September 5, 2013 § 23 Comments
“Dude,” Josh said, “your face is fuckin’ covered with chocolate. Looks like you been bobbing for corn in the port-o-potty.”
Eric wiped a smear of sweat and spit across his face with the back of his hand. “Gone now?”
“Not even close.”
For well over three hours they’d been racing in the warm sunlight along the undulating roads that would ultimately lead to the mountaintop finish atop Mt. Bachelor. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, at least as far as the weather was concerned.
Eric put his hands back on the bars and grimaced as the pack surged up the easy roller. They were three miles from the base of the climb and seven miles from the finish of the national championship road race for older fellows. The last forty miles had been an endless series of easy rollers, so easy that Eric’s legs were cramping and he could no longer hold onto the end of the peloton.
“I’m done, dude,” he said to Josh.
Josh glanced up at the darkening sky. “That looks bad, man. Hang on if you can.”
Eric slid off the back. As the gap widened, the pack seemed to slow. Now at the rear of the caravan, Eric dug and started working his way back. He re-connected. The pack surged again. He came unhitched, this time for good.
Alone now, he felt something hard hit his cheek. Then it hit him again. “That’s hail,” he said to himself. As each minute passed, the hail intensified. By the time he hit the bottom of the giant climb that eventually, theoretically, according to the race bible, led to the finish line, he was being pelted with golf ball-sized hailstones and blown sideways by 30 mph gusts. The hailstones hurt so bad that he wanted to cry out, and the larger ones raised giant welts where they struck his bare legs. Mixed in with the hail was a freezing rain. Then, as he got out of the saddle to pull himself up the climb, his legs cramped.
He was now officially as cold, exhausted, and miserable as he’d ever been in his entire life.
How in the hell had it come to this?
Taffy, beer, and the lure of immortality
On the fourteen-hour drive from L.A. to Bend, Oregon, Eric, Josh, and I had taken turns behind the wheel of the Prius. Initially maligned for its lack of power, its odd appearance, and its soccer-mom mystique, the Prius had quelled all criticism at the first gas stop.
“Dude,” Josh said. It was his turn to buy gas. “It only took thirty bucks and it’s full. What the hell?”
Hundreds of miles later, when we refilled again, no one was complaining about the lack of acceleration, as we’d all agreed to put the savings into a mutual beer fund. Every thirty minutes or so Eric would reach into his bag and whip out a new giant stick of taffy. Once Josh had found the taffy stash, the competition began. In addition to the giant Trader Joe’s bag of trail mix that we inhaled, I wondered about cycling nutrition before the Big Race. The taffy competition got so intense that several giant sticks, which had melted inside their wrapper, had to be placed directly under the AC vent so that they could be cooled enough for the competitors to peel off the wrappers with their teeth.
Getting the lowdown on the big ride
We reached Bend and checked into our team house, and convened a special team strategy meeting. Alan, who had done the race the year before, was blunt. “Look, dudes, it’s a really simple race. We go downhill for twelve miles, turn right, do a bunch of easy rollers for about forty miles, then hit the climb. First one up the climb wins. It’s a fifteen-minute bike race.”
“How easy are the rollers?” asked Eric.
“They’re nothing. You might be on the rivet once. Then it’s just easy.”
“How hard is the climb,” I asked.
“It’s the hardest fifteen minutes you’ll ever do.”
“What if you’re not, uh, like, you know, a really good climber?”
Alan looked at me. “Then you’ll look like a burnt fragment of flesh at a Hawaiian pig roast.”
“So what should my strategy be?” I asked.
Alan thought for a minute. “Sit in the whole way, and when you hit the climb, don’t be surprised when everyone leaves you.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What’s most important is rest and nutrition, so get to bed early, stick to your diet, and you’ll do fine.”
The perfect nutritional storm
Josh, Eric, and I were thrilled to find a nice little brewpub around the corner from the SPY Team HQ, a little place called The Old St. Francis School Brewery.
“Why are they fuckin’ serving brewskies at a school?” Josh asked. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” he said as we took a table.
