In the bike industry, bike and equipment reviews have a notorious reputation. The reasons for their notoriety are entirely unlike the notoriety that reviews at Consumer Reports have engendered over the years. CR has earned a reputation for providing a reader service by objectively reviewing everything from washing machines to stereo speakers. A good review from CR can result in a windfall of unexpected sales. A bad review has the power to sink a company.
Unfortunately, bike and equipment reviews are memorable for their ability to do nothing. In never pointing out a flaw, never finding fault, publications invariably damage their currency in trade with readers. After all, readers are left to wonder if it is possible that all carbon fiber wheels are created equal.
Plot spoiler: They aren’t.
However, as this is the bike industry, which is to say driven by people chasing a passion, bad products are rare. Sure, there’s some crap to be found in the mass merchants, but that stuff isn’t being reviewed in enthusiast magazines. By and large, most companies are making competent products in a responsible manner. There aren’t any $5000 Corvairs from which you need to be rescued by some 21st-century cycling Ralph Nader.
But suppose you publish a magazine upwards of nine times per year and have enough readers to populate a good-sized community. Chances are you depend on those readers to keep your ad rates high enough to float your operation. Those ads, of course, are sold to bike companies.
Here’s the rub: Say one bad thing about a product, and that advertiser or potential advertiser can suffer a significant drop in sales. How would you like to be asking them to buy an ad with you after you single-handedly delivered a downturn to their bottom line. It’s a bit like Bernie Madoff asking one of his investors to loan him a 10-spot so he can buy some lunch.
When I launched Asphalt in 2002, I went with a reader-supported model; that is, most of the magazine’s revenue came from subscriptions and single-copy sales. I accepted advertising, but I wanted autonomy to write what I believed, not what wouldn’t get an ad contract canceled. That didn’t work. Middle America wasn’t prepared to pony up $9.95 for a bike magazine, no matter how nice the paper was.
Yet readers are still willing to cry foul if someone doesn’t take a shellacking for making a tire that none of their friends are riding.
A few years ago I reviewed the Cervelo SLC-SL for Belgium Knee Warmers. There’s a lot about that bike to recommend, but I found it to be the single most uncomfortable bike I’d ridden since being on an Eddy Merckx Max bike. The bike was unacquainted with the notion of vertical compliance and serves as the perfect rebuttal to all the naysayers who claim that carbon fiber bikes do not, cannot possess vertical compliance. I tell you, that bike should come with a kidney belt. But even that review isn’t remembered as being a negative review, so in some readers’ eyes, my credibility is as shaky as Michelle Bachmann’s grasp of history.
I could, in theory, to satisfy the bloodlust that I occasionally hear in the comments or receive in the more occasional, but outraged, e-mails, set up a fund to operate truly independent reviews. That is, I could establish a Paypal account and you could send $20 toward a review of some bike you’ve heard is a piece of crap. Once I amassed enough of these donations I could purchase said bike and write about my honest beliefs with utter disregard to the future of my advertising income.
I don’t see that proposition going anywhere.
Years ago, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of reviewing some products I didn’t really like. They weren’t bad products, but they had so little to recommend, it was difficult to write the review. In still churning out my 2000 words, I learned an important lesson. The lesson was, when the product is uninspiring, so is my prose.
I view the mission here at RKP as one of passion. Hopefully, what we deliver each week will inspire you on some level. Whether we’re writing out against doping, in favor of yet more suffering, or some product that really is the shit, there’s no point in writing if we haven’t had some fun at the keyboard. There’s too much else in the world of dubious worth for us to add to it. If you need a dollar burger, we’re obviously not the place to get it.
Let me back up a second. I get why readers revolt against a reviewer for whom all bikes are torsionally stiff and vertically compliant. If said reviewer gives every bike on the planet 9 on a 10 scale, common sense tells you to be suspicious.
I decided to take a different approach. I’ve been dealing with companies whose products I generally believe in even before the subject of the review arrives. With Zipp wheels, I know they have an undeniable edge in aerodynamics. Neuvation wheels get my nod for a different reason: It’s hard to beat the value.
Rather than try to write about every product out there, I’d rather focus on the stuff that excites me. I’m a better writer when I’m engaged. And if what I’m writing bores you, we have a problem.
I’ve been sent all manner of stuff that I haven’t reviewed. The stuff just didn’t do it for me. There was a chain lube that probably works wonders on the East Coast, but picked up sand like the Wile E. Coyote monster magnet. I need that like I need my son to puke. There was an embrocation with a consistency that felt just plain weird to me; it’s probably a bias of mine, not a problem with the product.
At this point, I’m going to need to back up my prose. I’ve received requests on any number of levels for a bad review, and now I’ll give you one. One.
Image: Ray Asante
There is a long bike path at the bottom of the hill I live on. It serves as a sort of summer super-highway for the recreationally inclined. Joggers. Strollers. Roller bladers. Cyclists. They’re all there.
Yesterday, I took the day off and went for a ride with my wife. We dropped the kids off at school and then flew down the hill, jumped on the bike path and headed west.
Almost immediately, we encountered a pair of women on a tandem, rolling along, enjoying the beautiful weather.
I hate tandems. To me, tandems represent the opposite of what I love about cycling, the independence. Who would want to have someone else doing the steering? Ugh. I can’t even imagine it.
My wife, having listened to me express this opinion before, just smiled and said, “But aren’t you glad they’re out on a bike?” And of course the answer is yes. I fully support and encourage cycling, even when it doesn’t match up with my vision of cycling.
A guy on a recumbent rolled past going the other way. OMG. He could barely hold his line. I often wonder if they actually ask to see your engineering degree when they sell you one of those things. And they’re expensive. Don’t get me started on the slack chain lines and the dopey flags bobbing behind them.
I also dislike hybrids, mixte frames and high end Italian road frames that have been “converted” to fixed gear. I also don’t much care for cantilever brakes, time trials or criteriums (criteria?).
Again though, these are just my prejudices, my petty judgments. They don’t mean anything about cycling or the people who embody them. All good people. All good cyclists. They just expose me for the judgmental, closed-minded zealot I can be when I am taking myself too seriously, which is almost always.
This week’s Group Ride is about prejudices. What are yours? And why do you hold onto them? What, if any, value do they have, and what do they mean about you?
[Editor's note: Bill and Carol McGann recently published the first in their two-volume history of the Giro d'Italia. I haven't had time to actually read it yet, but I recall from previous conversations Bill's assertion that the Giro has been a consistently surprising race though its history. He's given us the opportunity to run an excerpt here, and for those of you unfamiliar with his previous work, this is a terrific example of his ability to connect dots to paint a portrait of the time. Herewith, we present you with the 1967 Giro in less than 3000 words.]
