French rider Thibaut Pinot recently gave a lengthy interview to French newspaper L’Equipe, in which he expounded upon his stances on PEDs in the cycling world, as well as the ever-changing nature of the underground PED-usage landscape.
In 2020, the Groupama-FDJ representative suffered a nasty crash on the opening day of the Tour de France in August, putting him out of commission for the rest of the race, and was still feeling the effects of said crash as recently as November. He received an injection of corticosteroids to assist with his recovery. You might be wondering why a professional athlete would admit so openly to using steroids but, as this happened out of competition, the procedure was completely legal and is actually quite commonplace in the cycling community.
While the legality of the procedure is well-established, the morality of such a thing is not. Pinot is a member of the MCC (Movement for Credible Cycling), an organisation founded in 2007, and committed to establishing a fairer and more trustworthy reputation for the sport. Pinot said of the procedure; “From an ethical point of view, I’ve always been against it, but we were in a period totally out of competition, in the middle of winter. It was truly with the goal of healing, of being treated. Never would I have done that between two races.”
Even a layman, such as you or I, can see the benefits of using PEDs for recovery. It accelerates it and allows an athlete whose career depends on their physical fitness and competitive ability to return to competition much more quickly than if it were left to heal naturally. As a means of recovery out of competition, one can certainly see the appeal.
What Pinot undertook in legally using corticosteroids is known as a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), wherein the athlete is given special dispensation to use what would otherwise be easily argued to be a performance-enhancing drug to aid in recovery, rather than “enhance performance.” It is seen as returning an athlete who has sustained an injury to his base state of ability, rather than giving him any particular edge.
The popularisation of this technique calls into question whether or not it is, in fact, giving an athlete an edge. Surely, if your body is injured and you use drugs to aid recovery, your performance is being enhanced, albeit not on the road? Looking at the process of building an athlete, the job is done, not just in the saddle on race day, but in the weeks and months of preparation and discipline leading up to the racing season. The work you put in on your body over the course of your career – eating right, keeping your weight down, managing your nutrition – is as much a part of your race preparation as the tactics and heart displayed in a race.
Some people, such as MMA commentator Joe Rogan, have advocated in favour of PED-legal leagues in the fighting world, to separate those who wish to compete cleanly from those who don’t. This advocation also stems from a wish to see the boundaries of science pushed – how far can we take human performance with the science and treatments available to us? Why should we deny those who wish to artificially enhance their abilities a stage upon which to openly do it? The drawbacks, such as long-term health complications, are apparent, but it makes for interesting food for thought all the same. What do you think? Is PED-friendly cycling something worthy of exploration?