“What are you having?” I asked Eric.
“I’m so not hungry,” he said.
“How can you not be hungry? We just sat in the car for fourteen hours.”
“I think it was the taffy.”
“You gotta be nutritionally energized,” Josh said as the waiter came by. “Eric wants a double cheese baconburger and a 32-oz IPA.”
“And I’ll have the same thing with double cajun fries and a pizza.”
“Yes, sir.” The waiter looked at me.
“Uh, I’ll have the garlic bleu cheese bacon and sausage pizza with artichoke and creamed corn. And the IPA.”
We got home shortly after the brewpub closed at two. The five-minute walk took a solid half hour, but we made it, and got ready for bed.
“Dude,” Eric said as he pulled out a gigantic pair of orange earplugs, each one of which was long enough to go from one side of his skull to the other. “Do you snore?”
“Only when I sleep. Do you?”
“Yeah, but not too loud. Do you fart?”
“Never, except at night.”
Eric dug around some more in his bag and pulled out a giant pair of nose clamps. “See you in the morning.”
The big bike box flail
The next morning we drove out to the time trial course in Prineville, where USAC had moved the registration, almost an hour from Bend, the city that everyone was staying. It made sense, you know, to have registration and packet pickup as inconvenient as possible. We got there just as our teammate Mike Williams was finishing. “How’d it go?” I asked, knowing that there’s only one of two ways a time trial can ever go. Horrible, and you win, or horrible, and you lose.
“It was horrible,” said Mike. “But I beat one dude.”
“More than one, I hope.”
“Yeah, but this one was awesome. My minute man came up to me at the start and said ‘Take a look at this jersey and memorize this number, ’cause you’re never gonna see it again.’”
We began laughing. “You’re joking! Even a bike racing douchebag wouldn’t say that!”
“Oh, but he did. So I caught him at the turnaround and as I passed him I said, ‘Have I seen you before?’”
Mike had schlepped up several bikes for the team from L.A., including Eric’s and Josh’s. His parents lived nearby, so we went to their house to get the bikes. The moment we stepped inside his house, his mother came up. “You boys look hungry.”
This is a polite way people have of saying to bike racers, “You look sickly and malnourished.”
“Well, now that you mention it … ” we said.
“Let me see if I have anything for you to eat.” In a matter of minutes she had laid out a huge spread of turkey sandwiches, fresh vegetables, homemade fudge, upside down pineapple cake with ice cream, and beer. There was enough food for twenty people. We ate ourselves sick and then went outside, where we had the dilemma of putting three bikes and four wheelsets into the Prius. We’d been joined by our teammate F-1 Jim Pappe, so nicknamed because he drove so slowly that even the local rusted out redneck pickup trucks passed him at will. We somehow got all the bikes and people crammed into the two cars and headed back to Bend with all our gear and our registration goodies.
One by one the team began to show up, with MMX arriving that afternoon, and John Abate arriving with Jess that evening. The road races were scheduled for the following morning, with the 50+ going first at 8:00 AM (me, Alan, F-1 Jim, and Randy Tinney), followed by the 40+ race (John A.), then the 35+ (Eric and Josh), and finally the 45+ with MMX, John Hatchitt, Andy Schmidt, and Peter Anderson). We all gathered that night again at the brewery and prepped for the race with copious amounts of greasy bar food and fresh beer. F-1 JIm, who had gotten sick on his drive up from Bakersfield and vomited all along the way to Bend, had recovered somewhat. Randy, however, was feeling awful.
“Dude,” he said. “I can’t race tomorrow.”
“Can’t race?” I said. “Why the hell not?”
“I have a headache.”
“We’re not asking for sex,” I said. “We just need you to toe the line and help Alan in the road race. You don’t even have to finish.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, as he wandered off to the men’s room to throw up again.
Back at the SPY HQ, I readied my gear for the race the following morning. The horribly dry air and the altitude left me gasping every time I walked up the stairs. “I hope the bike race isn’t harder than the staircase,” I muttered, before falling asleep.