1967. What a field assembled for the fiftieth Giro d’Italia! After years of being an Italian race, the Giro was once again an international competition. There was Motta with Rudi Altig and Franco Balmamion as gregari; there were Anquetil, Bitossi, Taccone, Francisco Gabica, Eddy Merckx, Ferdi Bracke, van Looy, Adorni, Gimondi (who suffered a terrible spring and had real doubts about his condition), Wladimiro Panizza, Silvano Schiavon, Zilioli, José Pérez-Francés, Vicente López-Carril and Roger Pingeon to name some of the outstanding stage racers of this or any age who assembled to start at Treviglio, south of Bergamo. There were past and future world champions Marino Basso, Jean Stablinski, van Looy, Merckx, Harm Ottenbros, and Gimondi, and future World Hour Record holders Ole Ritter, Ferdi Bracke, and Merckx.
Belgian Eddy Merckx was riding his first Grand Tour. He turned pro in 1965, just short of his twentieth birthday. He had already won 80 amateur races, including the World Road Championship (at nineteen). His first year as a pro riding for Solo-Superia with the imperious and difficult Rik van Looy was an unhappy one and in 1966 he switched to Peugeot where he would spend two years. It was in the black-and-white-checked kit of Peugeot that Merckx entered the Giro, riding with Ferdi Bracke and Roger Pingeon. Merckx’s spring was simply wonderful with wins in Milan–San Remo, Gent–Wevelgem and the Flèche Wallonne.
In 1967 Anquetil didn’t have to deal with the poisonous relations between Ford France and Ford Italy since Bic, which at that time made only pens, now sponsored him and his core of capable domestiques.
At 3,572 kilometers, the 1967 Giro was the shortest since 1960. It had 23 stages (two half stages crammed into the last day) for an average stage length of 155 kilometers, close to current Giro lengths.
Torriani had planned to kick off the Giro with a nighttime race through Milan but the stage had to be cancelled when anti-Vietnam war protestors filled the streets.
After five stages of good hard racing, the Giro arrived at Naples for a transfer to Sicily. Michele Dancelli was the leader with Pérez-Francés second at thirteen seconds. So far the best riders were sitting towards the top of the standings but no large gaps had appeared.
Stage seven, ending atop Mount Etna, broke the peloton into bits for the first time. Climbing and sprinting ace Franco Bitossi was first to the top of the volcano. Coming in about 20 seconds later, Motta was the first of the contenders, followed by Merckx, Gimondi, Zilioli, Pérez-Francés, Adorni and Pingeon. Anquetil, Altig and Balmamion were a further twenty seconds back. Dancelli remained in pink for another day.
Racing resumed on the mainland the next day, where the mountainous roads of Calabria were too much for Dancelli. He lost over five minutes, making Pérez-Francés the Pink Jersey with Aldo Moser second at just three seconds. Just three seconds, that’s gotta hurt.
The next test was the hilly stage twelve, starting at Caserta and finishing with a climb to Block Haus, an old German fortification sitting over 2,000 meters high in Abruzzo. At this point Pérez-Francés was still the leader with everyone who mattered but Anquetil within 73 seconds of the Spaniard.
At the start of the Block Haus climb the riders had already spent almost seven hours in the saddle with the Macerone, Rionero Sannitico and Roccaraso ascents behind them. The leaders were together and ascended the steep climb at a good pace. With two kilometers to go, Zilioli unleashed a devastating attack that only one rider could match, young Merckx. For Merckx, this was unknown territory. He was reaching the end of two weeks of nearly continuous racing and faced yet another week to go. Was Merckx a man for the Grand Tours or a single-day rider in van Looy’s mold? The world was learning. He said about that moment, “I still felt good. I hadn’t ridden many mountains before so I kept following, but when Italo Zilioli attacked with two kilometers to go, I felt good enough to chase.”
Yes he did. After sitting on Zilioli’s wheel for a kilometer he lit the jets and bounded for the summit with such power and speed that Merckx’s win at Block Haus in the 1967 Giro became one of the enduring legends of the Giro. It was Merckx’s first Grand Tour stage win.
Zilioli wasn’t left far behind, though. He came in at 10 seconds, Pérez-Francés (still in pink after Block Haus) at 20 and Anquetil at 23.
Merckx’s brilliant ride moved him up to third place, 30 seconds down.
For all the hard racing that had occurred, going into the 45-kilometer stage sixteen individual time trial at Verona the gaps between the riders at the top of the standings remained razor-thin:
1. José Pérez-Francés
2. Aldo Moser @ 18 seconds
3. Eddy Merckx @ 50 seconds
4. Silvano Schiavon @ 53 seconds
5. Italo Zilioli @ 1 minute 3 seconds
6. Gianni Motta @ 1 minute 13 seconds
The time trial, ridden on a cold and rainy day, was won by Danish neo-pro Ole Ritter. Ritter’s performance left Anquetil incredulous. He said that Ritter’s pace of 47.3 kilometers per hour would have been good enough to break the World Hour Record.
Indeed. Ritter would go on to break the Ferdi Bracke’s World Hour Record in 1972 and then Merckx would break Ritter’s record later that year.
The results of the stage:
1. Ole Ritter: 56 minutes 59 seconds
2. Rudi Altig @ 1 second
3. Ferdi Bracke @ 2 seconds
4. Jacques Anquetil @ 6 seconds
5. Felice Gimondi @ 38 seconds
There were three notable poor performances: Adorni was about two minutes slower than Ritter on a course that a couple of years ago would have been just right for him to crush the opposition. Merckx lost 2 minutes 49 seconds and Motta gave up 3 minutes 17 seconds. Merckx was a freshman who had never before faced the third week of a stage race and was not yet a complete rider. But Motta was the defending Giro champion and was now out of the top 10.
The new General Classification:
1. Jacques Anquetil
2. Felice Gimondi @ 53 seconds
3. Vittorio Adorni @ 1 minute 59 seconds
4. Eddy Merckx @ 2 minutes 4 seconds
5. José Pérez-Francés @ 2 minutes 16 seconds
There were two major consequences of this time trial. Anquetil was now in pink, and Motta’s Molteni team bosses decided to break Balmamion’s chains of servitude to the faltering Motta. Balmamion was now free to race on his own account.
The next stage came after a rest day. Balmamion got into the winning break that included Silvano Schiavon, Gabica, Panizza and Massignan. The 3 minutes 43 seconds they carved out of the peloton put Schiavon in the lead and moved Balmamion up to fifth place, only 2 minutes 29 seconds behind. He had done more with less in past Giri.
