Rider on the Storm

By Jeff King

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Former pro cyclist Jeff King recounts the spread of cycling’s drug culture from Europe to North America.

The first thing I noticed in Belgium was the speed.

We were racing at a pace at least five miles per hour faster than anything I had ever done in North America and not taking the usual rests that would allow me to survive three-hour races like this. I was getting my legs ripped off.

It was 1998, and if you wanted to race bikes seriously, you raced in Europe. The European circuit was to bike racing what the National Football League is to football and the National Hockey League is to hockey. It was where the greatest athletes in the sport from around the world competed for the biggest prizes, the most money and the greatest prestige. Europe was where the stakes were the highest, and I had decided to go all in.

It was my first race and I was already thinking, “Man, these guys are fit.”

We were blasting through 80 miles of narrow brick streets at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour. This was a nothing race, a low-level kermesse, which is a popular Flemish-style bicycle race held on the same day as the town festival. Before the race, gamblers poked and prodded us like racehorses before placing their bets. There’s no start money at a kermesse; if you don’t win, you don’t get paid. You eat what you kill.

At the time, I laughed at how seedy cycling was at this level. But I was naïve; I had no idea how just how squalid the sport actually was.

In the late 1990s, there was a drug renaissance going on in European biking, where the drugs and doping technology were ahead of the cyclists. But we pedaled hard, and it didn’t take long for us to catch up.

What the sport of cycling is today was being developed in labs and refined on the roads of Europe in 1998.

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8 Comments on “Rider on the Storm”


wrote …

Since 1955 I have loved bike races: ever since my Aunt took me to see my first 6 Day Race in Australia. As far as I was concerned, the Tour de France was the greatest endurance event in the world.

Many years later, now living in the US, following Lance Armstrong and his exploits was a summer pleasure. He had never tested positive. His skill and heart froze the competition. You could see they were afraid to challenge him.

Now the truth.

I am so angry with them: the cyclists, the teams, the sport. I have not watched a race since.

Thanks to Jeff King for this story. There should be more like it. If the sport wants support from loyal fans like me, it needs to clean up its act.


Chris Bucher wrote …

Hopefully this doesn't happen to CrossFit. With that much prestige and money on the line, people will try. Its up to us as the community to not tolerate it and CrossFit (HQ) to establish testing protocols that discourage/catch cheaters.

Easier said than done though....


wrote …

I agree with CB. CF is based on the ideals of fitness and health. However, once you introduce the Games concept, it now brings in competition, money, fame, and some people will do anything to win. The two concepts (CF lifestyle and CF Games)are not entirely compatible.
I hope it has not happened, and I hope it will not happen, but I do think it is inevitable that with paychecks for the winners, PED's will seep in.


wrote …

Doping in cycling goes back 100 years when Tour riders would drink bourbon to numb the legs before hitting a climb. This turned into riders wearing bandanas drenched in ether draped around their necks to take a quick huff before hitting an ascent. Forward again to the first forms of blood doping and painkillers, until today where methods are more sophisticated than anyone can imagine.

The ONLY reason why cycling had to address the doping issues was because of the deaths from the early doping methods. Someone doped up on painkillers taking a 70MPH descent and dying was the result, that is why the sport initially started addressing the issue. If it wasn't so inherently dangerous, then they never would have started testing athletes in the first place, it would be in the same situation as any other time based sport. IMHO, doping is more prevalent in those sports because athletes hit a point of diminishing returns when racing against a clock. Rowers train months to reduce their 2K time by 1 second. It is not enough.

Not sure where I was going with this lol...


wrote …

Jeff, your quitting the sport of cycling (twice) took character. I respect you for writing an article about it.


wrote …

Great article. Great read. Thanks for sharing.


wrote …

I rode with Jeff at CU my freshman year (97/98). I was pretty shy but loved cycling and despite the fact I had little experience with group rides (which can be annoying to your fellow cyclists) he was always friendly and offered tons of advice. A really solid guy.


wrote …

Great article, I really enjoyed reading about the culture of racing from an insiders perspective.

I find it strange that in the author's bio it says: "Because of his endurance-sport background, Jeff took over a year to do his first pull-up and push-up." I don't think endurance sports prevent you from being able to do a pull up - not doing pullups prevents you from being able to do pullups. Coming from a background heavy on the cycling myself, I can relate to being behind on the upper body strength.

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