Bookends

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.

Inside the Postal doping bus

June 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

Number 49 in Cycle Sport’s all time list of the greatest ever cycling books is, by pure coincidence, a book project that was pitched to Michael Barry by…Cycle Sport. I love it how when you come up with an idea, the idea gets implemented, and then you get to vote it as one of the greatest of all time. Next week I’ll be doing a list of the fifty greatest cycling blogs of all time, and can’t wait to vote on my own greatness.

“Inside the Postal Bus” is Michael Barry’s account of riding for Postal and an insider’s view of what it was like to support Lance Drugstrong in his Tour campaigns of 2002-2004. Barry doesn’t let it get in the way of the story that he never rode the Tour.

The short answer to the question, “Should I buy this book?” is “No.”

“What if I can get it on Alibris for $1.99?”

The answer is still “No.”

“What if I can get it at Half-Priced Books for fifty cents?”

“No.”

“What if a friend gives it to me?”

That person is not your friend.

The blurb review

It’s my opinion that books purporting to be factual should not be filled with deceptions and lies. So perhaps the best way to review this shovelful of shit masquerading as a book is to present the book’s jacket blurbs and contrast them with the actual book.

“From winter training camp in California to the Tour de France, ‘Inside the Postal Bus’ offers an accurate behind-the-scenes view of our team. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, read this book.” Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner and teammate.

Michael Barry’s book doesn’t offer a behind the scenes view of the team in the Tour, because Barry never rode the Tour. The book offers a series of jumbled observations that Barry gleaned from watching the Tour on television, like the rest of us. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, after reading this book you’ll conclude that it can be summed up in one word: Coffee. Barry mentions the coffee machine on the bus so often, and updates us on details like whether it was working, that you can’t help think that “coffee” is code for “homologous drug transfusions, steroids, and EPO.”

If you’ve ever wondered what a pro cyclist’s life is like, you’ve wondered about training regimens. Barry is silent on this topic with the exception of a description of some early season team rides. So apparently pro cyclists do some “bonding” type easy miles early in the season, and that’s it. The other topic that’s ignored is doping. It’s interesting to read through Barry’s list of heroes, great riders, people he admires, and icons of the sport with today’s after-acquired knowledge of all the riders who were busted for doping.

Vino, Landis, Hamilton, Beltran, Armstrong, Bruyneel, and on and on and on, the boys on the bus, the magic bus, the happy bus. The “accurate” view that Lance promises in his blurb would really only be achieved with descriptions of how they did the drugs, where they stored them, how Bruyneel organized it, and what the mechanics were of shooting up before a big race. We don’t get any of that.

The subject that the book doesn’t skirt is the wonderfulness of LiveStrong. He’s the kindest, strongest, best person ever, a patient signer of autographs, a thoughtful and brilliant team leader, an inspirational fighter of cancer, and an unbeatable competitor when combined with Johan Bruyneel, who also gets mention after mention for his fantastically super smartfulness and cleverity.

“A truly remarkable story of Michael Barry’s life alongside a squad ruled by one man–Lance Armstrong. It is a great read.” Phil Liggett, OLN Cycling Commentator.

When I think of a remarkable life, I think of Helen Keller or Teddy Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln or Christopher Columbus or Winston Churchill. I don’t think of a Canadian dude whose dad owned a bike shop and who spent his career as a routinier in the service of Lance. Far from being remarkable, Barry explains that his life as a domestique is boring, hard, and not all that interesting. To call the book a “great read” is, like virtually everything else that randomly tumbles out of the mouth of Phil Liggett, rubbish. The book has no organization; it doesn’t even have a story. Various things are haphazardly thrown in with no connection to anything else. His 2003 Vuelta campaign starts at the beginning, and mysteriously ends at stage 5.

The next chapter randomly talks about the hotel, about bumping into Johan in the hall, and a reminiscence about riding in the snow in Toronto as a child with “Joe.” Great read? It’s nothing more than “Michael Barry’s random thoughts. Catch ‘em if you can.”

Barry does, however, display a keen sensitivity to sponsor suckass and nutlick. He mentions all of the Postal sponsors repeatedly. Berry Floor refloored the team bus. AMD helped design everything, including the bikes, because all the computers used AMD chips. Clif Gels get copious mention. Oakley and Nike get air time, and a portion is even devoted to the big sponsor dicklick where the entire team has to travel to Scottsdale and let the wanker sponsors ride with the boys.

For those who really want to lap up the encomiums, there’s great stuff about how wonderful Sherly Crow was, how she rode with the team occasionally, and about uber-wanker Robin Williams when he was in his Cat 4 mode and fed the addiction by groupie-izing the team bus during Drugstrong’s Tour victories.

“Barry has cycling in his blood. And now he has shown that he can write more than passably, too.” Vancouver Sun.

He’s done no such thing. In fact, he’s shown that he can’t write at all. There’s not a single drip, drop, or drab of analysis or insight into what makes any of the actors in this book tick, how they endure the hardships of the sport, or why cycling should capture your interest or imagination. Barry describes people as “awesome,” “fantastic,” and “incredible” as a substitute for describing them through their characters or actions. Instead of doing the hard, heavy lifting required to bring life to the world’s most boring spectator sport, Barry has generated a concatenation of insider-speak anecdotes for road junkies. You can make sense out of it only if you follow the pro peloton, and even then it’s a mishmash. Much of the writing, far from being “passable,” is garbage. Entire sentences, even paragraphs, add nothing except to help meet the word-count requirement of the editors. Like what? Like this…random opening to page 152: “Lance couldn’t have had two better guys [Hincapie and Ekimov.]

