USA Cycling recently rolled out its new RaceClean program, a ramped-up drug testing effort intended to stamp out the blood doping that’s rocked the sport. It means that before the elite-level mountain bikers line up to race in the third annual Hammer Nutrition Missoula XC at Marshall Mountain on June 22, there’s a chance they’ll be tested for doping.
Phil Grove, of Whitefish, will be one of the competitors at Marshall Mountain. He’s a “professional” mountain biker, but he puts the title in quotes because, even though he competes in a couple dozen events each year, he can’t make a living off of mountain biking alone. Few do. With such paltry winnings compared to those at larger road-racing events, he says, there’s minimal incentive for riders to artificially boost their oxygen-carrying red blood cell counts.
“I don’t really see why this large doping-control effort needs to be in place at an event that everyone more or less is just doing for fun,” says Grove, who works for a sports nutrition company. He thinks USA Cycling’s dictate shows that it’s “maybe a little out of touch with the realities of mountain bikers in the U.S.”
The initiative is perhaps out of touch with the realities of race organizers, too. USA Cycling is passing drug-testing costs onto the events themselves. Ben Horan, the Missoula XC director, says it costs upwards of $3,500 to test at a race, which will be chosen at random with perhaps a day’s notice. Instead of forcing promoters to play drug-testing roulette and sticking as many as a third of the events with the full cost of cover testing, all races in the series are splitting it, meaning Missoula XC will pay at least $1,200.
“It makes everything cost more for all of the promoters in an industry [in which] it’s already pretty difficult to make ends meet,” Horan says.
Not that Horan’s against testing. He says doping happens at all levels of cycling. “It’s a real problem,” he says. “I don’t know that it’s quite as endemic in cycling relative to other professional sports as it sometimes gets credit for, but it’s definitively something we take seriously.”
“If we’re footing the bill,” he adds, “we’d like to see those guys come and test our event. But we’ll see [a day or two before] if that’s going to happen.”
This year’s Missoula event kicks off with the inaugural Summer Solstice Short Track race on June 21. The Hammer Nutrition XC, featuring top professional riders from the U.S. and Canada, takes place June 22. The weekend concludes with the Hair of the Dog Super D, a chairlift-accessed downhill race at Montana Snowbowl, on June 23.