Friday, May 20, 2011

My Thoughts on Cycling, Doping and Lance

In 1985, I started riding my 10 speed a lot.  I was 12 years old and the freedom to ride away from home was thrilling. That summer I saw some highlights of a bicycle race in France and was amazed at what those riders could do. I rode up a hill in suburban New Jersey. They rode up mountains! I bought a magazine, it may have been Bicycling or Bicycle Guide I don't remember which, and it contained a stage by stage recap of the race. I was hooked. I started buying magazines and riding all over town. The next year Greg Lemond won his first Tour and I cheered like I was on the Champs Elysee.  I didn't know much about the sport, but I waited each weekend in July to catch the one hour of highlights that were played on CBS.

I didn't know a lot about cycling but I knew I liked it. I only knew two races, the Tour and the CoreStates USPro in Philly, which i made my father bring me to each year. I'd try to walk up the Manayunk wall and couldn't believe these guys rode up 10 times, I could hardly walk up once. As I got older and got a driver's license, I didn't ride much anymore, but I still paid attention to the Tour each summer. I had a picture of Pedro Delgado on my wall and was stunned by Lemond's comeback.  I rooted for 7-11 and Motorola because they were American, showing the Euro's that we could do it too.  My interest waned a bit in the 90's.  I still paid attention, but with Indurain you could practically predict the race. I didn't understand much about the Festina scandal, but figured that would scare all the drugs from the sport. I knew the name Armstrong but when I heard of his cancer I figured the next great hope was gone.  Of course I don't have to tell anyone what happened next with him.

But for me, the real revelation was one day in the summer of 2000, flipping through the channels on my cable box in July I came across something that blew my mind.  Could this really be?  It looks like a bike race, but its 10am... is this really ... the Tour ... live on TV?  I was riveted.  My love affair with the sport was renewed.  I had known the names from reading magazines and watching the 1 hour coverage, but now I ate it all up.  I watched each stage, sometimes twice or three times a day.  I started finding websites and realized there were other races in the world besides the Tour. I watched the Vuelta, the Giro. I discovered the classics and more. I drank it all in, following Ulrich, Pantani, Basso, Bettini, Zabel, Cipo and of course Lance and the Postal Boys.  Hincapie became my hero, but Lance was our idol. I couldn't believe the things that he could do ...  I watched the Look again and again, laughing at Ulrich each time.

I loved all the Americans too.  Tyler and Floyd were the next great hopes.  Tyler at CSC riding with a broken collar bone, winning a stage and finishing 4th in 2003. The Olympic medal.  Floyd coming out of Lances shadow.  Then things started happening that started to crack my images. I noticed that everyone that tried to move out from under Lance's shadow was getting busted. Heras, Tyler and then the biggest heartbreak was Floyd.

With Lance retiring, I figured the '06 Tour was a great chance to show that American cycling wasn't just Lance. When Landis cracked on stage 16 I was devastated.  But the next day ... well I still believed at that point. It was, for me, the most amazing thing I'd ever seen done on a bike. When Landis got busted I thought "well, he had to try to come out of Lance's shadow and he was pushed over the edge."  I still believed that cycling in general was clean, but I started to wonder why all these guys suddenly got caught after they left Lance.

Fast Forward.  I no longer believe that anyone in cycling for the last 20 years was clean.  Period.

So what!  Does that change the enjoyment I had watching those races.  Not one bit.  Ulrich was just as doped as Lance was during those Tours, so at least they were on an even playing field. Was Pereiro any cleaner than Landis in '06?  I doubt it.  Basso too, and i'm sure many others. I now assume anyone that achieved anything in those days was doping, but I still loved watching those races. Does Lance doping take away from the fact that he won 7 tours?  To be honest, the fact that he never did much but win the Tour always will make him pale next to Merckx anyway. But he beat the best cyclist in the world all using the same drugs.

What I think cycling needs today is to come clean.  Many have said it and I hope with the news of the last couple of days it may, just may, happen.  What's done is done, come out, admit what happened, tell the Truth and move on. Lets go back to arguing about stupid things like race radios. I still love the sport of cycling and I probably always will. I respect each and every one of those riders, from domestique to Contador.  I wish they would just cut the shit and do it right.  Come clean, fess up and move on. There can be enough drama on the road to keep us all happy. We don't need to turn our attention to the BS on the sidelines. Let's not forget that one week ago a man gave his life while racing to entertain us, the fans.

I think guys like Landis and Hamilton are doing the right thing, but we need the rest of the peloton, the guys who didn't get caught, to stand up and do the right thing. Today came the news that Hincapie testified that he and Lance doped.  I hope its true and I hope one day soon George stands up in front of all of us, his fans and tells the truth.  I, for one, would applaud him and respect him as much as a man as I ever did as a bike rider.

Now what about Lance. The thing is, I really do understand why he's still denying. The man has become more than his cycling feats. Nobody can deny the impact he's had on cancer and giving hope to those fighting the disease. I'm a recently diagnosed diabetic and I use the Livestrong site to monitor my diet. I imagine that he feels he'll lose all of that if he becomes known as a doper.  The thing is none of that will change if he tells the truth. He can still lead the fight against cancer, he can still lead people to be healthier and make better decisions. Only he won't be a hypocrite while doing it. I'm no expert, but reading his reactions to accusations just makes me feel bad for the man. Then I remember that he flies around in a private jet and has tried to ruin the life of people who have told the truth and I stop feeling bad.

So as a fan of cycling, as a guy who bought a Garmin GPS and ate at Chipotle because of their sponsorships, as a guy who cried alone in his office when learning of the death of a rider he hadn't really ever heard of just last week, I beg of you all, please, just tell the truth, give us our sport back, give us our dignity back. We've given you everything you have, give us enough respect not to lie to us any longer.