Great. As if you could race dirty on Saturday and clean on the Monday before. Obviously, the playing field is still not very level.
THE ABUSE OF DRUGS IN SPORTS has been an interest of mine for years, but it wasn't until the mid-eighties, when I started competing as an amateur in cross-country ski races in Europe, that I was suddenly immersed in a world with two classes of racers: athletes who played clean, and those who didn't.
The Swedish skiers I hung out with back then, some of the best long-distance skiers in the world, were all convinced that the Finns were the worst Scandinavian cheaters, and they appear to have been right. In 2001, following a series of positive doping tests at the World Championships, almost the entire Finnish men's team was suspended, and the country's men's and women's coaches were banned from international competition for life.
It was maddening to see skiers I knew to be playing fair, guys who trained their hearts out with little financial reward, lose to the cheaters. Over the years, it only got worse, the drugs more potent, the means of evading detection increasingly devious. Every time one of my athletic heroes tested positive, I was furious, as if I'd been personally betrayed.
But there was another feeling, too: deep curiosity. I'd read reams about cheating as an issue, but I'd never read anything describing what it felt like to do it. Obviously, the allure of victory was incredibly powerful—why else would the best athletes in the world risk their health and lives abusing these drugs? So I wondered, Do performance drugs make you just 1 percent faster and stronger? Or 10 percent? Are the enhancements so subtle that only elite athletes gain an edge, or are they powerful enough that an everyday wannabe like me would notice a dramatic change?
Though I knew I would be courting health risks, I decided there was only one way to find out: try it myself, and see what it did.
My plan was simple. I would train as I always do—about 15 to 20 hours a week—while taking various supplements under Dr. Jones's supervision. I started in January 2003. In eight months, I intended to ride the 1,225-kilometer (761-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race, a once-every-four-years sufferfest that's popular among amateur ultracyclists. I would first have to qualify by completing a series of 200-, 300-, 400-, and 600-kilometer rides within certain time limits. The PBP was a quirky event, a ride rather than a real race, with no prizes, no ranking of finishers, no doping controls. So if the drugs helped me, I wouldn't be knocking anybody else down in the standings. And since this was a monster ride—which I'd have to complete in less than 84 hours—it would serve as a real test of my augmented self.
THE ONLY REMAINING question: Where to begin?