Should TFL have spent £6m of cycling money on the TDF?

 

To be honest I don’t know the answer to that question. My expectation is that they shouldn’t have.

It seems irresponsible to use public money that has been earmarked for infrastructure on the TDF. I love the tour, I think it is an amazing spectacle, its wonderful drama, but lets face it: It is little more than a Victorian freak show.

It is possible that this traveling circus may inspire some young children to want to run away and join the circus when they grow up. It may even show the rest of us what is theoretically possible on a bike, but I think you have to accept that it is very unlikely that anyone watches the TFD and thinks well if those super humans freaks can do that, then I can cycle for an hour to get to work every day and sell my car. So really £6m was lost from London cycling budget. It has been pocketed by the circus ring master, and as yet it isn’t clear at all what benefit remains.

This year to go with the tour there’s been a flurry of documentaries about Lance Armstrong which have gone out to accompany the Tour de France. Having watched a few of them now I have concluded that all pro cycling tells you about cycling in general is; cyclists are just people too.

On the face of it, it seems amazing to see Lance Armstrong tell such convincing and vicious lies. The first impression I get is that he is not a very nice guy. But isn’t that the first lie we are all telling our selves when we watch professional sport? For some reason we are all operating under the collective delusion that sports men and women are nice people?

Why should this be the case? Certainly there is no reason to assume that sports people are any nicer on average than any other group in society but we like to support nice people. We like to see nice people doing well, so it’s easier for us all to assume that the athlete we admire most is also a nice person. When in fact it is perfectly plausible to assume these people who are capable of extraordinary physical feet’s are in fact psychological odd balls.

Let’s face it, in order to put the time in on the bike to beat the best in the world there is a good chance that you have to have a level of ruthlessness and determination that might make you a slightly prickly or self-centred character in normal social situations.

The hook or the fantasy here is that anyone could ascend to the top of world sport through hard work alone. That is what we all want to buy into. But it is clear that often isn’t the case. It is also hard to believe that that will ever be the case. The athletes and their supporting teams have devoted their lives to gaining an advantage over their competitors. They are the ones looking for innovations that will help them win. So they are going to be the first people to find new ways to win, by fair means or foul. Competition creates a situation, were the cheaters are always going to be one step ahead of the regulators.

I don’t however think we can do away with the regulation. We need regulation to reduce as much as possible the health consequences of this cheating. We have to mop up as much of the drugs as possible in sport, not to protect people like Lance Armstrong but instead to protect people like me.

When I was 18, I played with Bath under 19’s rugby club. I trained with them for a couple of months and I even came on as a sub for a couple of minutes against Harlequins. I was at the time flirting with professional sport as a carrier. I actually know several people who I when to school with who have gone on to have international or professional Rugby carriers. The problem with doping is not that it affects the health of the professionals; it is that we need it to be contained within the professional game so that it doesn’t damage the health of amateurs.

I am eternally grateful that at the level I got to in Rugby I never came across steroids in any form. I stopped playing my sport rugby in my late twenties. I broke my arm and I have a chronically bad ankle. So I decided that enough was enough. When I am old I want to be able to move around in reasonable comfort. I anticipate a significant amount of pain based on the injuries I have already acquired so I could see it was time to get out while the going was good.

As a man with a wife and job, playing for my University old boys team, which I consider to be a reasonable level of rugby, if someone had said, Alex I want you to take some performance enhancing drugs, I would have laughed in their face. If it came to it, I would have happily walked out the team and said good luck finding another prop as good as me in time for the next game.

As a 16 years old playing for my school first team would I have found it that easy? No.  I like to think that I still would have got the calculation right. I was reasonably academic, and turning way then would have been hard but possible for me. However for some of the guys I played rugby with at school that would have been a tough choice. If you are a kid, and the only thing in life that you have excelled at is sport, and you see that taking steroids is the only way that you are going to get a chance a carrier that will let you do that for a living then yes, lots of them will take the drugs.

So we don’t need to clamp down on drugs to protect the likes of Lance Armstrong and his team mates. Those are the guys that have made it and I expect that some of them will always be drugs cheats. We need to frown on drugs because of the damage they can do to the young developing bodies of the kids who want to be like Lance Armstrong.

Believe it or not, that in a nut shell is why TFL had no right to spend our money on the Tour de France. That peloton is a beautiful spectacle. As it pelted past me I became dazed and dizy just watching it go. But each one of those athletes represents the peak of a pyramid. Behind everyone of them is a line of mere mortals who didn’t manage to cross the Rubicon. Many like me will have gone on to do other very rewarding an interesting things, but let’s not forget that the guys that made it have done one thing. They have been selected to play a part in the show. They have joined the circus. Some like Lance arm strong get to be the lion tamer, or the ring master and play a key role, others in the bright lycra are just the clowns, but the whole thing is a business. Just like the circus it comes into town to dazzle us, and to relieve us of our cash.

If I choose to go up to town and buy a plastic flag or cotton candy that is one thing, but it’s quite another when TFL puts its hand in the till and buys the ring master a coffee in the hope he brings the whole show back again next year. My problem is not that TFL paid £6m. It is that it came out of the cycling budget.

It’s time we all grew up, and accepted that these big event do benefit us. They have value, so from time to time they are worth shelling out for but let’s have a budget for things like for these events. But we also need to know what we are paying for. You can’t spend £6m on a wing and a prayer. You have to have a testable hypothesis and before you spend another £6m, you have to know what measurable effects have been had. It TFL can’t tell us how they plan to measure the effect of TDF had on cycling participation, they need to put that cash back in the till and have a slap on the wrist from mayor.