Stage nineteen left Udine for a hilltop finish at the top of the difficult Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb. The weather was dreadful that day with rain, snow and fog. At the beginning of the ascent Wladimiro Panizza was three minutes ahead of the field and he looked to be headed for the win. His director, fearing a stiff fine, did all he could to keep the tifosi from pushing the diminutive climber up the hill. Just as he closed in on the summit, Panizza was suddenly passed by a slew of riders, most of whom possessed only a fraction of his climbing skills.
How did this happen? With two kilometers to go, the chasers were struggling in miserable weather on the stiffest part of the climb. The gradient at that point was almost fourteen percent. The riders had, in a moment of collective moral failure, grabbed on to the team cars and were towed up to Panizza. Gimondi was first across the line because, as sportswriter René de Latour noted, “he had the fastest car”. Outraged, a furious Torriani wouldn’t let the fraudulent result stand and annulled the stage. La Gazzetta writer Bruno Raschi called it “le montagne del disonore”.
Bic, Anquetil’s sponsor, decided that they weren’t interested in winning the Giro. Believable reasons don’t seem to be forthcoming; non-believable ones abound. Anquetil says that his domestiques stopped getting their paychecks and understandably, most of them abandoned. Denson says that he was told that the riders were being pulled from the Giro to save them for races later in the season. Since the Tour was to be contested by national teams in 1967, this excuse really makes no sense. Another hypothesis is that this was a move to allow Anquetil to have an excuse for losing. But Anquetil wasn’t giving up, so this seems illogical as well. Nonetheless, Anquetil raced for Bic until the end of his career in 1969 which says to me that there was something terribly complicated going on behind the scenes and Anquetil took the explanation to his grave.
By the start of stage twenty Anquetil was down to only two helpers, Lucien Aimar and Jean Milesi. Fending off the combined attacks of the Italians with just these two gregari would be an extreme physical challenge. Realizing the necessity of having more legs on his side he tried to form an alliance (that means paying them money) with some of the Spanish riders. He failed, blaming it on his sponsor’s parsimony. In fact, the Spaniards had already allied themselves with the Italians, making Anquetil’s situation even more difficult.
Stage twenty was the tappone, going from Cortina d’Ampezzo to Trent taking the riders over the Falzarego, Pordoi, Rolle and Brocon ascents.
Anquetil had bad luck early in the stage, getting two flats. Next, on the descent of the Brocon, Merckx, Gimondi, Adorni and Motta got away from him. After a desperate and impressive chase (look who he was trying to catch!) he finally regained contact. Further up the road Adorni, Gimondi, Michelotto, Balmamion and Pérez-Francés managed to put about a half-minute between themselves and Merckx/Anquetil group. Still, Anquetil had done more than stave off catastrophe, he had recaptured the lead. It was a brutal day and Anquetil had gone very deep.
With two stages to go the race was still extremely tight and the General Classification now stood thus:
1. Jacques Anquetil
2. Felice Gimondi @ 34 seconds
3. Franco Balmamion @ 47 seconds
4. Vittorio Adorni @ 1 minute 40 seconds
5. José Pérez-Francés @ 1 minute 55 seconds
6. Eddy Merckx @ 2 minutes 4 seconds
Stage 21 was hilly with a major climb, the Tonale. Originally the Stelvio was the stage’s planned ascent but bad weather forced the organizers to look elsewhere. The Gavia was proposed as a replacement but it too was snowed in. The Tonale was pronounced usable and put into the race route, though the riders would still have to contend with an energy-sapping cold rain. Gimondi’s powerful team set a high pace during the ascent, and near the top, Motta and Gimondi attacked, dropping Anquetil and Merckx, now paying for his youthful expenditure of energy during the first two weeks. With the aid of teammate Aimar, one of the sport’s finest-ever descenders, Anquetil regained contact. It was here, after the Tonale, that the 1967 Giro was decided.
Marcello Mugnaini attacked and escaped first. Then Gimondi, who had Anquetil right behind him, stormed off. The Frenchman couldn’t hold his wheel. Having drawn down his reserves too far the day before, Anquetil didn’t have the strength to go with Gimondi’s powerful move.
Mugnaini won the stage, finishing in Tirano with a couple of other riders who weren’t in contention. As Mugnaini was almost a half-hour down in the General Classification, his win and time gain had no effect upon the standings.
But 62 seconds later Gimondi crossed the line, alone. It was 4 minutes 9 seconds before Willy Planckaert led in the Anquetil group. Gimondi remains proud of that masterful attack and sustained escape. It earned him the maglia rosa and pushed Anquetil into second at 3 minutes 35 seconds. The question that has been asked over the years is, why didn’t the other Italians give chase? That Anquetil was out of gas and had almost no one to help him is well understood. But why not Balmamion, who was one of the outstanding riders of the day, and given his excellent time trial in stage sixteen, was in excellent condition?
He and the other riders who were on Gimondi’s level seem to have let the man from Bergamo simply ride away with the Giro. They just let him go.
A photographer was there to catch that moment when Gimondi jumped away. There is a grim-faced Anquetil five yards off his wheel with Balmamion just behind Anquetil with Adorni to his right and Motta close by and another ten or so riders all in a small pack sitting on Anquetil and Adorni. The explanation usually given is a deal was hatched among the Italians to make sure one of their countrymen won the race and Gimondi was the chosen beneficiary of this plot. Advocates of this view also say that Anquetil was paid a significant sum of money to let someone else win. There are still whispers in Italy of a briefcase with fifty million lire used to buy the acquiescence of the santa alleanza degli italiani (holy alliance of Italians). We’ll never know.
Anquetil’s situation was catastrophic. What could he do now? The final stage was split into two half-stages. In the morning the Giro would climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo, the shrine of cycling, just north of Milan. It was impossible to believe an exhausted Anquetil could take four minutes out of Gimondi with his powerful Salvarani team protecting him during those 140 kilometers. In fact, it went the other way. Balmamion rode beautifully to get second place in the stage, dropping all but Aurelio González. He gained enough time to take second place in the Overall away from Anquetil.
Anquetil had said it would be 100 riders against 1. It wasn’t quite true, but with no team to defend him, he was helpless.
And long after many observers had written off Balmamion’s chances, the double Giro winner had turned in a sterling performance and might have won the race. Did he agree to let Gimondi win? Was there an agreement? Who knows? Balmamion was third in the Tour that July and became Italian Road Champion.
Merckx went on to win the World Road Championship that fall.
