October 31, 2013 § 23 Comments
Former cycling professional and Tour de France contender Michael Rasmussen has released excerpts from his forthcoming autobiography that reveal the existence of widespread doping practices in the European pro peloton during his career. Co-authored with Danish sports journalist Pastry Kierkegaard, the book, “Charging While Charged,” exposes the use of banned substances among elite athletes.
According to Rasmussen, professional cyclists regularly used EPO and other drugs to pedal faster than they would have been able to without the banned substances. This little known fact has rocked the normally staid Danish Cycling Federation. “If what he says is true, this means that a great fraud has been perpetrated on the Danish sporting public,” said federation director Njal Saga.
“The drugs were used in such a way that we could avoid detection,” Rasmussen explains. “We took them secretly so that we wouldn’t be caught.” Athletes in other sports have expressed dismay at this revelation.
“If what Rasmussen says can be corroborated, then it means that other athletes might be using banned substances, too,” said Manuel Ortega de Coronado Castillo y Leon, president of the Argentine Football Society and Committee to Re-elect the President.
Descent into doping
In addition to his own drug use, Rasmussen claims to have taught doping methods to Ryder Hesjedal, the first Canadian winner of the Giro d’Italia. “I taught Ryder how to use EPO. When he used it, he rode a lot faster,” says Rasmussen.
Several doping experts, however, question this claim. “Its not 100% sure that drugs can always make you faster,” said Paolo Derrigade. “One cannot turn a donkey into a racehorse. However, if true, this could mean we’ve been hoodwinked by a lot of unethical sportsmen.”
In addition to EPO, Rasmussen reveals that professional cyclists used a combination of steroids and other illegal substances to go faster. By using these drugs, he says, the athletes hoped to win races that they could not otherwise win. “You could say they were cheating,” he admits.
Explaining his reasons for using banned drugs, Rasmussen goes on to say that “I took the drugs to go faster.” In this tell-all, provocative expose, the author also claims that doping has been in pro cycling for a long time. “Doping has been in pro cycling for a long time,” he writes.
These explosive allegations have already had consequences, with some questioning whether the Tour de France victories of fellow Dane Bjarne Riis, as well as victories by Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong could have also been achieved through the use of banned substances. Brian Cookson, head of the UCI, commented that “We can’t say anything until we’ve completed our own internal investigation, but if drugs were involved in those victories, there will be consequences.”
Rasmussen’s detailed description of what he terms “doping doctors,” or physicians who provided the illegal substances and administered them to willing athletes, suggests even broader patters of doping. When asked in a telephone interview if he believed that other athletes in sports such as football, baseball, soccer, and chess were also doping, Rasmussen answered, “Yes.”
Not everyone was shocked by the revelations, and some commentators were openly skeptical. According to Phil Liggett, a veteran reporter of the Tour, “I don’t believe it was widespread. Maybe the odd cheater here and there, but that’s it. The vast majority of the pro peloton is, and has always been, squeaky clean.”
October 21, 2013 § 47 Comments
I just finished reading “Tour de Lance” by Bill Strickland and “Breaking the Chain” by Willy Voet. Voet was the soigneur/drug dealer who was busted by French customs officials as he crossed over from Belgium into France with a load of goodies destined for the Festina team a few days prior to the 1998 Tour. The bust and its payload of EPO, among other things, resulted in the exposure of French star Richard Virenque as a doper, and got Festina booted from the Tour.
Strickland is one of the worst hacks in the world of faux cycling journalism, and his hagiography of Armstrong is fully revealed in the title. “Tour de Lance” is one fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy as he follows the team bus and watches Armstrong try, and fail, to win his eighth Tour. For Strickland, the project was a win-win. Either Armstrong stood atop the podium and the book could conclude “greatest athlete ever,” or Armstrong didn’t win, and Strickland could piously intone that Lance was now “more human. More like us.”
Either way, there would be a mountain of used Kleenex to get rid of.
Justice for Lance
With each disgraced doper retiring into comfortable fame, the accusation of Armstrong as “the most evil person to ever live including Hitler and Stalin” becomes sillier to read and more ridiculous to maintain. When Michael Barry begins publishing soporific, sappy little magazine tidbits that exhort us to “never forget the fun of cycling,” I have to choke back down my breakfast. This is the same Michael Barry who doped throughout his career, and we’re now supposed to take anything seriously that he has to say about what’s important in cycling?
Of course the most egregious offenders are George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, who run successful businesses and ragingly popular Gran Fondos that are successful due to the fame they achieved as cheats, liars, dopers, and sporting frauds. And when Christian Vandevelde or Dave Zabriskie hang up their cleats, their cheating legacies are mere asterisks, nothing more.
