Once more, I was moved to go down to my basement, open the top drawer of my tool box, where I keep my "precision" tools like the calipers and other measuring devices, and dig my micrometer to gauge how much I cared about Alberto Contador being banned from Pro Tour cycling for doping.
The answer, based on my careful measurement, is not very much at all. I got really worked up about Floyd Landis, was disappointed by Ivan Basso and felt betrayed by Tyler Hamilton, but at this point I assume that most of the movers and shakers in the peloton are enhanced somehow. Contador getting banned seems like a logical outcome at this point.
I have mixed feelings about doping in sports. Fundamentally, I think that athletes should compete against each other mano-a-mano. Equal playing field, no technical advantages. As far as I can tell, that's really only possible in wrestling (little to no gear) and gymnastics (everybody uses the same gear). Cycling, tennis, rowing, sailing, and most other sports I can think of really to some extent on gear/technology. Any time gear comes into play, the guy with the most money has the edge.
I remember lining up on the starting line of minor league criteriums in Wisconsin on my Motobecane or my kludged together Basso against guys on much nicer bikes, with nicer gear and the ability to train without school or work interfering and thinking "hey, not fair". I got smoked in every race I ever entered. The gear was potentially a factor, but the hard truth is that I was not a racer - I don't have that killer instinct and am too cautious in corners, or afraid of blowing up, to ever have been really good.
Nevertheless, the experience of going to the starting line was enlightening. It confirmed that he guys with a combination of "the right stuff" and the right gear generally wins. That raises the issue of what "the right stuff" and the right gear really means. Increasingly, I am having trouble discerning the line between technological enhancements to the machine (aero bars, carbon fiber, clipless pedals, etc.) and the rider.
It just makes sense that you start a race or ride well hydrated, right? What about Gatorade during a ride? I've done that and it helps quite a bit. How about 5-hour Energy? What about a cup of coffee or Jolt or a warm Coke? That perks you up pretty well and you will routinely see TDF riders swigging Coke shorties after a climb.
With all the Pro Tour riders professionally trained and the Pro Tour gear essentially equalized by sponsorships, isn't the next (only) logical battle field the body of the rider?
Who is to say where the line between fair and illegal lies? We have WADA (aka Where Are the Drugs At?) to tell us what's allowed, but this is a catch-up measure at best. Doping technology innovates, and WADA discovers it, determines if they can stomach it or not, and change the rules accordingly.
We need some really simple, clear and concise rules on what's legal and what's not. No exceptions. Rest assured that pro teams measure VO2 uptake and test recovery methods, massage, meditation, moon phases, etc. to maximize performance. That falls short of injecting stuff into riders, but with money in the game, it's economically rational to explore the frontiers of legality. Under this environmental, WADA is always going to be playing catch-up, and the fans are going to get jerked around in the process.