Okay, we’re on for Paris-Roubaix. The response in emails and in the comments section has been such that Patrick O’Grady and I will most certainly provide Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, April 7.
Check in here at RKP or at LiveUpdateGuy.com. We’ll try to get things rolling as soon as possible.
In re: Matthew
I also want to say how happy I was to read the news in the latest entry in the “Enter the Deuce” series. Like Patrick, I have two kids. Like Patrick, our oldest is a young man named Philip. That’s where the similarity ends. Both our son and our daughter, Annika, were born healthy and feisty from the get-go. I cannot even imagine what Patrick and Shana have endured these past five weeks. We had the privilege of holding our young’ns almost from the minute they were born.
It’s difficult to fathom how difficult it would be to stand by, watch your own child through glass and wonder if he’ll make it through his first month. What a relief and a joy it is to lean that his chest tube is out, “The Deuce” is now doing well and that his parents can hold him like he was meant to be held.
Welcome Matthew. I look forward to watching you grow and hope to get to know you in coming years. You already have my respect, kid. You’ve got a lot of fight in ya.
As for last week’s column, I have to agree with Betsy Andreu’s comments that real reform of cycling will have to begin in places other than a strong riders’ union:
“The solution for cycling? Start by cleaning house at UCI and USAC. There is too much demoralization in the sport due to a lack of integrity with the governing bodies and federations. Only then can the sport not only remain viable but grow.”
I agree that reform at the UCI and, to a lesser extent, USA Cycling, is key to changing this sport. As I’ve said in the past, the first – and most critical – step is to take the UCI out of the doping control business. That’s the one significant advantage that the U.S. governing body has over its international counterpart. The separation of governance and enforcement is precisely why Lance Armstrong was finally brought down. Had it been up to USA Cycling to pursue the case triggered by Floyd Landis’ allegations, and the ensuing federal case, the results would not have been the same. I remain convinced that someone, somewhere along the way, would have concluded that an aggressive pursuit of the evidence would have been “bad for cycling” and the matter would have quietly disappeared.
I have to agree with Betsy in that a strong riders’ union isn’t, in any way, a panacea, but I remain convinced that its an essential element. I understand that players’ associations in American baseball and football have historically served as apologists and defenders of dopers. It’s important, however, to note that the governance of those sports puts a great deal of power into the teams (in the form of Major League Baseball and the National Football League), power countered only by the players’ association. Like the UCI, the power to enforce doping rules rests with the MLB and NFL. In cycling, we have the advantage of having the World Anti-Doping Agency, which should be given full enforcement authority. Only in a system in which doping enforcement is in the hands of an independent agency does a riders’ association serve an important role.
Again, the first step has to be a separation of powers, removing enforcement authority from the governing body. To me, that’s even more important than full-scale reform of the UCI. Even if the management committee were to tar and feather Hein Verbruggen and run Pat McQuaid out of town on a rail, the inherent conflicts of interest would remain. I remain convinced that there are four critical roles to be filled when it comes to the management of cycling: that of a governing body; that of a doping enforcement agency; that of a teams’ association and, finally, that of a group representing the interests of riders.
The governing body has a role in overall management of the sport, including licensing, coordinating calendars and development of rules and procedures. In a sense, the doping agency could expand its role and become an “ethics enforcement” agency, overseeing enforcement of doping rules and, ideally, leading the fight against corruption in all forms. WADA and its national counterparts would, in a sense, fill a prosecutor’s role, enforcing rules that keep sport honest. Teams have interests that include the needs of sponsors and those have to be represented. The riders’ interests can, at times, conflict with those of the other three and, yes, on an individual level, that may even include defending riders against charges raised by the “prosecutors” from WADA and its sister agencies. Enforcement of any rule is meaningless when there is no opportunity to mount a reasonable defense. It’s all a question of balance … and, no, that’s not where the sport is these days, nor is there any likelihood that it will be any time soon.
In terms of “reform” at the UCI, there is a major news story worth following. Over at VeloNation.com, Shane Stokes has been following developments at Cycling Ireland, the board of which is apparently divided regarding the question of whether or not to submit Pat McQuaid’s name in nomination for the presidency of the UCI. Board members of McQuaid’s national federation have submitted his name in advance of his winning his first two terms. Irish cycling supporters and journalists have been at the forefront of reform efforts (David Walsh, Paul Kimmage and Stokes among them), so it’s somewhat ironic that the UCI was guided through its most controversial period by a member of Ireland’s cycling community. That said, even if McQuaid loses the backing of his compatriots, his name may well be advanced by the Swiss Federation, given that he is now a resident of Switzerland.
We’ve already discussed the difficulty – or near impossibility – of UCI reform beginning at the UCI itself. All of this should be interesting … and probably disappointing. It may require a major push from outside to initiate meaningful reform. Former WADA president Dick Pound suggests that kicking cycling out of the Olympics might serve that purpose. I am somewhat skeptical, since the Olympics really plays a small role in the sport and that the real attraction and financial power rests with the grand tours. In support of Pound’s position, though, the UCI derives considerable power and influence because of its participation in the IOC.
Anyway, at this point, we’re largely being speculative. I am not confident that we’ll see meaningful reform in cycling, even on the heels of the Armstrong affair. That’s disappointing.
I’d like to open this discussion up to you, the readers, too.
Given the obstacles to meaningful change in cycling, how would you turn this sport around? I’m eager to hear your ideas. Use the comments section below or, if it’s a long one, go ahead and send it to my email address: Charles@Pelkey.com.
Have a good week and don’t forget to join us for Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on April 7.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
Two time Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Judith Arndt has retired. That leaves former winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabobank) as a firm favorite in a race in which experience is so crucial to success. German veteran Ina Teutenberg’s Classics season was derailed by a bad crash and concussion a few weeks back, and that will leave Rabobank, where van Vleuten races alongside Marianne Vos in the driver’s seat. Vos has to be considered a contender for any race (in any discipline) she enters. Having said that, the Classics are always packed with chaos and anything can happen. The list of potential winners from the rest of the peloton is long.