But Lance, of course, is different because he exterminated the hopes of countless 12k dreamers. He personally directed the deaths of millions as a leader in the Khmer Rouge and as a henchman to Idi Amin. Plus, he was really mean to Betsy, so we should pursue him forever, no matter what. If Lance hadn’t lied about drugs, I’d have won the Tour, I know that in my heart.
The real culprits
We all know who the real culprits in the doping saga are. They are the athletes who cheat. They are spectators who uncritically adulate. And they are the media who refuse to act like journalists and instead act like PR shills.
“Breaking the Chain,” written shortly after the Festina scandal, is a short, punchy, brutal look at the rich history of drugs in cycling. When Laurent Fignon piously intoned in his autobiography that in his day doping methods were minuscule, he is contradicted by Voet’s detailed description of the methods, means, and effects that had been around for decades — including the years in which Fignon raced (busted for doping twice, in ’87 and ’89).
Although it only plays a vaguely minor scale to the tune of “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” Voet’s book reveals an old truth. The mules and drug dealers and soigneurs will get hung out to dry long before the stars. At worst, Voet was a bottom feeder and a drug addict himself who worked assiduously to master the black art of obtaining and administering drugs to racers. At best he was a tiny cog in a nasty, evil machine, culpable perhaps, but nothing on the level of the real villains.
And such a real villain is Bill Strickland
If you can get through “Tour de Lance” without alternating bouts of rage, incredulity, revulsion, and despair, you are made of pretty stern stuff. Here’s a guy who writes for Bicycling magazine as its editor at large, writing nine years after the publication of “Breaking the Chain,” and who can’t do anything other than hang around the Trek team bus and insinuate himself into the good graces of the mechanics and Bruyneel and Lance himself in order to uncritically accept every spoon-fed lie that is doled out.
The book isn’t even about Lance, it’s about Strickland and his fanboy fantasy as he revels in being on the inside even at a time when no critical writer could have accepted the plethora of lying denials regarding Armstrong’s doping. To make it even more sick, there is a post-script that mentions Landis’s confessions and accusations regarding drugs on Armstrong’s US Postal team, but even with that Strickland can’t bring himself to do anything more journalistic than jerk himself off one last time as he slobbers about how much more human Lance has become in his failed comeback bid.
And Strickland’s motivations for refusing to acknowledge the truth are just as base as his motivations for writing the fanbook in the first place: He’s simultaneously working on another lickspittle book that hoists up Johan Bruyneel as the greatest race director of all time — “We Might as Well Win,” and it simply wouldn’t do to take the wind out of that sail. After all, we’re talking money here. Bill’s money.
As we all found out, the people who threw Lance under the Postal bus the quickest were the very media whores and corporate rapists who had deflected all criticism and refused to investigate even his most incredible lies. Strickland is now back to his old business, writing puff pieces about the joys of bicycling even as Lance pays for his sins — and pays, and pays, and pays, and even as Lance’s former cronies continue to profit from their ill-gotten gains, gains made possible by people like Strickland.
The juxtaposition of “Breaking the Chain” and “Tour de Lance,” especially when read in sequence, tells you everything you really need to know about how it all happened, why it all happened, and whether it’s happening still. And no matter what the fanboys say, it is.
September 15, 2013 § 22 Comments
Copied and pasted this awesome interview from Gazetta dello Sport (with the help of Google translate).
Interviewer: How does it feel to be the oldest ever winner of a Grand Tour?
Chris Horner: Old. Very old.
Int: Many say you achieved it through doping.
CH: Fuck them. People want to know what I was on? I was on my bike.
Int: You must admit that age 57 is quite old to be dominating athletes in their 20′s and 30′s in the prime of life.
CH: Yeah, it is. (Chuckles).
Int: And you must admit that having spent the majority of your career during the “Golden Era” of blood manipulation makes your victory more than a little suspect.
CH: Yep. Sure does. But you know what?
CH: I’ve never tested positive. And I’m the second most-tested athlete in the history of sport.
Int: You raced alongside Lance Drugstrong while the team was being run by “Chuckles” Bruyneel, who is now being investigated by the Belgian Cycling Federation for violating the first rule in the charter of that nation’s cycling bylaws.
CH: What rule is that?
Int: Don’t get caught.
Int: So what do you have to say about the estimated VAM of 2034 and a power-to-weight ratio of 6.83 watts/kg on the climb to the finish at Peña Cabarga?
CH: What’s a VAM?
