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 24, 2013 § 24 Comments
I was talking to Pops on the phone the other day while I was driving to court. “I’ve started riding my bike again,” he said. Pops is 76.
“Yep, had to stop taking my walks because of my heel.”
“Biking’s better, anyhow.”
“I got a helmet and everything. But hey, I have a question for you,” he said.
“I’m trying to find the right kind of mirror and don’t know if I should get one for my helmet or for my glasses.”
Pops has a very stiff neck and can’t turn around to see what’s behind him. “Let me ask around and get back with you.”
“Okay. Boy, riding sure does bring back memories of my first bicycle when I was a kid.”
“Oh, yes. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Pops, would you do me a big favor?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Would you write down your bicycle memories and email them to me? I’d love to post it on my blog.”
“Consider it done.”
Pops’s Old Timey Bike Story
Bikes. Not easy to come by when I was growing up in the dusty little wide spot in the road in southern New Mexico of Lordsburg, population 3,000 or so, not including rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, and horny toads. Well, used bikes were fairly easy to come by. But a new one, that required big money, and the cool dudes had them. I dreamed that I, too, might one day acquire one. We’re talking the 1940′s.
I got my first bike after I got my first gun. My dad was a U.S. Border Patrolman. He wore a pistol and loved guns. He had grown up on a West Texas cattle ranch, and you needed guns to kill rattlers, deer, rabbits, foxes, rustlers, and so forth. Maybe not the rustlers. When I was nine or ten I asked my mom if she would tell Santa Claus I’d like a BB gun for Christmas. Several of my friends had one. A week or so later she informed me that Santa had said “No.”
BB guns were dangerous, and Santa said kids thought they were toys and would shoot each other with them, sometimes putting out an eye or doing some other kind of damage. “Oh well,” I thought.
Christmas morning I walked into the living room, and there under the tree was a gun. “A BB gun!” I yelled and raced toward it.
“No,” my dad said. “It’s not.” I picked it up. It was a bolt-action Springfield .22 rifle, complete with a scope sight. I thought I was dreaming. My dad said, “That can kill someone real quick. And you’re not going to shoot it until we have some safety lessons.” Later that morning he took me into the desert outside town and I spent quite a while learning about gun safety. I never killed anybody unintentionally thereafter. What a Christmas! I never had another one quite that exciting, not even the one a year or two later when I got a bike.
But that was a pretty exciting present, too. It was a brand new single speed, which was standard in the 1940′s. It was also kind of fancy. There was a thingamajig beneath the cross bar that enclosed a battery and a buzzer. Whenever I came up behind someone, instead of merely ringing a little bell on the handlebar, I pressed a button on the thingamajig and it would buzz. Damn! Now I was really, truly a cool dude because I didn’t simply ride a bike, but a new bike with a buzzer.
That Christmas season I rode around town a lot on my bike, of course. What’s a bike with a buzzer for if not to show off, especially to the girls? Some of them had bikes, too, but they were, well, girls’ bikes, without a cross bar, so they could get on and off without raising a leg and kicking their skirt up. No cross bar, no thingamajig, no buzzer.
I had a lot of fun with that bike, even beyond showing it off. After a bit of rough weather in Lordsburg such as a sandstorm, say, that could sandblast a car windshield, a new bike wasn’t new any longer. There was one place in particular I liked to ride it. South of town there was a ghost town called Shakespeare. Only one family lived there. The rest of the community had long left or died or both. It had a great cemetery, and some old 19th Century buildings. It was a bit up on a hill, and I found it hard getting there, although a serious biker would scoff at anybody who would call the climb hard. But I was not, well, a serious biker. Coming back to Lordsburg from Shakespeare was a lot of fun, anyhow. It gave a new meaning to “Going downhill,” at least in the good sense of the term. I’m now going downhill in a different sense, and that’s another story. Instead of traveling from a ghost town, I think I may be heading toward one.
Anyhow, such was a biker’s life in Lordsburg, New Mexico near the end of World War II. We didn’t even wear bicycle helmets. I don’t think we had even heard of them, or really anything except Levi’s and tennies. Helmets were something soldiers wore. We had no idea that bikers, real bikers, wore biking outfits. I don’t think we had ever heard of the Tour de France. Of course, there was no Tour during World War II, and that was before TV, anyhow.
Well, there you have it in a nutshell, a young biker’s life in the New Mexico desert. I thought it was the good life. I guess I still do.