On the men’s side, the favorites have to be Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan, not necessarily in that order. It is always amusing to hear the pre-race interviews as each of them explains in detail why the others are more likely winners. This is sandbagging at the PRO level.
In year’s past we have done a straight ahead prediction thread for the pre-Flanders Group Ride. This year, let’s try something slightly different.
For the women’s race, it would be cool to have someone with greater expertise than I have, explain what’s going to happen and who the dark horses are (Where is Whit Yost when you need him?).
For the men’s race, let’s do two things. First, let’s predict the full podium. Then, per my friend Dan’s suggestion, let’s figure out what the winner will say to the other two guys on the lower steps.
Here’s an example: Sagan to win, Cancellara second, Boonen third, and Sagan says, “This is fun, huh? How long have you guys been riding bikes?”
Anyone who correctly picks a podium that does NOT contain all three of those guys will get a pair of RKP wool socks and my unreserved respect. If you also correctly name the women’s winner, I’ll spring for an Eddie ’72 shirt from the RKP store.
Image: PhotoSport International
When reassuring people, we like to say, ‘The dawn brings a new day.’ It’s meant to remind us that the passage of time changes us, that healing takes time, that options that weren’t open to us yesterday may yet be presented to us. Well, we finally got that new day for the Deuce.
Yesterday, Matthew’s doctor removed his chest tube. His total inventory of tubes—the chest tube, an IV and a pica line—had been dropping, the removal of his chest tube was a big step. Originally, the plan had been to wait another day, but based on his x-rays the doctor decided he was ready. The decision may have been driven, in part, by the fact that hours after his IV and picc line had been removed he developed a fever. So, of course, an IV line went back in for the antibiotics. A classic case of two steps forward, one step back.
But in deciding to remove the Deuce’s chest tube, his doctor was minimizing one potential source for infection. Fine by us, but the bigger piece of news was that the medical team reviewing his x-rays had concluded that there was no more effusion. The Deuce was a leak-free zone.
Removing the chest tube was the definitive testament to the Deuce’s condition. As the surgeon had put it before, his was a binary issue. Either he is leaking or he is not.
Well, bitches, my boy ain’t leakin’ no mo’.
The immediate dividends this change in status paid were the very definition of life-affirming. My wife was able to hold him and breastfeed him for the first time in his (or her) life. She’d spent more than a month of pumping her milk five or six (seven?) times per day—so many times I would lose count. And compared to the way both mother and child’s brains are washed in oxytocin—a powerful neurotransmitter that has been called the “love hormone”—when breastfeeding, pumping breast milk has all the payoff of taking allergy medication to soothe depression.
I may not get quite the reward that either of them do by bottle feeding him, but I can tell you that holding him for the first time and cradling him in my arm as I gave him his bottle was powerful medicine for both him and me. It has been so long since he was born—more than a month—that holding him for the first time today was almost like experiencing his birth. For the first time. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to have him hang out on my bare chest in just his diaper, but I’m sure we’ll get that time once he’s home.
He’s got another day to go on the antibiotics, something that reminds me we have a few hurdles yet. Saturday he will be x-rayed again; I don’t know how important it will rank as a step toward his release, but my guess is that the results of that x-ray will be pretty important.
Equally remarkable as this has been his utter transformation since the bottle feedings began last weekend. Almost from the very outset of the first 10ml feeding—he was still being heavily supplemented by a TPN drip—he began acting more like a baby. He became more alert, began turning his head and looking around more and interacting more with us. If I’d been asked to guess, this change in behavior is something I would have anticipated to be more gradual and to have begun after the surgery.
That he perked up following his first feedings feels rather anti-scientific, as if it were the fulfillment of a promise made by some religion posing as science. I find miracles and science to make for poor bedfellows. Put another way, I don’t believe in magic. But there is something in the Deuce’s improvement once he started feeding on his mother’s breast milk that is nothing short of miraculous. It’s a fair word, I think, because it encompasses both the magnitude of his change and my surprise.
As the size of his feedings increased and the amount of TPN he received dropped each day, he has left what seems a twilight existence where he was never very awake and his sleep was lengthy and frequent but never seemed to refresh him. When he wakes now he is inquisitive, looking around his surroundings and moving far more than I ever recall his brother doing at the one-month mark.
When I bring him to my shoulder to burp, he lifts his head and looks around. He’s unsteady, but a lack of strength doesn’t do much to deter him. How he could progress so much in just five days boggles me.
Matthew’s stay in the NICU is nearing the end of its fifth week. To my knowledge, he is the oldest baby present. We’ve watched babies that were admitted after the Deuce progress and graduate. But despite the length of this stay, the nurses are talking about him as a real success story, an example of just how good the care is, how babies that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance at survival go on to live perfectly normal lives, that by the time they are old enough to inspect their own bodies, the scars of surgery are gone.
There are two other babies in the NICU with effusions. Neither the doctors nor the nurses really share any of this information, but you meet other parents and occasionally you’ll overhear someone talking. One of those babies is the child of the stoner parents who showed up without their ID bracelets. Their little girl was a pound at birth and still weighs less than two pounds.
I’ve not seen them this week; neither has my wife. The last family member I saw drop by was a grandmother who spent her time dissing the mother for not being there. I struggle to comprehend the road the parents are traveling. I can accept under certain circumstances it may be hard to see your child with tubes and wires running in and out of its body, but at a certain point I would imagine that a parent’s love would take over and you just wade through just to be at your child’s side. My heart aches for that poor child that is getting more love from the nurses than she is from her own blood.