Int: It stands for “Vaglia Antimorto Muscatini.” In English, it means “Analysis of power and output vectors normalized by the number of completely doped and dropped Italians and Spaniards.”
CH: Never heard of it.
Int: Your power-to-weight ratio at at Peña Cabarga and on the Angliru was roughly equivalent to that of a 2-stroke motorcycle. How is that possible?
CH: Training and proper diet.
Int: But you are famous for eating McDonalds …
CH: Like I said.
Int: Given your age, your close affiliation with Drugstrong, and your dominance in a clearly juiced field, how can the fans have any confidence in this outcome?
CH: The fans are people. And people are stupid.
Int: But you can’t expect to fool them forever, can you?
CH: I don’t have to. There’s an entire industry of cycling publications that are standing in line to trumpet my success. They could give a shit about my drug usage as long as I sell copy and pimp product.
Int: The “fanboys with typewriters”?
CH: No. They use Word now.
Int: This makes you only the third American, behind LeMond and Hampsten, to win a Grand Tour. How does that feel?
CH: Uh, aren’t you forgetting someone?
CH: Lance. Lance won the Tour seven times.
Int: All of those wins were stripped by the World Anti Doping Agency Hypocrisy Council.
CH: Look, Lance won those Tours. He might have been juiced to the gills, but it was an even playing field. Like Hitler.
Int: Excuse me?
CH: Hitler killed millions. But so did Stalin. And Pol Pot. And Idi Amin. See? It was a level playing field. Their records stand.
Int: The next-oldest winner of any Grand Tour was 36, and the oldest victor of the Vuelta was Tony Rominger at 33, during the “anything goes” days of unlimited EPO. You’re almost 300 years older than Tony. How do you explain it?
CH: What is there to explain? I’ve never tested positive.
Int: On today’s stage up the Angliru you were formidable and repelled each of the attacks by Nibali, who won the Giro on more drugs than a horse farm. How do you explain it?
CH: Two words. Marginal gains and volcano doping.
Int: That’s four words.
CH: What do you assholes want? Extreme athletic performances or parking lot crits? Throw me into a 21-day concentration camp with climbs that make the Dolomites look like a pasture and I’m gonna do what it takes to win. Throw me into a CBR crit and …
CH: (Grins) I’m STILL gonna do what it takes to win.
July 31, 2013 § 16 Comments
Sprint ace Erik Zabel, four-time winner of Milan-San Remo and six-time winner of the Tour de France’s coveted green jersey has re-confessed to multiple doping offenses after samples from the 1998 Tour were re-analyzed, confirming the presence of EPO in his blood.
Zabel previously confessed in 2007 to having used EPO a single time in 1996. Below is a transcript of the press conference held yesterday by Vattenfall, the German race organizer for whom Zabel worked as race consultant until today.
ZDF (German TV broadcaster): So you’re confessing to more extensive drug use than in your previous confession?
Zabel: Yes. I’m re-confessing.
ZDF: So you’re saying you used more drugs than only that one time?
Zabel: That’s correct.
ZDF: How often did you dope?
Zabel: Every single day. I doped in the off season. I doped during the season. I doped even after quitting a race, just to make sure I didn’t fall behind. I doped on my honeymoon. Viagra.
VN (American Cycling Publication): So what you’re saying is that you cheated, with drugs?
Zabel: Absolutely. My entire career. The only time I didn’t use drugs before a race was during a winter training crit in Dortmund, in 2001. My pharmacist had run out of drugs. I fired him, you can be sure.
VN: You didn’t really know you were cheating, though, did you?
Zabel: Of course I did, you numbnuts. That’s why we did it on the down low. We learned as small children in East Germany that cheating was morally wrong and completely unconscionable unless you never got caught, in which case you made millions and got to boink the podium girls. I even married one.
VN: You were forced into doping by the evil East German system, weren’t you?
Zabel: Not at all. Nobody forced me to do anything. I wanted to win and didn’t care what I had to sacrifice. I would have sold my grandparents into slavery or drunk American beer if that’s what it took.
ZDF: American beer?
Zabel: Okay, I’m exaggerating. But you get the point.
CN (Australian online cycling web site): Mr. Zabel, isn’t it true that everyone was doping and you had to use drugs? The system was rigged, wasn’t it? You were just a victim, weren’t you?
Zabel: I suppose you could say it was rigged, but it’s a lie that everyone was doping. My masseuse never doped. Anyway, what did I care? I won MSR. Four fucking times. You know what that feels like?
Zabel: It’s like having a hundred orgasms at once. Times a million billion trillion.
