With a grant from the World Anti-Doping Agency, University of Vermont anthropology professor Brian Gilley has spent the last year studying attitudes among under-23-year-old cyclists towards use of performance enhancing drugs.
Since the Tour de France ousted its third cyclist from the race, even after multiple doping scandals the last few years, his findings are interesting.
Using American amateur collegiate cyclists as his control, Gilley interviewed elite junior and young adult Italian, Belgian, and American riders and found a surprising mix of responses about willingness to dope. The majority, he says, believe intense pressure from team managers and sponsors forces them to cheat in order to be competitive.
Some of Gilley's findings delve into conspiratorial opinion, like that doping is part of a secretive, intentional long-term training regimen encouraged by European trainers for even very young cyclists and that pressure to dope is entrenched both in their national culture and within cycling culture.
He is willing to believe rider claims that sponsors are responsible for doping because they can get monetary benefits whether riders get caught or not: if they perform well sponsors gain through publicity and related product sales; if a rider gets caught, the sponsor gains by taking the moral high ground and withdrawing support.
In order words, cycling is exactly the same scenario as every sport, every university and every business in the entire world.
He says it must be sponsorships causing the problem because collegiate riders view doping as a moral failure but approximately 20% of American college cyclists say that they would dope if the stakes were high enough.
Not exactly a consensus.
What is his solution? An interesting one. Basically he believes there should be two tiers in sports; a higher level of professional competition in which doping is accepted as a given and then authentic amateur athletic competition across all sports.
If you can't change the cheating, change the rules?