The other baby, who had surgery the same day as ours hasn’t recovered as thoroughly as Matthew. While the nurses won’t say anything and we haven’t seen the parents lately—they seem to do most of their visits at night after the dad gets off work—we’ve overheard descriptors that suggest the recovery could be going better. I have the sense that there may still be fluid leaking.
To have three babies in a NICU with chylothorax effusions is unheard of. It’s a one-in-a-million possibility, and while most children get through it, the Deuce’s cohorts in this condition make for a stark demonstration of just how serious the condition is.
We are owed nothing by no one and asking the universe to give us a break is only slightly less silly than rubbing a lucky penny before exposing the results of a scratch ticket. But the heart wants what the heart wants. Right now, what I want is the Deuce home and to cuddle up with him on the couch, me shirtless, him in a diaper, and just let him sleep on my chest. For a week. I want that. I. Want. That.
They never even looked back. Two fellow travelers, grinding and swinging up the hill in front of me. As I turned the corner into the climb’s lower ramp I glanced up and saw them there. I thought, “can I catch them?” and put my head back down.
My wife had been emailing with some friends about summer plans. Summer. As if that’s a thing now. And their calendars were filling up, and there I was in my tired desk chair shaking my head and wondering at people who were thinking about more than what was in front of them at the moment.
I have not been too hard at the pedals for these last few moons, succumbing to winter like dry leaves to a campfire. Still, those two riders on the hill weren’t drilling it. They were trading off the front like they were serious, but I was making up ground. “Oh, I’ll just go hard in this first section and see how much gap I close,” I told myself. Them swiveling their way into the middle, flatter part of the climb.
“I’m sorry,” I typed back to my wife. “I’m OTB as far as the summer goes.” And she to me, “OTB?” And me back, “Off the back.” And her, “Oh.” And then nothing.
When I reached the flat after the first rise, that blessed point where you can get a real gear back under you, I gauged my progress and saw that I was, in fact, reeling them in. What was 40 meters had shrunk to 20. The swish and roar of traffic made the whole thing something of a pantomime, them fleeing, me pursuing. I clicked twice down the cassette, stood into the work.
I suppose if you know you’re going to be OTB you do something to mitigate the consequences. You seek help. You delegate what tasks you can to willing collaborators. You let folks know you might not be getting back to them with the alacrity they’ve come to expect.
With the gap cut to 15 meters, maybe 12 really, my sonar or dead reckoning or powers of estimation now being swept into the dustpan of oxygen debt, I thought to do the right thing. I eased off. Not to give up. Not to back off. Not to concede defeat. But rather to pace myself. Too anxious am I usually to hurtle across a gap, this the recipe for blowing up, so that just as I make contact, I lose the ability to hold myself steady on the bike. I go all knees and elbows, power draining out the acute angles of my flailing.
Work is busy, and I have placed my attention there, perhaps to a fault. It is not so much that I am behind with my work, but rather that I feel a sudden quickening of results there. The momentum is with me (us) and I am hell bent on holding it and keeping it and stoking it, taking what the road will give me, riding the lightning. You get my point.
And so, with maybe 10 meters to go, 10 striding paces to close the gap and kiss in relief the rear wheel of a rider I’ve never met, I saw that I wouldn’t make it. Nearing the top of the climb, the whole thing only about a mile long, we were flattening out. They were pressing tentatively at their own shifters. Having not gone full gas, they were able to exploit their improved terms with gravity to an extent that I was not.
I never know when I’m going to be OTB. At some point, I lift my head to see what’s coming and realize I’m not close to where I ought to be. I’m out of shape. I haven’t thought of the summer. There are things outside work that need my attention. What have I been doing? Why? Are my priorities all out of whack? Usually, yes.
I had not gone that deep yet this year. Rolling up to the top of the climb, watching my friends, total strangers still, take the corner that leads away from the up. My lungs burned. I was disappointed in myself for not catching them, but also happy that I had convinced myself to try.
When you’re OTB, you find out who your friends are. My wife has planned our summer. She knows I’m not a great planner of leisure time activities. I’m task oriented. I clean the bathroom. I pick up after the dog. Equally, on the bike, the guys I ride with will spin along next to me, chatting, because that’s what I need, that’s what they need, and we all know we’re OTB, but we’re working on it. It’s not so bad.
We’ll catch on. Just give us some time.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
The ad carried the headline “Serious, Not Doomed.” The body of the ad continued the sentence with “players wanted for a new band.” I was hooked. David Windham, the singer/guitarist/songwriter who placed the ad went on to be a valued friend and source of inspiration until we lost track of each other before the Interwebs really warmed up. I’m hoping that this headline will result in the same sort of result as the call I made this winter for an advertising sales director. That one mention revealed a kindred spirit and got me to talking again with an old friend; and then there were all the terrific emails I traded with other passionate candidates. Man, if we were a bigger operation. That have all been great results. Wayne Thompson, the fellow I hired has been a terrific fit. The keyboardist this three-piece has needed all along.
I need a new web programmer. Someone who speaks fluent WordPress. We’ve got some deadlines bearing down on us and we need someone who can hit the ground running. And has stellar references, like Al Gore thinks you’re a genius and will go on record saying it. Or something. The band needs a first-rate sound guy and roadie, to put it another way.
And while we’re at it, there’s a respected New England bike company that needs someone in sales. The position is definitely in New England and requires someone who can do more than just talk bikes. But oh, what a gig!
Email for details: info [at] redkiteprayer.
They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes. I say you can tell a lot about a cyclist by their tires. When I worked in Washington, D.C., if you met someone wearing glossy ebony dress shoes and an over-sized Timex running watch with a nice suit, they almost certainly spent some serious time in the military.
Likewise, when you’re out on the road this spring and your eye catches the green stripe of a plump Vittoria tubular and a supple big-ring cadence, that rider is someone you don’t want to half-wheel. You want to follow. If you can.
