The Upside of Lance’s Confession

A lot of folks are (appropriately) pretty frustrated about this whole Lance Armstrong confession deal. I know that a lot of people were holding out hope that Lance really was clean. If you’re one of those people, I have to say that I feel for you. It stinks to have your sports heroes admit being dirtbags, and it would’ve been nice if Lance—cancer survivor, father, activist, etc.—could’ve been the exception.

But the truth is, some of us have been trying to explain this to the rest of you for a long time. It took me a half a decade to reach the conclusion that Lance was doping, and after that, I willingly told anyone who asked what I thought about the subject. The internet was different. If you bashed Lance there, you got hammered and flamed.

So, amid this “truth will set you free” rhetoric, I want to point out just a couple of the silver linings, the reasons why Lance admitting that he doped is a very, very, very good thing. There are more reasons than what you’ll see here. These are just what’s on my mind right now:

1. We can all stop trying to figure out how he did it.
Lance’s success never made any sense. He wasn’t built like a climber, and he was never an overwhelmingly good time trialist before 1998 or ’99. He didn’t have the strongest legs, the highest VO2 max, the largest heart or any other particularly outstanding physical characteristic that would make sense out of his victories. So it must’ve been his training, right? Everyone wanted to know what the secret session was, what the winning training protocol was. Well, now we know: it was EPO, cortisone, HGH, testosterone and a cocktail of other junk—actovegin, etc.

That’s a really good thing to know. We no longer need to have the argument “well, Lance does it, so it must be right” about how we ride our bicycles. Whatever the secret session is, Lance couldn’t have done it without the dope either.

2. We can give Greg Lemond his respect back.
With Lance’s admission, a whole host of people can have their credibility back: Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Stephen Swart, Prentice Steffen, and yes, even Greg Lemond.

Years ago, I wrote a post entitled Why Isn’t Greg Lemond More Popular. In the end, I concluded that it was because Lance told us not to like him. Same goes for all of those folks. Lance told us not to like them, and we, like lemmings, said, “Okay, we won’t.”

I remember hearing photographer Graham Watson describe Greg Lemond not as a jealous, bitter old man, but as an “outrageous character.” He was fun, he was a phenomenal athlete, and, in my opinion, he likely won the Tour de France clean. He was the real deal, and the greatest American cyclist in history.

3. We can all be friends again.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been pretty convinced about Lance’s PED usage for the last three or four years. I can’t remember exactly when I realized it, but I think it came down to physics: how does a rider go from being an average time trialist and a lousy climber to dominating all of the time trials and the climbs? Unless Lance had just never trained before, there was only one way.

But I quickly learned that if I shared my opinion online, the Lance faithful would rip me to shreds with senseless arguments and lines right out of Lance’s PR strategy. Well, the conflict’s over now. Lance did it, there’s no reason to believe otherwise, and there’s no reason to keep the argument aflame. You can now go back to arguing about other arcane topics like whether weightlifting helps you be a better climber.

Trouble is, some folks don’t know the argument’s over. They want to keep it alive with statements like “it was a level playing field,” “everyone was doing it,” or “he would’ve won seven Tours anyway.” Doping does not create a level playing field, everyone was not doing it, and the idea that Lance would’ve won anyway is patently ridiculous. As Kathy Lemond said after Lance told her and Greg that he was going to win the Tour, “How could he think he was going to win the Tour when he only finished once? He just wasn’t a Tour rider.”

4. Hero worship aside, cycling is still fun.
The one other benefit of Lance’s admission that I’ll mention here is that we can all get back to riding our bicycles because we enjoy it. Cycling is fun. Racing a bicycle is fun too, even when you don’t win. You get to meet cool people, enjoy the outdoors, exert yourself, break a sweat and feel like a kid again. Cool, right?

19:56

In 12-degree weather, no less!!!!

Yep, I got my sub-20. Just goes to show that if you keep at it, eventually you’ll find a course that is flat and fast enough for you to achieve your goal—ha ha!!!

Before I left for the Jingle Bell 5k this morning, the weather websites really were reading around 11 degrees. Undaunted, I bundled up in my long undies, running tights, wool socks, gloves, wind cap, sweater, etc. etc. I got in the car and blasted the heat. When I got there, there were four or five cars parked next to the park and a handful of people huddled together at the registration table.

I unsuspectingly stepped out of my car and something freaky happened: I started shivering uncontrollably! “C’mon,” I told myself, as I am wont to do when I realize I’ve lost my sanity, “we’re here to do a race.”

I marched up to the table, gave the guy my money, grabbed my number and quickly ran back to my car to pin my number on.

“Self,” I said, still grappling with some kind of cold-weather-onset neurosis, “you need to get warm from the inside out, not from the outside in.”

So I got out and jogged around the parking lot. I threw in a stride or two, but then I eased up to a short jog. And, you know, I didn’t feel all that cold anymore.

