I remember pretty well the time in my childhood when I used to spend hours in front of TV watching the Peace Race with my dad. The Peace Race was important to us at that time, since it was pretty much the only way to watch some top cyclists from our country competing on TV.
You must remember that Poland was still ruled by a communist regime in 70's and 80's and it wasn't always possible for cyclists to travel West and take part in e.g. Tour de France. Plus, for some strange reason cyclists from the former Eastern Bloc were not allowed to be professional athletes therefore, the Peace Race was supposed to be a race of cycling amateurs. My dad's hero at that time was Ryszard Szurkowski, a teacher from Poland, who won the Peace Race 4 times between 1970 and 1975. Since I was born a bit later, I remember Uwe Ampler better, another 4-times winner.
The amateur aspect of the Peace Race was a pure joke. All those miners, teachers, and other "amateurs" hardly ever worked in their original professions. Instead, they were supported by large tech teams. Thus, they were not different than professional cyclists in the West. And like in the West, their sole existence was focused on winning at all cost. This involved using drugs as well.
Alberto Contador celebrating his victory in 2011 Giro d'Italia (Photo by Giovanni Auletta, AP)
We started this year with news of Alberto Contador suspension regarding his blood doping in 2010 and 2011. Contador lost his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia titles. And then, 3 days, later we got the news that Jan Ullrich was found guilty of doping and banned from competing as well. If you ever wondered how dirty professional road cycling could be, now you have the answer. Ullrich had a bad luck of being always second in Tour de France, as long as Lance Armstrong was racing. Could he be simply tired of looking at Armstrong's rear wheel? I am sure he wanted to win too. And how about Armstrong? Looking at what happened during the last few days it is hard to believe that Lance was always clean. It is possible that he was just smarter, luckier and had more money for better drugs than the rest of professional cyclists.
Amazingly, many pro cyclists believe that they are fair with their rivals, since if everybody is cheating chances of victory are equal for everyone. But what about us, viewers? Do we want to watch a bicycle race or a drug race? Is this still sport or some medical experiment?
It looks like for now, in order to enjoy cycling in its purest form we should dig out those archive tapes from the beginning of XX century.