“A man’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”
— W.C. Fields
Discussing doping with a rabid cycling fan is like discussing religion with the devout. The conversation always boils down to a matter of faith.
“I believe in my guy,” proclaims the believer, in a stroke dismissing all evidence, both empirical and circumstantial.
“Good on you,” I mumble, gesturing to the bartender. “Hit me.”
There’s no point in bringing up any of the disgraced names connected with the Tour de France or organized religion. The idols keep toppling, one after another, but our believer insists his will stand inviolate. The gyrations this requires would cripple a contortionist.
“He has never tested positive!” bleats the believer.
“Uh huh. Barkeep?”
“Make that a double.”
“Leave the bottle.”
“All men have need of the gods,” wrote Homer in the Iliad. I’m not sure why. Most of the ones with whom I’m familiar have hair-trigger tempers, a taste for vengeance and a disquieting insistence on being loved despite seeming largely unlovable.
Perhaps this is why we imbue our lesser gods — entertainers, politicians and athletes — with the divine characteristics we wish the headliners displayed. It must be easier to worship someone if you believe him to be a double Sir Galahad as described by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (“My strength is as the strength of ten/Because my heart is pure.”)
Alas, they’re just us — most no better, and some worse. Drop a fat wad of cash in young Mercury’s collection plate and you’ll get a religious experience, all right. He’ll shout, “Glory hallelujah!” and get busy answering your prayers while confirming some of your worst fears.
Rules? Made to be broken, along with vows, laws and legs, if it comes to that. Crime? Only if you get caught, and maybe not even then. Confession? Good for the soul, but often bad for the bank account if delivered prematurely.
Neither Lance Armstrong nor Alberto Contador seems inclined toward revelation. Big Tex has retired for a second time (six more and he’ll hold the all-time record), and the high priests of Spanish cycling have granted absolution to El Pistolero for his clenbuterol positive and are pushing for a minimum threshold for the drug, which in addition to accelerating fat-burning and muscle growth can cause heart palpitations, muscle tremors, nervousness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and occasionally death.
It’s probably just a coincidence that a couple of days later the Spanish cops rolled up a doping ring that dispensed — among other things — clenbuterol. Maybe they had a deli operation going on the side, supplying lean beef to discriminating athletic palates. Who knows? Not me. It’s a mystery.
Shall we take it to the Lord in prayer? Barkeep?