Final 1967 Giro d’Italia General Classification:
1. Felice Gimondi (Salvarani) 101 hours 5 minutes 34 seconds
2. Franco Balmamion (Molteni) @ 3 minutes 36 seconds
3. Jacques Anquetil (Bic) @ 3 minutes 45 seconds
4. Vittorio Adorni (Salamini-Luxor) @ 4 minutes 33 seconds
5. José Pérez-Francés (KAS) @ 5 minutes 17 seconds
6. Gianni Motta (Molteni) @ 6 minutes 21 seconds
9. Eddy Merckx (Peugeot) @ 11 minutes 41 seconds
1. Aurelio Gonzales (KAS): 630 points
2. Vittorio Adorni (Salamini-Luxor): 150
3. Wladimiro Panizza (Vittadello): 140
1. Dino Zandegù (Salvarani): 200 Points
2. Eddy Merckx (Peugeot): 178
3. Willy Planckaert (Romeo Smiths): 176
Reflecting on the 1967 Giro, Gimondi recalled, “The 1967 Giro started badly for me because I was suffering from bronchitis. At first, I had trouble staying with the main challengers, but later in the race I grew stronger. I had a great duel with Jacques Anquetil and managed to eventually drop him on the mountainous stage to Aprica [stage 21 that continued on to Tirano, the Aprica being the final major difficulty] and took the maglia rosa. It was a great Giro because of the rivalry between me and Jacques.”
About the race-fixing stories, Zilioli said, “I heard about those rumors, but as far as I know there was no pro-Gimondi alliance. I think instead that Balmamion, who was in good shape, was not careful enough. He could have followed Gimondi more closely during the race.
“Anquetil ‘played the dead rider’ and perhaps Balmamion did not sense the race strategies as they were unfolding. On the other side I also think he was not helped to become the new Italian Champion. He was never favored and he never favored anyone in his career.”
That fall Anquetil went to Milan’s Vigorelli velodrome and beat Roger Rivière’s eleven-year-old World Hour Record by 150 meters. He would have brought it to 47.493 kilometers, but he refused to submit to a drug test, so the ride was never certified by the UCI. The 1967 Giro was Anquetil’s last Grand Tour ride and he would only have two more major wins, the 1968 Baracchi Trophy with Gimondi and the 1969 Tour of the Basque Country. For fourteen years he had, like the other professionals of his era, raced about 235 days a year. It was a magnificent career in which he was the first five-time Tour winner, the first French winner of the Giro and the first man to win all three Grand Tours.
I like Tom Simpson’s explanation as to why Anquetil was such a prolific winner, “Jacques simply tries harder than anyone I have met. In a time trial you can hear him catching you, you don’t have to look round, there is this hoarse sound of breath being drawn in gulps, and then he’s past you. Then it’s like being in a thunderstorm, with the sweat simply pouring off him as he goes by.”
[Editor's note: MMX, aka Michael Marckx, is perhaps best known as the chairman of the board of the Surfrider Foundation or as the president of SPY Optics. What's perhaps less known is that he's a poet, a drummer and a Cat. 1 cyclocross racer. And to his friends, he's an endless source of mirth and pain.]
We can all use a little reminding, sometimes.
I got the chance to have a lot of reminding all at once one Saturday.
And you know what? It’s funny, the things you are reminded of when you get knocked out for a while…
I’m certain I was dreaming while I was out and, despite the content of the dream, I was in a peaceful, comfortable place. I dreamt I was shot in the right shoulder, because it, and my right quad, bore the brunt of the initial impact from the front of the car before my head and face hit the windshield and I was catapulted up, out and across the road. The vector force of the car coming out and at me—without warning—along with the fact that I was out of the saddle attempting to pick up speed (and only had the chance to swerve, not brake), launched me diagonally across to the other side of the road.
Back to the dream. You know how dreams jump around out of context sometimes? Well this one was no different. I felt as though I was floating upward like the 30 year olds at Carousel in that classic ‘70s flick, Logan’s Run, and then I had old teachers talking to me, and finally I felt like I was lying on the north shore at Pipeline with the warm water rolling up onto my whole body and back down the beach again: Violence just outside my consciousness and peaceful warmth enveloping the periphery of my subconscious.
Now, I am definitely a product of the ‘70s, I was reminded, as even my dream was colored by the television inculcation I received during that glorious decade. When I came to and started to get a sense of things (I still didn’t know where I was or who I was), I wondered when Randolph Mantooth, aka John Gage, of EMERGENCY! was going to be there. The first thing I remember is seeing some of my cycling friends looking down on me with that ‘look of concern’ that, had I been more aware, would have made me really scared. Looking up at them, however, I felt a sense of happiness as though they were long lost friends from Ridgecrest Junior High in 1977—like I hadn’t seen them in ages—but these were the same guys I had been riding with just minutes earlier. I started to do the math and I realized that I had been many minutes ahead of the group, so I wondered where all the time went, like “can somebody show me the YouTube clip from the moment of impact, so I can see how well my helmet performed, how my flip in the air was and if my landing style as any good?” Then, I’d like to know what the heck people were doing while I lay blocking traffic on this busy canyon road. Did the world come to a stand still or did people start getting busy? Who called Station 51 and Rampart Hospital?
But there I was, post Logan’s Run Carousel and I couldn’t understand how I was all the way over on the other side of the road. That’s when I immediately thought of my family: we’re they okay? I got a picture of them in my head playing together in the backyard, and I realized, cool, it’s just me who is hurt. They are miles away at home, wherever that is. We weren’t in a plane wreck together. Looking around it felt like it was an amazing day out, like it was hot, and this damn accident had put a dent in a few people’s Saturday leisure time. The next part is fuzzy, but I could swear ‘Panchorello’ from the TV show, CHIPS, was talking to me. I think I even noticed Willie Aames, who played Tommy on ‘Eight is Enough’, taking shots from over by the rock railing. And why couldn’t Wonder Woman have showed up instead of this crazy looking dude out of ‘Chico and the Man’ who is looking over everyone’s shoulders? Hell, one of Charlie’s Angels would have been cool with me. No Fantasy Island for me. No Tattoo with champagne. No Ricardo Montalban with the keys to the Lair. Station 51 was on its way, I assumed.
Assessing the damage, I couldn’t tell what was broken or hurt. I knew my neck wasn’t right, but I had no sense of anything, other than—just beyond the fuzz of imperception that surrounded me—I knew there was a beautiful day going on, I could feel the humidness, that the sun was just coming out, that it was busy around me, that the pavement I was on was coarse and hot and there was a world beyond the traffic jam around me that wanted to get on with life.
