At work, we are putting together our marketing plan for the year, and yesterday I sat for an hour with a guy who sells ads for one of the major cycling rags. When you buy advertising, either with a magazine or a website, typically you get a demographic breakdown of the audience they offer access to. Almost invariably the gender breakdown is something north of 90% male. The median age is almost always north of 40. Income is high. Graduate degrees are not at all uncommon.
I see these breakdowns enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by them, but I always am.
Our sport is male-dominated and wealth-driven. Despite a recent uptick in the profiles of some female pros, the industry, as a whole, is still trying to figure out how to attract more women and more young people. The classic “pink it and shrink it” approach to women’s bikes and apparel isn’t working. Whatever urban styling that’s been applied to lower price point bikes isn’t drawing in the youth.
I am told that the median price for a bike purchased last year by subscribers to the major magazines is somewhere between $3200 and $3900 dollars, and that close to 50% of readers will buy a new bike this year, despite having bought their most recent bike in the last three. (Please don’t quote these numbers as hard data. I am only summarizing the information I have received from many outlets to form a composite picture).
The point is that all us upper-middle class and wealthy men buy early and often and dominate the consumption side of the industry. It doesn’t not necessarily stand to reason that these numbers correlate directly to the participation of women and the less affluent, who may simply not read magazines and/or ride used bikes that don’t make it into anyone’s data, but given what I see out on the road, I don’t think they’re far off.
Regardless, this week’s Group Ride asks the question: How do we change our sport to be more inclusive? What are the prejudices built into both pro racing and bike building that turn off those outside the core demographic? Is change and growth even necessary? Given the recent retirement tirade by Nicole Cooke and the disturbing derth of stock bike options for smaller women, the answer seems obvious, but solutions to the problems range from similarly obvious to vanishingly obscure. Your ideas greatly appreciated.
It was on a hill somewhere past the 55-mile mark of a ride that seemed both nearing its end and not nearly close enough to its finish that Carl Bird, the Director of Equipment for Specialized, turned to me and asked a question that I’d been asked at least a half dozen times that day, a question that a guy in his position riding with a member of the media has a certain professional obligation to ask.
“So, what do you think?”
“It’s nice,” or something akin to it, is what I’d said on every previous occasion. This was, however, my first hilly ride since I’d kissed the ground back in October. It was my first ride on these roads. It was my first experience with these descents, which were equal parts unknown and dicey. It was also my first ride on the new S-Works Roubaix SL4 and Specialized’s new Roval carbon clinchers. The combined effect meant I was stretched thin, that I’d spent most of the day trying to figure out how to get my descending mojo back, and the difference in brake response between the Zipps to which I’ve become accustomed and the Rovals was enough that I’d needed to focus on just the riding and forget about the clothing.
Scientific method suggests that if you want to judge the effectiveness of a solution, you control all of the variables, save one. Real life never really affords you that opportunity. The variables come at you like notes out of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar amp, in flurries, overwhelming you and either resulting in a wave of pleasure or a swirling wash of anxiety. Our loop through the hills of Palo Alto, Pescadero and more had been alternately fun and anxiety-producing, though mostly fun.
Back to that scientific method thingy. Ideally, a product intro would substitute just one item, say a pair of bibs or a jersey. Scientific method suggests you don’t grab a bunch of journalists and put them on fresh bikes with fresh clothing on a fresh course. But in the best scenarios, that’s exactly what happens.
Because it’s genius. It works. You take some riders, put them off-kilter with a bunch of unknowns and then turn up the heat. Somewhere between simmer and boil you forget about what you’re on and start focusing on just the act of riding. Look, I understand that this seems like an elaborate self-deception, like flirting with yourself via email, but I can say from some experience that while you learn a lot about a product within the first five miles of a ride, all the serious insights into whether a product works or not come dozens of miles later, after you’ve forgotten that you’re even using it.
Like I said, Carl asks me, “So what do you think?”
The miles in my legs weren’t that numerous, but they’d been plenty challenging, so my answer came from a place where I wasn’t thinking about the guarded, politic answer. It came from an honest place, an I’m-ready-to-finish-this-ride-up place. I’d had my fill of unknown bike times unknown roads.
“Well, you nailed the bibs.”
It was an honest moment, and revealed more than I intended. I try to be more reserved in my opinion after only a single ride. While I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I knew I’d ridden some bibs of similar quality in the previous year. Upon reflection after getting home, I came to the conclusion that I liked them better than the Hincapie Signature bibs I’d been wearing, and they were in the neighborhood of the Rapha Pro Team Bibs I’d reviewed last summer. The Specialized SL Pro Bibs go for $150, the Rapha, $250. I would probably still pick the Rapha bibs over the Specialized bibs, but I can’t recall the last time I wore a pair of $150 off-the-shelf bibs that were this good. “Never” isn’t an unreasonable answer.
For our ride I chose to wear the aforementioned SL Pro Bibs and Jersey, the leg warmers, the arm warmers, the base layer, the Neoprene shoe covers and the SL Jacket. As I was dressing, temperatures were in the 40s, but by the time we rolled they were in the low 50s. Compared to most of the other riders, I was more heavily dressed, but I wanted layers that would allow me to stay warm and yet peel off as the day warmed. Over the next four hours, the only change I made was to pull off the jacket for a while and then don it for the final descent off of Tunitas Creek. That jacket is one of those bantam-weight deals that weighs roughly as much as a Monarch butterfly. It’s a translucent white so that you can see the jersey beneath, a quality that makes it both more visible and something I think team sponsors tend to appreciate. The fit was just roomy enough that the sleeves flapped a bit in the wind, but the material is so light that it wasn’t noisy the way a flag in a gale is.
