WORDS BY JEFF LOCKWOOD
PHOTOS BY KAYA LOCKWOOD & WENDY BOOHER
The rumors have been swirling for years. Conspiracy theorists conspired while supporters supported and athletes and teams denied. But all questions were put to rest on a very rainy 31 January 2016 at the 2016 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Zolder, Belgium, when the UCI confiscated the bike of Women’s U23 rider Femke Van den Driessche during the race. The crime? Having a motor hidden within the frame of her bicycle. Suddenly focus was turned away from performance-enhancing drugs, and cycling was changed forever: People are cheating in bicycle races by using motor-assisted propulsion.
As if the sport needed another blemish.
But is the sport of cycling actually blemished? I suppose it depends on your interpretation of the definition of ‘sport’. We can all agree that cyclocross racing is a sport because it includes competition with other athletes. Yet hunting is also known as a sport, but it’s more of a solitary and one-sided endeavor. Where’s the ‘competition with other athletes’ there? The animal being hunted doesn’t also have a gun.
Some people might consider cycling a hobby, but if you’re reading this magazine, chances are you consider the act of riding a bicycle to be a sport. While you might not race, and even if you do, our beautiful sport of cycling requires some skill and physical prowess, independent if it’s a ‘solitary and one-sided endeavor’ or done so shoulder-to-shoulder in a race.
We’ve put up with the conversations about dope, human growth hormones, and whatever else in cycling for generations. Now we have to add mechanical cheating to the list. It’s extremely disheartening to see our favorite athletes win it all and then fall from grace. While watching any sport on television or in person is inherently a form of simple entertainment—we want our heroes to be victorious in competition. And do so clean. Thus in this context, yes, the sport of cycling is blemished.
But does any of that matter when you’re out riding your bicycle by yourself or with friends? There’s no television, sponsor banners or narratives about cheating (or winning or losing, for that matter). When you’re out there on the bike—finding adventure, having fun, getting away from it all, and maybe gaining some fitness—our beautiful sport of cycling is alive and can’t be touched by lying, blood testing, motors or other disillusioning drama.