An inch-wide tubular painstakingly glued on a carbon rim symbolizes all that is wonderful about a sport endlessly grappling with its origins and its future. That is why this combination of past and present will be the weapon of choice during the spring racing in Belgium and France.
Bicycle frames, particularly at the high end, become more alike with each season but the tires we select reveal our individual traditions and aspirations. There is so much bound up in that tiny friction point between our Earth and our speeding bodies that fly above it. What you choose says more about you than your kit. Maybe even your frame.
Show up on a Sunday ride in April looking like a Flemish hardman? That’s cool. Got 25s? On that day anything narrower than your thumb won’t cut it even if your legs reek of embro. Equip a crit-specialist’s machine with 28s? Trouble. The good kind.
These days picking tires is like cruising the cereal aisle with a 5-year old. Everything looks delicious. The wide wheel and wide tire movement sweetens things even more, whether you’re a winter commuter, a century aficionado or a Cat 3 who gets regular pro-deals.
For my part, I count on 25mm clinchers tougher than four-day old rice.
Some of the best advice I ever received was from a mechanic at a Seattle bike shop where I worked selling bikes right around the end of high school, half my lifetime ago. I bought my first bike there with the intent of racing, a slick red Cannondale 2.8. When I asked a mechanic I liked a lot what I should do to make the bike “better,” he had two pieces of advice: Learn how to fix it and ride 25s.
That sage in the shop apron offered me a direct path to competence and comfort. I wasn’t ready for that mundane answer. It was the early 90s. Something anodized and unaffordable was the response I wanted. While I failed to become even a passable wrench even on my own gear, I did eventually start riding wider tires a couple of years later after my brain started returning my aching lower back’s persistent calls.
That’s what works for me. What works for you will also say a lot about your origins as a rider, and your future. With that in mind, maybe you should not measure a man by his tires, at least until you’ve ridden a mile, or 40, on them.
I’m at a point where I’m no longer taking the stress in stride. I was able to do that for a few weeks, but no more. My one refuge, the bike, no longer provides a cover from the pressures that have been building.
Last week, I wrote how following a single hard effort on a climb I was unable to recover and how I was forced to let the group go after the next acceleration. That inability to dig has grown like a tumor in my muscles, preventing me from all but the most faux of efforts. Worse, something deeper has gone sour. Something has compromised my ability to descend. I know that stress is the something in question, that my reaction to the stress of the last month is what the trouble is, but the actual mechanism responsible for the degradation of my riding skills is as mysterious to me as quantum physics.
I opened the weekend with a training ride meant to help bring my fitness into sharper focus for SPY’s upcoming Belgian Waffle Ride. Less than two miles into the 11-mile ascent of Latigo Canyon, I let the leaders go. Minutes later, a friend passed me. Several more minutes and another. So it went. Of roughly 20 riders, I was among the last to reach the top of the climb. I used to routinely do this ascent in 45 minutes, and this time it took me an hour. Following all the gains in fitness I’d made over the winter, I felt like I was coming back to the bike after two weeks off, just without all that hungry motivation.
On each successive hill, bumps too short to break the group up, friends kept riding up to me to ask about the Deuce and how he was progressing. Look, I’m completely okay with many of my friends not reading RKP; most folks don’t read all that much and that’s fine. And I respect that because these people ride with me they would rather get the story from the horse’s mouth. Wouldn’t you rather go for a ride with your favorite pro rather than just read an interview? Not that I’m anyone’s favorite anything, mind you. But I get how they’d rather hear the story firsthand.
The trouble is that when I’m trying to pedal, talking about what we’ve been through with Matthew digs all the stress up, makes it present tense. To the degree that the bike can allow me to escape my worries, asking me about the Deuce steals that chance to find refuge in wheels. While other riders may be hiding from the wind, I’ve been hiding from something tougher to dodge.
My heartrate monitor’s chest strap wasn’t working that day, but I didn’t need it to tell me what was happening. With each question my ability to sustain a high hear rate plummeted. It felt like my legs were loading up with lactic acid, just without the burn. For all I know, they were.
Yesterday, I knew that I couldn’t deal with more questions, even if the news was encouraging. That we are feeding the little champ breast milk is huge. Still, each time I have to talk about it takes me out of the ride, mentally off my bicycle. So instead of heading out for one of the group rides, I took my mountain bike to Del Cerro Park in Palos Verdes. It’s a relatively small area and the riding that I do there is pretty tame. Parking is at the top of the hill, so any ride I do begins with a descent. Knowing how my descending went the previous day, I figured I’d take it easy on myself and avoid the singletrack. And while I could have bombed the fire road at better than 30 mph because there were precious few hikers out, I felt unsure of myself on a full-suspension mountain bike on a fire road.
I felt like my body was betraying me. Under other circumstances, I’d have been angry. Instead, I’ve just been disappointed and sad. I’ve got nothing to fight this with.
Personal history has shown me that I tend to respond well during a crisis. Once, I was run over by my own car. The story is long enough to require beers for proper telling. The relevant detail from that tale is this: I was the only person thinking clearly enough to figure out how to get me out from under the car. I had to call for help, then direct someone to turn off the engine, take the keys out, open the trunk; it was about this time that my mother walked outside and saw my legs protruding from under the car. She freaked out; I had to call to her to calm down—and convince her that the person helping me was not harming me—and then direct the other person to get the jack out and jack the front end of the car up enough that I could crawl out.
I stood up and my mother said, “My God, Patrick, you look horrible.”
What the appropriate response to such a statement is, I still don’t know. I went with the all-purpose, “I love you, too, Mom.”
I then spent the next five hours in the emergency room. It wasn’t until the next day as I bathed my scrapes and cuts that I began to shake with the realization that with my head stuck in the wheelwell of my car I had been inches from death.