GdS (Italian cycling magazine): But this doping, since everyone did it, it was a level playing field, right?
Zabel: Sure. Just like when a bunch of banks conspire to wreck the economy. Among the cheaters and thieves, we were equal.
GdS: And those who didn’t dope weren’t good enough anyway, were they? You can’t make a race horse out of a donkey, can you? Heh, heh.
Zabel: I’m sure there were many great racers who chose not to dope. You know what we called them? Chumps. Look it up.
Zabel: Fuckin-A. I made a fortune. My stockbroker invested wisely. For the price of an apology and a couple of press conferences I got a killer house, a smokin’ hot wife, and four MSR wins. The chumps are flipping burgers or writing anonymous hate mail to bikeforums.com. Fuck them. Losers.
L’E (French cycling magazine): In your previous confession you were very tearful and admitted to only using EPO once. Why? Did you fear the omerta?
Zabel: You fuckers crack me up. Quit watching so many Godfather movies. Why would I possibly be scared of a bunch of skinny manorexics?
L’E: Then why did you confess as you did?
Zabel: Because I’m a liar. And a drug addict. What, are you the stupidest person ever born?
L’E: But it was the system that made you an addict, wasn’t it? You were helpless against the force of history, correct?
Zabel: I was an addict because I liked kicking ass on the French on the Champs Elysees. You don’t make it to the top of the East German sports hierarchy without making some choices.
L’E: But of course you regret your partial confession, don’t you? The system wouldn’t have understood if you had made a full confession, correct?
Zabel: Fuck the system. I shed a couple of crocodile tears, ‘fessed up to some minor crap and landed a gig as pro consultant to Vattenfall. What’s not to like?
ZDF: But the new cycling is clean, is it not? Your son Rick would never dope, and he is in a new system, correct?
Zabel: Look, chump, anyone who would send his kid off into the pro peloton and not expect him to be a crazed drug addict is nuts. Rick’s a grown man. When the time comes and they offer to shoot his pecker up with the latest wonder drug, he’ll know what to do.
VN: If you could do it all over again you wouldn’t do it, would you?
Zabel: Okay, you’re the second stupidest person in history. Of course I would. Do drugs, boink podium girls, make millions … what part of “make millions” and “boink podium girls” do you not understand?
CN: Mr. Zabel …
Zabel: STFU. (Answers cell phone). Yeah, okay. Hey guys, gotta go. My Bentley’s out of the shop now. Any more questions, email my agent.
July 23, 2013 § 55 Comments
Does anyone know Lance’s cell phone? ‘Cause we need him bad.
This Wiggins-Froome thing has gotten totally out of hand. One day we were watching a doped up superman who boinked models and actresses and rock stars, who owned ranches and mansions and private jets, who was devilishly good looking, whose ego was bigger than Dallas and twice as gnarly, who ground people up into hamburger meat on and off the bike, who beat cancer, cured cancer, sued enemies into oblivion, had an entourage of global financiers, Italian dope doctors, starlets, drug mules, presidents and scientists and who, with only one nut still had bigger balls than the entire pro peloton, and then, BAM!
We were watching Chris fucking Froome, a human insect who can’t even pedal properly, a craven little wussmeister whose doping program is “marginal gains” instead of “ram the whole 12,000 cc up my ass,” an awkward, unappetizing robot who confirms what every motorist instinctively knows: Cyclists are contemptible arthropods deserving nothing so much as the heel of a boot.
Sure, I used to bag on Dopestrong…until I saw the last two years of Dopeweak. What happened to the drug-crazed cannibals of yore, handsome, muttonchopped, steel-willed manly men who ate raw meat with their fists and swallowed their cocaine-heroin-strychnine cocktails in one-pint tumblers? How could we have banished the lying, cheating, brash and big-balled Texan who rode a chrome Harley, threw massive charity balls, charged 100k to jocksniffing millionaires for a group ride appearance, won triathlons, raced marathons, conquered Leadville, and ruled the entire UCI with the iron grip of a drug kingpin, which he was, and traded him in for the sniveling, milquetoast, dainty British softmen who drink tea, slurp warm beer, and race like simpering weenies or, what’s infinitely worse, like British people?
Where is the wrath, the insane bloodlust fueled by too many drugs in the wrong combination, the tortured beastly exhibitions of athletic porn, the Texas gunslinger who rode over the bones of his challengers and fell as mightily as he rose, in full color on a giant screen surrounded by a frothing media scrum and presided over by the queen of daytime TV? I’ll tell you where: He’s been replaced by “champions” who are no cleaner but a thousand times less entertaining to watch, the insect class, the automaton class, the zombies of the road.