Or this, on page 60: “But that is the way it goes…” or “Generally everybody fits together really well; there really aren’t any cliques.” It’s one long string of platitudes and uninformative statements with zero peeking behind the curtain. The activities on the bus are shrouded in the same veil of omerta at the end that they were at the beginning.

“Written in an artculate, fast-flowing style…Barry has a keen eye for the minor details of professional life. This is the main reason that the book offers a real and rare sense of what it is like to be part of a major squad.” Cycle Sport.

They pitch the project, market the project, and then vote it one of the best books ever. Gotta love the wankers at Cycle Sport! Unfortunately, they lie. The book isn’t articulate; it’s written in the crude, rough, workmanlike prose of someone who spends hundreds of hours pedaling and not many hours writing. Barry admits his difficulties in the foreword and it’s the only honest thing in the entire book. It’s not fast-flowing, either, in fact it doesn’t flow at all. We go from training camp to his childhood to early season races to bus descriptions to here and there and everywhere. The only thing missing are the green eggs and ham. While it’s true that Barry mentions lots of details, his eye is hardly keen–he has no ability to discriminate between important details that reveal character and meaningless ones that add nothing. “America has changed since September 11, 2001.” Deep stuff.

Epilogue

Since the book’s publication, Barry has gone on to complete a Tour and publish two more books, Le Métier and Fitness Cycling. Without some indication that he’s improved, though, I’m declining to donate more money to the cause. As our former President once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

Giro d’Italia 2012: Top contenders

May 4, 2012 § 6 Comments

The 2012 Giro d’Italia is one of the most open editions of the race in recent years, with a host of contenders vying for the 2012 maglia rosa. Wankmeister takes a look at the top picks for the overall win.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Basso is a pale shadow of the once-godlike doper who resurrected his career two years ago after being banned for shipping off blood to Dr. Fuentes in Spain, but who never actually inhaled. It took until the Giro del Trentino in April for him to even finish a race, so weak of leg and feeble of spirit is he without cheating aids. His performances in Romandie suggested little in the way of a return to a solid doping program.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
Credible in time trials, powerful on the climbs, and stronger than a leather-clad, whip-wielding bitch in a room full of bound and gagged chubby business executives when he’s on the juice, Scarponi has every reason to feel confident that he’s gotten his micro-dosing dialed in to a “tee.” His 2-year doping ban? Done. His 2010 Giro campaign? Fourth. His 2011 campaign? Second + a reverse relegation thanks to Dopeador’s tainted meat. His 2012 prognosis? Katie, bar the door (to the medicine cabinet).

John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
The Frenchman, after finishing a surprise fourth in last year’s race, has a huge point to prove, namely, that a French dude can win a real bike race. Weak against the clock, he will have to count on natural talent, determination, and better medications to improve on 2011. Spanking Rujano, Kreuziger, and Menchov last year meant that someone in Gadret’s camp knows how to handle a syringe.

Jose Rujano (Androni-Venezuela)
Since his doping positive and suspension in 2003 during the Clasico RCS, the 30-year-old Venezuelan has managed to elude every doping tester ever sent his way. In 2010 he outsprinted a team of UCI passport regulators on a hilltop finish near Caracas for his third consecutive “Beat the Testers” purple jersey in the Tour of Venezuela. He got his grand tour career back on track last year with 7th place in the Giro, a performance that required him to juggle several masking agents and a body double while peeing remotely from a catheter attached to his smartphone. Can he win the Giro’s prized “Dirty but Clean” jersey again? We’ll see.

Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
Kreuziger has languished in the chasing group of elite racers, indicative of a third or even fourth-tier doping regimen. Although his close association with Astana and the obvious benefits of working with the filthy, nasty cheater Vinokourov should have led to better results this year, he has failed to fulfill the promise that everyone expected from a talented rider coming out of a dope-happy, Eastern European land of drug cheats like the Czech Republic. If Vino can deliver the “vino,” look for Kreuziger’s blood values to take him all the way to the podium

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)
The sad sacks of pro cycling, Garmin’s previous attempts at Giro GC success have all ended exactly where you’d expect to see a bunch of pollyannas end up in this dirty sport full of liars, cheats, drug dealers, felons, and criminal MD’s. Hesjedal has repeatedly shown that, for brief periods, a drug-free athlete can compete with the worst reprobates in the pro peloton. Unfortunately, all of his races so far have been longer than 30 minutes. If any of the Giro mountain stages are shortened down to half an hour or so due to volcanic activity, earthquakes, avalanche or famine, look for Ryder to put in the ride of his life.

Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
The biggest check mark in Schleck’s doping column is the expert advice and positive drug test avoidance skills of doping king par excellence Johan Bruyneel. On the down side, Frank has clearly said that he’s not much interested in racing the Giro as it is poor preparation for the doping rigors of the Tour. However, since brother Abandy Schleck has quit so many races this year, indicating serious difficulty with his doping regimen, the Giro may be the only chance the Schlecks have in 2012 to beat the testers and make it to the top step of the podium

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)
A 2005 edition of Procycling once featured Cunego [doper], Lance Armstrong [doper], and Jan Ullrich [pure as the driven snow] on the cover, with the headline “three’s a crowd.” Fans bought the mag hoping to see these three icons disrobed and fighting over a brace of porn stars, but no. At the time Cunego was seen as the next hero of grand tour doping, having shot to fame with the 2004 Giro title, a year in which even the podium girls were rubbing EPO on their vital parts. A lot has changed since then, and Cunego finds himself unable to use the massive quantities of performance boosting drugs that would put him atop the heap without also getting a positive test. A lackluster ride in last year’s Tour was a reminder that although drugs can’t make a racehorse out of a donkey, their absence can sure make a donkey out of a horse.

[END]

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