Last fall I walked around the corner to pick up a pizza from our (my) favorite New York-style pizza place in Manhattan Beach. When I got back, our son Philip was missing. We started with the search of each room in the house. Then the closets. Then under all the furniture. Then the garage. Then under all the furniture, again. Then the closets, again. Then I went outside.
There comes a point when panic overrides pride and you just want your kid back, no matter where he or she is. I don’t think 10 minutes had passed when we reached that point. Our home was a wreck, toys everywhere, unfinished laundry out, dirty dishes on a counter. I wouldn’t have let a friend in the door.
We called 911. I gave a physical description down to each item of his outfit.
Two officers arrived with the speed we used to associate with pizza delivery. They asked for a physical description again, then I gave them a picture of Philip. Two squad cars were patrolling our neighborhood, looking for him outside. They had me double check to make sure his bicycle and scooter were still inside. They were.
Less than five minutes into the search one of the officers shined his flashlight into the back of a closet that runs beneath some stairs. My wife and I had both looked in the closet. It was so jammed with boxes that neither of us had figured Philip could make it into the space’s nethermost regions. But make it he did. When the officer waived his flashlight, Philip moved his head and the officer saw his blonde hair.
To this day, I don’t understand how he got back there. It would be easier to fit a bowling ball in a shot glass.
With Philip out, the officers thanked and our front door closed and locked, I slumped against the door, and then began sobbing with a depth that surprised even me. It was only then that I allowed myself to feel the relief that could only come from recognizing the magnitude of the disaster we had just escaped. Until we found him, every belief I had in my wife and myself as responsible people had been up for grabs. My identity was up for grabs.
So while I have evidence that I do well during the crisis, once it is past, that’s when I collapse.
That I’ve lasted this long surprises me, personal history notwithstanding. I don’t think I’d have held up were it not for all the comments here on the site and on Facebook, the many Tweets and then the amazingly personal emails I’ve received.
There’s a couplet in the Sting song “All This Time,” in which he sings:
Men go crazy in congregations
They only get better one by one
I suspect that the Salem Witch Trials are a great example of that, but in my life that has never been true. The opposite is what has proven to be the case in my life. Without the help of all those words of encouragement I think I’d have slipped down the rabbit hole by now—no passing “Go,” no collecting $200 and skidding to a halt well past the entrance to crazy town.
On my own, I can spin into crazy. Isolation is sanity’s enemy. Studies of men held in isolation in prison have show the long-term damage it can do. It’s in talking to other people that I gain perspective, that I discover hope, that I find my way to sanity. What it means to be buoyed by the words of others is to know that other people want a good life for you. They care for your happiness and success. What’s significant in that is what it says about the hope other people hold for lives that are not their own.
As those comments keep coming, they are the light at the end of the tunnel. Though Matthew isn’t home, and we don’t have a date for his likely release, we have good reason to believe he’ll come home with us.
This morning I avoided the group ride, went out after everyone had returned home. The ride was lonely and I turned home early. I barely remember the final mile or two. I know this won’t last, that I’ll be able to deal with friends again, to speak without shutting down, that riding will again be my refuge. But there’s going to be a personal reckoning once the Deuce is in the door and I don’t see a way to share that road with another soul.
In the 1980s I had the good fortune to be a student of Dr. John Baur at the University of Memphis. Despite the fact that the U of M had the reputation for being a low-cost finishing school for the young women of the Mid-South, for his dissertation Baur wrote what has been hailed by a few authorities as the definitive music theory text. Unsuspecting undergraduates served as his guinea pigs, we muddling our way through an education in the way Western music gained complexity progressively until it flew apart at the intervals themselves following Richard Wagner’s career.
It was through Baur that I learned how Wagner would overlay multiple keys to such a degree that the only metaphor I could come up with was the gender-bending of Julie Andrews playing a man playing a woman in La Cage aux Folle.
Baur not only changed my understanding and appreciation of music, he changed my perception of what it meant to have a command of your subject. He’d open classes with little refreshers of our most difficult material. Often, he would play one of the varieties of an augmented sixth chord (French, Italian or German) and ask us to spell the four notes composing the chord from a base note, say B. After spelling out a chord more dissonant than the words “free love” are to a hooker, he would then ask us to spell the resolution, which he would then play for our grateful ears. That ability to talk so comfortably about tonality informed my approach to bike geometry. There was a time (back when I was reviewing several bikes a month) when you could give me a seat tube length for one of the big bike manufacturers and I could repeat back the top tube length, head and seat angles, bottom bracket height and fork rake.
The record will show I was a terrible student of Baur’s. I was a percussionist and my ability to spell four-voice chords was eternally a step behind those of my classmates’ who played more tonal instruments. Still, I count him as one of the more important educators of my college career.
It was while we were grading each other’s quizzes one day that he cautioned us not to be too hard on each other. It was important he pointed out not to look for the mistakes, but to “look for the music.” We needed to mark off what couldn’t be counted as music, not every dissonance that might be interpreted as a mistake, if only on paper. When a few of us gave him vacant looks that betrayed our lack of understanding he told us a story.
Earlier during his graduate work a professor of his directed everyone write a prelude in the style of the pieces found in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Not an easy thing to do. He then made copies of each of them and had everyone grade each of their classmate’s compositions. It was an effort to help these future music educators search for music, not mistakes. For good measure, the professor snuck in an actual piece by Bach, but one that was unlikely to be known by the grad students.
What Baur told us next shocked me. Most of his classmates gave Bach a “C” at composing in the style of Bach. Baur said he was relieved to note that he graded Bach highest in his class, but still only gave him a “B+.”
I’d be lying if I told you I made a conscious decision to find the music in the things I analyzed, but it was a lesson I carried with me. I went into a writing program where our job was to critique the work of others as a means to learn how to critique our own work. It was easy to see the bad lines, but it took time to learn how to see the good ones.