As a person who detests most wind breakers, this is one I’m willing to keep around.
The Neoprene shoe covers are meant to fit over Specialized shoes. No surprise there, right? Well reaching back into my past, I can tell you I’ve never used a pair of shoe covers or booties that I didn’t have to fight to get over the toe and cleat and then around the heel. Again, I’m aware these things were designed for Specialized shoes, but they slipped past all the usual obstacles with more grace than a bank heist flick. I was also impressed with the Velcro flap that pulls open to allow you to adjust the Boa dials mid-ride. On a ride where the temperature fluctuated over a good 20 degrees, my feet were never too cold nor too warm. Goldilocks would approve.
Plain black arm warmers are to cycling clothing what the microwave is to the kitchen. They’re a commodity, yet of such ubiquitous utility, you really can’t do without them. The only way to impress me at this point is by improving fit, warmth or stretch, if not all three. The patterning on these warmers gives them some slight articulation at the elbows making them ever-so-slightly a more natural fit. Once positioned, they didn’t budge, but I consider that a basic requirement along the lines of windows in a car. The leg warmers were plenty long (I’m surprised by how many leg warmers are barely long enough to reach my hamstrings), featured ankle zips so you can pull your socks up (or yank them off mid-ride) and silicone grippers on the outside so they don’t tug at the sensitive skin high on the inside of your thighs. And they’re thick, thicker than any of the last few brands of leg warmers I’ve tried.
A pro-fit jersey, like those that are becoming more common, isn’t an easy thing to do. Ideally, it’s not simply a regular jersey just cut a half-size smaller. It features forward-swept shoulders to eliminate unneeded material in the chest and reflect the outstretched arm position you adopt while riding. It’s a garment so specific in fit that when not on the body it looks more like a short-sleeve straightjacket, like it should be just as comfortable as confinement. Most of the panels reject polyester for something stretchier, like Lycra. It’s a retrograde move; we gave up Lycra in jerseys some time in the 1980s, right? It was just a transition material meant to get us from Merino wool to polyester. All that’s true, but what is also true is that a pro-fit jersey is meant to fit much like the top of a skin suit and skin suits are made of—yeah, you remember—Lycra. The better pro-fit jerseys I’ve encountered are cut shorter than traditional jerseys, but also place the pockets lower on the jersey and feature smaller side panels to wrap the pockets around the back better, making access to said pockets easy, rather than a yoga move.
For all its efficiency, at a certain point a skin suit just doesn’t make much sense, or at least not as much sense as a jersey and a pair of bibs that fit like one. They are easier to size properly, easier to get on and take off, easier to answer the call of nature and more comfortable—when was the last time a skin suit felt as good as your best bibs? Let’s not forget the fact that a full-zip jersey allows better ventilation on hot days.
Of all pieces of cycling clothing, though, bib shorts are easiest to get wrong, hardest to get right, hardest to forget about when they aren’t right. I’ve lost count of the different brands and models of bibs I’ve worn and have been amazed by the ways you can get them wrong. The most crucial details are pad quality and placement, the cut of shorts themselves and the sizing of the bibs. It’s still possible for the train to leave the rails, but far less likely if you get that much right. In the last year I’ve ridden a bunch of bibs in the $150 range. I can get through two hours in any of them, but I wouldn’t dare wear any of them on a ride I suspected would last as much as three hours or more, save these.
Final thoughts: I’ve been to a fair number of product intros over the years. At some, we’d stand around and look at the parts. Unimpressive. At a few we went out for hammerfests where we were too busy chasing the company’s staff to give a lick of thought to what we were on. Less than stellar. But the best ones roll out for a nice ride, not so long to kill you, but long enough to both think about and forget about what you’re riding. It’s a weird balance, but as my reaction to Carl illustrated, done right it can result in some honest opinions.
Let me begin by saying that I bear you no malice. I am not someone who’d like to see you dragged through the streets of Paris so that crowds can do to you what crowds are wont to do. I am not someone who has forgotten that you have done real good in the world and am well aware that in guys like Mike Ward and Jeff Castelaz, there continue to be genuine acolytes to the north star you provided those navigating the perils of cancer. I’m okay with that.
I am not someone who has forgotten the hope you represented to cycling here in the U.S. back in 1996, that you began to fill the void left by the retirement of Greg LeMond. I’ll never forget hearing Jim Ochowicz say at the final press conference for the Tour DuPont that it was time to start grooming you to win the Tour de France. I wrote this as you began your comeback, and when you did win the Tour in ’99 I thought myself prescient, rather than duped.
And while I doubt you even remember me, yours remain the most entertaining interview I ever conducted. It was a truly fun afternoon.
In previously writing about cycling and you, I struck a pragmatic tone, differing with the likes of David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Walsh classified dopers as either draggers or the dragged; I reasoned that fundamentally, every cyclist of your generation was either dragged into doping, or quit. I’ve learned the truth is otherwise, that Walsh was right, that the lengths you went to exert influence over not just your team, but the whole of the peloton included wire taps and private investigators—tactics too coarse for sport. It’s easier to understand now why you accused Greg LeMond of using EPO—you simply thought that everyone did.
What you don’t seem to understand is that your interview with Oprah was never going to serve the purpose you desired. It was both too soon and too late. It was too late in that the horse hasn’t been in the barn for ages. The collective weight of the documents released in USADA’s Reasoned Decision dethroned your myth as the prevailing world view. It’s often said that history is told by the victors. Your story proves exactly that. Your version of events stood for a decade, but game, set and match have gone to Travis Tygart. By giving an interview to Oprah that fell short of what we learned from the Reasoned Decision, you failed to meet the minimum level of confession required to help your image. We didn’t need a body language expert to tell us your pursed lips meant you were holding back. And the interview also came too soon in that the public remains outraged over the revelation that the Cancer Jesus was something more akin to Machiavelli. They simply aren’t ready to forgive a lie that great.
