The Day You Don’t Want to End

The Day You Don’t Want to End

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We’re at an uneasy place with our heroes. Even without the benefit of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the landscape of our understanding of professional bike racing in the last 20 years has fundamentally changed. For most followers of bike racing, doping went from this little problem in uncommon instances to a pervasive culture common to all but the rarest riders. While we beg for the truth about what occurred, as sporting fans, we’ve yet to embrace a single rider who confesses. As a group, we’ve yet to confer forgiveness to a single prodigal son.

Some people would like to see Leipheimer and every other confessed doper shot by firing squad, or at least expunged from the collective memory of cycling. Truly, some of the vitriol is hard to fathom. But he hasn’t gone away, nor has his eponymous event. To evidence this drop in stock value, entries for Levi’s Gran Fondo sold at a slower rate this year than they did in previous years. But they did sell out.

I’ve heard speculation that Santa Rosa wasn’t bringing the Tour of California back for a stage visit because the town was angry at Leipheimer for the shame he brought on the city and that the gran fondo wouldn’t last much longer. Really? The fact is, the city simply didn’t want to bear that expense in 2014, and if anything, due to the charitable work that Bike Monkey does, the gran fondo is more beloved than ever. While the long route sold out more slowly than it did in years past, the ride did sell out all three routes.

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The staging area is almost the exact opposite of Interbike. At the trade show, I see a great many friends from the industry, such as Road Bike Action’s Zap (left) or TRUE Communications’ Mark Riedy (right), but unless I have an appointment, we’re all usually walking so quickly we don’t have a chance to say anything more than hi. In the staging area at Levi’s Gran Fondo, you’re standing around, waiting for the start, so it’s a good deal easier to actually chat with friends.

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Shane Bresnyan (left) and Glenn Fant (right) are two of the faster guys in town and Glenn is the owner of NorCal Bikesport and the Bike Peddler and a significant sponsor of the gran fondo.

 

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It was nice to see the Fat Cyclist himself, Elden Nelson and his wife, aka the Hammer.

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Austin McInerny is the executive director for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and was there with a full gaggle of high school riders from the NorCal league.

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Levi’s Gran Fondo always manages to pull in a number of bona fide cycling stars and at this year’s event, and this year Andrew Talansky, who finished 10th at this year’s Tour de France and lives nearby in Napa, came out to ride.

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Luca Euser of United Healthcare chose to ride pretty far back in the group and could be seen pulling people from one rest stop to another. He’s got an event of his own coming up in Napa. I may need to attend that.

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Saturday was one of those bluebird days that would have seemed like Indian Summer anywhere else, but because this was Sonoma County, you can get days like this late in the fall. And while the morning began down in the 40s and required riders to don arm warmers, vests or jackets and consider at least knee warmers or embrocation, most of the day carried conditions to make you wish for another week of days like this one.

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The descent to the coast comes in two big drops. The first, Myers Grade, plummets with such abandon that I saw a few people walking it. I have to admit I went slower on it in past years, partly because of the people at the side of the road and partly because my confidence on fast steep terrain just hasn’t returned, even though it’s been a full year since my crash.

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Just to do something a little different this year, I decided to do the climb up Willow Creek rather than the full run down the coast to Coleman Valley Road. Willow Creek starts with pavement that gives way to gravel and becomes a double-track ascent through the forest. On the climb the trees shaded the sun enough to drop the temperature more than five degrees.

It was only upon hitting the climb that I began to feel good. I’d spent the entire day, some 70 miles to this point with my legs effectively offline. My best guess is that while I had good fitness, the cold of the morning caused my lower back and left IT Band to tighten up like a suspension bridge. As a result, I found myself pedaling mile after mile at 17 mph. I felt fine otherwise, but I couldn’t generate any power and as a result, all the people I’d planned to ride with early on spun up the road as I watched group after group pass. The why of my pace wasn’t terribly important, other than it gave me something to consider for a while, but the pace itself did force me to confront a larger issue. How was I going to handle it? I’d been riding well and wanted to rip one that day.

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I thought back on Tyler Hamilton’s crash at the 2004 Tour de France in which he injured his back and afterward said he left the race because while he could pedal the flats, his back wouldn’t allow him to generate any power for climbing. I didn’t understand what he meant, at least, not at the time. I fully get it now.