– Chandler Davidson
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 19, 2013 § 22 Comments
After his frightening brush with sadness on Monday’s rest day, Tour de France leader Chris Froome became very mad on Tuesday. Froome, angry about challenger Alberto Contador’s “dangerous” riding which forced him off his bike near the end of Tuesday’s 16th stage to Gap, was still stewing about the incident six hours later when he posted a tweet expressing his irritation.
“Yesterday I was really sad about all the volcano doping allegations,” said Froome. “But today I’m mad. Contador’s dangerous riding was really dangerous. It was extremely dangerous, so much so that I could have gotten really badly hurt. That just makes me mad.”
When it was pointed out that, generally speaking, two hundred cyclists crammed onto French roads no wider than a tampon while racing shoulder-to-shoulder downhill at speeds exceeding 100 kph was a fairly dangerous endeavor, Froome reacted angrily and with a lot of madness. “I have a right to be mad about this. I think Contador was taking too many risks and evidently he did go a little too fast, he couldn’t even control his own speed and crashed. That put me in danger.”
Spanish madly react to Froome’s anger
Contador rejected Froome’s concerns, appearing to be mad that Froome was mad at him. “He is, how you say in English, a big pussy? Is true, I made the crash in front of him going a little too much fast, no bueno. Now he’s crying about peligroso? It’s the bike racing. Que pussy.”
Soon-to-be-Sir David Brailsford, babysitter of Team Sky and curator of the team’s Hello Kitty collection, was also very mad, despite being sad only a day earlier. “This makes me mad. Chris could have lost the Tour. Do you know how mad he would have been then, not to mention getting very sad again? He has ridden an amazing race. The others should be giving up, not pushing the pace on the downhill and somehow trying to gain a time advantage which makes Chris awfully mad. We talked about this amongst ourselves, and the whole team was mad. Just really mad. Angry mad.”
Teammate Richie Porte, who is hardly ever mad, was hopping mad. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more,” said Porte in his thick Australian accent that sounded like a cross between English and a throat disease. “G’day mate, shrimps on the barbie and all that. Just because I’m a banana bender don’t mean these bities ‘n bludgers can act like a bounce on me mate, eh?”
Froome goes from mad to happy after Thursday’s queen stage on l’Alpe d’Huez
Despite being sad, then mad, Froome found himself feeling happy after Team Sky released his power data to Dr. Professor Jacques Tati, the respected French physiologist and comic film director. According to Tati, “Froome’s power profiles show what we would expect within the range of a human with a V02 max that is at the limit of what is possible for a human, although suspect for a gangly insect, which he may well be.”
Froome was very happy to hear Tati’s analysis. “I’m really happy to hear Dr. Tati’s findings and his take on it, and basically to back us up and say that these performances are very good and strong, clean, sporting performances. I’m not mad anymore, and I forgive Alberto. I am happy now.”
Dr. Tati pointed out that he had not concluded that the performances were clean. “I only said he was normal for someone who is completely abnormal. Whether he is clean or not, who knows?”
British cycling public slowly getting happy
As Froome’s lock on the 2013 Tour looks unshakeable, the cynical, sad, mad, and fundamentally grumpy British public has slowly shown signs of being happy about Froome’s happiness.
Nigel Rathbone, a waiter at the famed “Warm Beer and Fish” pub, was guardedly happy. “I s’pose I’m happy, yeh, if it means we beat the French at something. Yeh. Why not, eh?”
Cloretha Clammonger, a charwoman in the City’s toney central district, was also potentially happy. “I reckon I could be ‘appy, I could. I’d rather be grumpy, but you know Chris is just a South African, which isn’t really English, right? Now if he was a right good Englishman, I s’pose I’d be ‘appier than a whore at a cardinal’s convention, I would.”
June 30, 2012 § 8 Comments
Everybody needs a hero.
When I was growing up in Houston, I used to walk a lot. In summer I walked to the pool or the library. It was always long and hot and boring, so when I walked I imagined I was a superhero.
Buck Davidson was one righteously badass dude. His outfit was a leather suit with lots of buckskin fringe and big, pearl-handled six-shooters. He had long red hair and huge muscles. He was handsome and stronger than a hundred men. Buck Davidson was always saving the world or the galaxy or the universe from all kinds of shit.