The morning dawned to reveal at least one terrible hangover tinged with dry mouth and the overpowering urge to vomit. I somehow overcame the urge.
Abate had gotten in at two o’clock with Jess, minus their bicycles, which United had conveniently lost in between San Diego and Bend.
“No problem, sir,” United said as John frantically dialed their “service” department. “We should have them to you by the end of the day.”
“Dude,” said John. “We’ve got a bike race in a couple of hours. We need those bikes now. How do you lose a hundred-pound giant plastic container filled with bicycles? How?”
“Well, when we find it we’ll send it over to our service delivery center, and Delta will bring it to your hotel.”
“I didn’t know Delta had merged with United.”
“They haven’t, sir.”
“THEN WHAT THE FUCK DOES DELTA HAVE TO DO WITH MY LUGGAGE?”
He slammed down the phone and implemented Plan B.
“Hey, Randy,” John said as the phone awakened Randy from his dried pool of puke.
“You still not racing this morning?”
“Can I borrow your bike?”
John raced over to Randy’s condo and got his bike. Then he and Josh swapped machines, since Josh’s bike was closer to his size, and began the meticulous process of recalibrating seat posts, cleat positions, handlebars, and all the other important modifications that have to be made if your $10k bike is going to earn you the 57th place you have worked so hard to attain.
The leadenness in the sky
Since our race started three hours before John’s in the 40+, F-1 Jim and I left the SPY HQ at 6:15. MMX stuck his head out of the bedroom. “Weather forecast is for thunderstorms, hail, and temperatures in the 30′s.”
“At least we have that to look forward to.”
At the start of the 50+ elderly fellows’ national championship road race, the temperature was forty degrees, but the skies were clear. Greg Leibert, who was riding solo for Big Orange, did a few efforts with me up a short hill, and we chattered like chipmunks in the biting air, which, when you added in the wind chill, was easily 30 degrees. “Glad it’s going to be a sunny day,” I said.
We started off shortly past eight o’clock and in order to freeze us even more the race pointed immediately down a screaming twelve-mile descent. As the speeds began to ramp up over fifty mph, various riders who had never descended at those speeds in their lives began to get high speed frame chatter. One rider’s bike began to shimmy and twist like a flag on a pole in a hurricane as he rocketed off the road at speed and careened into the gravel, then the brush, and then into the soft landing of the sharpened ends of pine boughs.
The terror of avoiding the chattering bikes was almost enough to counteract the sub 20-degree chill that had penetrated into our internal organs.
How the race was won
Even though Alan’s race plan was solid, it was clear to me after looking at the national champions, world champions, and galactic champions in the race that my only hope lay with Godzilla showing up and eating everyone except me. After a handful of initial attacks, with Godzilla not showing up, the winning break of four mutants “rolled” of the front, which is another way of saying they went so fast that no one could catch them. Pretty soon the sun came out and we warmed up. The riders who’d been wrapped in several layers of plastic began undressing, which created a second level of terror almost as bad as avoiding the downhill catastrophic crashes caused by the frame shimmies.
The undressing riders would sit up, hands off the bars while packed in the middle of the clotted peloton, and begin fighting madly with zippers, sleeves, hats, and gloves, and then packing it all into a tiny rear jersey pocket. The merest chughole or wobble would have taken out half the field, but somehow no one crashed. However, one dude couldn’t get an arm of his rain jacket stuffed into his rear jersey pocket, and the flapping sleeve began driving me crazy.
“Is it going to droop down into his spokes and crash us all out?” I wondered. Each time I tried to get close to him to tell him, the Law of Cyclist Proximity kicked in. This is a basic racing peloton rule that says you will always get stuck behind the one person you don’t want to be stuck behind, or, you will never be able to get up to the rider you need to get up to.
I finally gave up, and just in time, because the easy rollers had begun to do serious damage to the peloton.
