I’ve read Tyler Hamilton’s new biography, The Secret Race, recently. Inside it details his life as a professional cyclist, predominately the doping – sex sells, or rather doping sells when it’s a cycling book. Hamilton spent some time on a team with Bjarne Riis as his director, who ‘won’ the Tour de France in 1996, largely thanks to his hematocrit level being 54% – his blood was full of red blood cells that carry oxygen, a key limiter to endurance sport performance. I’ve spent a bit of time recently watching a few outrageous cycling performances, Contador up Verbier in 2009, Lance Armstrong climbing Sestriere in 1999 but nothing really sticks in my throat more than Riis’s performance in the 1996 Tour, and in particular his speed up Hautacam. Watch the video, Riis blasts up the hill with his eyes wide open, like a train. Tiny Spanish climbers are blown away by the Dane. He’s huge, his bicycle looks tiny – it’s almost Hulk meets bicycle.
So why does this stick in my throat? Riis still manages a team, he has been kicking around the sport for many many years. Links to dodgy doctors, dodgy riders and a well selling sob story biography – there is nothing to like here. As Alberto Contador was riding his way into becoming a Grand Tour champion, 3 weeks after ending his doping ban, there was Riis handing out bottles to other riders in the break, urging them on, even enlisting Paolo Tiralongo in support of Contador, a friend on another team, giving up his chance of a stage win…for what? Who knows but one can imagine. If cycling is to rid itself from the shackles of performance enhancing drugs, the sport needs to be rid of perpetual cheaters like Riis. Please leave, so we can believe.