But the question was what I would do with my attitude. I could spend 100 miles pissed that I showed up but my legs didn’t. I could whine for 100 miles that I got a shitty hand of cards. Or I could simply go slow, check out the sights and maybe see some new things because I was going too fast in years past. All things considered, given that I was riding through some of the prettier country in Sonoma County, were I to do anything other than enjoy myself on such a superb day would mean I was as inelastic as a pane of glass, and not much brighter.

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So I enjoyed myself. Which wasn’t hard to do. Having my legs finally come on line meant that my riding could be playful on the climb of Willow Creek. While most of it isn’t all that steep so that you can drill it through the gravel through long stretches, there are a couple of ultra steep sections—one was 30 percent while another hit 27 percent—that turned the riding into something more reminiscent of mountain biking.

Following the descent into Occidental the ride into Santa Rosa takes you past a few final vineyards, some farm fields and then suddenly you’re turning onto the bike path. It’s a surprisingly welcome turn and conveys the relief of being nearly finished even if you’re not across the line quite yet. Sorta like a red kite, I suppose. Rolling into the finish was a mix of relief to be finished and sadness that the day was coming to a close.

Before closing, I’d like to say thank you to Christina, Sami, Arjuno, Russell (hell, even Andrew Talansky reads RKP!) and the many other people who stopped me to say thanks for RKP. It’s difficult to put into words what it means to have people tell me personally how much they appreciate RKP. I’ve been unable to summon anything more articulate than, “No, thank you.”

If there’s a better way to spend a day, I can’t summon it. A long bike ride without a bunch of stop lights, terrain so beautiful you want to pull over just to stare, seeing old friends, making a few new ones and all on a day you wish would never end.

 

 

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16 comments

  1. Full Monte

    17 mph. Welcome to my world.

    After I broke my sacrum a year and a half ago in a bike crash, lower back pain — heck, full-blown sciatica — is part of daily life (to varying degree). When Andy Schleck broke his back in the same exact place, I predicted that even with the wealth of doctors, trainers and therapists available to him, he’d never be the same rider (unfortunately).

    But you adapt. Reset expectations. Know there will be good days, bad days, and no days on the bike. Sigh.

    Good on you, though, to arrive at the right mental attitude to make the best of your compromised abilities on a gorgeous day. In some way, knowing you’re in a bad spot and making the best of it, enjoying yourself, runs pretty parallel to how we should approach pro cycling in general.

    We’re in a period of distrust, cynicism, anger as fans of the sport. We can stay stuck in this place and ruin cycling for ourselves — and miss some fantastic racing in the process — or we can relax and enjoy what we have before us now.

    All our fallen heroes — Levi, George, Christian, David et al — are not bad, terrible people. The time, the sport, the teams all combined to put them in a pretty impossible situation. While we can debate the ethics and morality in hindsight, we should also empathize to the same degree we condemn them. And ask ourselves: What would I have done?

    Presented with the same choice, this 17 mph rider would have said how much? How often? And thank you sir, may I have another? Anything to taste what it might be like to be a pro rider, if only to be the bidon fetcher and pack fodder.

    Just about any Regular Joe cycling fan would have, if s/he’s honest.

    To be on a ride with Andrew and Levi would make my year. My decade. I’d bore people at parties for months, even though all I might manage to do is catch a glimpse of those guys as I tailed off that back at my slow, steady, grateful, happy, satisfying 17 mph.

  2. Patrick O'Brien

    Who am I to forgive them? They cheated, some admitted it and some got caught, they told their stories, took their suspensions and other consequences, and moved on. So have I. My interest in pro cycling has diminished, but my other cycling interests have grown. Maybe I am just changing as I age. Ya think? In any case, Padraig, I am envious of your great day out and the company you got to keep. I just wish I could do 17 mph average. I would have asked you and Full Monte if I could draft long and often. I like to say I average 12 mph, but can do it all day. But I need to get that average up if I want to complete my first century in the next year. It’s a bucket list thing for me.

  3. SusanJane

    I was so happy that Levi’s event sold out. He’s still does great stuff for local charities. In my priorities what Levi is doing now is more important than what he did then. For me the doping and the stolen wins are relegated to statistics when a rider starts to give back to the sport.

  4. tinytim

    I think that a long drive can make one prone to tightening up. I do that exact drive 1-2x per month, and make it a point to stop after 3-4 hrs of driving to spin in the Central Valley for an hour or two on the road bike or hit up the southern single track of Henry Coe state park. Looking at your pics makes me wish I was back home in West County. Either way, looks like everyone had a god day.

