Anonymity – The Real Dope Killing Bike Racing

Elgin Crit 2008 - Non-dopers at a bike race
Start of the Elgin Cat 5 race in 2008

I saw quite a few links in the news lately about that Brandt-Sorenson guy out of LA. I don’t know the details about the case but I was reading an article on Cycling Tips about how this guy had a pseudonym on Strava: Thorfinn-Sassquatch. The article is here: link. Generally the guy represents everything that I find wrong in this sport. He’s a bike racing doper that got caught and then spent a lot of time “Strava-Racing” anonymously. Performances so good leading many to question their validity – implying continued doping. If true – why?

This whole thing represents a trend I have seen in racing over the last decade. During the latest rush of racing that I will refer to as the “Lance Era” or better yet the “Age of Deceit” we saw droves of racers in the lower ranks. These were people who had come to the sport through various intros but who had almost all come to the conclusion that they liked it enough and the pageantry of the whole racing thing was such that they should go out and try it.

Roadies were still roadies. The Roadie Ethos was just as strong then as it had ever been. There was elitism. There was intense speed. There were wrecks. Races were $25-$35. All of the things that people point to now as a reason for people “not” racing. All of those negatives were present and yet you had to fight to get into fields and toe the line with a constantly new gaggle of fresh faced racers discovering the sport in their 30’s. I have long felt there was something deeper at play. Something at a societal level.

Back in the “good” days we had a great group ride we used to smash on out of the Penny Rd Pub. There was a guy on that ride who loved data and gear. He was always worried about his numbers and training. When we all started to get into the form where we all started to get back into racing he was one of the ones who sort of resisted. He was strong on the bike. Trained and focused on training like crazy. Just never seemed to “race” well.

Now I get it – not everyone races well or needs to be a racer. Some of us just ride our bikes to ride. I think that’s awesome. That’s not what this guy was about though. Everything was still a competition for him. He started hammering it from the very start of the ride negating the gentleman’s agreed upon warmup. When asked he would reply, “I have no sprint so I have to make it up on you guys somewhere” or “it’s not my fault if you can’t keep up.” I joked that I needed to bring a trainer to start warming up for the group ride.

There was always something about how he approached all of the sport that always left me with a creepy feeling. It was that idea that training in and of itself was the competition. That he somehow had to win and since he couldn’t do it at an actual race then he had to win on the road.

It’s this attitude, personality, and riding trait that I feel we have seen rise in popularity over the years. These are the people that drive the growth in Fondos – races without “racing”. It’s the basis of the tri movement. Competing without competing. It’s this form of “competition where everyone gets a medal.

It's like a Triathlon or something...
It’s like a Triathlon or something…

It’s the rise of the non-competition competitive event. This somehow has to be a result of the generation of kids who grew up with everyone getting a participation award. That or maybe it’s the old roadie in me that thinks – if you’re not on the podium or contending for it in an event then you’re not a competitor, you’re a participant. There are times when this can be a great thing. When people compete with themselves for their new PR in a quest to somehow improve themselves. A journey of self discovery and improvement of body and mind then hells yes! That’s something to get behind and support. These aren’t the people that all of this is about though…

The people we are talking about here – the ones that drive the fondos – are the ones that have to compete. When they find they aren’t competitive then they change the competition until they feel they are. They have this built in need to beat others at this sport at all costs – regardless of the circumstances or venue. These are the ones who end up being cheaters. The dopers.

Strava was invented for these people. Maybe not intentionally or directly. I am sure there was a lot of discussion about how this “tool” would help to motivate people to get out and perform better through personal development and a healthy dose of social pressure as well. In reality it’s a system that allows people to compete. To “race” each other without an actual race. To do so anonymously via the app and the internet. It is therefore no surprise that the cheaters are flocking to there. Whenever there is an peeing contest – and an anonymous one at that – it can draw some really horrible people out of the woodwork to “compete”.  Example: Brandt-Sorenson.

So I posit that the roadie ethos, high entries, crashes, etc are not the cause of the real reduced numbers seen in road racing. A societal shift towards preferred anonymity, competition-less competitions, fear of socialization and public interactions are the root causes. Fear of failure. Lack of awarding non-performance (participation).

Those of us who love the sport have come to grips with the many reasons we do. It’s almost like we feel like boxers who realized they loved boxing AFTER they got punched in the face. Finding out you can come out to a race and toe the line and inevitably at the end of it you’re going to start talking to someone you just raced with. That person is more than likely going to end up one of your best friends in life. Seriously.

The desire to remain anonymous is killing what makes this sport as great as it is and as it can be. The anonymity is what truly drives the participation in the participation only events – think about it. In reality though the best moments of those athletes time in participation is usually when they come around a corner and there is a “fan club” cheering them on. They have a personal connection with them. In a crit that happens every few minutes.

So here’s your annual call to action: if you’re a racer then bring someone new to the sport. If you’re an enthusiast that loves to ride a lot and does long events and cool challenge rides and loves Strava well then ask yourself why you don’t try racing? I can assure you it isn’t like what you imagine it is and you just may be putting off making a new best friend.

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