The start was an informal little affair. As the race director explained the course, one of the event guys came over and asked, “Does anyone have jumper cables?” Evidently, the follow car’s battery had died. So I volunteered my cables, popped my trunk and handed them off. Then, just as they finished jumping the truck, we lined up, the other guy said go and we all hit the start buttons on our watches.

A young cross-country running trio took to the front. I found out later, one of them is a post-high-school cross-country racer, another just took 23rd in the high school state championship and the last one isn’t even in junior high yet. Yikes—that kid’s going to be fast!

I just tried to keep them in sight as they tapped out a quick pace. I even contemplated hammering ahead to catch the third-placed kid, but that little fantasy faded as we rounded the corners on the course and he got away from me.

Finally, the course spilled out onto a long straightaway alongside a very busy road. A semi-trailer blew past me as I went up the only hill on course.

After a couple more turns, I found myself on the last section of the course, a small running path that winds around the perimeter of the park where we’d started. Because of the shadows, there were intermittent patches of snow all along that part of the course, adding a little cross-country element to the race, which was kind of fun and kind of discouraging.

As I wound through the last 1/4 of the park, I looked down at my watch and saw 19:00. Then I looked up at the finish line.

“You can do this,” I thought to myself. “C’mon, just do it and let’s get this done!”

So I gut-checked my way around the final curve. As I crossed, I looked down at my watch and saw it tick over 19:55. The girl with the clipboard said 19:56, but I wasn’t about to argue with her.

Oddly, there was no award ceremony at this event. That’s okay, though; I got what I wanted. The winner, the post-HS XC runner (who I believe has a college scholarship waiting for him somewhere) clocked a 17:20.

I was about to jump in my car and head home until I remembered they still had my jumper cables. So I hung around for the post-race raffle and watched a bunch of other folks get prizes.

I started chatting with an older guy there, and he told me he was mainly a cyclist.

“Really?” I said. “Me too. What do you race?”

“Have you ever heard of LOTOJA?” he said.

“Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “here we go.”

Listening to people talk about LOTOJA is almost like listening to a multi-level marketer try to talk you into buying a crate of expensive juice to stick in your garage. I explained it wasn’t for me, and he smiled with that look that says, “Well, it’s not for everybody.” Actually, he was pretty cordial about it, but it nonetheless reinforced for me that I don’t want to do the 206-mile yuppie race. It seems like the less interested I am, the more people want to tell me about it.

I, of course, explained my reasoning in detail: I’m a father of three children under the age of 6. It would be irresponsible of me to abandon my wife every Saturday so I can squeeze in that 6-hour century ride. He responded that he did most of his rides at 5 a.m. While I can appreciate that there are people working harder than I am toward their cycling prowess (and certainly he qualifies), I have to say that his youngest child probably isn’t waking him up in the middle of the night with teething issues these days either.

“Someday,” I told him, “my kids will be in school and independent, and things will be different.”

But it got me thinking about another issue I have with LOTOJA. I was reading the Slowtwitch.com forum last night, and I came across a thread entitled, “The problem with triathlon,” and when I got done talking with the LOTOJA guy, I started thinking one of those Slowtwitch comments could really apply to LOTOJA too. The problem with LOTOJA, the reasoning goes, is that it used to be guys with $3,000 bikes and $2,000 cars. Now, it’s guys with $5,000 bikes and $50,000 cars.

Now, in all fairness, my car costs more than my bike (though that’s debatable with the upgrades, depreciation, etc.). So I’m a guy putting my $1,000 bike into the backseat of my $2,000 car, but I’m doing races that cost $30—not $200. I guess what I’m saying is that the folks who are doing LOTOJA aren’t my crowd—at least not right now. And even if they became my crowd, I don’t know that I really just want to blend and be just like everyone else in the crowd.

No, I think I like my hill climbs much better, thank you very much. LOTOJA’s lacking something when it comes to coolness—it’s more like a dare 50-year-old men give each other. What’s cool about that? Not much.

Maybe I’ll get to that point someday, but right now, I really doubt that.

The Straight Dope

Have you ever been on a bike ride where the moon is so bright you could see your own shadow? Yeah, that was me a few days ago. As part of my time-management techniques, I decided to do a late-night ride out on the "dry farm" roads. I don’t really know what a dry farm is, but that didn’t seem to matter after the sun went down.

I’ve been pretty busy lately, and I’ve even applied for a few jobs outside of my current company (REI people, if you’re reading, feel free to drop me a line anytime, eh?). We’re getting to a point where we either need to move to Idaho Falls or leave the area completely, and I think my wife’s preference is the latter.

But with my kid getting older, it’s getting tougher and tougher to squeeze rides in. I just went out again today in the heat and cranked out a 10-mile time trial. The wind was almost non-existent, so I managed to take a whole minute off my previous time for that course, which usually has a life-sucking headwind. After my time trial, I even went over to the steepest road in the area and did a quick climb. It’s looking good for Teton Pass this year.