  5. Drago

    I actually did forget about Levi until just now. :/ I’m a fan of Taylor Phinney for some reason, and Timmy D, but I watched an hour of the TdF this summer. I’ve heard, “It’s changing” too many times.

  6. Sami

    Padraig, it was great to meet you and talk as we rolled back from Occidental! Great event, great local causes, and maybe even better in some ways now that it’s less about Levi the pro racer and more about Levi and local cycling community giving back through a great day of riding. I already have marked off the dates in my calendar for the 2014 and 2015 editions.

  7. Arjuna

    Padraig, indeed, a “Day You Don’t Want To End.” Luckily for Russell and I we managed to run into you before the sun set on an absolutely perfect day in Sonoma County. Glad you had a nice ride after your legs woke up. We look forward to a possible “future” ride with you here in SoCal. All the best to you and family!

  8. oldschoolzeus

    I’ve never understood the “anger” of some folks! They were riding within the “culture” of the time. I have more of a problem with the idiots being caught now!

    Would love to do one of the fondos, they sound great!

  9. actualprorider

    You don’t know why people would be angry with levi?
    Pretend that someone at your job stole money from you, would you be angry?

    This guy actually stole money from me and an opportunity to be on a bigger team. And I am just one rider. He did that to many many people. For you fans to forgive is easy because the results of the race do no affect your bank account.
    And I am still a professional, I was then and I am now.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Actualprorider: You may think that “forgiveness is easy” for me and others. As both a writer and a fan, I can say that forgiveness has not been easy. However, I see it as a necessary part of cleaning up the sport. If we can’t find a way to forgive these riders, it cuts down on the likelihood of learning the truth from others who doped, and that’s a vote for omertà. I hope you’ll bear in mind that there’s a difference between forgiveness and punishment. I’ve never advocated that dopers shouldn’t be punished. Riders who cheat should be sanctioned and the sanctions should be applied in a consistent fashion. What concerns me, though, are those people who are unable to move on after a rider has served his suspension. For those who think Leipheimer, Hincapie, Zabriskie, etc. got off with too little punishment, any ire directed at the riders is misplaced. If you disagree with the suspension they received, then you should call out USADA for the deals they cut the riders, because they had the power to determine the punishment. Let me put the question to you Actualprorider: How much punishment is enough? I think everyone will concede that a violent crime is far more serious crime than doping in cycling, yet even the punishment for most violent crimes is for a finite duration. What, to you, is an acceptable punishment?

  10. actualprorider

    Here is your answer your question “How much punishment is enough?” The punishment is pretty simple: return the prize money won and actually say they are sorry to the riders they hurt in the process.
    Here is my question to you, do you think that is a fair punishment?

    And before you answer I’d like you to know that not one of them has made an attempt to pay back prize money OR actually apologized to the other riders they hurt while using performance enhancing drugs.

    You seem to have forgotten these guys have nice homes, nice cars, financial freedom and grand fondo’s named after them because they got results by taking drugs.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Actualprorider: When it comes to repaying prize money that riders have agreed to forfeit in a sanction, I don’t really think about fair. Fair is beside the point. You know every bit as well as I do that no one ever pays back prize money. I’ve not read of a single instance of a rider actually writing a check. If there’s one I’ve missed, I’d love to hear about it because that rider deserves recognition for doing what he agreed to. I see asking riders to repay all their prize money as completely unrealistic and neither USADA nor the UCI (honestly, off the top of my head I’m not really sure who would be tasked with that enforcement) ever goes after the riders, so it’s a completely toothless part of the sanction; it’s pointless. It’s tantamount to striking their names from the record books. Big deal. They are still in all the pictures. I’m not suggesting that it’s right, but I believe in dealing with the reality we face.

      While it’s obviously true that the EPO generation hasn’t apologized to all riders in the pro ranks, neither of us can say they’ve made no attempt to apologize to any riders. We simply don’t know. This is, perhaps, not the best time for apologies; the wounds seem awfully fresh.

      You assume much by suggesting I’ve forgotten about the lives those guys lead. I haven’t; I’m well aware. I suggest you poke around RKP a bit more; I’ve been an outspoken critic against dopers, McQuaid, Verbruggen and others. I’ve used RKP as a forum to discuss an intelligent way to deal with doping and I do what I can to engage everyone who joins the conversation. I sincerely appreciate the fact that you stopped by.