Please, if you have his number, call Lance for me and beg him to either come back or to give these pasty-faced cab drivers a few lessons in how to race like the future of the galaxy depended on it. I’ll take les forcats de la route over the zombies of the road any day.
July 11, 2013 § 25 Comments
Whoa!! Blasted on the front pace of SCNCA.org web site was this:
SCNCA enters into agreement with USAC and USADA. Drug testing is coming to SCNCA races in 2013
Awhile ago, we mentioned that USAC and USADA were developing a program to bring anti-doping testing to local races. The reaction from the local racers was overwhelmingly positive. We are happy to announce that the SCNCA has signed an agreement to join USAC’s “Race Clean” initiative. Using a portion of the SCNCA surcharge that has been collected this year, there will be local testing by USADA this season. They will be at a minimum of two races. USADA determines the races…even the SCNCA will not know when and where they will be testing. USADA will be considering all remaining Road, CX, and Track events for 2013.
Huh? Drug testing in local SoCal races? That’s absurd! No one here dopes, or would dope, or has ever doped, or knows anyone who has ever doped. I once had a second cousin twice removed on my Uncle Clem’s sister’s side (paternal, step-son of the third wife’s adopted niece) who had heard of someone who knew someone who doped, but that was in Tennessee. Doping in SoCal master’s races? You’re kidding me, right?
I for one am disgusted that my tax dollars are going to be used to test for drugs instead of being used to purchase more surveillance equipment so that the FBI can zero in on my favorite porn sites. I’m even more disgusted that they aren’t even using my tax dollars, and most disgusted of all that they aren’t using yours.
Drug testing in SoCal is going to ruin our beautiful sport. Without drugs, masters would still be racing like we were in the 80’s and early 90’s. You know, LSD, hairnets, wool jerseys, no bibs, and chamois that bunched up like a crazy home video edition of Sanitary Napkins Gone Wild.
Without drugs, we won’t get to cruise the Interwebs late at night looking for Chinese EPO labs that are cheap, discreet, offer guaranteed delivery without bothersome customs inspections, and whose blood doping products aren’t cut with lead or arsenic.
Without drugs, we won’t get to go to our doctor and get various steroidal ‘scrips for our “asthma,” for our “saddle sores,” and for our, uh, “autoimmune disease.” But most of all, without drugs we won’t get to be pro. What’s the use of having a 12k rig and a trick team kit and a wrapped team car and masseuse tables and adhesive race numbers if you can’t also be on the juice?
I suppose I will get my head around this eventually. But you want to know what’s really gonna suck? Not being able to blame my own shitty results on other people!
“I woulda had that sprunt but ol’ Grizzles is on the juice.” Gone!
“How can you expect me to hold ol’ Clogstacle’s wheel on the climb? Fuggin’ doper.” Gone!
“I was shelled out of the break, yeah, what do you expect? Everyone else was snortin’ EPO.” Gone!
Oh, well. Back to the drawing board. And I’m not even an artist.
June 14, 2013 § 18 Comments
I’ve been racing dirty.
There. I said it.
The signs have been out there for a while, but I thought people wouldn’t connect the dots, especially since I’ve been such a vocal advocate for clean cycling. But the thing that pushed me to confess, aside from my conscience, was an email from a friend. “It doesn’t add up, dude. Why don’t you come clean?”
The “it” he was referring to was a series of eyebrow-raising results, starting with a CBR crit at the end of last year where I got tenth out of a break that included some pretty phenomenal competition.
Then, this year I finished Boulevard with the group. Typically I get dropped on the first lap. Next was a third place crit finish, 50+ CBR. Icing on the cake was third place last week, where I overplayed my hand by riding in every break and collecting three primes.
Now that I’ve confessed, I’m going to do what others who’ve been caught most often refuse to do: I’m going to explain how an older masters racer goes from racing clean to racing dirty. It’s not a pretty story.
The problem is, of course, rooted in my childhood
When I was a little kid, I hated taking baths. Getting me wet and soaped down was always what my mom called a “production.” After cajoling, threatening, chasing, and finally manhandling me into the tub, a process that took a solid hour and was utterly exhausting to a woman with already frayed nerves, once I was in, I was equally hard to get out.
My brother and I would have water wars, spill most of the tub water out onto the mildewy tile, and leave the large white porcelain claw-footed bath with a thick black grease ring that took a can of Ajax and a bad case of elbow tendinitis to remove. If she could get me bathed twice a month it was a good month. In the summertime the success rate was even lower.