As my colleague Charles Pelkey noted (and yeah, I know you think of him as “clueless”), your use of the passive voice—“got bullied”—suggests you really haven’t taken responsibility for your actions.
You dodged both the “deathbed confession” at the heart of your fight with the Andreus and the 2001 positive at the Tour of Switzerland. We no longer believe what you’re telling us. Why you won’t simply confirm that Betsy and Frankie have been telling the truth mystifies me. It’s not like you can hope to win the coming suit by SCA Promotions, so why hide? Why you won’t admit the Tour of Switzerland positive took place is less surprising. At this point, you have no reason to protect Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, as they are no longer protecting you. But it’s obvious that Nike, alleged to have helped pay off Verbruggen to make the positive go Jimmy Hoffa, would suffer a PR black eye far worse than sweat-shopping every child in Southeast Asia, and if you out them, your dream of rehabilitating your image so that you can once again “Just Do It” for them will go bye-bye.
That you would sit down with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have been the biggest lie you told Oprah. Dude, come on, if you won’t level with her—and she’s as sympathetic a listener as anyone ever gets—there’s little chance you’ll tell the whole truth to people who really know the sport, people who will ask hard questions.
I like to imagine that there’s an alternate universe, one where you delete the Strava account and go underground, where you drop by cancer wards unannounced, where you sit with people at death’s door and do what you do best: Give people hope. While I think Sally Jenkins’ quip that you beat cancer fair and square is asinine, I know that you can’t fake hope. There’s another narrative in you, room to say, “Yeah, I did some really stupid things to my body and my sport, but I still managed to beat this disease, and you can too.” And when you aren’t visiting cancer patients, you would be quietly showing up on doorsteps. First the Andreus. There’d be an apology and then you’d whip out your calculator to help figure the value of all that lost income.
And then you’d write a check.
Next, you’d fly to the U.K. and do the same for Emma O’Reilly. Then on to New Zealand where you’d present six figures to Mike Anderson. You’d take Floyd Landis out for beers, but not until you gave him a check, one with two commas. The toughest one would be the LeMonds. Done right, you’d find a bike company with the horsepower and credibility to revive LeMond’s bike line, probably Specialized or Giant, because I doubt John Burke, the head of Trek, and Greg LeMond will ever shake hands again … thanks to you, of course. In my mind’s eye you’d apologize to the LeMonds and tell them of the new deal, one that required no lawyers, and then the biggest check of the bunch, one that measured in tens—of millions. Yeah, that one would hurt. It’s the one that would make you think, over and over, about what you have done.
Without any press in tow, without any of your minions to insulate you, and no lawyers to get in the way, you’d come face to face with your actions and deal with the fallout. But word would spread and nothing could rehabilitate your image like having Betsy Andreu say, “Lance Armstrong sat down with Frankie and me, apologized, and then asked, ‘What can I do to make you whole?’”
Writing checks can’t fix the harm you did, but it would be a way to reconcile their earnings to yours, a way to right-size what your and their careers should have been. Despite all the good you’ve done for millions of cancer patients, the way you damaged the lives of those who got in your way stands as a symbol for the damage you caused cycling as a whole. With Oprah you rued the $75 million hit you took in a single day. Well guess what? Cycling as a sport has taken a much bigger hit. You are our Hurricane Katrina. Selling cycling to potential sponsors is tougher than selling real estate in the Ninth Ward. We’ll be cleaning up this mess for years to come.
I used to smile and wave when people at the side of the road called out, “Hey Lance Armstrong!” My God man, you single-handedly transformed cycling from the non-sport of geeky outcasts into a triumph of healthy living. Your downfall took us with you; now cycling is the sport of cheaters. Today, I hear people yell, “Doper!”
Look, I’m the first to argue against the lifetime ban for cyclists. We profess to be a society where anyone can apologize and be forgiven, but Lance, we don’t yet believe you’re contrite. When I look at how much harm, shame and ridicule you’ve brought to cycling, I realize if anyone has earned a lifetime ban, it’s you.
Red Kite Prayer
Much has already been written and said about the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey. It ranges from naive praise to dismissive disbelief. My purpose isn’t to either defend him or further scorch the earth at his feet; rather, I’d like to offer some perspective to view this within the larger framework of the evolving myth of Lance Armstrong.
The general sentiment of Armstrong among RKP readers, the collective room temperature, isn’t hard to gauge. Many of you are tired of the lies, tired of the myth, tired of him. So why pay attention now? Because Lance Armstrong told the truth to Oprah. Based on what we know, not everything he told was the truth, nor was it all of the truth we want to hear. But he admitted to doping. It’s an important first step. That he wouldn’t roll over on any of his co-conspirators—in particular Johan Bruyneel and Thom Weisel—was the omission I feared would sour an otherwise bold change of heart. His continued denial of a coverup in 2001 at the Tour de Suisse was just as troubling.
When he told Oprah that he wanted to deal with what he had done, it may have seemed a noble move to some, but then he added that he didn’t want to address the actions of others. We all know that the best he could do right now is to be completely forthright.
What’s unfortunate about the first part of Oprah’s interview with Armstrong is that by drawing a line in the sand and telling her that he wasn’t going to discuss the actions of others he eliminated the anticipation that he’d reveal anything surprising, something we didn’t already know. Part two of the interview is a foregone conclusion. He will confess to some things we accept as true and he may deny a couple of details that we also accept as true.
