Dan said, “You just know one of these young guys is going to break our hearts,” and I nodded and had to concede that he was probably right. Dan and I still love pro racing, and we talk about it regularly, but it’s hard to deny the shine has come off. We’re looking forward to the Spring one-day races, but it’s different now.
Neither of us was naive. We’d both known the scale of the doping problem in the pro peloton, but the collective confessions that came down in the wake of the USADA reasoned decision filled in details that made what we already knew hurt just that little bit more. It’s like finding out you didn’t get a job and being disappointed, and then finding out the boss’s kid got it instead, that twist of the knife that comes from knowing too much.
I won’t say which young pro rider we were talking about, because it would be deeply unfair, given the problem of guilt by Google, to even mention a rider’s name in conjunction with a problem he or she didn’t cause and haven’t yet even been suspected of. But we’re at that point, the point where you expect more shoes to drop, even if you simultaneously believe things are better now. There is no one in the new generation of pros that I think is obviously cheating, but I’d feel like an idiot if one of them got caught and I was surprised.
I find myself holding back from falling in love with any of them.
And it’s just so deeply unfair, but I’m afraid it’s the reality. What the last generation of riders taught us, over and over again, was not to trust, to stay detached. I am not looking to give up on pro cycling. I enjoy the races too much, and it almost doesn’t matter to me who is racing, men, women, sprinters, climbers, all-rounders. I enjoy the tactics and the spectacle, even if the personal side of the show is more problematic.
Is this what it’s like when you get cheated on by a boy/girlfriend, but try to save the relationship? Some feeling remains. You’re still attracted, but the trust only creeps back very slowly. In public you can smile and laugh, but behind closed doors, in your mind and in your heart, you play it much cooler. You stay angry much longer than you knew you could.
For now, I will go on watching. Look at the image above. How can you not be attracted to a thing like that. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is just two days away. But things are different now. Things are different.
Image: Photosport International