I am on my way to the Galapagos and the book I chose to take with me is “Racing Through The Dark” by David Millar. I have been saving it for this trip as I wanted to have a block of undisturbed time to read it . In the meantime though some thoughts on cycling.
This past week the USDA suspended many more riders and released information connected to the Lance Armstrong case. I went in to work and since everybody knows I’m a cycling fan people come by to give their comments and opinions. This causes me to start arguing because I on behalf of cyclists feel offended.
Just so that my non-cycling fan friends can have a little understanding let me explain a few things.
Doping in cycling was so widespread and ingrained in the culture of cycling that it was like weed to Hippies. If you’re living in that life you’re probably doing it. Former riders become managers, trainers, consultants and when putting together the training plans, they want the best performance they can get out of the rider. Teams seek out sports Dr.’s and devise a training plan. Part of that plan in the past probably included ways to speed recovery and promote endurance in a quick and effective way, otherwise known as doping. There are several methods used and in cycling the most used ones seem to be EPO and blood doping. Basically to increase the amount of red blood cells and increase oxygen consumption, okay it does more but that’s the basic.
Riders come to a team relying on the trainers and such to provide guidance and there is pressure to perform. Results equal dollars and cycling teams rely on sponsorships, managers want the money shot of their rider going across the finish line with their jersey zipped up. Watch a race and notice that before a cyclist crosses the finish, he zips up his jersey, if he forgets, he’ll only forget once after the talking to he’ll get after. Cyclists tend to have strong verging on arrogant personalities (okay verging on), at least the best do. There is a reason they have nicknames like “The Cannibal” or “The Badger”, devour, win, attack. I can totally see how a cyclist would believe they can get away with an enhanced training program, arrogance is a great tool in denial, trust in the team, the Dr.’s and go along. Make no mistake though even if they are using doping methods they still have to train, to put in the time, to be dedicated. I could use EPO and I would still debate getting off my bike going over a speed bump all the while complaining “God I hate hills……”
My favourite team is Garmin who have a race clean philosophy. Jonathan Vaughters has referred to it as a philosophy. It is so ingrained that to race clean is to adopt a new philosophy, to change the culture that cycling has been operating in. Garmin wanted to prove that racing clean can be done and can produce results.
Their results have been impressive, Ryder Hesjedal was the first Canadian to ever win the Giro! GO CANADA, EH!
More than that though Garmin looks like a team, they act like a team, they seem to have fun. The love of cycling seems to be at the core of their philosophy. They were the best team at the tour in 2011 and although Dave Zabriskie was not there in person (he had to abandon after a crash), they brought out a cardboard cutout of Dave. I laughed. Thor Hushovd was on the team that year, he had a great year and also looked like he was having a blast (just a side note if you put “GREAT RIDE BY THOR!” on your facebook you might open yourself up to pornographic references from friends, “Thor had a great day at the Tour” is more family friendly).
Following Jonathan Vaughters, David Millar and Zabriskie on twitter during the tour adds a level of lightness to the long grueling race (Mark Cavendish is also great on twitter). Millar is very funny and my favourite from the last tour was a tweet about blue skies and THE DEATH STAR …….. with a picture of the Team Sky bus. This was shown to me during a meeting and I laughed out loud. Which brought disapproving looks. Then the fellow cycling fan who had shown it to me doodled a picture which almost made me spit my coffee across the table. He had drawn a cartoon of Dick Pound and Lance Armstrong (he labeled it, otherwise I would have thought they were potato people). Lance had his hands up to his face and was screaming “Noooooo!!!” because Dick Pound had just told him “Lance I am your Father………..”
Okay back on track. Even now if you look at the suspensions being handed down, the related offences are in the past. Many of those being suspended now are no longer doping (I would like to believe). They seem to be hanging their heads and are being “…… sad, sorry, humble cyclists” (to steal from Winnie the Pooh). What they did was wrong, they know it, they will take the big ol’ piece of humble pie and return when the suspension is over. This is what the cyclists who seem to integrate with success back into the sport do. Trace it back take a look, the whiney biatches don’t recover, they point fingers, place blame and drag others down. I’m sure part of that is they have broken the code, they snitched and therefore can’t be trusted. Just as the Mob has a code of not talking, I imagine cycling does as well. As Paulie says in Goodfellas “Now I have to turn my back on you……”
So the riders take the fall. Is it fair when there are so many other people involved as well? It’s like Milli Vanilli, Rob and Fab totally took the fall. They were the scapegoats. They were the ones branded as the cheats and the liars but if you trace it back they were just two break dancing kids from Germany who the record company execs thought looked good. Once that ball started rolling I’m pretty sure it was too late to get out and they were dropped like hot potatoess by everybody who had created them when the shit hit the fan.
Yes I just compared cycling to Milli Vanilli but it is similar. Riders wanting to succeed find a snowball is being created once started it can be almost impossible to stop. Suddenly choice has too many implications, the simple black and white becomes muddled. It is bigger than them, it is managers, trainers, sponsors and fans. Suddenly personal choice seems the least of their worries with the weight of expectations on them.
The changes to cycling need to happen at the management level and I believe those changes are happening, not just with Garmin but with many other teams as well.
Maybe now that the house has not only been cleaned but totally demolished cycling can turn the page and start a new chapter.
I still think that cycling can excite, inspire and provide role models to look up to. Yep, I believe in cycling.