Sometimes he’d pick up a bus and throw it at a skyscraper, knocking off an alien who was gnawing the tip off the Empire State Building. Another time he’d use his genius laser brain ray to look at bacteria and figure out how to cure cancer. Other times, handsome and super as he was, he’d run off to a quiet place and have awesome sex with Penelope Watkins, the beautiful actress who followed him everywhere and who he was always rescuing.
Although I was pretty clear on the bus-throwing stuff, the sex thing was kind of fuzzy. I knew that Buck had a penis, and that it was a honking one, and I knew from the one or two times I’d seen my mom naked that there was a furry bush to which the penis was somehow supposed to connect, but the actual mechanics were a mystery.
Having an active imagination, though, I didn’t sweat the details and just made it up, same as with curing cancer. I didn’t need to know jack about Stage 4 or metastasis in order to heal the world. Buck just stared with his brain waves and pow! Cancer was fucking dead. Then he’d flop his big ol’ penis towards Penelope’s bush and pow! They’d do sex, whatever that was.
Buck Davidson was real to me. As soon as I walked out the door he’d get involved in every kind of escapade and death-defying heroic act I could imagine, and let me tell you, I had an imagination that just wouldn’t quit.
One time Buck was tied up and about to be dipped in a vat of plutonium. Snaxellander, the evil villain from Dorskabenixx, got up close to Buck and gloated over his imminent demise. “Prepare to die, Buck!” he snarled in his alien dialect, which, because he was so fucking smart, Buck could understand perfectly.
Unable to move his superhumanly strong arms or legs, he opened his mouth and knocked the shit out of Snaxellander with his super strong tongue. Snaxellander was knocked out cold and fell backwards into the vat of plutonium, starting a chain bomb reaction that, if not defused, would detonate and explode the planet.
Buck then craned his neck and used his super strong tongue to snap the chains that bound him. Once free, he stretched his super-stretchy leather shirt with the cool buckskin fringe over the vat, revealing hugely massive and powerful muscles that were awesomely strong, and which made Miss Penelope Watkins faint, as she had also been tied up by Snaxellander. The buckskin cover deprived the plutonium of the oxygen it probably needed to start blowing up.
Then Buck lobbed the whole fucking mess into outer space, where it hit an asteroid, which then got knocked off course and wound up smacking into Dorskabenixx, killing all of the Hoganimms (the race of aliens to which Snaxellander belonged) and making the galaxy safe again. Then Buck untied Penelope and they a good ol’ sex together.
He did all that shit just walking to the pool.
The absence of super-villains isn’t the absence of villains
The thing that bummed me out, though, was that no matter how hard I wanted to be Buck Davidson, superhero, by the time I got to the library I was still just skinny little nerdly Wankmeister Jr. Almost as bad, I couldn’t help but notice that we didn’t have any super-villains or aliens or ticking plutonium vat bombs.
Most depressing of all, there was no one remotely like the devastatingly beautiful Penelope Watkins, with the possible exception of Doris Scrantly, the sixteen year-old babysitter who called me and my brother “little disgusting creeps.” I was pretty sure if I ever tried to show her my penis she would tie it around my neck until I choked to death.
Even though Snaxellander never reared his four heads on the way to the library, the world in 1972 did have plenty of villains. One of them, cancer, is still around and still killing people. No Buck Davidson has appeared on the scene to zap the fuck out of cancer with his genius laser brain waves.
There is, however, one globally renowned athlete who has made “curing cancer” his mantra. He has touched the lives of thousands of cancer patients, stumped for cancer awareness, and reached out personally to countless people struggling with the disease.
For this, he’s been called a hero.
Let’s accept his narrative as true, for a moment, and push all of the scandal and grand juries and witness testimony and the impending USADA hearing off to the side. Instead of weighing his heroism against accusations of cheating and foul play, let’s weigh his heroism against something else.
Let’s weigh it against the heroism of a cyclist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
In 1938, Gino Bartali won his first Tour. Hailed by Mussolini’s Fascist government as proof of the genetically dominant Italian race, this devout Catholic and distinctly apolitical bike racer found himself used as a symbol of racial superiority just as the Fascists had allied with Hitler and adopted the basic German social framework for Italy that the Nazis used to plan, organize, and implement the extermination of the bulk of European Jewry.
In an extraordinary book by siblings Aili and Andres McConnon, “Road to Valor,” we have been given that rarest of things: instead of a bike book about a bike racer written by half-literate bicycle fanboys, we have a beautifully written history that took ten years to write and research by two Princeton grads, one a journalist and the other a scholar.