Easy for you, impossible for me
The easy rollers that Alan had promised were in fact a grueling, grinding series of endless, short climbs that, one by one, gradually sapped everyone’s legs even as the winning break of mutants disappeared forever. I hit the front exactly once and took a mighty pull, but after the peloton stopped laughing they reeled me back in just in time for the big final climb. I’d not eaten anything except a few Gatorade gummy chews which had been included in my preregistration goodie bag.
The gummies were wrapped in a long plastic tube best opened with a buck knife or blow torch. Each one was in a separate, hermetically sealed compartment made of industrial-strength rubberized plastic, and I almost tore out my rear molars opening the thing up. Then, in desperation I chewed not only the gummy but also the rubberized wrapper. It was nice that USAC had partnered with a company that knew how to make cycling-friendly food products.
As Alan had foretold, everyone over 140 pounds, which was virtually all of the elderly fellows in the race, was hideously shelled on the lower slopes of the climb. As the climb continued, the destruction became more pronounced. Sag-bellied, multi-chinned fellows who had begun with fantasies of glory were now relegated to wheezing, gasping, square-pedaling oafs who looked like they were being flayed to death by Captain Ahab.
Roger Worthington, who had won the tandem TT the day before, decimating a field of three other teams in the 50+ Men Who Are Willing To Spend $15k On A Custom Carbon Tandem That They Will Never Ride Again While One Has His Nose Jammed Up The Other’s Ass, was wasted from the effort. He took a long hard pull in the lead-up to the climb and then, as he imploded, began to shout “Pizza and beer, one dollar off at Worthy Brewing tonight!” as the wounded, stampeding elderly fellows roared up the climb.
I roared, too, but only for two hundred yards or so. Then I was stuck by myself, the field maddeningly close but hopelessly and forever unreachable. I could see the field break into smaller bloody clots as the final climb did its terrible work. Just as I had resolved to get off my bike and cry, a big white Nissan drove up alongside me. It was MMX, whose race wouldn’t go off until three.
“What are you doing back here?” he sternly asked.
“Flailing,” I said.
“Those guys up ahead,” he said. “Catch them.”
The guys were way ahead, and I had to choose between saying “Fuck you,” and “Yes, sir.” I chose life. I chose “Yes, sir.”
What unfolded was the most glorious 38th-place finish in the history of Elderly Fellows road racing. Whether it was MMX’s encouragement, my fear of looking even worse than I already did, the photo crew that was shooting close-ups of my awful grimaces, or the slight draft from the passing vehicles, I somehow got atop the gear and picked up speed.
Everyone who races loves to talk about pain, misery, and the hell of enduring a hard climb, but in addition to all that I had a special collection of facial grimaces that I practiced religiously at home to make sure I seemed more heroic than 38th place would normally seem. I gritted. I contorted. I drooled. I blew flecks of snot. I bobbed. I weaved. I thrashed. And incredibly, I began picking up one wanker after another. As Rudy Napolitano had said before the race, “Just don’t give up hope. Even though you’re hopeless.”
Each freddy freeloader I passed leaped onto my wheel, but quickly came off. With a last lunge I reattached to the seventeenth chase group, a collection of ragged and tattered and chubby and demoralized riders who were only thinking about the finish line 500 meters hence. I sped by, bringing BBI’s Brad Hunter with me. We had a brutal, heroic, incredible struggle for 37th place, with his final kick propelling him to a step on the sub-sub-sub-sub podium and a prize that included all of the unopened Gatorade gummy chews that had been thrown to the roadside in disgust.
Our race finished with the strongest of the mutants dropping the other mutants and me crossing the line in thirty-eighth place, one of the strongest placings imaginable and much more awesome than “38th” sounds. I checked with lots of people after the race and they all told me that thirty-eighth was truly impressive.
The amazing fart explosion
John Abate’s race, which rolled out shortly after ours finished, got caught in the hailstorm just as the climb began. But an even worse storm had descended on his smallish peloton a mere twenty miles into the race. A dude who shall forever hence be knowns as “Mr. Poopers,” raised his rear end up off the saddle in order to unleash what he thought was a mighty fart. Unfortunately, there was a major miscommunication between his sphincter and his brain, because when he released the gas, it was a fully loaded breakfast burrito turd with all the trimmings.
