It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig
Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.
The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.
Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.
The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.
Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.
Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.
Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.
The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.
USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.
Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.
American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.
Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.
Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.
The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.
Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.
Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.
Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!
Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.
Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.
Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.
Anyone who’s married or has been in a serious, long term relationship knows that there are ups, and there are downs. Sometimes you’re in love, and sometimes you’re not. In successful relationships, the good times more than make up for the not-so-good. The highs are always higher than the lows are low.
And so it is with me and my bike.
During the spring, when the days are growing longer and arm warmers give way to short sleeves, we are in love, and we do what any couple in love does, we pine for one another. We struggle and strain and juggle our schedules to try to find more time to spend in one another’s company. Inspired by the cobbled classics and other of the pro peleton’s one day flings, I find myself dashing down the basement steps in the morning, pulling my beautiful, two-wheeled transport from the wall and whooshing out the door to introduce rubber to road. As we whiz along together I envision myself bumping over the pavé of the Flandrian countryside. I am Francesco Moser on his way to an office job. You can tell, because it says so on my down tube.
Then spring turns to sweaty summer. We enjoy one another’s company, but the passion of the spring cools in the escalating temperatures. I’m caught up in my work and in watching Grand Tours play themselves out, slowly, on my television. We are together everyday. We are on each other’s minds, but we have settled into a steady companionship. The miles pass comfortingly beneath our wheels.
Then one morning the fall falls, that subtle, breezy coolness that begins to pluck leaves from unsuspecting trees. There is a new wind at our backs. The pro season goes all autumnal. Everyone is scrambling for results. The smell of embrocation follows me into the kitchen at work, where I stand, steam rising from my shoulders, to pile coffee on top of endorphins in an intoxicating brew. Love is rekindled. The riding is effortless. We’re fast for the hell of it, because it feels good.
The Vuelta reminds us that time is passing. The Worlds reinforce the message. Paris – Tours. Lombardia. Cyclocross. And it’s over.
Now it’s cold. Rainy. December is on us. I love my bike, but the fire is burning low. I’ve ridden thousands of miles to this point, only to arrive at winter’s doorstep, gaping into the maw of a windy, snowy, frigid season.
How to maintain inspiration? How to keep the fire burning? In years past, I’ve sustained myself on the ego aggrandizing feeling of being a hard man. My bike and I, we brave the punishing weather of this Northeastern burg. We are tough. Robots, after all, don’t get cold. Thus are nicknames made, and a shocking need to live up to such a name drives me out into the wind more often than you would think.
More motivation is derived from frequent visits to YouTube to gee up the morale with scenes of Sean Kelly’s gutsy triumphs, the sprinting exploits of Steve Bauer, the bone-jarring heroics of the aforementioned Moser. This sort of thing almost always rallies my flagging energies, but as I’ve seen just about every bit of digitized racing in the YouTube vault, I am rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns.
Faith becomes important, faith that, if I continue to push the pedals, we’ll be able to continue on together, faith that winter will eventually give way to spring and that our love will return if only we keep on. The indoor trainer does not help. The rollers do not help. They’re phone calls, when a visit was what was needed.
I honestly don’t know what sustains my marriage. My wife and I fall in and out of love. The periodicity of the thing is unpredictable. We’ll be together 18 years in the spring. Communication is important. Everyone says that, but that too is a sort of alchemical enterprise, Rumpelstiltskin spinning the straw of the mundane into the gold of persistence.
The bike and I are on a similar trajectory. Will this be the winter that breaks us up? Will the ice freeze thick on the streets and force us apart? Will that enforced absence cause our hearts to grow fonder, or will we lose the will to flog each other over hill and dale for another year? Don’t know. Hard to say.
I wonder what you and your bike will be doing this winter.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It’s hard to say where the urge to write develops. There are probably as many motivations as there are writers. In the beginning there is a desire to connect with an audience. That currency, the connection any writer forges with his audience, is the paycheck that gets him started. It certainly did for me.
No matter what the subject matter is, sharing something true with another person is a powerful experience. Initially, when I began writing for myself, I wrote songs. I soon moved to poetry when I saw the incredible power of the confessional poets and the surreal majesty and heart-rending tragedy of poets like James Tate and Mark Strand. When I saw what could be achieved in such tightly wound passages I was hooked.
And while seeing someone’s reaction to my work was good enough to get me started, for any writer who persists, there comes a point when the doing is the paycheck. It’s no different than with cycling. We all want to win races, and the image of us thrusting our arms Godward can infect dreams lit by sun or moon. However, at some point you either learn to love the training itself, or you move on to poker or golf or whatever.
Writing, like cycling, is a love of the craft itself.
But writing has an advantage to bike racing. When I post a new piece, it’s like hitting the final kilometer and each positive comment is like a spot on the podium. I can’t say how many positive notes constitute a win, but at some point I feel as if I threw my bike at just the right moment.
The funny thing is that while the reinforcement that comes from a positive comment spurs me to want to write more and to repeat the experience, the comments of the naysayers, those who think I am a chain minus a master link, are the ones that spur me. Those comments have the power to make me dig deeper into my thoughts.
That I’ve found in cycling a vein rich enough to continue to mine year after year amazes me more than I can describe. In this regard, I must acknowledge Radio Freddy and Belgium Knee Warmers. It was in writing for BKW that I discovered an opportunity to take a magazine form—the column—and use it as a vehicle for analyzing my own thoughts on everything from doping to the well of motivation that keeps us riding day after day.
Radio Freddy gave me a very long leash on which to roam. Leaving BKW was a tough choice, but by the time I made that choice, I had developed my own vision for what a cycling blog could do and what I had to offer.