At a certain point, I turned a corner. It wasn’t conscious or even deliberate, though there was definitely intent. I just noticed one day that I began responding to those lines that were good. When someone got something right, it spoke to me and as I read I trained my eye to search for moments that shed light on the human condition. Sometimes I went whole poems looking for something that spoke to me and never found it. On other occasions I would marvel at how line after line might draw me in and seduce me with a voice I never wanted to stop speaking to me.
I noticed that once I turned this corner of finding the good in someone’s work I had an entirely different experience in critiquing my classmates’ poems. It became a good deal more enjoyable. The experience of sharing with someone how they composed something that you found to be true, to be beautiful was an entirely different experience than telling someone that their cherished few lines were crap. The act of celebrating creative work is also the act of celebrating the individual.
It’s more effective than telling someone they are attractive.
The experience of suddenly seeing what someone had gotten right, rather than just looking for the things that didn’t work carried with it a notable infusion of energy. After a while, I can’t read more bad writing. Whether it’s fiction, poetry or journalism, reading bad writing wears you out. It’s like riding a road that stopped being maintained in 1957. At first it’s an adventure. But for daily training rides, it’s a flippin’ chore.
I carried this sensibility into writing about cycling. How it is I’ve maintained any energy for writing about doping, considering it brings me no joy, is a testament to the power of outrage, but it will never have the strength to keep me in the sport the way so many other aspects of cycling do.
The trolls dis me and say I like everything I review, as if I’ve some newbie’s starry-eyed wonder for all bike gear.
The truth is simpler, and much harder to argue with. The negative review has the power to entertain a reader once in a while, but it does little to feed the cycling jones. I see myself as a torchbearer. My job is to testify to how great riding a bike is, to demonstrate my excitement for cycling and believing that it’s a better, more fun sport than anything else you might spend your free time doing. Done right, that has the ability to help feed your love of the sport.
If your inclination is toward cynicism, it would be easy to see what we do here as just rubber stamping rampant consumerism. We get far more requests to review stuff than I actually review. Like the work from classmates that didn’t pass muster, stuff that’s not terrible but not amazing is really difficult to summon the necessary energy to write even 300 words about.
On the other hand, reviewing a great product is a chance to have some fun.
Now, here’s where I need to point out why I still get excited about product review. I’m pathologically opposed to conspicuous consumption and the trappings of consumerism as recreation. I was once romantically involved with someone for whom clothes shopping was a hobby. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but what I can say is that I’m not someone who shops to fill an unrecognized void. Nor do I expect you too, either.
I love that intersection point between science and new products, such as how a change in our understanding of aerodynamics or carbon fiber can lead to new wheels that are an instant ticket to greater speed. Such discoveries carry with them the weight of truth and in that I see beauty. I’m much too lazy to labor over the review of a lukewarm review about a product I won’t miss should it leave the market. I do this job because I get excited, because it gives me the chance to “look for the music.” And the best part of this job is sometimes I run across a new product that accomplishes something seemingly impossible—it can make the experience of riding a bicycle fresh, almost like that first time I took off under my own power and realized, realized the world was for the taking.
I’ve been thinking about how I transitioned from foreswearing surgery to grudging consideration, to rational acknowledgement that surgery was the only reasonable option for the Deuce’s recovery. To anyone else, this may seem a relatively understandable transition, one that held no miracle epiphanies or hypocritical backtracking of attitude. I, however, have a fair memory for things my mouth issues. One of them recently has approached the speed of mantra: “As long as we avoid surgery, we’re good.”
I can willingly admit that I wanted to avoid surgery the way Grover Norquist wants to avoid new taxes. Surgery struck me as a concession. A concession of what is hard to say, but it indicated a larger failure of less-invasive therapies. It also meant that my son wasn’t quite as strong as I’d wanted to think. This was no minor flaw if surgery was the only solution.
The turning point, I realize, came during our consultation early in the week with the head of the NICU, the charge nurse, the social worker and the ombudsman. Sounds like the title of a French film, doesn’t it? During our meeting the doctor made a statement that I glossed over. I was too focused on getting the answers I wanted to really consider the implications of his statement.
But before I get to what he said, I’d like to discuss the word “imminent.” It’s a word that I’ve heard most often used by defense wonks and neocons. It’s the descriptor they attach to threats, dangers they want to act against. When someone calls something an “imminent threat,” what they are saying is that the boogeyman isn’t just around the corner, he’s turning the corner as we speak.
Imminent is a word that I would use to describe my understanding of my relationship to the earth in that nanosecond I had to consider my circumstances before faceplanting into the ground. There was no avoiding the soil, the gravel, the crash, my face pulverizing terra most firma and the planet returning the favor for my lower lip. Imminent.
The surgeon said, “I believe surgery is imminent.”
I was taking notes as he spoke and I touch-typed that statement into Microsoft Word and then hit return to catch the next significant thing he said. Judging from the open window, I typed more of what we were told, but that’s the only statement I recall from memory, the only one that required further reflection, the only one that forced a change in my views.
In her introduction to the groundbreaking volume of poems “Live or Die” Anne Sexton compared the ever-shifting mood of her work to the jagged line of a “fever chart for a bad case of melancholy.” That image of a fever chart that has returned to me as I’ve tried to digest the Deuce’s turns in condition. There have been ups and downs in his path to proper development—I’m always cautioning myself against using words like “recovery” because it suggests he was once complete and whole and the challenge has been quite different. The issue for Matthew is just reaching proper health, attaining the biologic maturation of other babies that allows them to grow and flourish once leaving the womb.
Once we realized the Octreotide has ceased to work for him, taking him from the shallow end of a bell curve well into the meat of it, we understood that he wasn’t improving as we’d hoped, that the arrow of his development was pointing down, not up. While nothing had truly changed for him in those five minutes as the doctor explained his condition to us, our understanding changed and each of those changes in the arrow’s direction reflected changes in our understanding. His changes in condition unfolded on a much longer scale with turns too gradual to track from one hour to the next.