Why was I such a filthy, dirty little kid? Because I was from Texas, because we didn’t have a TV, because I was always outside, because I was always barefoot, and because of Fletcher.
When there’s a funny smell…blame it on the dog
Fletcher was our mixed German Shepherd – Airedale – Snipsnsnails mutt who rescued us when we went to the La Marque ASPCA to get adopted by a pet. Fletcher grew up into a rather large mammal, and like every dog in Texas from his generation, that meant he had an even larger contingent of fleas.
Dogs, yes, used to have fleas. There were no magical flea collars, or special flea-icide that you rubbed into their coat, and there sure as hell weren’t any mobile on-demand mutt washers painted pink with cute names like “Poochy Pedicures” or “Scrub-a-Dub Doggie.”
In those days, the only way to kill the fleas was with a garden hose and a box of flea powder made by DuPont or Dow, a chemical so strong it would make your fingers rot off, or dissolve the enamel on your teeth when you added it to the bathub gin, but that never, ever, ever killed one single solitary flea.
Instead, the lethal flea powder made the fleas stronger, bigger, jumpier, and supercharged their flea libidos such that after the flea bath Fletcher would, within days, have twice as many as he did before the rubdown. Since Fletcher slept in my bed and on the couch, and since I laid and played with him on the floor, and in the grass, and in the mud, I, too, was covered in fleas.
Many was the lazy summer afternoon when my brother and I would sit on the white couch and catch fleas, expertly laying them on their side, up against the hard edge of our fingernails as we popped them in half for having the audacity to bite us. In sum, Fletcher was a filthy, dirty dog, and not just because of fleas.
He was also especially nasty because he was constantly licking his balls. Nowadays the first matter of business when you get a dog is to whack off his gonads, but not in 1968. Dogs in those days had balls, and big dogs had big ones. Dogs grew to maturity with their nuts intact. Fletcher’s balls were big and purple and of all his body parts, they were the one that never got bitten by a flea. He licked and slurped and kept those things scrupulously clean, and woe betide the flea who tried to suck the blood out of either of those big doggie nuts. Whatever else you could have said about Fletcher, you couldn’t question his priorities.
Of course, in addition to constantly licking his balls, Fletcher would often lick us boys as well, on the hands if we were eating something, on the face if he saw a bit of peanut butter that hadn’t made it down the gullet, or on the legs if he just needed some salt. So I grew up, I suppose, in addition to having fleas, with a protective layer of dirty dog slime that covered me from head to toe.
As a side note, and in confirmation of what recent studies suggest, suffice it to say that I never got sick.
When the boy becomes a man
I cruised through elementary school a dirty and greasy little urchin and never thought much about it. Then, in seventh grade, we were sitting in the cafeteria at Jane Long Junior High, and the guys started talking. It was 1978, and boys had long hair.
First was Danny Martin, who had long, black, shimmering, beautiful hair. “When do you shower?” he asked Steve Wilson, who had long, shiny bronze hair.
“Before school, for sure.”
“Me, too,” said Danny.
Bill White, who had long, silky, blonde hair, piped up. “I shower at night, too. But I only shampoo in the morning.”
Everybody looked at me, including Glynis Wilson, the lovely girl with the gorgeous long hair. I stammered. “Uh, only in the, uh, morning,” I said.
A fiery curtain of red started at my neck and enveloped my entire head as I realized I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bathed. In my entire life I’d never showered. That was for girls. Then I looked at Glynis and a light went on. Maybe girls weren’t so bad…
If I could have covered my head in a bag the rest of the day, I would have. I rushed home and ran to the bathroom. There, staring out at me from the mirror was an oily face topped with a rat’s nest of long, thick, matted, greasy hair. I jumped into the shower. I washed my hair. And I never intentionally missed a morning shower for the next thirty-six years.
When I started racing my bicycle in 1984, I raced clean, and I believe that most of the peloton did, too. There was always the dirty racer here and there, but for most of us there were too many compelling practical reasons to stay clean.
First and foremost were the shorts. Word was that if you wore the same shorts for even two days running, you’d end up with butt boils and ass chancres and festering saddle sores the size of a fried egg. That scared us. So we washed ourselves, and we washed our shorts.
Second of all was the stink thing. We were young men, and we smelled rather badly rather quickly. Unlike the halcyon years of little boydom, when I could go unbathed for weeks and never smell much worse than a mild case of mildew, all that changed with puberty.
