The inauguration of the UCI’s anti-doping hotline in 2013 was an exciting occasion. After Pat McQuaid ceremonially brought the phone back from Curry’s, he removed it from its polystyrene packaging, put in some batteries, and plugged the base unit into the wall.
Everyone sat down and waited for its first caller, and the start of a stream of vital intelligence that the UCI could use to prove once and for all that the fight against doping was safe in its hands.
Time passed. Four months later the phone rang. It was about 4pm on a Friday, so the only member of staff not enjoying the last couple of hours of their lunch break was a bored receptionist. She answered the phone.
“Hello, scumbag hotline, your chance to point the finger in confident anonymity and without the hassle of writing and promoting a whole book… I’m afraid not, sorry, this is 7554, not 7555…. No problem, I enjoyed the human contact.
Oh, if you find any unsubstantiated gossip on Twitter, give us a call, Mr. Schofield. We need forensic minds like yours. And on behalf of all the sock puppets who work here at the UCI, say ‘Hi’ to Gordon the Gopher.”
Several months later, it rang again. This time it was answered by the automated system. “If amphetamine abuse has made you jittery, press button one repeatedly. If you’ve never doped, but you know a Spanish cow that has, get her to press button two.
If you failed a dope test due to a phantom twin, get them to press button three for you. If human growth hormone has given you giant hands, press buttons one-nine simultaneously. If you know something that would help exonerate Lance Armstrong, press button four. If steroid use has given you paranoia, don’t press anything. We already know who you are, and we have done for some time.
“To maintain the omerta, put the phone down very quietly, walk away, and we’ll agree to forget about the whole thing. If you wish to report suspicious behavior of a team-mate, coach, team doctor, or just some random dudes who you don’t like very much, press button [muffled, indistinct noises] now. If you want to hear these options again, press five. The one about exonerating Lance was four, by the way. Just saying.
“You have selected ‘spit in the soup’. Please note that anything you say will be recorded, and quite possibly ignored. Leave your unproven rumour-mongering after the tone.”
“Uh, hi,” said a voice. “I’d like to report some people for suspicious behavior. At the recent World Championships I noted some doubtful activities being carried out by the riders who finished between first and 45th places.
And while I’m on the subject, there was also some pretty dodgy stuff going on concerning everyone who finished from 47th onwards. So if you’d like to just send the World Championship jersey right on over to whoever ought to have won, I’m sure that he would very much appreciate it, and make a fine ambassador for the sport. Size medium, please.”
From such hesitant starts do great institutions grow. Over the subsequent years, the hotline provided an invaluable service to the UCI by providing something they could point at as evidence of their determination to stamp out doping. In that regard it was almost as vital as the blood passport scheme. It became a force for peace to rival the hotline between the White House and the Kremlin, and a trigger for social harmony to rival the Cones Hotline that won a Nobel prize for John Major.
Of course, it never actually caught anyone. Don’t be silly.
Great inventions of cycling
2012 – The bicycle helmet as specified by the media
There are two sorts of bike helmet. There is the bastard offspring of a washing up bowl and the packaging your new TV came in, as illustrated in several photographs in this magazine. And there is the helmet that the UK’s general media talk about whenever they feel a sudden urge to discuss cycling safety.
The Media Helmet protects from all impacts. It is the solution to every known road-safety problem, in that it provides a force field around the rider that prevents anything bad from ever happening to them.
In contrast, failure to wear your Media Helmet means that a huge sign is projected above your head at all times, saying, ‘It’s fine to drive over this bloke. He’s not wearing a helmet, which means he rides through red lights and doesn’t pay road tax.
No one will mind, and when the media come to report it, even if you hit him head on at 40mph in an articulated lorry while sending a text message, they’ll diligently note that he deserved it because he wasn’t wearing a helmet.’
If it somehow, incredibly, comes to pass that you are knocked off your bike while wearing a Media Helmet and survive the experience, the press will diligently report that your helmet saved you from certain death, and that you should be sufficiently grateful about your miraculous preservation to not really mind being hit too much.
Acts of cycling stupidity
There is a rider I see (and yes, wave to) fairly regularly locally. He’s always wearing the same kit, from a local club. And he wears arm warmers that have come to fascinate me. They are huge. They form enormous wrinkly concertinas around his elbows, and are clearly attached to the sleeves of his jersey with safety pins.
I’m absolutely sure they’re leg warmers. But I don’t want to ask him. If he knows that’s what they are, then he’s clearly a psychopath, possibly dangerous, and a man with whom I don’t want to strike up a friendship.
If he doesn’t know, then he’s an idiot, possibly dangerous, etc, etc.
I’m hoping the cold weather will inspire him to pull on his leg warmers. They’ll either be the size of one of those tunnels border collies run through during agility trials, or they’ll be his arm warmers. I’m looking forward to it.