The only surprises in store for us are really those items he continues to deny.
For my part, I was disappointed when Oprah asked him when he began doping and his answer wasn’t immediate, wasn’t detailed. Telling her, “I suppose earlier in my career … mid ‘90s,” is an unacceptably vague answer. The only way I’m willing to believe he doesn’t remember both the month and year he began is if it was some time in the 1980s. Either way, I’m unwilling to accept he doesn’t remember the year he began.
He also told Oprah that he wasn’t a bully before cancer. I call shenanigans on that as well. He’s never not been a rough-hewn character who wanted his way. When I was a race mechanic, USA Cycling staff shared Lance Armstrong stories the way stoners trade arrest stories. Those who told the stories did so with an air of amusement, that while his behavior didn’t conform with the genteel demeanor expected of athletes sponsored by USA Cycling, they were willing to indulge him, a tiny gift for a guy who was destined to make their stock split. Perhaps Lance and I define bully differently, but where I come from, only bullies always get their way, and until very recently, Lance got his way.
I think much of the interview was truly aimed not at the public but at his aforementioned co-conspirators. It was a flare from him to demonstrate that he wasn’t going to rat them out, that he could have, but didn’t. Considering Bruyneel’s appeal looms, it could also be considered a shot across his bow—’I didn’t rat you out, bro. Don’t rat me out.’ CNN is claiming that the interview was a win for Oprah, her biggest “get” ever (which defies comprehension), but backfired on Armstrong.
If indeed Armstrong’s interview is only worsening his situation, there’s a simple reason. What we’ve needed from Lance wasn’t just some truth, we’ve needed what we expect in sworn testimony—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We, the people, don’t feel we got that from him, and that’s why this was a fail for the average cycling fan, if not the general public as well.
I will say I was relieved to hear Armstrong admit that a single call to Frankie and Betsy Andreu wasn’t going to be enough to undo the damage of nearly a decade of attacks. When asked if he was forgiven, he was bang on the money in his response: “They’ve been hurt too badly … and a 40-minute conversation isn’t enough.”
Still, nothing that he said can overcome the disappointment of hearing him say of his past, “Such a bad story, so toxic … a lot of it is true.” From the jaws of admission—an opportunity for real contrition and reflection—he managed to snatch defense. It’s a shame he doesn’t appreciate what we’ve all come to learn about his story—that it was so fantastic, so mythic in its scope that no one—not Landis, not Hamilton, not the Andreus—ever needed to invent anything about him.
The inventions were his.
I’m going to open this by apologizing for not giving you something juicy and/or entertaining to read. To that end—sorry. What follows is the blogging equivalent of sweeping the porch, and while not sexy, there are a few points I do need to communicate to all you who are kind enough to drop by here.
First up: The RKP Store. Simply put, our store is down. Now for those of you who have clicked on the link only to be taken to a page with absolutely nothing on it, this isn’t what you’d call news. The reason I’m bringing it up here is that A) We are aware of it. And B) We have no clue (so far) why it isn’t working. My troubleshooting skills on this particular WordPress plug-in are as comical as an episode of Archer. Nevertheless, we are working have it back up ASAP. In the meantime, if there’s something you want, just drop us an email at: killerkit [at] redkiteprayer.com. I might add, it would help us all if you request something that we’ve sold in the past; that ’63 Jaguar you’ve had your eye on isn’t something we have in stock.
Next up: The Comments Section. This is probably a bit overdue. RKP’s readership has grown a good deal in the last year and we’ve had an occasional issue with things written in the comments. The biggest point I want to make is that the more civilized and cordial your comments are, the more likely others are to join in the conversation. We’re pleased that part of RKP’s reputation is based on the almost complete absence of idiocy in our comments section. That’s a testament to the intelligence of you lot rather than any sort of confirmation that we do good work. That said, even as our readership grows, we want to keep things that way. So, here are a few requests: Think of RKP’s Comments Section as a dinner party, an event at which polite engagement is the norm. I expect everyone present not to insult my family (contributors), friends (readers) or the food (posts). That’s not to say you can’t disagree; we just want the comments to remain civil and be constructive so that they drive the conversation forward, rather than shutting it down. Similarly, please contain your comments to the subject at hand. That also means that if we review a jersey from Company A, your review of a jersey from Company B isn’t an appropriate comment. We’ve had to clamp down on this especially hard because we have no way of knowing if said review is written by an employee of the manufacturer in question. Which brings me to my final point, which regards comment length: If you feel a need to review something yourself, or your comment is turning into a 500-word essay on the nature of man, we ask you to reconsider it. Brevity helps the conversation move. If your comment is more than a couple of hundred words, you might be in need of a blog of your own, or you might consider sending us a query. Robot got started with a query; think how much less interesting this site would be if he hadn’t. Just to reiterate: Feel free to disagree with us or with another reader; all we ask is that your comment be both civil and constructive.
Last up: Advertising. I’m in need of some advertising sales help. Our last hire didn’t work out. The position, based on our current needs, is part-time. There may come a point when the need will increase, but the amount of time this requires would allow someone a second gig. And while the gig is sales, the position is mostly relationship management. There are some introductions to be made, but there won’t be any cold-calling. Also, we pay a commission that is in-line with the rest of the publishing industry. Someone with a real work ethic could make good money. If you know someone who might be a fit, tell ‘em to drop us a note at: info [at] redkiteprayer.com.
As always, thanks for reading.
