Cycling Stuff Cycling Wed

CW: The dangerous road to the hay bale: EPO in masters racing

The desire is there.  A longing to stand on those rickety rain-soaked hay bales after a hard fought race.  To win, to twist someone’s legs off, or perhaps, just to here someone refer to you as a “good rider” fuels the fires of self-validation.

And these visceral desires are not only the domain of professional athletes.  Such magnetisms do not discriminate; amateurs are felled just like pros.

Today’s cycling news was shocking.  Mr Neal Schubel, a seemingly normal 45 year-old masters bike racer, was suspended from amateur cycling for using the blood-booster, EPO.  An Operacion Puerto for aging bike racers.



“That’s pathetic.”

But in the parallax of masters bike racing, how pathetic is…”that’s pathetic?”

Could a candid look into the Masters bike culture help explain this transgression?

Masters bike racers can read, and some even listen.   Therefore most know the tricks.   Shhh.  It’s a secret.

Altering, (or quitting) one’s job to make room for training programs–like Lance’s “what am I on…I am on my bike six hours a day.” 

There are multi-thousand dollar carbon-fibre bikes, deep dish wheels, and ceramic bearings that all scream Newtonian physics.  Who knew how important those painful physics 101 experiments would be?

On race day there are heating gels:  “Ooh, that makes my legs feel warm.”  More blood flow, don’t you know?  Embrocation is a word known to more bike racers than language arts instructors.

In the travel bag of many masters racers are bottles of mystery supplements–from GNC.  For those with sturdy hearts, there are 5-hour energy drinks–from the quickmart.   “Hey…my nose is stuffy, those pseudofeds before the race seem to help.”  Hole-shot!!

For the more serious (and wealthy), there are trips to Crested Butte, Vail or Chile for altitude training. For the less wealthy and more time compressed there are huffers: machines that convert room air to Everest air, so as to boost natural red blood cell production.  Or altitude tents which accomplish Sherpa-like blood while allowing a spouse a peaceful night’s sleep.  Watts!!

But science progresses even further: Now there are credit-card only aging clinics where a middle-aged bike racer can report middle-aged realisms, like fatigue and lower libido, for instance.   And if their blood test is taken on a Monday morning following a few multi-hour weekend bike rides, guess what will measure low?  That’s right, “LowT.”   Even though the real science of LowT is quite shaky, that doesn’t impede the tired masters bike racer form daily slatherings of  ‘4 pumps’ of that sweet teenage nectar, testosterone.  Let’s ride some more!!

Thus far, all these ‘tricks’ fall to the “right” side of the line–barely.

Clearly though, in injecting a drug that kidney failure patients use to treat chronic anemia, Mr Schubel stepped over the line into the abyss of too-much-ness.   On this non-medical use abuse of blood-altering drugs, all can agree.   Wrong.  Too much.  Dangerous.  Stupid.  All these words apply.

However, for a trained observer of humans, the more interesting story here is the motivation for such craziness.  Why would he do it?

It’s simple, and obvious.

Mr Schubel wanted to stand atop the hay bales too much.  To him, the slippery slope didn’t look that slippery.  But it was.  And his punishment is severe: a 2 year ban is nothing compared to the embarrassment of awkwardly falling in front of so many (e-observers.)

For those cyclists who choose to stand next to Mr Schubel, and look into the talking mirror, they may hear a few phrases.

“Be cautious, the slope is slippery.”

“Don’t hang too much self-worth on that aging cycling peg.” 

“They are just hay bales.”


“Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.”