Somewhere in the time between the paramedics arriving and my coming to, I was reminded that I was indeed alive. For a split second, as I swerved to avoid hitting the door of the angry black car, I thought, “Oh shit, this is it.” So, the reminder that I was alive was quite nice—and things didn’t hurt the way they normally do when you go down hard. I didn’t have the wind knocked out of me, or maybe I did a long time ago. No one specific thing screamed at me with burning intensity (other than the fact that even though I didn’t know what day it was or who I was, my inner voice said “you have to quit your job”, but that is another story). I was numb. All the things that had been stressing me for months were suddenly placed into context. The strain of work, the stress of starting to train hard again (this is my escape for stress), the anxiety of the approaching ‘cross season and the all the desires of state titles, the work dysfunction, the mortgage payments, the dwindling retirement fund, the broken sprinkler system, the IT issues at work, the fast approaching 2012 End Time date, the swine flu—they all seemed like nonsense. I was reminded what did matter, what was still relevant and there and real. I was reminded that in EMERGENCY! each episode always imparted a lesson to its viewers. Only with this episode there were a number of lessons to impart. This is the reminding I began this piece with:
- Always be vigilant for what the other person might do. In this case, the other person might be wielding a rather large weapon in a cavalier manner. Always be looking for what could possibly happen. There is danger hidden around every corner, behind parked tow trucks and hidden behind trees, buildings and even hedges, or the guy in front of you. Expect the unexpected!
- Always wear your helmet. Get the biggest, ugliest, most well-constructed and best rated protection for your head that you can find.
- Whatever stresses you have in your life, you should know two things about them: 1. They probably don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and if they really do matter… 2. Go tend to them.
- Bad things happen in a flash, without rhyme or reason.
- Your friends, the real ones, will be there for you in ways you cannot even imagine. They will help remind you what matters. They will help draw the road map to recovery in their unique ways.
Back to the crime scene: Someone, maybe it was Panchorello, was throwing a pop quiz at me: 1. Do you know where you are? A: I don’t know, Santa Monica, somewhere. WRONG: we were in Topanga Canyon. 2. What year were you born? A: Can I get back to you on that one? WRONG. 3. What day is it? A: Sunday? WRONG. 4.What month is it? A: let me see, I know it’s ‘cross next month (I’m thinking) so working backwards, I guessed it was August. CORRECT? It took me a while to get there but I was right, I think. What’s the capital of Sudan? A: oh, that’s easy, Khartoum. Who played JJ on Good Times? A: Jimmie Walker! I was on a roll. Last question, Paper or Plastic? A: Paper, of course, rise above plastics! Booya, I am back at this game of grasping reality and beginning to pick up the pieces or so I thought….
That day I had been riding, maybe 90 miles, and had all the climbing behind me and only a leisurely 30 miles of downhill and a coastal cruise to go. I had just clicked through my 380th mile for the week, and today was the end of the second week of a new training program, and for as bad as I felt three weeks ago, I had been feeling wonderful up to the moment of impact.
But now, as reality swirled around me, with only bits and pieces of it accessible to my swelling cranium, I could hear the ambulance, I could hear words of encouragement, I could feel each breath I took and could tell my heart rate was still hovering around 100.
At this moment, one of my friends was calling my wife. I’m not sure how he got her number. Maybe I told him? Wouldn’t that be nice if I had the mind power to be able to summon my wife’s number to my tongue and then speak it out loud? Or, did they get it off my YIKES! ID tag adhered to my helmet for just such an emergency? Either way, I thought it comforting that my wife would be on her way to meet me at the trauma center. What I didn’t know was that another friend was first upon the incident, went busy gathering facts, finding witnesses, taking photos and generally taking control of the situation, once he knew I was being tended to, of course.
People were now talking to me from all angles it seemed. Questions I couldn’t answer were flowing at me and people started handing me things like my broken sunglasses, and now I was being urged to move myself to the side of the road. This was before anyone from EMERGENCY! showed up, so somehow I sat up and scooted my body about 10 inches on my butt toward the curb. I knew now that my butt also hurt, but I was grateful my arms allowed me to make those small moves. It meant that my aching shoulder (remember the one that got shot in the dream) was not broken. While I couldn’t use my right arm to feel anything, my left hand began a series of physical assessments of my neck, ribs, hips and arm to see if it could find the sources of pain. It couldn’t find anything but universal pain which was somewhat comforting, in a weird way, because there was no obvious ‘one thing’ to freak out about. It all hurt, but I was numb. I kept thinking I should hurt more, which made keep coming back to my neck.
Next thing I know they are talking about a helicopter ride, but then a very reassuring paramedic started talking to me, telling me he’s seen a lot of these things. He says, I’m not a doctor, but “I think you are gonna be okay. You are doing well, buddy. You we’re really lucky.” What I now know is that my luck came in the form of the other variables…That I didn’t hit the car door and break my neck, but rather the front part I had tried to steer my bike toward in the blink of an eye. That another car wasn’t coming in the opposite direction, as I would have either landed on it or been run over by it. That my helmet was German built. That my body, from years of exercise and stretching and yoga, was strong and pliable and could take a licking. That there were eye witnesses there to recant the whole incident for the police… That I was talking with this paramedic and able to move my legs.
Once they had me on the stretcher in a neck brace, the rest of my POV was relegated to only looking straight up, for the next 5 hours. I could only see what was directly above me. The brightness of the day outside, the roof of the ambulance, the reassuring paramedic. Next, the swirl of the helicopter blades, the business like demeanor of the helicopter’s paramedic, the roof of the helicopter.
Once we got the hospital it was just like in EMERGENCY! again. I saw the doors swing open; all kinds of concerned medical professionals began to swarm around me, introduce themselves and ask me questions. Once we were in the trauma room, there had to have been a dozen people in there tending to me. Checking in with my sense of reality. Asking me for information on what hurt. Probing my body for broken things, collectively turning me on my side to check my back, then my neck, then my pelvis and so on. Again, turned on my back, I could only see that which was directly above me. Reassuring female doctors who would put their faces directly in front of me—so I could actually see their eyes, and they see mine–would explain things to me.
I met a host of different doctors and nurses, each with their specific task to perform as it related to me. Next stop was the CAT scan machine. In order to put me through it, they had to take my wedding ring off. It hadn’t been taken off for 9 years and I protested. Then we all noticed my finger was broken. Normally, a broken finger would get your attention, and so would road rash, a swollen elbow, a badly bruised back and bum, but the concern was my neck and head. So into the machine I went, sans the wedding ring.
They told me it would take 45 minutes for the results to come back. I was really scared. 45 minutes came and went, then 55 minutes, then more time before my wife would arrive. In the meantime they stuck a TV monitor in front of me. I could reach it with my good arm and changed the channel to a ‘70s show. As I lay there, watching a show from my past, I began to do the math. But I was constantly interrupted at the beginning with various personnel asking me questions. But the attention would fade. Eventually, what had been a feast of attention from every one in the hospital, turned into a famine of silence except for the monitor directly above my head, which I really couldn’t focus on because my right side of my head had been so badly traumatized. I awaited movement into the room that seemed to never come. I wanted those test results. I wanted my wife to show up. I wanted a cheeseburger. I wanted a TV dinner. I wanted Land of the Lost to come on. I wanted some reassurance.