The Facebooks and Twitters have been full of apocalyptic references thanks to the easily anticipated fail of the Mayan end-of-the-world prediction. Laughing off the prediction of a 5000-year-old calendar created by a long-extinct people seems easy enough until you think about what cycling has been through this year. Had anyone told me this time last year that Lance Armstrong would be utterly disgraced and bereft of all sponsorship to the point of being dumped by his own eponymous foundation, I’d have laughed until I threw up. Similarly, if you’d told me that half the pro continental cycling teams in the U.S. would be without sponsors for 2013, I’d have laughed, though maybe not to the point of the technicolor yawn. And if you’d told me that there was a revolutionary movement afoot to topple the UCI and replace Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen with people of actual moral fiber, I’d have asked you just which drugs you were taking—and if you’d be willing to share them with me. For cycling, at least, it does seem a bit like end times.
The reality is, this is a year unlike any other the sport of cycling has ever faced. The news has been more bad than good this year, so this year’s awards may have more snark than praise. Herewith are a few things we think are worth remembering. And for good measure, this time around, we’ve asked Patrick O’Grady to sit in with our band.
News of the decade: Even though this one isn’t over, not by a longshot, I think we can call this one now—the actual fall of Lance Armstrong. Not only does most of the rational world believe he doped—a conclusion I didn’t think we’d ever get most folks to reach—sponsors have run from him like cute girls from a leper colony. I had an easier time getting a date in eighth grade than he does finding a sponsor today. That his own foundation wouldn’t shake hands with him with rubber gloves says a lot about how badly everyone wants to distance themselves from him, that is, excepting Johan Bruyneel, Chechu Rubiera and a few other pros who don’t understand that most people see doping the way they see racism—completely unacceptable.
Most believable Grand Tour winner: Ryder Hesjedal. I don’t care what Bradley Wiggins says about how he hates dopers or how the fact that he’s not as fast as Armstrong was proves he isn’t a doper. The fact that he won stage races in March, April, May and June before winning the Tour and then revving up once more to take the ITT at the Olympic Games smells as bad as one of my son’s used diapers. I’m not going to accuse him of doping, but if the press are going to be held to a standard of expectation that we’ll speak up when we’re suspicious, well, then I have to say that Wiggins’ never-before-performed season is highly suspicious. Even Eddy Merckx never swept Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour in the same year. Hesjedal, on the other hand, was vulnerable in the Giro. His win was not the inevitable outcome that sucked the life out of watching this year’s Tour. He’s been riding for a team that I have the utmost belief in as a clean program; while I believe that cycling is probably the cleanest it has ever been, I think Garmin-Sharp has taken the best, most transparent approach to demonstrating their team is clean. Hesjedal, as a product of that team, has earned my respect and admiration.
Most clueless person in cycling: This one’s a tie between Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen. I liken them to the small-town mayors in the Southern states when the civil rights legislation was enacted. Those old boys fought integration for any number of spurious reasons, but the biggest problem with them wasn’t that they couldn’t come up with a solid, objective reason to fight equal rights for all people, it was that they failed to see how public opinion had evolved and, like those who now fight gay marriage, how their opinions were coming down on the wrong side of history. Verbruggen lost any credibility as a leader and even as an administrator once he proclaimed that it was the fans’ fault that doping had taken root, that because we wanted to see fast racing the fans had forced the riders to dope. Their mudslinging agains Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton in the wake of those two deciding to finally tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is shameful on the level of scoutmaster sex abuse. Those two can’t go quickly enough.
Best new piece of gear: I can’t not give this to Shimano for the new Dura-Ace 9000. While my full review will come in the next few weeks, let me say that this group is what we hoped for when 7900 came out a few years ago. It’s a group of such magnificent improvement it reminds me of what I thought when I first heard Metallica’s Black Album: How did I ever live without this?
Biggest mistake award: For this one we have to go back to Armstrong. If he had just been willing to set aside his ire with Floyd Landis and give him a spot on RadioShack, his life would be very different right now. I’m not bemoaning our current situation, but come on, there must have been an epic, “D’oh!” in the shower one morning.
The Commander Omertà award: This one goes to Patrick Lefevre for thanking Levi Leipheimer for confessing his previous doping by firing him. If anyone could have sent a more convincing message to the peloton to shut up, I can’t think who could have accomplished that. ‘Shh, don’t tell mom about the pot brownies.’ I’d pay money to have Lefevre retire the day we put McQuaid and Verbruggen out to pasture so that I could hold a Stevil Kinevil-style party. Hell, I’d hire Stevil to run the thing.
The JFK-style Conspiracy Theorist award: This goes to everyone who is unwilling to believe that Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, et al, told the full truth about their doping. Given that Leipheimer didn’t know what Hamilton, Zabriskie or any of the other riders who were ordered to testify before the grand jury would say, not telling the full truth about their involvement in doping was incredibly risky. If any of them were caught in a lie, they’d face prosecution for perjury and those agreements for reduced suspensions would be unwound. The pressure to be truthful was enormous. We should all be willing to take them at their word in this regard. Besides, so far as USADA and USA Cycling are concerned, this matter has been put to rest. You can second-guess it all you want, but you’re not going to get any new answers. Best just to move on.
Most Disappointing Win: Alexander Vinokourov at the Olympic road race. Based on his statements in the media, he has neither fully confessed nor repented his sins. He harks from a generation and mindset we need behind us. His victory salute was a reminder that even if he was clean on that day, the sport needs to be ever-vigilant in its quest for clean(er) cycling. My lack of confidence that he could/would win clean is the doubt that currently undermines my love for professional cycling. This would be why Vino also gets my Most Relief-Inducing Retirement Award.