      Finally, I’m curious why you chose to go with a handle, rather than your full name. I know it because you used your email address to register, but I’m not going to out you to the readers; that’s your call. What I don’t quite understand (and I don’t mean this in a hostile way), is why you wouldn’t just use your name. It would seem to add some weight to your comments if the other readers here knew exactly who you are, and in not being honest about who you are, it seems a bit like a vote for omertà, as if you don’t want to be tied to your comments.

  11. actualprorider

    Look you asked what a good punishment should be and I told you. Of course I know they won’t give the money back, but that was not what we were talking about.
    The truth is if you steal something you should give it back. I can’t see how anyone could argue with that.

    Leaving my name out is not a vote for the omerta. I live within a system I did not create, I have a boss I have to keep happy and a job I want to keep. You can understand that. And the truth is my name does not matter because there are many many like me. I wear how I feel on my sleeve and that’s the second thing I’d say to you if I met you right after politely introducing myself.

    My goal here was not to get into a pissing match but to hopefully have one person say to themselves “Hey, maybe these guys who did drugs actually really hurt people. And maybe we should not so easily say to them ‘You got a raw deal. But you’re a good guy.'”
    Or some variation of that. I am just trying to get you or one of your readers who is sympathetic to these rule breakers to see it from another perspective, and think “Maybe this guy who is a pro has a way of think I did not consider yet.”


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Actualprorider: Fair enough; I asked and you answered, but I hope you can understand that if you had responded, let’s draw and quarter them all in a public square, I would have responded much the same way: Thank you, now can we have something practical. Having said that, I really am troubled by the fact that riders are ordered to pay back winnings and never do.

      I think our (your and my) moral compasses point in the same direction, but I also have an unfailingly pragmatic streak. Cheating in sport isn’t stealing in the classic sense. It’s dishonest, but if I take your car, sorting out just what wrong was done is far easier than trying to figure how to make reparations for the “theft” committed by guys like Lance Armstrong and Miguel Indurain.

      Before I respond to your next point, let me say that I’m enjoying the exchange and believe I’d really enjoy joining you for a ride. If you’re ever in LA….

      Now, that said, I do think that not sharing who you are IS a vote for omertà. Changing the system you inherited requires everyone speaking out against it. (And for those of you following this, let me say that this guy IS the real deal. You’ve watched him kick ass on TV.) Every name, every voice matters. This is the very problem my colleagues faced in how to address the Armstrong story when they were actively reporting on him before the USADA case. Journalists had to make a decision about whether to accept the system or buck the system. I wasn’t really reporting on pro racing at that time, so I wasn’t in a position to take a stand one way or another, but I was very aware of what the system demanded. There were a handful of my colleagues who did all they could to chase that story and they deserve a great deal of praise for their courage. It’s part of why and hired Charles Pelkey to contribute to RKP. I think he’s a journalist of very high integrity. Back to your point about the system, the system is such that Leipheimer and the others (save Lance) are eligible to race again. Even without paying back winnings. If you’re going to say that the system is such that you shouldn’t speak out publicly, you can’t have it both ways and say that we shouldn’t accept Leipheimer because he has yet to pay back his winnings. The system may have asked more, but it’s not doing more.

      I’m not suggesting that this is a satisfactory outcome; rather, I’m pointing out that you staying silent because of the system and yet simultaneously advocating we shun Leipheimer is a kind of double standard.

      I think if you spend some time reading other posts (and the ensuing comments) that concern doping here on RKP what you’ll find is that our readership is composed of very sharp people. To your point, they get that many riders were screwed beyond belief, and going all the way back to guys like Andy Hampsten. Believe me, they get it.

      My hope is that one day we can get to a point where the sanctions for doping are high enough that riders who feel a need to consider decide it’s unwise and on the rare occasions that they do go ahead with it, the sanctions provide a meaningful punishment. Loss of earnings would be meaningful, were it to happen. Last, I think we need to recognize that we need a carrot along with the switch. Riders need to be able to know that if they confess their misdeeds they can return to the sport some day. If not, we will never get another confession and it’s through confession that we’ve learned most of what we know about how doping has been done.

      Most of all, thanks for reading and joining the conversation.

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