As the years have worn on, Greg LeMond has taken a turn in my eyes and appears to have become a bitter, curmudgeonly old man. As soon as Lance Armstrong won his first Tour, Greg has begun muttering about doping and cheating as if it’s this new, horrible thing that has ruined cycling. As Lance won more Tours, more events, and eclipsed LeMond’s success, Greg’s complaining, drama-creating, attention-seeking garbage became more loud and more pathetic. When Floyd Landis won* a Tour, Greg was vaulted into the limelight more directly. I always found it strange that Greg never gunned for Tyler Hamilton — but oh, that’s right, Tyler Hamilton never “tainted” Greg’s legacy by winning a Tour de France.
So, eventually, everything went away. Landis was found guilty of doping and was summarily suspended. Lance was in retirement. And we didn’t hear much from Greg.
And then Lance came out of retirement, and Greg came back to the media, crowing about doping, and improving testing, and increasing the punishments associated with violations — all of which I support. However, I think that Greg’s plan is unscientific, bordering on silly.
The plan, to summarize, is to put power meters on all pros’ bikes in an effort to detect doping. Because in Greg’s world, a sudden increase in power output is an indicator of doping — the thought is that if a rider is putting out x watts on one day, and x+y watts the next day, they must be using something to increase that performance. While that can indicate the possibility of doping, it does not — in any way — concretely show that a rider is doping.
First of all, the best power meter on the market (that I am aware of) has a 5% margin of error, and my power meter requires recalibration before every ride, and can be effected by temperature, humidity, altitude, and any other number of factors. With a 5% margin of error, my 300 watts** of power output could be reported as low as 285 watts or as high as 315 watts.
Secondly, Greg’s plan assumes that the human body is a predictable piece of machinery that responds identically from individual to individual — something scientists know just ain’t true. Rest, food, training programs, dietary supplements, even mental state, all impact a rider’s power output and recovery from day to day.
So Greg would have us sacrifice the reputations and careers of cyclists without regard for accuracy and the belief in a mechanistic human body.
While doping is a problem in all professional sports, I think it’s problematic to employ tests without regard for accuracy, or that rely on correlation (which is not the same as causation) to determine the future of an athlete’s career. To do so will harm the sport more than doping does, and that’s what the LeMond Plan will do.
* For the record, I do believe that Landis was doping, based on the evidence presented. I do not believe that Greg LeMond had any business being involved in that trial.
** Not my actual average power output. Yet.