Best line in a product introduction: Back in October at the introduction of Giro’s new line of clothing we were told how it was meant to pay homage to a new direction in cycling. Giro’s PR guru, Mark Riedy, uttered the line, “No more heroes.” ‘Nuff said.
The One Fingered Salute Award – Peter Sagan. The grown ups tend not to like it so well when some young whipper-snapper gets above his raising and makes them look foolish. The effect is only exacerbated when the whipper-snapper in question does it day after day after day and with increasingly audacious celebratory flourishes. Thus it was that Sagan more or less made the Tours of both California and Switzerland his bitches, while the grown ups flogged away at their pedals somewhere behind in his dusty trail. More than anything, the shy (off the bike) Slovak announced that not only was he not intimidated in the deep end of pro racing, but that he was capable of much more, that his raw power and top-end speed were wed to a racer’s brain far more mature than his youth would suggest.
The All Business Award – Tom Boonen. When I think of Tom Boonen, I have a hard time not thinking about cocaine and under-age super models. Just as a tornado will destroy the homes of both the rich and the poor indiscriminately, Tornado Tom’s approach to his career has created as much damage off the road as on it. But in 2012, the Belgian veteran was all business and all class, owning the cobbled Classics and inching his way one step closer to the record books in a Spring campaign that left the whole racing world with their mouths slightly agape.
The No Business Award – The Schleck Brothers. Luxembourg’s favorite family act must have broken a mirror while walking under a ladder placed by a darkly furred feline carpenter, because 2012 couldn’t have gone much worse for them. Chained to the sinking barge of the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team, there was the early season set to with Johann Bruyneel (remember that guy?), a fractious start to an uncertain partnership, which saw both Andy and his brother Franck underperforming in every race they entered. Eventually Andy was injured in a seemingly innocuous crash and Franck got popped for doping.
The Other Shoe Award – Bjarne Riis. In a season when it seemed to be raining shoes, the painfully serious Dane’s reputation has been called into question more often than an Italian Prime Minister’s. Having confessed to doping during his own racing career, there remain serious allegations that he also facilitated doping in his teams as a manager. Tyler Hamilton says he did. Bobby Julich says he didn’t. It seems that, in pro cycling, where there’s smoke now, there was fire a decade ago. Riis’ persistence should really be seen as the test case for what cycling wants to do with its doping past. Will the worst offenders of the ’90s find a future in the sport? Julich’s own fate (fired by Team Sky) suggests one possible answer, but when/if the other shoe drops for Riis will tell us for certain.
The Most Sleep-inducing Grand Tour: Yeah, I know. Many of my British friends will believe it’s sacrilege to suggest that the first Tour de France to see a Brit’ atop the podium in Paris would rank as the most boring of this year’s grand tours. It was more than that. It was one of the most boring Tours in history. Come on ASO, three mountain-top finishes? Thankfully, this year also offered us the Giro and Ryder Hesjedal’s surprising and impressive win over Joaquim Rodríguez and the Vuelta’s three-way battle between Rodríguez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde. Here’s hoping that in 2013 the “world’s greatest bicycle race” lives up to that designation.
Most well-deserved victory lap: It’s clear that most agree that the implosion of Lance Armstrong is the cycling story of the year — or as Padraig points out, the story of the decade. It’s hard to disagree, but it’s important to point out that this was far from a new story. It’s a story that Sunday Times of London journalist David Walsh has been telling since 1999. I know first-hand of Walsh’s skepticism, since I spent the ’99 and ’00 Tours with the tenacious Irishman. It was déjà vu all over again when the USADA “reasoned decision” was delivered to the UCI on October 13, 2012. Sure there was more documentation, but most of the allegations were made years ago, when Walsh and Pierre Ballester co-wrote ”L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong” in 2004. At the time, Walsh was demonized by the Armstrong camp — which labeled him “the F#cking Troll” — and even shunned by fellow journalists. Well, he who laughs last …. When the report was released and the UCI soon confirmed its conclusions, Walsh teamed up with Paul Kimmage, John Follain and Alex Butler and quickly released ”Lanced: The Shaming of Lance Armstrong,” on October 31st, and followed that with his own, much more personal story “Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong,” on December 13. I, for one, hope that “Seven Deadly Sins,” sells more than the many works of apparent fiction shilled to an unsuspecting public by writers who should have known better. Maybe he should change the title to “It’s Not About the Bullshite: The Unmaking of the World’s Greatest Sports Fraud,” eh? Quite frankly, the book should be required reading for anyone hoping to work in sports “journalism.” Without that kind of moral compass; without that tenacity and without that consequences-be-damned attitude, we’re all just – to use an old, sadly accurate term — fans with typewriters. Hats off to the “F#cking Troll.” Enjoy the moment. You deserve it, sir.
Inspiring show of support: In recent years, the aforementioned Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen found that filing lawsuits against critics in a friendly, local court could be an effective tool. They, along with the UCI itself, filed suit against former World Anti-Doping Agency head, Dick Pound, and then against Floyd Landis, after he admitted his own doping and alleged the UCI conspired to cover-up Armstrong’s own infractions. Pound issued a brilliantly word non-apology-apology. Landis pretty much blew them off and lost in a default judgment. Then they went after Paul Kimmage. Ooops. Kimmage decided to put up a fight and he soon got overwhelming support from you, the fans. The folks over at Cyclismas.com and NYVeloCity started promoting the “Paul Kimmage Defense Fund” and readers eventually kicked in more than – get this – $92,000 to help in the fight. Kimmage, laid off from the Sunday Times last year, suddenly had the resources to take on the UCI. And, sure enough, McQuaid, Verbruggen and the UCI, put their suit “on hold.” Kimmage, however, is now pursuing his own case. None of that would have been possible had you, the readers, not stepped up to lend a valuable hand.
