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The Eh Game

Michael Barry uses New York Times essay as platform to highlight problems in professional cycling

Dustin Pollack
Eh Game

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Canadian cyclist Michael Barry came clean last week. One of Lance Armstrong's long-time teammates with the U.S Postal Service team admitted to cheating, acknowledged his wrongdoings and said he crossed a line that he'd promised himself he never would.

The 36-year-old Barry blamed himself and his surroundings for succumbing to the pressures of doping. He told the Canadian Press:

"My first year on the [U.S. Postal Service] team I was clean but I saw what was going on around me," Barry told The Canadian Press in an interview from his home in Spain.

"I figured out my roommates were doping. And then it started to wear on me, seeing all the drug use around me and I was suffering, I wasn't performing that well."

But Barry's story doesn't end there. On Monday the New York Times published a 1,350-word essay written by the Toronto native in which he highlights what's wrong with professional cycling and calls for a restructuring of the sport.

He says in the essay:

The environment remains precarious on every level. Cyclists are required to sacrifice most other aspects of their lives to reach the top. Virtually year-round, we lead ascetic lives, where each movement on and off our bikes is calculated so we will perform to the best of our abilities. The demands are high.

We leave home when we are young and quit school to enter the bubble of pro sports. Inside the bubble, we are sealed off from our families, our lifelong friends and foundation. We live in a world in which we are only as good as our last race, and the next race is the priority.

Pro teams, which are financed with sponsorship and do not share in television rights, are a liability. Their existence is dependent on victories and results points maintained by the International Cycling Union, or the U.C.I., as it is better known. Teams that do not continue to build points lose their position in the WorldTour, the elite group of teams allowed to race in the top events like the Tour de France Sponsors' money swiftly disappears.

Cycling must follow the long-established pattern of most pro sports, developing a league in which teams are stable and sustainable and where all profits are shared. The continual pressure to perform and to survive results in poor judgment and bad advice. When teams and riders are always in survival mode, ethical lines are easily crossed.

Within the piece Barry does take about half a sentence to say that he accepts full responsibility for treading down the irresponsible path he did, but his essay wasn't apologizing, that's what the statement he released on his website last week was for. This was a veteran cyclist calling for change to save the future of the sport as well as help future professional cyclists.

While he still believes in professional cycling, he also feels change can only come from the top as he states in the final paragraphs:

The greatest shift can occur if national governments have a role in forcing change. They have a stake in the sport, as road cycling is reliant on public roads, city centers and national parkland, as well as police services and planning departments, among others.

Cycling is the people's sport, free to watch from a doorstep or on a mountainside. It is a beautiful and intriguing to see. It can be liberating, healthy, sustainable and fun. It is an activity many governments around the world promote to improve their citizens' health and to decrease road congestion. Pro cycling helps encourage people to ride to work, to pedal away in the gym or to tour the countryside. It is a sport that belongs to us all.

The evolution must persist. The sport cannot continue to risk crushing our children's dreams and damaging lives.

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