More impressively, he was wearing white shorts, and the gigantic brown bomb shot straight up the back of his bibs, staining everything brown and gagging everyone nearby. The smell was overpowering and it forced the pace up as each rider struggled mightily to get in front of Mr. Poopers. What was even more terrifying to the riders was the onset of the rain, because everyone knew that the water would start washing the poop out of Mr. Poopers’s shorts, and from there onto the bikes, shoes, and kits of whomever was behind him.
John surged to the front of his group at the base of the climb. The winning break was already up the road as the hail unleashed with such fury that it shattered his Garmin. Neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail, nor sideways wind gusts of 30 mph were enough to slow a man trying to escape the now-sopping-and-dripping Mr. Poopers, and John charged through the flying hail like a madman.
John hit the finish line and saw that the barricades and the entire finishing area had been destroyed by the hail and the gusts of wind, which had exceeded 50 mph atop the ski resort at Mt. Bachelor. The USA Cycling organizational team, which was extremely adept at cashing the checks of the riders. was less adept at handling problems on the actual race course, leaving it to racers, their wives, friends, and some dude in a wheelchair to pick up the barricades so that the finishing riders weren’t crashed out and killed as they finished. Hiding somewhere far from the calamity and sipping hot chai lattes, the USA Cycling brass convened an emergency meeting.
“Shit out there is gnarly,” said one.
“Glad we’re not out in it,” said another.
“Want to send off the rest of the races?”
“Sure. Worst that could happen is someone gets killed.”
“Plus if we cancel we’ll have to deal with scheduling and possibly refunds.”
At the mention of the word “refund” everyone panicked. “Send ‘em off, no question. Hey, waitress! Could I have another tea?”
Just as they decided to order a few frozen and wet volunteers out to the PA system, a troop of angry motorcyclists stomped in. These were the men and women who followed the races and various chase groups. “If you think we’re going out in that deadly hail and snow and rain and sleet, you’re nuts,” said the leader.
The chief USA boss shook his head. “But what about refunds?”
Everyone quailed and several of the veteran staff began sobbing. “We can’t do refunds. We just can’t!!”
“I know!” said the boss. “We’ll move the race to tomorrow!”
“But what about the riders who just flew in for this one race and who can’t stay?”
“Fuck ‘em!” the others yelled in unison.
“And what about the riders who were going to do the tandem road race on Friday? The two events will overlap!”
“Fuck ‘em!” everyone roared, even more loudly.
“No refunds ever! Crank up the email machine and notify everyone. Chai tea lattes on the house!” roared the boss as everyone applauded.
What teammates are for
No sooner had John dismounted than the winners, then the remnants, of the following 35+ group came straggling in. Josh and Eric were covered in sleet. Josh’s helmet had been dented in by the hail, and Eric’s legs were covered in giant red welts. Neither could speak, and both had to be helped off their bikes. John, who was still frozen from his race, kicked into gear. With Jess providing towels, blankets, and warm clothing, the riders were stuck beneath the heating vents, which were going full blast. Both riders looked like they had just been through a terrorist attack.
Josh looked over at Eric. “Did we finish?”
“I think so.”
“Dudes,” said John with a grin. “You didn’t just finish. You finished the toughest, most grueling nationals road race ever.”
Eric cracked a smile. “It was a piece of cake until that final climb thanks to all those easy rollers.”
“Where’s my recovery beer?” Josh asked.
There was the hiss of a cap flipping off a bottle as Jess pressed an ice cold brew into his hand. “Right here.”
Josh drained the bottle as the icy cold beer warmed his frozen insides. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”
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.
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.
April 28, 2013 § 113 Comments
USA Cycling hates black people.
You think that’s an exaggeration? I don’t. And in fact, it’s hardly surprising. African-Americans have been discriminated against in the sport of cycling since its very inception. The greatest American bike racer of all time, and one of the greatest athletes ever, Major Taylor, was a black man. Virtually every race he ever started began and ended with racial epithets, threats of violence, and race hatred of the worst kind.