Any mom who’s opened the closed door of a teenage son’s room knows this smell. It’s the dank, rank, febrile, fertile smell of boymones, those chemicals that lace everything they touch with the strong smell of reproduction. Stick a young man on a bike, make him pedal around in the hot Texas sun for a few hours, and you’ll wind up with a case of the Serious Stanks, the noxious B.O. that screams “I’m in France!” or “Next we invade Rome!”
Yeah. That smell.
So between the stink and the sores, it just didn’t make sense to race dirty. And I didn’t. For over thirty years I rode clean.
When the levee breaks
I have to admit, though, that it was frustrating, especially as I got older, slower, weaker, and more stupid. People who had once begged for mercy on my mighty wheel now came around me barely cracking a sweat. Was I that slow? Had my decline in my 40′s been that rapid? Was that massive sucking sound at the end of every chain gang me?
I tried everything. Diets. Power meters. I once spoke with a coach. I even talked to a guy who knew someone who had been properly fitted on a bike. I traded in my steel for carbon. Wool for lycra. I buried myself in the physics and metrics of performance, with the singular goal of cycling success. But the only compromise I refused to make was riding dirty. I’d win clean or I’d not win at all.
But then I’d look around and see some dude who wasn’t nearly as experienced, who didn’t train nearly as hard, and he’d spank me without even trying. I knew those guys were dirty, and I finally decided, if just to prove it to myself, that if I were as dirty as they, then I could win, too.
The long descent into corruption
The first thing I learned about racing dirty is that you don’t get fried egg-sized saddle sores. That’s just a fairy tale they use to scare away the goody two-shoes and keep them from going to the dark side. I found that you could wear the same pair of shorts three, four, five times (six if you were Brad House), with no ill effects.
Riding dirty wasn’t so bad, and the money you saved on laundry could go straight to gas money and entry fees. That’s how the system works. Sad, but true.
The other big fear riders have about riding dirty is that they’ll smell bad. This is true for the young dudes, but old fellows lose that stink of youth starting about age 40, and by 45 the testosterone odor has been completely replaced by Ben Gay. You can sweat for days on end and go to bed with a salt crust encasing your entire skin and it will only barely out-duel the smell of those joint creams and diaper balms.
In short, I got on the dirty racing program, and it worked. Even though you don’t smell that bad, it’s bad enough for guys not to want to draft off you, or at least not to draft too closely. And once I knew the secret, I could immediately tell who else was riding dirty, and who was riding clean. That’s how it is when you’re on the program. And it would shock you to hear some of the names.
Anyway, I’ve tried it and I’ve had enough. It’s time for Mrs. WM to let me move back in from the porch. From now on I’m going back to riding clean. But if there’s real money or prestige on the line, you just never know…
May 26, 2013 § 57 Comments
Newsflash: Lance Armstrong has been stripped of…pretty much everything.
Tour titles? Gone.
Income stream from his cancer foundation? Gone.
Ability to compete in sanctioned athletic events and the attendant income? Gone.
Mansion in Austin? Gone.
Self-respect after not getting hugged by Oprah? Totally gone.
Bonus newsflash: It’s not over yet. The Justice Department has joined Floyd’s whistleblower suit…former sponsors are suing to get their money back…he will be paying for his transgressions for a long, long time.
I don’t know about you…
But I believe in redemption. Not the Shawshank kind — I believe in the kind of redemption that says once you’ve been punished for your transgressions according to rule and/or law, you’re redeemed.
This type of redemption may not mean that you’re a sterling moral character, or even that you admit guilt or feel sorry for what you’ve done. It just means that you broke the rule, got punished, and are now free to move on just like new. Something worthless has been exchanged for something useful and new. Just like a coupon.
When you murder someone, rape someone, abuse a child, defraud the elderly, skim from the company till, or run a red light, your redemption begins when you’ve served your time or paid your fine. Redemption means trading in the old for the new. It means a fresh start.
And in case you were wondering, along with the punishment fitting the crime, redemption is the premise upon which our entire legal system is built.
Redemption gives convicted felons the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have a passport, and the right to fully participate as citizens once they’ve served their time. Redemption doesn’t mean you have to like the sinner or the ex-con. It just means you can’t legally continue punishing and persecuting him.
Lance is no convicted felon. If you don’t think he’s been punished, see above. If you’re still harboring resentment and anger, that’s understandable. But he’s not going anywhere, and I’d suggest that there’s a better way to deal with him than continually bludgeoning him for his transgressions.
It’s an old concept, actually. It’s called forgiveness.
Cranking up the PR machine
Lance has recently begun doing what he does best: Going on the offensive. Whether it’s calling Patrick Brady and chatting with him for an hour or unblocking Lesli Cohen and a bunch of other diehard Lance opponents, it’s clear that he has a plan in place and has begun to execute it.
