Bicycling (South Africa)

Wheeler Dealers

How drug takers really hurt our sport.

- By Renay Groustra

II remember it clearly. I was on a recovery ride with a friend of mine who I’d raced since we were juniors, discussing how things had unfolded during the 2013 MTN National Marathon series season opener. My friend, you see, had won that event the previous day (as he had on multiple occasions before).

During our ride, he bragged to me that he’d been away on holiday the last two months of the off season, and had only put in two weeks of serious training for the event. And he’d beaten me by nearly 25 minutes that day!

I, on the other hand, had been putting in the hours for a solid two months; but I put it down to the fact that I’d been training for a different discipline. We ate pancakes, swam at a waterfall, and that was the end of that discussion.

Five years later, that same rider received a four-year ban for the use of EPO.


Looking back at it now, it seems so obvious. The crazy thing is, this had been happening to me and my fellow riders and teammates since the pro scene first started evolving, back in 2007.

It was normal. We would pile into our sponsors’ van, drive and/or fly across the country, race, and get comprehens­ively beaten. It was our equipment – definitely our equipment. Or maybe it was our diet? Maybe… maybe we just didn’t train hard enough.

Regardless, we kept coming back for more. This was the sport we were passionate about, and we loved racing our bikes. But we lost out on prize money, credibilit­y, and – most of all – the opportunit­y to present our best, on an even playing field.

Fast forward a couple years to 2015, and I clearly remember sitting on the edge of my seat watching another young South African mountain biker on TV, who I’d grown up racing against. He climbed his way up the results list at an Elite World Cup race – as high as sixth place, and within seconds of the leaders. His eventual 15th place was a big day for South African mountain biking.

It was that very year that I decided put aside my ambition of going to the Commonweal­th

Games. The competitio­n was fierce, and I was one of the older riders in contention to go. Why would they pick me, when they could have him?

Sadly, the bubble burst a few weeks later, when that rider was sent home from World Champs due to the discovery of banned substances. He later tested positive for EPO.


It’s now 2019, and there’s no National Marathon Series, no UCI Marathon World Cup, and only a handful of riders left who are able to eke out a living and ride full time. Is the lack of corporate involvemen­t due to the negative light that these positive drug tests have cast over our sport? Or is it just a sign of the tough economic times?

It’s not really clear.

What is clear, however, is the fact that in all the years since the first bust in 2012, most of those who’ve been caught and handed sentences have not owned their actions. They have continued to lie and point fingers, and have done little to fix the sport that they themselves have had a hand in bringing down.

And unfortunat­ely, the story doesn’t stop there. It remains to be seen whether there will still be opportunit­ies ahead for the new generation of riders coming though.

Cheating in sport is nothing new; but let’s hope that the example set by SAIDS – and by the riders competing clean – is a strong deterrent to those considerin­g the use of banned substances.

The credibilit­y of our sport depends on it.


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