So, I sat and listened to the TV monitor and fortunately for me, the ‘70s TV show that flickered by had a good sound track and in the first moment of true clarity I had had since getting hit hours earlier, I was taken a hold of by the ending of a song. It was the song Pick Up The Pieces that reached out at me from the tube. It’s one of the most classic instrumentals of all time—nominated for a Grammy Award as Best R&B Instrumental of the Year in 1975 (it lost, to MFSB’s “T.S.O.P.”). Pick Up The Pieces was a funky soul brother tune performed by The Average White Band, a bunch of white dudes from Scotland. (The six cats who came to form the Average White Band grew up listening to and playing the music of African Americans: R&B, jazz and the Motown hits of the sixties). This is my kind of music and I had played this song 100 times before. At the end, the band can be heard chanting the title to the song, only this time they were talking to me. “PICK UP THE PIECES, Uhuh, PICK UP THE PIECES.” They were commanding me to get it all back together. Reminding me to move forward, put everything back in order, make use of what I had and what the experience imparted, perhaps with a little better arrangement of priorities. PICK UP THE PIECES.
So, for the next few hours I waited in traction, humming that tune. Eventually my wife came and we waited together for the results on my neck and head. By now it was late; I hadn’t eaten anything, even though I had ridden nearly 100 miles. They weren’t allowed to give me food or drugs apparently until after the results came back. Occasionally, someone would come in and say, “Oh, they haven’t given you your results yet. That’s not right. Let me go see what is up.” They would never come back, but someone else would, and repeat the process. All the while, I was testing my mental faculties, checking for brain damage only I could detect. Trying to remember things, wondering why the guy would have cut out into traffic like that without looking at anything but his cell phone, why he was in such a hurry, why I hadn’t waited for my friends earlier. What that actor’s name was, checking to see if I could remember each and every nurse’s name, and so on.
Finally, the doctor came in. Her name was Keron. A lovely lady. She said my neck wasn’t broken, that I was severely hurt, but no broken bones in my neck—we were relieved. I liked her a lot at that moment. I had never let on to my wife how scared I was. She didn’t know I had been knocked out, nor did she know how bad the accident was and never asked. I felt like picking up the pieces and leaving, but oh no. They wanted to keep me a while more for observation. I protested. They took off my neck harness. I had asked for food earlier, which never came, but now they brought me Graham Crackers. I got my first bit(e) of sustenance for the day. These and 5 ounces of OJ. At my urging, they decided to road test me to see if I could leave. I walked fifteen feet and declared I was fine. They sat me back down on the bed and left to get some paper work, by the time they came back, I was pure white, had flashes of heat rolling through my body and they had to lie me back down for more observation. This time they took my request for food seriously and brought me 32 ounces of OJ and more hydrogenated oil thingies and cold water and saltines—all the delicacies the hospital had to offer. My blood pressure was crazy low—118/58, but they seemed to think that was good. I begged them to let me go, then. They eventually did, but I am still humming the Pick Up The Pieces track in my head, reminded just how great it is to be able to kiss my kids and wife again, hug my parents and siblings and still think and dream of what is to come.
And now when my wife starts in on me and how she is never going to let me ride again, all I can say is “What you talkin’ about, Willis?”
For now, I’ve got a long road of recovery and mending to do. My brain is still hurting, my neck is aching and I’ve got countless minutes of radiation exposure in front of me to determine all the damage that has been done by this collision. Then there will be the months of PT and treatments, albeit with a new perspective and vigilance. I’m just Picking Up The Pieces—reminded that it shouldn’t take a near death experience to remind of us of what is important, but it often times does. And when it does, when we put it all back together, we have the chance to start over again….
By the time 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, I had digested every element of the show I could in advance. I’d parsed quote upon quote and laughed at Lance Armstrong’s attempts to discredit the single most storied broadcast news magazine on the planet.
As the fader brought up the iconic sound of the stopwatch ticking, I leaned forward in my chair and waited. While I knew what I would see in broad strokes, I hoped for two things. First, I wanted to see Tyler Hamilton’s demeanor. Was he contrite? Was he conflicted? Was he vengeful? Second, I wondered if I might hear anything that would surprise me.
Different people saw different things as they watched Hamilton unfold the events of his past. What I saw was a guy who was uncomfortable in front of the camera, uncomfortable telling what he knew. And while I perceived remorse, I saw a man in depression, a man in pain over all he had lost.
I was uncomfortable watching him.
Part of my discomfort stemmed from old anger. Hamilton had represented the best cycling had to offer. He was educated, decent and—we all thought—clean. When he went down he took a number of people with him. People placed faith in him and had all but mortgaged the farm to help him succeed and track that success. He was the anti-Lance and in 2003 we thought we had found in him a story of extraordinary courage and determination. His was a story to rival Lance’s, in part, because he was so polite, so self-effacing.
Most of my discomfort stemmed from wondering just how much punishment is enough. He’s lost everything he built in his career, but he wasn’t doped for the whole of his career. Is that just? And the interview barely glanced at his career-ending positive test for DHEA. I have to ask, Do we really know the full story about him taking DHEA? How could he be so stupid as to take a banned substance as his sole recourse to depression? I struggle with that explanation, but that’s a minor point. The larger question is how much punishment is enough? After stripping a rider of success, should he also be stripped of a future?
Back to that interview: I’ve heard people assess it as a tired re-hash of the accusations we’ve heard against Armstrong for years. It wasn’t. Hamilton made two surprising statements. His first was that he actually saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs. No one has made that claim previously. He second was that his team management worked with the UCI to cover up a positive drug test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Armstrong made “donations” to the UCI and the cycling public never heard a word.
For those of you who doubt Hamilton’s ability to tell the truth—any truth—remember, this nugget has been corroborated by the anonymous source 60 Minutes spoke with for the story. The source revealed that the FBI took a sworn deposition from the director of the lab that tested Armstrong’s sample. The lab director said he met with Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel and was informed by the UCI the positive result was to be reported nowhere.
These weren’t garden-variety accusations.
Forgiving riders who doped has nothing to do with justifying their behavior and everything to do with finding out what they took, what they know, the methods they used. We must learn the best doping techniques out there if we are to defeat them in the future. And if unemployment is guaranteed, a rider, coach or whoever has zero incentive to reveal what they know. We shouldn’t tolerate repeated infractions (Riccardo Ricco, anyone?) but the silence of the offenders does us no good.
