Ben Spies Talks About Doping in MotoGP

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The use of performance-enhancing (or in the case of Anthony Gobert, performance-reducing) drugs in motorcycle racing is an interesting subject. There have been very few racers who have been caught for using doping of one kind of another – Noriyuki Haga being the most high-profile example, banned for the use of ephedrine – but the FIM continues to police the issue very strictly, even organizing a special educational briefing session for all of the riders in the MotoGP paddock in 2011.

At Brno, when news broke of Lance Armstrong’s decision to stop fighting the charges made by the US Anti-Doping Agency, leading to the American cycling legend being stripped of his seven Tour de France victories, the subject came up during one of Ben Spies’ daily press conferences. Spies is both a Texan and a very keen cycle racer, running his own elite cycling team, Elbowz Racing, and so it was a natural topic for discussion.

Spies accepted it was a natural consequence of the accusations against Armstrong, saying “if that’s what’s fair and that’s what’s to be served with what they think is justice, then OK. That’s the way the rules are and if they have enough data that proves that, then they do.” The balance of Armstrong’s career and his efforts outside of cycling was positive, however, whatever the accusations leveled against him Spies said. “I think at the end of the day, no matter what he’s done good or bad, he’s done more good than bad. Not just for cycling, but for cancer foundations in general, I think he’s done a good job with that.” The problem is that Armstrong’s case is symptomatic of that era of cycle racing. “What he’s done in the past I don’t think is much different to what everybody did in the past,” Spies added.

The discussions then turned to the benefits of doping in motorcycle racing. Where there any benefits, Spies was asked? “As a motorcycle racer, for sure there’s benefit. There’s a lot of things you could take that would be better for you on the motorcycle,” Spies replied. But there were clear differences when comparing motorcycle racing with cycling, Spies explained. “When it comes to why the cyclists do it, it’s a completely different reason, and they use it for a completely different thing for training. With us, it’s more that, if you were to take something on a race weekend, it could help you.” Where cyclists were using substances aimed at improving recovery, what motorcycle racers needed was a quick boost on Sundays, Spies said.

The problem for motorcycle racers is that they fell into the one-size-fits-all World Anti-Doping Agency ADAMS program, which sets out a standard procedure for all elite athletes in all sports. “The problem is that we’re on the same ADAMS list, or a lot of the MotoGP riders are, the same as the cyclists. Where they have to know where you are 24 hours a day, all the time.” The intrusion into his privacy was what irked Spies the most, especially as it was not enforced very well. “I’m on that program, I’ve been tested once, and I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think I should have to log in and tell everybody where I’m at 24 hours a day if you’re going to test me once in seven months. I don’t think it’s fair.”

The problem, according to Spies, is that the ADAMS program is irrelevant to motorcycle racers. What was needed was not following a whereabouts program, it was regular testing at the races. “I think they should test the top five, top six of each class every weekend, on the weekend. Because in motorcycle racing, if a racer’s going to do anything, it makes much more sense to do it on the race weekend, not two weeks before, because we’re not training for the Tour de France.”

Though Spies had issues with what was being tested, he was keen to point out that he was in favor of testing for illegal substances. “I don’t agree with some of the ways they’re doing our stuff, but I believe in drug testing and I’m for it. I like it, but I just think for them and from what I know about everything, they should do it on the race weekend. And they should do the top five in every class every Sunday, and that’s it. And not make you live like Big Brother is watching over you for seven months and test you one time. I just don’t see the point in that.” Currently, the FIM tests riders selected at random at a certain number of events throughout the year.

Testing on race weekends was more effective because of the differences between motorcycle racing and a sport like cycling. “For cycling it’s more of a recovery type deal, because they train so much. For us it’s more 45 minutes of pure just going at it. So it would be different substances [they would use].” When asked what kind of substances, Spies professed ignorance. “I don’t even know, but there’s a lot of stuff, if you look at athletes like sprinters and things like that. Like I said, I don’t know for our stuff, but cycling, everybody knows that everybody does, and there’s always something you can do to make whatever you do better.”

Would the FIM find anything if they tested riders in the paddock right now? Spies was unsure. “Maybe. You never know. It’s hard to say, I mean there’s been riders before that have, and like I said, I think they should test on the race weekends more often, instead of what they do know. I think it makes more sense and it’s cheaper actually to do it that way than to do it the way they are doing it now, and it’s just a big hassle for the riders, honestly, to have to go through that. But like I say, top five of each class every Sunday, test them, that’s it, end of story.”

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.