Keeping it clean
We broach the tricky subject of doping. Are there cheaters in MTB? And if so, what’s being done to catch them?
There was surprise this summer when the Enduro World Series (EWS) announced it would be partnering with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycle sport’s governing body. After all, when ex-UCI technical delegate Chris Ball set up the series in 2013, it was without the backing of his former employers. Why the big change? The main reason is that it gives the EWS access to the UCI’s tough anti-doping controls.
Although the series has its own testing procedures, enduro is one of the most physically demanding race disciplines in mountain biking, and there have been murmurings that some athletes may not be clean. Frenchman Cédric Gracia, who’s been involved in enduro racing since its inception, has voiced opinions on his vlog that there are cheaters out there, and at the mass-start Megavalanche Réunion race in 2012, a prominent French rider received a six-month ban after testing positive for a banned substance. Speculation has continued, with a recent online poll finding that the majority of respondents believed some EWS riders were doping.
Understandably, this upset many racers. Scottish star Katy Winton told us it was unfair to suggest riders were taking performance-enhancing drugs without providing any evidence. “Enduro racing is brutal,” she said. “But the fact we go through all the highs and lows together means there’s respect between us.” Katy said she didn’t believe doping was going on, but added: “Some control would be good, to silence the haters and make people appreciate that we’re working damn hard to go that fast!”
Thrills, not pills
Coach Alan Milway, who trains Joe Barnes and his Canyon Factory Enduro teammates, agreed that most racers are in it for the love of the sport, but warned that “where there’s money, prestige and reputation on the line, the situation will be exploited if we leave too much room to manoeuvre”. He said that goes for other, UCI-regulated MTB disciplines too.
Alan pointed out that XC racing isn’t far removed from road cycling – which continues to be beset by doping scandals – in terms of the aerobic fitness required, while in downhill, where races are won by fractions of a second, “being fresher, more powerful or more focused would surely be an advantage”. Enduro requires all these things, and fatigue plays a big part too, so drug use could certainly benefit unscrupulous riders.
Another pro trainer, Burgtec’s Dan Critchlow, who coached Josh Bryceland in his DH World Cup days, said he was pretty sure some racers were taking performance enhancers. “Look at road cycling,” he said. “Even riders who compete in local club time-trials are ordering drugs online. And motocross is massively dirty, with drugs for improving concentration, drips between motos and injections post-race. I believe the majority of racers are clean, but it’d be naive to think no one is cheating.”
The war on drugs
When we raised the issue with Chris Ball, he said he believed enduro racing was clean, if only because there isn’t the same money involved as with road cycling. But he said he wanted to end the speculation and that this was a big contributing factor in the decision to join the UCI.
“In order to work with WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] and CADF [Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation], we need to integrate with the anti-doping networks of global sport and controls need to be put in place,” he said. “First and foremost, to protect riders.” Chris said details of the new controls would be determined over the next three years, but the testing would be similar to that used in other cycling disciplines.
Ultimately, we can’t be sure that doping isn’t going on in mountain biking. Even though testing is in place, you only have to look to our road cycling cousins to see the lengths some teams will go to. But at least, from next year, all of the major MTB disciplines will have internationally-regulated controls. That means we can marvel at the talent and athleticism we see on the world stage, safer than ever in the knowledge that it’s the best rider who’s winning.
“I believe the majority of riders are clean, but it’d be naive to think no one is cheating”