I used to think of doped riders as broken people, whether the deficit is narcissism, insecurity or sociopathy, they were people who need help. After watching one doping case after another unfold, I have come to believe that most of the athletes who turn to performance enhancing drugs do so out of a sense of coercion. Even though they may be incorrect, they believe the rest of the peloton is on the stuff, so they enter the practice.
My personal life has been punctuated with relationships too torn to rescue. Forgiveness has, at times, been an act of kindness too great for me to summon. But I struggle with that. I know that every religion on the planet and nearly every constitution regards forgiveness and redemption as a central tenet. Hell, half of the reality shows are built around people recovering their humanity after some fall from grace. We obviously love to forgive people.
It’s easy to condemn Hamilton. Too easy. Let’s listen to him. And let’s not abandon him; down that road lay the fallen. Their graves bear names like Pantani, Jimenez.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When we consider the problem of doping it’s easy to look at the issue in terms of black and white. There are the clean riders (white) and the doped riders (black). There are the teams whose management actively work to keep riders clean (white). And there are teams whose management organize and facilitate doping (black).
Such an outlook keeps the problem chopped up in easy to digest chunks. And while it may be easier to organize our thinking and ability to pass judgement on who should be in or out of the sport, such an assessment does little to shed light on the reality of the problem.
Every time we reduce someone to “culprit” or “doper” what we are doing is labeling them “the bad guy.” By reducing them into a two-dimensional role, they become cardboard cutouts, symbols, for what we find offensive. Dressing a guy in a black hat automatically makes him the bad guy. That’s what makes old spaghetti westerns so laughable; you didn’t need to know anything more about the guy than the fact that he had the black hat on.
And remember, in most good/bad conflict movies from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the bad guy only did bad things. They stole. They murdered. They polluted the planet and ate babies for lunch.
The good guys (white hats) were just as laughable. They were saintly in demeanor. They protected babies, fed the poor, fought crime and had nary a carnal thought.
It would seem that Pat McQuaid is a big believer in the black hat. McQuaid wants every former rider who ever had a brush with doping to be banned from roles in team management, banned from the sport. If we consider the example of guys like Jonathan Vaughters, a manager who says he faced some difficult decisions while he was a rider, banning him would mean losing a figure who understands the trials riders face better than most. Who else would better understand the agonies of the riders than someone who was confronted with those very choices.
Now, Vaughters never tested positive, was never banned. However, if we assess some of his more veiled statements about his past, his time with the US Postal team, we might conclude that his grand jury testimony included statements that McQuaid would find sufficient cause to ban him, should the UCI pass such a rule.
Right now, I see Vaughters as one of the best proponents of clean sport. He has seen the dark side of the sport and yet still believes that clean sport is possible and is providing his riders the support necessary to be competitive without resorting to doping.
If we want to understand doping, we need to understand more than the biology behind the drugs. We need to know more than who they got the drugs from, more than their training regimen. We need to know, to understand the riders as people. We must understand what caused them to confront the choices that led to their doping. That means no black hats.
As long as we reduce each cyclist who used performance-enhancing drugs to the black-hatted doper who just wanted to win, we’ll miss the drive for most of the peloton. If Frankie Andreu is to be believed—and I think we should heed his words—he used not to win, but to survive, to keep his job. There are lessons in his effort to survive.
I don’t want to go all Oprah on you, but if we set aside our need to judge, we can listen to stories told by people, people who often faced choices as attractive as rock and hard place.
On a day when there were fireworks at both the Giro d’Italia and the Amgen Tour of California, the biggest news in cycling came from neither event. CBS News announced that George Hincapie admitted he used EPO and testosterone. Not only that but at times he got both drugs from Lance Armstrong. At other times, Armstrong got both drugs from him.
At first blush, it appears that Hincapie has taken former teammate Tyler Hamilton’s lead and made a public confession. But that’s not what happened. Hincapie’s grand jury testimony was leaked to CBS News. You may recall that when called before the grand jury Hincapie switched attorneys after his initial visit. Conjecture at the time was that he began by stonewalling and when confronted with the testimony others provided, he decided to come clean, to use a turn of phrase, and confess his full knowledge. If what CBS News reports is accurate, Hincapie did indeed make an about-face.
So where does this leave us?
As a witness, no person is more damming to Armstrong’s story than Hincapie. His name and reputation in the sport are sterling. People will fight for the opportunity to discredit either Hamilton or Floyd Landis. But with Hincapie, the opposite is true: People will fight for the opportunity to defend him.
Armstrong spokesman Mark Fabiani has taken a measured approach to the Hincapie revelation, saying they won’t comment on what happened with the grand jury. It’s a punt because if they attack Hincapie, he’ll do what he should be doing right now.
Which is telling the whole of cycling all that he did, all that he knows.
Reached by Cyclingnews, VeloNews, Velonation, etc., Hincapie has steadfastly (Isn’t that how he does everything?) refused to comment on the Novitzky investigation, his testimony or his past. He told the Telegraphe, “I want the focus on the future of the sport, what it’s done to clean itself up. I believe in cycling and want to support it.”
I’m sorry, George, but where doping and cycling are concerned, that’s not really an option.
He has an additional motivation not to confess anything publicly: Unemployment. Even if he only confesses acts that are seven years or more old, a public admission is very likely going to end with him being dismissed from Team BMC.
This is the very problem I wrote about for the LA Times four years ago. If we want to learn the full extent of doping, we must offer those involved (riders, coaches, managers, soigneurs) an incentive. Unemployment doesn’t qualify.
There will always be riders who dope, people whose narcissism and insecurity in their ability, or lack thereof, will drive them to take any step necessary to win. They are in the minority. The bulk of the peloton says they prefer clean racing.
It’s impossible to surmise what Novitzky’s endgame is. Most of the obvious charges against Armstrong are kaput thanks to the statute of limitations. It may be that all Novitzky has left is a smear campaign against Armstrong. After all, who else would leak that testimony? Who else has the motivation? And while a smear might sound childish, the combination of Hincapie’s and Hamilton’s confessions may be all that’s necessary to dry up donations to the LiveStrong foundation. And if LiveStrong folds up shop, we award game, set and match to Novitzky.
Hamilton returned his gold medal to USADA. What’s next? Do we march a goon squad into Armstrong’s place in Austin and start packing up trophies? Rewriting the record books is no solution. I don’t write that because I was a fan of Hamilton or Armstrong when they won, I write that because even riders I didn’t like—Bernard Kohl, for instance—are part of our memory of those events. They are still in the pictures.
Hincapie is right that the sport has done a lot to clean itself up. He could be instrumental in even more progress.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The other shoe has not dropped. It is actually raining shoes now. Tyler Hamilton’s doping confession, grand-jury induced or 60-Minutes inspired, is just the latest drop in the Armstrong-eroding downpour.