My favorite photo of the year: This one comes from Betsy Andreu, who offered up photographic evidence of Frankie Andreu’s reaction to Tyler Hamilton’s detailed confessional, “The Secret Race.”
A personal favorite: When it comes to my work in cycling, I think the highlight of the year for me was finding out that the unique business model of LiveUpdateGuy.com actually worked. Thank you to all of those readers who offered help and support during our Live Coverage of all three grand tours. Because of your support, we may well be able to offer the same in 2013. Those, of course, will appear right here on Red Kite Prayer, as well.
Patrick the Other—
Donna Summer Memorial Disc-O Dance Party Platinum Rotor Medallion: To the bicycle industry for trying to hang disc brakes on everything from road bikes to stick ponies. I can understand why bike companies want to sell discs —after all, some shameless hucksters will try to sell you a rat’s asshole, telling you it’s a pinhead’s sweatband, a Chris King headset or the One Ring To Rule Them All — but I don’t understand why anyone who isn’t a pro racer with a team mechanic needs discs. And some of them don’t even need ’em (see Sven Nys, Katie Compton, et al.). If I want pointless complexity “enhancing” my cycling I’ll look to the UCI or USA Cycling for it. Speaking of which. …
The Salvatore Palumbo Good People Certificate: This honor traditionally goes to the nefarious criminal organization most hell-bent on kneecapping the sport of bicycle racing (either USA Cycling or the UCI). This year, it’s USA Cycling, which this year tried putting the squeeze on the wildly successful activities of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, once again confirming our worst fears — that our national governing body cares as much about grassroots bike racing as did Kid Sally Palumbo, organizer of the six-day bike race immortalized in “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” by Jimmy Breslin. One can practically hear USAC caporegime Kid Stevie Johnson ringing up OBRA executive director Kenji Sugahara to hiss, “You could be dead in a bomb accident.”
The Gov. William J. LePetomane Protecting Our Phony-Baloney Jobs Here Gentlemen Citation for Excellence In Oversight: UCI President Pat McQuaid. I still haven’t gotten a “Harrumph” out of that guy. But what I’d really like is an “Adios.”
Charles Foster Kane Snowglobe of Destiny: Lance Armstrong. As reporter Jerry Thompson said of Citizen Kane, Armstrong was “a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it.” We may never know what his personal Rosebud was, but a sled is a fine thing for going downhill fast, if you don’t mind the bonfire at the bottom, and Armstrong was not the first to build his Xanadu from a drug-induced dream.
I like routines. I’m a pretty strategic, logical, thinker. For everything that isn’t time spent with family, writing or riding, I want efficiency. I want to spend as little time as possible washing dishes, cooking dinner and doing laundry. So I like to work out routines so that I devote as little thought to these tasks as possible. And, yes, I’m a profoundly unambitious cook. The kitchen is not a place of magic for me.
As a cyclist, routines allow me to dress quickly in the morning; I am usually ready to ride, from waking to clipped-in, in less than a half hour. Routines are handy for those weekday morning training rides. If you’ve got two hours to ride, you can’t spend ten minutes deciding on a route, so established routes with known turnaround points are key to me making the most of my riding time.
However, there’s a point when routine becomes, well, routine. After the 16th consecutive week of doing exactly the same ride on Saturday, I tend to go batty. And even though I haven’t suffered that monotony of repetition lately, I have been trying to do lots of very easy miles (any Strava notches in my belt this time of year are purely accidental). And we all know from experience that group rides and going easy go together like multinational corporations and ethics.
So I decided to do something I don’t often do. I headed inland.
To non-Angelenos, that last statement will probably seem unremarkable. To cyclists of the Westside and Southbay, what I just wrote is considered tantamount to a suicide note. Like all big cities, Los Angeles has its areas of the ruling class (Brentwood and Bel Air), the haves (Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica), the doing okay (Culver City), the getting by (Inglewood and Pico Rivera), and then the hood (Rancho Dominguez—better known as Compton). Los Angeles also has exclusively industrial areas, such as the city of Vernon, which lies due south of downtown and has a whopping population of 113.
As I mentioned, I’ve been trying to do loads of very easy miles. While the coast of Southern California is punctuated by constant undulations of terrain, the area east and north of my home offers hundreds of miles of bowling-lane roads, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings they can be pretty lightly traveled.
So I took off into parts unknown. Mind you, these are sprawling swaths of suburbanity, spreading plains of asphalt and concrete, so they are known to millions of people but their residents are unfamiliar with Lycra-skinned cyclists and to cyclists, well Canterbury Knolls might as well be the Congo. After all, most of LA south of downtown that isn’t coastal is as hip as new Coke. These neighborhoods are not even stylish in an ironic sense, let alone the revived urbanity of a place like Echo Park or East Hollywood.
And it’s in these assumptions that educations occur. The preceding two images were shot near Leimert Park, and if anything can convey how a place is loved, how a place matters, how a place is home, it’s public art. The mural was an African creation myth that moved from the Big Bang through the pyramids and right into 20th century music and beyond. It was a remarkable and moving piece of art.
For the last two weekends, my rides have foregone the coast, both north and south, in favor of routes that take in the city’s rich ethnic smorgasbord. It’s worth remembering that for much of history all Western art was religious in nature. I couldn’t help but notice that as I moved away from the coast the occurrence of churches climbed sharply. And they came in more flavors than we have words for skin color.