What’s the plan?
The plan is to get back in front of the sports media and build Lance 3.0. This newest iteration is simple. Lance 3.0 is a…
- Family man.
- World class athlete.
What will Lance 3.0 do? He will sell something. What will he sell? I don’t know. But I do know this: He won’t be setting up a pyramid scheme to defraud Medicare, or a criminal syndicate to assassinate journalists. Most likely, he’s got a plan that will let him earn a living as a speaker/athlete/patient advocate.
Is that so bad? How many other people get out of prison and see their mission in life as one dedicated to helping others? Mind you, I don’t know that that’s his plan, but what does he have left? And why is it contemptible for him to try and rebuild a career that’s been destroyed through his own mistakes?
Ultimately, though, does it really matter what his end game is? No.
What matters is you
A group of local riders were climbing Latigo Canyon Road yesterday, and guess who they met at the top? Barry Bonds.
He’s the guy who was held up as one of the most evil and crooked baseball players of all time, a guy who stole Hank Aaron’s record on the strength of drugs and lies. Today he’s a slim and fit bicycle rider.
When the gang ran into him on Latigo, no one cringed, or cursed him, or called him a scumbag doper. Instead, they mugged for the camera and posted photos on Facebook.
First, of course, is star power…and we are here in LA. Second, though, is the fact that Barry has paid for what he did, and he didn’t even go on Oprah and confess. We know that he was caught, that he’s been punished, and that now he’s just a dude on a bike who used to hit a lot of home runs. Our lives are too short to keep hating on a guy who’s been punished to the full extent that the system demanded, particularly since all he seems to do now is pedal around, show up at the occasional crit, and generally act like a normal dude.
We’re done with his crime, and so is he. Now we just want to say hello and ride our bikes.
What about Lance?
Lance is different from Barry because the latter earned hundreds of millions of dollars and wisely invested them over the course of a long career. Barry doesn’t have to work.
Lance has five kids, huge ongoing legal bills, and a lot of years left to live. It’s impossible that he’s got anywhere near the pile that Barry is sitting on, or even anything close to it. Unlike Barry, Lance has gotta work. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge and living inside the fort, Lance has got to get out and mingle in order to rebuild.
For people getting out of prison and living in halfway houses, it’s called “You have to get a job.”
Lance showed us that pro cycling is a corrupt freak show. Danilo di Luca confirmed yesterday that it still is. Nibali, Wiggins, Dave Brailsford, Chris Froome, Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen, and USA Cycling reaffirm that anyone who thinks the sport is clean isn’t thinking very hard.
If you hate Lance because he “ruined the sport,” maybe it’s time YOU moved on. The pro sport is rotten. If you follow it and still bury your head in the jocks of its stars, there’s a problem all right, and the problem is with you. If you can watch Nibali repeatedly hit the gas in the snow at the end of the most grueling stage of the most grueling stage race while his competition is rolling over and dying on the slopes, you’re the one who needs to analyze my modification of this old saw: “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me over and over and over, and I’m a fucking moron who enjoys being fooled.”
As Billy Stone might put it, “And the dopers ruined your life as a Cat 4 masters athlete exactly how?”
Where’s it all going?
Now that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 have been airbrushed out of the history books, what’s wrong with giving 3.0 the same degree of redemption that should be afforded to axe murderers, tax cheats, misdemeanor DUI’s, and kids on grade probation in college? How is our agenda advanced by refusing to lay down arms, and instead insisting that he still be treated like the unrepentant, unpunished cheat that he was a year ago, when he’s repented and been punished?
Does it ennoble us to keep shrieking “Off with his head!” after his head has been offed, stuck on a pike, and paraded around his kids’ schoolyards? I think it does the opposite. It shows us up to be petty, vengeful dorks who actually think that pro cycling is so important it transcends common notions of justice and fair play.
Five years hence, ten years hence, Lance 3.0 will have been fully rebuilt. He’s that smart and a whole lot smarter, he’s that hard working, and he’s that motivated. He’s also got close to four million people on Twitter who want to know what he says and thinks, as well as five kids to feed, clothe, and put through college.
Most importantly, he’s not going anywhere. Do you want to be the wild-eyed crazy standing in the corner screaming, “But he doped! He cheated! He lied! He ruined my Cat 4 masters racing career!” long after he’s been punished and the rest of the world has moved on?
If the UCI and USA Cycling and WADA are done with his case, then I am, too. Keep clubbing at him if you want, but don’t expect me to join in. I’d rather go club some of the baby seals on next Tuesday’s NPR.