BKW celebrates three years today with a new skin and a renewed commitment by Radio Freddy. It’s great to see and it’s nice to know that RKP will have a sister site out there doing great work. We’ve discussed some cross-pollination. Watch for some joint posts in the future.
As I mentioned, leaving BKW wasn’t easy, but I had ideas of my own, and it’s not cool to take a bike out for a test ride and come back 100 miles later. I agonized about being the only voice in RKP. Fortunately, I got a lot of encouragement from some smart people.
Bill McGann, formerly of Torelli and these days of Bike Race Info, said to me, “You only need one good voice. You’ve got a good voice.” And while I trust Bill like I trust handmade tubulars in a corner (which is to say “all in”), I made the decision to actively court contributors. I’m pleased to call Da Robot a regular contributor. And with contributions from Bill and Rick Vosper (both of whom were working in the industry while I was still in grade school) I can say I’m both lucky and honored.
But that’s the point here; I’m lucky to have a passionate readership, even if sometimes you think I’m Amy Winehouse-crazy. In my mind, the only way you’ll keep coming back is if I give my very best and that, in part, means giving you more than just me.
A lot has happened since I wrote the last Thanksgiving post, but the two big ones are launching this blog and the birth of my son. I’m incredibly grateful for him and the love he has brought my wife and me.
You, the readers have played a special part in this. It’s because of your consistent reading that I have advertisers and those advertisers help me to be able to work from home and care for him during the day. It’s a delicate balance, but one that I anticipate will get a little easier as I become more experienced as a father.
So I am writing now to declare my thanks for you, dear readers. You give me the freedom to follow my many whims as a writer and the ability to share more time with my son than I’d manage in any other working situation.
Hi. My name is Robot, and I am an alcoholic. Fortunately, for me, I’ve been able to stay sober for the past seventeen years, much of that time with the help of a bicycle and the myriad benefits that particular piece of machinery bestows upon its frequent users.
I bring up my alcoholism to make a point about doping that I think escapes most who would judge a young rider harshly for straying down the garden path of EPO, CERA, Ozone, transfusions and testosterone trickery.
And that is, the dope can be addictive.
Bear with me now. When I was thirteen I was small, in fact the smallest kid in the class, and filled with social fear, much of which was based in the bullying I received at school. That same summer I drank a six pack of beer. Alcohol had the effect of doubling my size, sharpening my tongue and lowering my tolerance for the aforementioned bullying. Suddenly I was fearless, and fearlessness can be very compelling to an adolescent. Girls began to take interest in me. Boys began to respect me. I was crazy and funny and willing to abuse myself chemically to prove my mettle in the teen peloton.
Very quickly I developed a mental addiction to alcohol, rather than the physical addiction to alcohol marked by the shakes, hallucinations and possible cardiac arrest. I was in love with the feeling of being drunk and that feeling led me to all sorts of bad decisions with a burgeoning pile of consequences I struggled to contend with. At the end of my drinking I was blacking out for weeks at a time. Eventually, that loss of consciousness scared me badly enough to do what I needed to do to get clear of the demon liquor.
Right. Now lets run through that same story, but rather than the protagonist being a disaffected teen lets try a promising young cyclist, an amateur. He rides for a small but not insignificant club team that serves as a feeder to continental pro teams. Many of the club’s riders have made the jump to the pros after good results in kermis races or in amateur classics events.
One day this young pedaller is approached by his team’s manager or physio and offered an injection prior to a big race. The young rider is curious and acquiesces. He takes the shot, pulls up his bibs and murders his competition. When normally he might flag in the fourth hour of racing, relegating him to a pack finish, on this day he has the juice to follow the day’s final break, and he finishes third.
Encouraged by his finish and thrilled by the feeling of strength, he begins to make regular use of shots and potions, eventually settling into a pattern that catapults him up the amateur rankings and onto the radar of a number of pro teams.
At this point, he’s addicted to the feeling of power, speed and strength the dope gives him. He knows it’s wrong, but he fears that if he races clean he’ll get crushed, slip off the radar, slip out of cycling. Now he’s bouncing back and forth between the thrill of speed and power and the fear of crashing out of the sport. He continues on, and as he climbs the ladder from amateur to neo-pro to pro, he engages in more and more sophisticated doping programs.
Now his drug use is multi-faceted. He uses so he can feel strong, but he also has to maintain and mask his drugs. His body can’t simply stop being doped without serious risk to his health. On certain drugs, like EPO, riders run the risk of their blood thickening and clotting if they simply stop their program. They’re constantly being injected with anti-coagulants and being monitored for blood pressure issues.
Now our young rider has ALL the hallmarks of addiction. He is physically dependent on his program. He is mentally addicted to the results it produces and fearful of losing those results. And finally, his slow, steady descent into nefarious racing has caused him to lose sight of the ethical barriers that once would have kept him from ever taking that first step. Addiction is a gradual process. It rarely announces itself directly, but rather makes itself known by the accumulation of its consequences.
In my view, the great paradox of addiction is that you are at once powerless over that slow steady descent AND simultaneously, completely responsible for it. No one makes anyone stick a needle in their arm. And once you start down that path, as I did when I was thirteen, no one can make you stop except yourself.
Cycling has done a lot of positive things by creating a set of consequences for its wayward athletes. It has become more transparent and more interested in helping riders ride clean.
But, as I can attest, recovery is a slow, steady process. There are no silver bullets. There is no one test that will clean the dope out of the peloton. There is no one protocol. Recovery for cycling is rooted in our continuing to talk about that recovery, and our continuing to support even those riders who have made some mistakes as we move forward with what are, at the end of the day, just a bunch of bike races.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International