Thursday, April 19, 2007

Doping - AWD/SUV's

A quip on doping.

When I see articles about racers who've been caught doping, one of the things I do is try and remember how they raced. And when I say "how they raced", I mean it from a tactical point of view. Some of them race smart. Some of them, well, they don't.

When people feel like they can do anything they do stupid things.

It's like some of the drivers I see on the side of the road. Typically they were just driving but now they're simply pedestrians on a highway with a $25k piece of metal sculpture next to them. I saw one recently - an artistically converted Jeep, roof folded nicely down, sides wrinkled like my jeans when I pull them out of the dryer, and all sorts of "tone setting" touches like clumps of grassy dirt, long troughs searing the grass, and bits and pieces of extra sculpture strewn about.

Of course the police cars, ambulances, and the fire trucks finish the scene.

Normally you don't see this type of scenario with a "regular" car. You see them with the SUV's. There are exceptions of course. Once I saw a bewildered looking young guy sitting in his WRX, perched on the shoulder of the road. All four wheels dangled helplessly in the air. It was in the middle of town and he had accelerated so hard from the light he couldn't make a gradual left bend. Another exception was a magnificent display of artistic courage I observed in Vermont, a beautiful A8 which bounced off of the snowbanks twice before plowing into said snowbanks a third time on its roof.

Clearly visible was the moniker "quattro".

All wheel drive, whether in a car or in an SUV, simply means you can accelerate in slippery conditions. It has nothing to do with slowing and very little (although it does help) in turning. Many (but not all) AWD vehicle drivers don't know this and assume that AWD also means the thing will stop and turn as easily as it goes. They think they can do anything.

And then they get stupid.

So when they slam the brakes on to avoid hitting the stopped cars in front, they're shocked when it takes way longer to stop the SUV than their regular car. You can tell those drivers. They're the ones parked on the side of the highway with a crumpled better-stopping car in front of them.

So what's this got to do with doping?

Well, when racers dope, I figure that since they know they doped, they think they have an advantage. And because they do, they get a bit flagrant with their efforts.

In other words, they get stupid.

They do things like attack when there's no point in attacking. I would guess they believe they can simply ride everyone off their wheels. And because of the laws of physics (and perhaps a few strong or doped - or both - riders), they can't get away. Eventually the doper's body rebels and the doper gets into trouble.

Imagine you've been injecting yourself silly for the whole winter. Your hematocrit hovers at some insane value. You recover from a hard ride by the time you've unclipped from the pedals. You feel like superman. You think to yourself that you're invincible. And you repeat that thought every time you take that needle and stick it into your body.

Now you're in a race and you think "I am Superman and I can do anything". You attack, probably on some not-great-place to attack, like a flat or downhill section with not too much wind and a field full of fresh and attentive legs. Everyone follows (no surprise there).

Not a problem - just attack again. Don't worry about waiting for a good place to attack. Just attack. I mean, you know, you're Superman, and attacking at good places is for wimps. Make sure everyone expects you to attack. Make it unbearably obvious you're going to go so that they pay a lot of attention to you. They oblige and you go. And everyone follows.

This can get a bit frustrating for the attacker. So you gather your strength and really attack, maybe on a hill. Nice big attack, using gears that are perhaps a bit unrealistic ("I am Superman and I can do anything"). This time a few guys follow you using smarter gears and letting you cook yourself when you go too hard. It's painfully obvious when you start going over the edge but are too foolish to realize it. And when you finally pull off to recover a touch they hammer past you, burying the knife and twisting hard. It's over and they're gone.

Demoralized, you sit back and try and recover. And no matter what you do, all the doping in the world won't buy you the prolonged 35+ mph effort you need to get back to the front of the race. You're stuck. You've used your energy ineffectively and paid the price.

The other night I watched one of the final races of a rider caught doping and suspended for a couple years. He rode like he was invincible. The problem was that he was simply human. It was painfully obvious he was riding over his abilities. He made moves when everyone was paying attention. He would go way into the red to try and maintain his attacks. And when the collective hammer finally dropped, he blew.

He rode stupid.

And stupid riding doesn't get you good results, even if you're doped to the gills.

It just gets you stuck on the side of the road wondering what the heck just happened.


Anonymous said...

I really liked this entry.

Aki said...

A great article on doping is called Drug Test in Outside Magazine. One of the interesting things is the writer (who takes all sorts of drugs) is warned "to be careful". He figured because the stuff can kill you. The doctor meant he should ride conservatively - if he rode at his full doped capacity, people would wonder what he's taking.

I guess stupid people are stupid. The dopers that don't ride stupid, they're not stupid anyway. But I guess you got the point.