
But on Sunday, it happened behind me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I lodged a formal protest after the race, but there’s nothing they can do, since it happened, and they can’t just DQ people (even though they can DQ every single person who was in the group that got help from Cheatridge; they just won’t). I finished 12th, out of the Top 10, out of the money, and pissed. Even more bizarrely, Idiot McKnowsBetter didn’t even help his teammates; he simply brought a random group of 6 or 8 guys, none of whom were his teammates, past me and up to that lead group. But its hard because it’s so gray. Some guys mayn’t have even been aware they were cheating when this guy was leading their group up to the front.
Then there’s doping.
Who knows who’s doping? The pro peloton in Europe is obviously different from what I do on a regular basis, on the track or road. I like to think most of those guys aren’t doping. But who knows what shortcuts riders are taking during training to be able to beat me when it comes time to race. Then there’s cases like with my 2013 Nationals bronze-medalist partner Andy in the Madison, who was busted in 2010 for “doping.” He smoked pot. Out of competition. So dumb that it’s even a violation. My former teammate Dave had finished 5th in the Glencoe Grand Prix in 2010 after getting into the breakaway, but once Andy was later suspended, my teammate was awarded 4th. That’s silly. And while Andy’s getting caught for enjoying something legal in a couple states, countless others are taking substances that actually enhance performance, and aren’t getting caught, and are beating plenty of clean riders.
Nebulous. You never know.
It’s a frustrating component to racing bikes. But it’s comforting to know that most of it is beyond our control and, if it happens at all, takes place behind closed doors and out of ear/eyeshot of most every other competitor. It’s more frustrating when the blatant cheating actually happens during a race, and is within sight, and there’s nothing one can do about it.
Goddamn the bastard cheaters.
But if I’m ever in a break with Asshole McNoResults, he at least knows I’m doing jack shit to help him. Or throwing a stick in his spokes.