The Deuce was fortunate to sleep most of the day following the surgery. The general anesthesia he had been on was something from which he was weened very gradually. While I wanted to see my son’s eyes, to have that eye contact, I knew that more sleep following the surgery was good for him.
Boy, was I right. A day later, as he finally started to come out of the anesthesia, he was the most unhappy he’s been in his short life. To say I can imagine the pain he must have felt as he woke is to suggest I have powers of empathy that border on divine. I cannot begin to process how his inability to fathom the world around him was wrapped in such pain. I ached each time he woke and he cried out in pain until he began to cough. Of all the reactions he might have to his situation, coughing must surely have been among the worst possible, a kind of awful that soars somewhere above having a broken leg hit with a sledge hammer. Poor kid.
Fluid continued to dribble from his chest for another day. It wasn’t much but anything at all was sufficient to prevent me from relaxing. The biggest challenge came yesterday though: The Deuce’s doctors decided he had healed enough to try feeding him. It wasn’t a victory, but it was too significant a step not to be present.
Shana made it to the hospital in time to deliver the first feeding herself. Because of his chest tube, he’s unable to be held, so these initial feeding are from a bottle. Still, it’s not the TPN IV drip that he’s been on virtually since birth. TPN is Gatorade on steroids; it’s prepared to the individual patient’s needs to contain an optimal blend of carbs, protein, fat, electrolytes and more. However, it’s not a perfect instrument. The way the TPN dumps the fats and protein directly into the bloodstream is rough on the liver. Poor Matthew had been on the stuff so long they had begun to cycling the protein and fat out of the TPN for periods of six hours out of every 24 in order to give the liver a chance to rest some; it was effectively recovery between intervals. Sometimes I can’t not see the world in terms of the bicycle.
Feeding him his mother’s milk from a bottle was going to give him a chance to actually fill his belly, to know the payoff that comes from sucking on a nipple and to experience being sated. So far, he’d been sucking on a pacifier for hours each day with exactly zero dividend. It was a wonder he had continued to persist for all the benefit he had received.
His nurse began the process of thawing frozen milk and putting 10ml servings into bottles. These servings are so tiny the amounts of fluid my other son spills as he drinks something could dwarf what those bottles contained. Gradually, over the last day his serving size has increased, though, from 10 to 15 and now up to 30ml. In his mid-afternoon feeding I sat in terror, and I do mean terror, as he spit out the nipple repeatedly because his initial few sucks on the bottle resulted in such a flood of milk he gagged. It turns out our nurse had used a high-flow nipple on the bottle and the experience was so alarming to him I had to work for a half hour to convince him the same thing wasn’t going to happen again once the nipple was switched to a low-flow one. Poor kid must have thought he’d been fed a fire hose.
The reason feeding him mother’s milk is so important isn’t an issue of nutrition. It’s the crucial test for the surgery. I likened what the surgeon did to patching a hole in a roof. The TPN IV isn’t much of a challenge for the repair to deal with. It’s a brief drizzle to the newly patched roof. To find out if the repair is really going to take, what he needs to experience is a classic Deep South thunderstorm. He needs a biblical deluge while doctors sit under the ceiling with pans at the ready. To that end, his chest tube is still in place, but doctors have turned the suction off, to make him a bit more comfortable. It’s a nice step, but the fact the chest tube is still in place is our signal that we’re still watching and waiting to see if his thoracic duct can deal with the lipids (fats) in his mother’s milk.
This isn’t a live-fire exercise for a new soldier, this is the first patrol of Baghdad. And until the convoy is back in the compound we count off hours with no drainage the way I suspect soldiers count of kilometers completed. Each additional click is a bit closer to home, but you’re not safe until you’re home. Similarly, each new poop is a suggestion his system is doing what it needs to do.
Just how long this purgatory of watching and waiting will persist I have no idea. What I know is that I’ll persist in my devotion to being here. I want my wife to give him as many feedings as she wants and those that she can’t be around for, I’ll try to add in myself, but because of Philip, we can’t simply move here which means that most of the night feedings will be provided by his nurse.
That a nurse can report to me on his preferences and foibles carries the simultaneous pleasure of learning something new about my son, while adding the discomfiting realization that someone else is around him more than I am. It brings up all those dichotomies of blessing/curse, poison/cure.
It would be easy to overestimate his health based on the many metrics of his progress. He’s got fewer holes in him, fewer needles and tubes delivering into or transporting out of him medicines and waste. If nothing else, he’s more comfortable. That’s something, for sure. And there’s more of him as well; today he weighs 9 lbs., 12 oz. That’s more than two pounds up from his birth weight.
But this is a NICU. While I appreciate how everyone wants to project what my life will be like with the Deuce in our ideal future, a future where he’ll be an avid roadie with the willingness to let me suck his wheel—talk about idealized futures—this is the NICU. When Shana came downstairs to meet me and take Philip to his second park of the day, there were tears in her eyes and she told me not to go up yet. This is the NICU. Outcomes here are far from certain and today they lost a baby. It was born only yesterday and was admitted to the unit extremely hypotensive and showing signs of high acidosis. At a certain point the staff realized the baby was a lost cause and the entire extended family was admitted into the pod. Shana was with the Deuce as they wailed in the baby’s final hours. She left the Deuce’s side to give them the illusion of privacy.
This is the NICU. There will be no cheering until we get the kid in the door at home.
I realize that professional baseball’s lawsuit against a Florida clinic is outside of the cycling world and it is also a PED question that we are all getting so tired of, but I really wondered if a “players association” (in this case MLBPA) might help cycling?
Also is there something similar that cycling could do like MLB in suing the Times Herald in Miami (as I understand it) for their information on the Biogenesis Clinic? Could anyone sue UCI? Lastly, how can someone find that MLB complaint, or are those not available until there is a ruling?
