It’s an interesting association, to see depression aligned with cycling when sport itself is seen as a remedial response to the illness.
Though certainly not a new one, the theme of depression within cycling and the ominous affiliation it has with doping has come under review recently following 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis’ admission of doping amid personal battles throughout his riding career.
A somewhat elementary search unearths a rather disturbing history pairing the two together. Recent cases of suicidal tendencies amid doping scandals are seen in Italy’s Mauro Santambrogio cry for help via Twitter and Belgian’s Jonathan Breyne overdose but the link is not a recent development, with records of depression in the sport dating back to 1907 when René Pottier, who had won the TDF the previous year, was found hanging from his bike hook.
…prompt conditions which provoke the depressive state…
Which triggers the other is where the lines blur – is doping a response to personal and/or performance-induced depression, or is depression a by-product of doping? While performance enhancing drugs, including regulars on the cycling scene – testosterone, cortisone, EPO, Human Growth Hormone – don’t directly cause depression, the misuse of them, which is an inevitability when prescribing for maximum effect, can prompt conditions which provoke the depressive state. Furthermore, quick withdrawal from substances such as testosterone has a direct connection with the onset of depression.
Doping and depression seem unsurprisingly bound to each other, a by-product of a highly stressful sport which appeals to the obsessive types. Cyclists’ pitch for perfection is a precursor to failures of which are often disproportionately inflated in the minds of the highly competitive characters the sport attracts. With sport often being encouraged as an aid to anti-depressive behaviour, is this merely a ticking time-bomb in the mismanagement of a mental illness that can’t be solved by jumping on a bike?