Last week at the 2013 edition of the Giro d’Italia, the cycling Tour of Italy, wound its way to a finish after three weeks of racing, news came out that a rider had tested positive for a banned substance. Does this sound familiar? It was just a few months ago that millions of people around the world, including even the most uncommitted cycling fan, sat down to watch the world’s most famous cyclist confess to years of doping.

Doping is cheating and people don’t like cheaters, at least not until they are caught. Every time the topic is raised, whether by fellow tifosi like myself, (hey, I’m half Italian and I cheer the maglia rosa chase from home) or a more casual follower of the PRO peloton, I’m conflicted about how I feel and what I might say to contribute to the conversation.

As a historian I realize a few things about doping in the sport of cycling. One is that when there is racing to be done and money to be won, people are going to cheat. A runner, Rosie Ruiz, once jumped on the subway in order to assist her win in the Boston Marathon. Horse trainers have been put in jail for injecting their racers with powerful, illegal, performance-enhance (and life threatening) drugs, a crime seemingly worse than an outright cheat, as they have a say in whether or not they ingest banned substances. I also can put the “EPO Era” in perspective and view it as only a part of a very long, rich tradition of bicycle racing. As a person who likes to look back, I also know cycle racers have consumed risky, and sometimes illegal, substances in order to aid their performance.

As it turns out, speed of all kinds, from foot-based to hoof-based to wheel-based, cannot untangle itself from the lure of speed-assistance substances.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A cyclist was caught doping. A sad joke with punch-line that is all too familiar right now. I don’t doubt racers throughout cycling are still cheating, but there was at least some hope that things were changing. Maybe I’m being too hopeful, and naive, since what is really going on is a witch hunt to rid the peloton of one form of dope (Erythropoietin) as another one seeps in beneath the Radar as we sit thinking we’re watching a (mostly) clean peloton race. EPO is dead, right? Now the drug-of-choice to make you faster, or dead, is ominously known as GW501516. It turns out that during clinical trials the drug induced a variety of cancers and serious side affects, prompting an end to any hopes of it being used safely for medical purposes. I guess there wasn’t much need to name a drug that was made in a laboratory and wouldn’t be advertised to paying customers; the mice were content with a simple, unsexy train of letters and numbers.

I don’t know if the surprising part is that a high-profile cyclist was nabbed for doping and disqualified from a Grand Tour on the heels of revelations, admissions, and penalties for other doping cyclists.  The rider actually was tested ahead of the race, so there is the possibility he was racing “clean.” But with the letters EPO on the minds of anyone following the PRO peloton, and even those who don’t really follow the sport, plus a testing process in place to detect the drug, at was at least surprising the rider would choose that dope.

Sadly, the unsurprising part of the story is that the rider has a dirty past: he was suspended in 2007 for his associations with a banned doctor. (Yes, not only do they ban substances, they also ban doctors.) And, he was also suspended in 2009 in the very same Grand Tour after testing positive for a very similar substance to EPO, known as CERA. Same race, same rider, same result – a positive confirmation of a banned substance in the racers body.

Danilo Di Luca, known as “The Killer,” has effectively killed his career and also the hopes of some that the peloton is cleaner. Or, at least that the EPO Era is dead. Old habits die hard. Some believe he knew Father Time was watching his wristwatch, since he was thirty-seven years of age, the twilight for even the best cyclists. Others equate his continued use of the same drug for performance-enhancing benefits to be no different than the continued use of any unprescribed drug – both are junkies.

Whether he is addicted to the drug or not, Di Luca’s positive test will raise more questions than it will provide answers and leave even those with hopes for a cleaner peloton, while accepting the historical connection between racing and cheating throughout racing of all types, a bit disheartened.

The Killer, still killing the hopes of cycling fans years after his first, and second attempt to stomp them out.

Would I lie to you, baby?

Would I lie to you, baby?

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