The Italian Jews were first stripped of their property, fired from their jobs, booted from the schools, and ripped from the fabric of the society they had been a part of for hundreds of years. Most importantly, their citizenship was essentially revoked, and along with it the all-important identification cards upon which life itself depended. Without a card, you couldn’t get food rations, rent a home, or work.
People who once led prosperous lives were forced into beggary in a matter of months. By 1943, when Hitler took direct control over the part of Italy that the Allies hadn’t yet conquered, Himmler’s SS arrived and began arresting and deporting Jews to the northern death camps in earnest.
The real suitcase of courage
Bartali, whose fame had allowed him to avoid combat, was recruited by a Catholic cardinal from Florence for a horrifically dangerous mission: to carry forged identification cards from Assisi back to Florence, where they would be distributed to Jews who could use them to either flee Italy or to obtain jobs, food, and housing.
With the cards rolled up and secreted in the seat tube of his bicycle, under the ruse of “training” Bartali regularly made the 170-mile one-way ride to Assisi, met clandestinely with his conspirators, and rode back to Florence. Along the way he ran the constant risk of detection. The stress of being discovered at the numerous military checkpoints led to such fear and anxiety that he eventually developed PTSD.
At one point he was interrogated in one of the most infamous torture chambers in Italy, and only escaped because the inquisitor’s assistant vouched for Bartali’s honesty, as he had previously been Bartali’s commanding officer. As a result of heroism that saved the lives of hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, Bartali was recognized poshumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
After the war, Bartali tried to resurrect his career but was far past his prime. He took up smoking as a way to improve his performance, and put in the huge miles of a younger man, with no time for his older body to recover. Moreover, he had lost virtually all of his fitness over the course of the long war, which for all Italians was an extended exercise in malnourishment.
Adding to the challenge, greats such as Fausto Coppi and Louis Bobet were much younger and in the early, rocketing trajectory of their legendary careers even as Bartali was at the end of his own. In 1948, Bartali returned to the Tour with virtually no chance of winning. After Stage 12, Bobet had a lead of more than twenty-one minutes, and Bartali knew his campaign was hopeless. He was prepared to quit the race and go home in defeat.
That night, Bartali received a phone call while he was in bed. Alcide De Gasperi, prime minister of Italy, told him that Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the opposition had been shot, and Italy might be on the edge of a civil war. De Gasperi asked Bartali to do his best to win a stage in order to distract people from the impending conflict. Bartali replied that he would win.
Against all odds and prognostications, Bartali set out on Stage 13 of the Tour with an attack almost from the gun, an audacious and incredible tactic considering the stage’s 170-mile length and the fact that it traversed five of the worst cols in the Tour, finishing with the legendary Izoard. From the very first serious ascent the heavens unleashed freezing rain, sleet, and snow that continued for the entirety of the race. Frozen to the core, Bartali attacked each climb until none could follow. He took back virtually all of his 21-minute deficit.
The following day he clinched the lead with a devastating win on the 163-mile mountainous stage to Aix-les-Bains, and the next day won the 159-mile Alpine odyssey to Lausanne. No rider would again win three consecutive stages until Mario Cippolini took four sprint stages in 1999. The ten-year gap between Bartali’s first and second win has never been matched, and only three riders have ever won a Tour at his age or older. Bartali won the 1948 tour by more than 26 minutes, put more than 32 minutes on Bobet, and finished more than an hour up on the tenth place finisher.
This incredible victory convulsed Italy into celebrations, such that it temporarily forgot its divisions and drew back from civil conflict due to the exploits of this singular, indomitable man who had reclaimed his position as victor of the Tour a decade after his first win.
But he never made a yellow wristband about it
Like so many others who lived through the war, Bartali never spoke about his participation in this heroic resistance to fascism and the Holocaust. When asked about his silence, he would say only this: “I was no hero. Those who gave their lives, they were the heroes.” Others–particularly the Jews who owed their lives to Bartali’s heroism–disagreed.
Today is the first day of the 2012 Tour de France. We’re at the edge of our seats, waiting to see who will be crowned our newest Tour hero. Which man will conquer the field? Which one will conquer the clock? Which one will conquer the mountains? Which one will cross the finish in Paris wearing yellow?
We’re right to call them heroes in the limited sense of “champions.” We’re right to admire their heroic exploits in the physical sense.
But heroes cut from the same cloth as Gino Bartali, a man who combined physical prowess with profound courage? Heroes cut from the same cloth as…Buck Davidson?