The above was the nativity scene at Olvera Street, the Hispanic district in downtown. It’s a well of deep Catholic spirituality, a place where belief informs daily life, isn’t relegated to an hour on Sunday morning.
This has been a year unlike any other in my life. And while any year has plenty to qualify it as unique in a person’s life. This one has been so chock full of successes, disappointments, frustrations and downright tragedies, that I realized that right now the bike is, more than ever, my temple, a place where I can think, meditate, sometimes just brood. I don’t have anything to prove—not even to me, so my rides have become an opportunity to explore, to see, to wonder.
The exploration has inspired in me an odd curiosity. I find myself trying to imagine the daily arc of the lives of people who live in Little Tokyo, Silverlake, West Adams. The beauty of Los Angeles is rarely discussed, but the deeper I dig, the more I find. The wonder of what lives I might have led has never been more palpable than as I ride through these neighborhoods.
Gift giving is one of those activities that can take years to really appreciate. I didn’t get the value of it when I was a kid. Like the Grinch, there came a point when I’d like to think my heart grew three sizes. I doubt very much it happened in a single year, let alone a single event. The giving has come to mean much more to me and if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I think much less of giving than I think of sharing. I’ve still got a fundamentally selfish streak in me and writing is an activity I undertake first, and foremost, to satisfy me. Publishing my work is more an act of sharing than giving.
In as much as RKP can give a gift to you readers, I’d like to think we’ve been doing that all year long. So on this day we think of gifts both physical and spiritual, here’s to hoping that you got some gifts you were hoping for and were able to give some gifts that brought smiles to the faces of those you love. Most of all, I’m writing to thank you for the year you’ve given me. From the growth of our readership to the incredible support you showed me with the beer fund, this year has been an education in the power of the written word. My greatest Christmas gift is what you have given me this year and now being healthy enough to look back over the year that was and to have a chance to take it all in.
Thank you all for reading. I hope the holiday season brings you and yours much happiness.
It feels strange to even speak of it after so long, but you know what? Professional road racing is about to start happening again. Rising up from the ashes of the Lancepocalypse, spindly legged racers are due to crawl out from under their off-season rocks, emerging into the blinking light of the 2013 season.
What’s gonna happen?
The Classics, perhaps the least dope-tarnished races of the calendar, will once again give us the Boonen v. Cancellara races we all want to see, assuming Fabian Cancellara has killed whatever chicken he needed to to dispel the voodoo curse that ruined his 2012. We should also see the return of Thor Hushovd to the rutted cart paths of Northern Europe and find out just how serious Peter Sagan is about mixing it up with these infernal cobblers.
The first question of this week’s Group Ride is who will be this year’s Classics star? Can Boonen thrive with Cancellara in the mix, or will someone else rise to the challenge?
Stage racing, if we’re honest, is more of a shit show. TdF champ Bradley Wiggins is talking about skipping the July race in favor of the seemingly more favorable Giro, which puts Chris Froome in the captain’s seat for Sky. Alberto Contador is back in full swing. Purito Rodriguez showed his class last season, but will his team even make the races? And what of the Schlecks? The younger is coming back from an injury-blighted 2012, and the older will probably be suspended.
The second question for this week’s Group Ride mirrors the first. Who will be this year’s Grand Tour star? Can Ryder Hesjedal repeat his Giro heroics? Can any of 2012′s bit part players, Thomas de Gendt, Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali, take another step up the podium?
It feels odd to me to be talking about these things. It feels as though some great schism occurred at the end of 2012, and that the future can’t be quite like the past. All I know how to do, at this point, is to look at what’s happened and wonder what will be, and hopefully, in the process, it will all be as fascinating as ever, if only that little bit better.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
It’s the Christmas season and with that comes a myriad of changes to our routines. There’s the change in traffic; with so many people out shopping, it makes it seem like there are twice as many people on the road both when I’m out for training rides and later in the day when I try to run any errand. There’s the fact that it’s mid-December; with the planet approaching the winter solstice almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing colder temperatures on rides—and you all fortunate enough to be in the Southern Hemisphere and headed into summer can do us all a favor and try not to rub it in. Let’s not forget all the gifts; with Christmas comes the opportunity to get stuff we want, not to mention the chance to express our love for others in the form of the gifts we give them.
We’ve talked here previously about who you would like to give the gift of cycling to. The rich array of answers was fascinating as much for the why of how you chose as for the who that you did choose.
I’ll admit, when I was a kid, I was much more focused on the getting than the giving. I didn’t put much into the giving and so the dividends—that sense of pleasure you get from seeing another person light up when they receive your gift—were pretty insignificant. It took a while to realize that the more I put into it, the more I got out of it.
This year, the gift I’d most like to give isn’t cycling, it’s learning. I’ve already given my son cycling this year; I’m glad I didn’t wait until his birthday or Christmas to give him the gift of cycling—we’ve had so much fun, I feel like I got Christmas back in April. So now I’m trying to figure out a way to afford an iPad mini for him. He’s becoming more interested in computers but if we give him free access to our iPad, we will never get access to it again. Still, I have this feeling that an iPad can’t top having given him a bike earlier this year.
I don’t think of RKP as a place where I give. I do what I’m naturally inclined to do—write—and then I have the good fortune to have a bunch of people stop by to read my work, not to mention the work of others, work that I publish because I think it’s pretty terrific.
But this FGR is going to be a little different. What do YOU want? I don’t mean what gear, what destination, what win—I’m wondering what it is you’d like from RKP? I’ve got designs for next year, things I’d like to do more of, ways I’d like to expand our content. But I’m curious, if we were to give you a gift of content (perhaps even something else?) what would you like to see us do more of; what new areas of content would you welcome?