Unfortunately, the Teton Pass Climb is scheduled for a Sunday again this year, so I’ll again be protesting by not attending. I’ll just have to do it as a time trial on my own again and soak in the triumph when nobody’s looking. That’ll be more rewarding than seeing my time on the website anyway.

Okay now, I know nobody likes it when I yammer on about doping, but c’mon you guys, with all the recent events I’ve got to vent. So here it is:

If the governing bodies wanted to really prevent doping from ‘killing the sport’ they’d stop with the 4-year (from Protour teams) and lifetime ban nonsense and cut them back to six-month. No, seriously. Think about it–sponsors are already voting with their dollars by dropping sponsorship (because, hey, who wants to be associated with cheating and drug use for the rest of his existence? Probably not that poor hearing aid company, Phonak). At some point the fans are going to realize they’ve been cheated too–that instead of a rider’s athleticism, it’s the rider’s reaction to artificial substances that determines whether he’ll win or lose.

You know what’s going to prevent future baseball players from doing steroids? It’s not the fact that baseball players get a little fine if they’re caught; it’s all of the young baseball fans who’ve been booing steroid users off the field, throwing stuff at them, and generally talking bad about cheaters. You know what’s chasing doping out of mountain biking? It’s the ‘doping sucks’ t-shirts, the interviews where competitors flout Philip Maerhagge, and the continued love of the sport by fans and competitors who appreciate athletes they can still relate to. Call me a capitalist, but let’s let the fans vote with their feet. Granted, mass ignorance seems to be a popular course of action these days, which explains how Pantani and Virenque managed to maintain their fan bases in their respective countries. But I figure they’re bound to figure it out sometimes, right?

I’m the Only One

I’ve got to tell you, I was actually really excited to read that Ivan Basso signed with a Protour team. In fact, I think it may be one of the few incidents lately that just might save cycling in the eyes of its fan base. Allow me to explain:
 
Since this whole explosion in doping paranoia (and, yes, I do mean ‘paranoia’), I haven’t been able to stop comparing the widespread and unnecessary bureaucracy with other excessively bureaucratic aspects of life–the government, human resource departments, school administration–none of which are entertaining or interesting in the least. In fact, the bureaucratic element has led me to believe that the heads of cycling in our era may actually be total pansies bent on smearing their egos across the globe in an attempt at megalomania.
 
And who really wants to buy a DVD of that?
 
Signing Basso is just a sign that maybe those bloated egocentric organizers can get over themselves and move on. The 4-year ethical ban on ‘suspected’ riders being signed by Protour teams? That’s just a repulsive blemish on the face of what could otherwise be an exciting and very masculine sport–like having to watch your best buddy’s mother scold him excessively in front of you. I mean, really, like it’s that damaging to the sport to have someone who’s served his time come back into competition. Imagine if they’d signed the ethical charter before Richard Virenque was suspended. Tricky Dick and the entire French crowd would’ve been thrown into a collective conniption.
 
That said, I’d love to see Tyler Hamilton get a contract somewhere as well.
 
And maybe they can give Roberto Heras a job when he completes his suspension this summer, too.
 
And while we’re at it, I’d like Georg Totschnig to come back out of retirement so I can still maintain his unofficial fan club on my blog.
 
That last one went a little far? Sorry–got a little carried away there.

Memo-Random: to the Euskaltel-Euskadi Team

I’ve been watching this Vuelta rather closely, as I know you have too, to see if a certain someone actually lives up to his billing. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened, and I think now’s the time to pull the plug.
 
Yes, Iban, we thought it was cute the way you won Alp D’Huez a few years ago, the way you toppled over Armstrong as he was downed by that fan’s bag, the way you won the Dauphine in 2004 and even managed to snatch a stage of it this year. But face the facts, Iban, you’re getting creamed out there. Perhaps you should’ve been happy with winning the Dauphine instead of trying to dethrone the Boss at the Tour. Perhaps you should’ve spent some time training in the off-season instead of relying on your dimples to win over your predominately female fan-base.
 
Maybe, just maybe then you wouldn’t have run out of steam after just a few kilometers in today’s stage. You remember? I’m refering to that moment when you turned to stone and watched forty of your closest buddies pass you. Okay, so I probably wouldn’t have been one of those buddies. So what.
 
Euskaltel: Again, you’ve got a high-GC team member (whom I’ve never heard of before, but that’s okay) you can turn the team leadership over to–Samuel Sanchez. I mean, after all, why sacrifice everything when you have so much more going for you? The coolness (or gaudiness, depending on who you talk to) of your team uniforms, the support of the roudiest bunch of fans in Europe, heck, you probably even have the backing of a few Basque mob-like separatist groups. Salvage that stuff. It’s worth it.
 
Iban, bummer man. But hey, you’ll always have the Dauphine.