I’ll come straight to the (question) point. How do we feel about this?
Hamilton was going to be the next Armstrong, the first Lance domestique to break free of the US Postal orbit. His days at CSC and Phonak were full of promise and gritty almost-wins. We all recall the broken collarbone that Hamilton rode through to fourth place in the 2003 Tour de France. He had broken a shoulder and still finished second in the preceding year’s Giro d’ Italia.
And yet, for all Hamilton’s hard man brilliance and quiet humility, his long history of blood doping violations, suspensions, denials and recriminations turned many of his erstwhile fans against him. In the end, he was banned for eight years for a final doping positive related to DHEA. It was a whimper of capitulation, rather than a bang of vindication.
His marriage dissolved. He was treated for depression. It was all a heavy price to pay for heavy crimes against the sport.
Now a cycling coach living in Colorado, Hamilton appears to be coming out of the dope-fueled haze of his racing career. As with Floyd Landis before him, Hamilton’s motivations will be parsed and questioned. His credibility will be debated. It is hard for a long-time liar to re-establish himself. Ask Landis. But in a room full of liars, where does the truth actually live?
And yet, here is another former-Armstrong aide corroborating the stories and suspicions, impeaching both the greatest American champion and the sport’s governing body with simple confirmations of what many of us have believed for some time. In the end, does this say more about cycling or about Hamilton’s own often bizarre role in the doping soap opera of the last two decades? Is this a turning point, or just another way station on the road to dope-free cycling?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In American cycling, the proverbial other shoe seems to keep dropping. Tyler Hamilton’s revelation that yes, in fact, he did use EPO, that everyone was using EPO, that he saw EPO in Lance Armstrong’s refrigerator, that he saw Armstrong inject it, ought to be the bombshell of all bombshells.
Instead of being met with gape-mouthed stares of shock, most of the cycling public are scratching their heads. After years of denials, a conviction, a suspension, a return to the sport with lukewarm results followed by a second positive test followed immediately his retirement from the sport, Hamilton has chosen this moment to come clean. Why now?
Hamilton says it was the occasion of testifying before the federal grand jury. His time in the hot seat lasted six full hours and he likened the event to the Hoover Dam breaking; it was the first time he had told anyone the complete truth of his involvement in and knowledge of doping.
Floyd Landis hasn’t had much luck getting the powers-that-be to listen to his tale of woe. Pat McQuaid figures that as a convicted doper, Landis was lying when he defended himself. And because he defended himself, proclaiming his innocence in the wake of his positive test, for him now to admit that he was doping means that he’s a liar. Try not to parse that logic too much, it’s tantamount to saying that if 3 + 5 = 8 then 5 + 3 = 9.
Landis, in spouting off on an ever-more diverse array of events and unprovable accusations, has done himself no favors. He and Hamilton share in common the belief that telling the truth will set them free; they are probably right. Most rehabilitation programs include some form of confession; from the Catholic Church to Alcoholics Anonymous, telling the truth is a fairly universal step in healing. But Landis seems to have confused what be believes to be true from what he has actually seen; whether or not that’s the case, too few people are listening to what he has to say. He has been re-cast as the big boy who cried wolf.
Hamilton has a chance to do what Landis could not. Before his positive test, subsequent defense and ultimate suspension, Hamilton was universally admired. The guy everyone liked, even the Lance haters. He was hailed as unusually bright and polite among pro cyclists, cut from finer cloth.
I can’t claim Hamilton as a friend. He was an acquaintance at best. But he knew my face and remembered me each time we crossed paths, whether I sought him out or not. I believe he’s a guy with a moral compass, a conscience, that the decisions he faced, the choices he made, were hard, soul-rending. Nonetheless, he made them, and as the events of his positive test unfolded, his achievements crumbled.
It’s easy to dismiss him as a doper. The only way to understand the magnitude of the problem, the depth of the coercion is to picture the land from their shoes. And while not everyone was on EPO during that period, more cyclists were than were not. What he knows could be useful in the fight against doping and based on his statements, it sounds like doping wasn’t something he welcomed. Most cyclists see it as a do-or-die choice. That’s no excuse, but listening to those who have faced that choice could help the sport avoid those situations in the future.
Hamilton says it’s time for a change in cycling and that for the reform cycling needs to take place, big changes need to begin at the top. Let’s hope those who need to are listening.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I am naked. In the basement. Stuffing my shoes with newspaper. My clothes are in a heap by the washing machine. There is a drop of water dangling from one of my ears, like a pearl earring.
It starts in winter. In anticipation of snow, the cities and towns put down salt and sand. Every storm calls forth the sanders. When the spring comes, such as it is, the roads show multiple layers of sand and gravel, and over the initial weeks of the thaw, all that mess finds its way to the shoulders of the road.
l try to get the newspaper in the shoes as soon as I can. It’s the only way to dry them, and there is nothing worse than strapping into wet cycling shoes. Not to mention the aroma.
There is a gap between the last snow and the first appearance of the street sweepers, and during this time cycling in the verges becomes a dicey proposition. The great lumbering yellow hulks eventually come and clean things up, but as budgets struggle to cope with the weather, the cities and towns take an increasingly inconsistent approach to their spring cleaning, so that even now, in mid-May, there’s still a lot of crap on the roads.
My neighbor said, this morning, “I’ve always wondered what it was like to live in Seattle,” and laughed. It’s been a cold, rainy spring, and we’re in the middle of roughly ten days of constant precipitation. The coffee doesn’t seem to be any better, though.
Because it’s spring there are great washes of pollen and seed pods beneath the trees, and the rain mixes with this organic sputum and creates a sort of road snot, slippery and yellow. It gets gritty where the winter sand mixes in, and all of that comes up as spray as your tires knife through it.
You have to wear glasses in the city because of all the junk that gets churned up by cars and buses and robots whizzing by on their bikes. Even on rainy days, when you’re forced to clear your lenses every five blocks, the glasses are essential equipment. For some reason, all that mess seems to find its way to your face, or at least that’s how it feels.
In a meeting, earlier in the afternoon, I said, “I hate this job so much that I would trade being inside, in the warm office with a cup of coffee, for being outside, in the cold and rain, on my bike, on a steep hill.” Later on, when I was outside, in the cold and rain, on my bike, on a steep hill, I had to smile. I’m kind of an idiot.
As I crouch there, naked, in the basement, I can see how thick the muck is because it clings to my ankles in a dark band above where my socks ended. I lean into the garage to wring out my gloves, socks and hat. Charming. I’m naked in the garage. No good stories start or end that way.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International