Thanks, I have enjoyed your Explainer columns for years, after I found them on VeloNews.
Looking forward to the LUG, Giro edition, in May. That is such a great thing that you and Patrick do. Thanks again.
Also, love the LUG stickers. Those are great.
Ok to publish,
Your questions cover a lot of bases, so to speak, so let me sort through them a bit.
First, top-tier professional cyclists already have a players’ association – the Cyclistes Professionnels Associes – but it has its problems at times and lacks the influence of its counterparts in American baseball (the Major League Baseball Players’ Association) and American football (the NFL Players’ Association).
Led by former pro Gianni Bugno, the organization has worked to protect riders’ interests, but hasn’t really developed into a cohesive riders’ union and has had difficulty enforcing even the most basic rights of riders, including collection of unpaid wages through the UCI’s required bank guarantees (recall the old 2009 Astana team’s problems making payroll).
The CPA often works in conjunction with the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels – the organization representing teams – but there are times when the two organizations’ interests are in conflict. That group, too, has had its share of problems. Indeed, four years ago, the organization was pretty much coming apart at the seams, with some teams opting out of the group after the not-too-successful boycott of Paris-Nice in 2008.
The AIGCP managed to work through that tumultuous period, due in no small part to the leadership of its then-new president, Garmin-Sharp team manager, Jonathan Vaughters. He did a pretty good job as far as keeping the organization together but there’s still a long way to go. Vaughters, who’s planning to pursue an executive MBA at the University of Denver, announced last year that he would not seek reelection and his term expired this month. He is being replaced by Luuc Eisenga, a Dutchman who has worked for the UCI, the T-Mobile team, Rabobank and, most recently, as the tech’ director of the Blanco squad.
I am hopeful that on the heels of the “Armstrong affair,” both organizations can work together and force some real change in the management and structure of the UCI. That said, I’m not holding my breath.
There are a lot of reasons for the CPA to ramp up its efforts. Some of them – particularly as it applies to salaries and working conditions – will run counter to the goals of the teams. Others – like the elimination of doping in the sport – should serve the economic interests of both parties. By now, it should be clear, too, that major reform of the UCI, its leadership and its structure is in the best interests of riders, teams, promoters and fans alike. Indeed, when you consider all of cycling constituencies, there is only one group whose absence would go unnoticed. That’s the UCI. We need promoters. We need teams. They certainly need the fans. We all need the riders. Guys in grey flannel jackets? Not so much.
This sport would benefit from the presence of a meaningful and powerful riders’ union. A weak and ad-hoc association does little more than pay lip service toward the achievement of some important goals.
I, for one, would not be all that disappointed in seeing a meaningful riders’ strike in cycling, if it led to much-needed changes in conditions for the world’s hardest working athletes. That would, of course, include drugs, but would also include a substantial increase in minimum salaries for top pro’s and a basic compensation package for those riding on “minor league” teams as well.
I’ll be the first to admit that given their history on PEDs, I’ve not been a huge fan of the MLBPA or the NFLPA, but I must concede that both have done a much better job of representing their members’ interests than has the CPA. Cycling would benefit from a strong and cohesive union, especially if that organization took the lead on limiting the insidious effect of PEDs on the sport.
It won’t be the press. It won’t be the teams. It won’t be the promoters. It sure as @#$% won’t be the UCI. This one will have to be up to the riders.
As the great Samuel Gompers said “you can’t do it unless you organize.”
Can the UCI be sued?
Sure. While your example of Major League Baseball’s suit against Biogenesis wouldn’t along the same lines, the governing body can be – and has been – sued for a number of things and in any number of venues.
The MLB suit is based on Biogenesis’ “unjustified tortious interference” in its current contract with the MLB Players’ Association, in that Biogenesis and its co-defendants have allegedly attempted to circumvent the League’s anti-doping rules by supplying players with supposedly undetectable Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). (Because it’s baseball, I’ll not spend too much time going through the baseball suit, but I have uploaded a copy of the original complaint for your reading pleasure.)
In a sense, MLB is essentially the equivalent of the AIGCP, in that it represents a consortium of 30 Major League teams. A comparable suit – and one that should be considered – would be if someone sued Michele Ferrari or Eufemiano Fuentes for actively interfering with cycling’s anti-doping rules.
Obviously, the structures of the two sports differ and it’s not the AIGCP that really runs the sport. The UCI “manages” the sport of cycling, but it has to contend with other forces, especially race promoters, the most powerful of which is the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which organizes most of the world’s most prestigious cycling events, including the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and more.
Instead of suing Fuentes or Ferrari for active cheating, some have turned to the UCI as a potential defendant, citing their inaction when it came to enforcing their own rules. A good and recent example is that of a suit filed on behalf of the Australian clothing manufacturer Skins, seeking $2 million in damages for the UCI’s “acts and omissions,” in its failure to take meaningful steps to eliminate doping in the sport.
As you’ve read here before, the UCI is not shy about exercising its own option to sue, having sued former World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound, disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis and Irish journalist Paul Kimmage for making disparaging public statements along the lines of what is now being alleged in the Skins suit. That strategy hasn’t really worked well in that Pound settled his case with a wonderfully-worded “apology,” Landis ignored the suit and the subsequent default judgment and Kimmage … well, Kimmage just turned the tables on those SOBs and has asked Swiss prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against the UCI as well as its current and former presidents.
Yup, anyone can pretty much sue anyone else for just about anything. Whether they win or not is up to the courts.
Finally, thank you for your kind words regarding our minute-by-minute coverage of the grand tours. I remain hopeful that O’Grady and I can combine forces and provide Live Coverage via LiveUpdateGuy.com and here at Red Kite Prayer as well. PO’G and I are even toying with the idea of doing something of a “test run,” by offering Live Coverage of this year’s edition of Paris-Roubaix. Any interest out there?
And I am glad you like the stickers.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.