Cycling’s hatred of black people was global. When Taylor went to Europe and destroyed the best track racers in the world on their home turf, founder of the Tour de France Henri Desgrange, a noted racist, was so incensed that he refused to pay Taylor’s prize money in banknotes and insisted that he be paid in one-centime pieces.
Taylor quit the sport he dominated because he couldn’t take the relentless racial hatred. He died a pauper.
White people succeed, black people are a threat
The history of most major American sports goes like this: White people create the sport and set up the rules so that black people can’t play. African-Americans begin playing in segregated leagues, and they are so good that some white team somewhere decides it would rather risk the wrath of segregationists than keep losing, so it recruits a star black player.
The black player stomps the snot out of the white players, sets records, and generally blows away the competition. All the while he’s doing this, the athlete deals with death threats, constant harassment, segregated facilities, inferior wages, and grudging acceptance.
Finally, other teams begin recruiting blacks, and the African-American becomes much more highly represented in the professional league than he is as a percentage of the population. White people call this integration. Blacks call it having to be ten times better to get a fraction of the wages and benefits of their white counterparts.
Cycling’s no different
Like NASCAR, competitive cycling remains an extremely white sport in the U.S.A. Unlike stock car racers, though, there are tens of thousands of black recreational cyclists. Cities like Los Angeles have large and thriving African-American cycling clubs and riding groups. But when it comes to competition, there are few black racers compared to the number who ride recreationally.
One reason is likely cost. Unlike baseball, basketball, and football, which either have low equipment costs or are available through the schools, cycling requires kids to purchase expensive equipment that is beyond the reach of most working families.
Another reason is USA Cycling. In addition to having no blacks on its board, the organization does nothing to promote cycling among blacks. To the contrary, it goes out of its way to discourage them and to pass up opportunities to get poor children on bikes.
Remember Nelson Vails?
USA Cycling’s favorite way of passing up opportunities is by ignoring the sport’s black spokesmen. If you started racing in the 1980′s one of the guys you probably admired was Nelson Vails. In addition to his silver medal in the 1984 Olympics, he and Mark Gorski were the dominant track sprinters of their day.
Nowadays Nelson crisscrosses the country marketing his brand of cycling products and participating in “Ride with Nelly” events that bring together black cyclists as well as any others who want to chat and ride with a living legend.
USA Cycling’s interest in working together with Vails, or highlighting his contributions to the sport, or using him as an ambassador to the black community, or working with him to get more inner city kids on bikes? Zero. Vails does it on his own.
Contrast that with the old boy network at USA Cycling, an organization whose board is whiter than a Klansman’s bedsheet, and how it deals with other stars of the 80′s. Jim Ochowicz was head of USA Cycling for four years during Dopestrong’s heyday and as recently as 2012 was saying that Lance Armstrong “earned every victory he’s had” to anyone who would listen.
Mark Gorski worked for USA Cycling as director of corporate development, and Chris Carmichael, another white hero from back in the day, worked for USA Cycling from 1990-1997 as national director of coaching. Carmichael is infamous for the forced injection of drugs into junior national team cyclists, a despicable act that led to litigation and a confidential settlement in 2001.
Nelson Vails? The charismatic, gregarious, friendly Olympic silver medalist who travels year-round promoting cycling all over the USA? Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Why? In my opinion, it’s because he’s black.
Letting black racers know they’re not wanted
This policy of ignoring great black cyclists and turning a blind eye to the development of cycling in the black community isn’t limited to ignoring old heroes. The best black bike racer in cycling today, Rahsaan Bahati, former national champion and perennial force in big national crits, continues to be singled out by USA Cycling because he’s black.
Two years ago Bahati was deliberately crashed out at the Dana Point Grand Prix. The video is breathtaking. After the accident, Bahati slammed his sunglasses to the ground in anger, for which he was fined and suspended. [Update: Readers noted that Bahati actually threw his glasses at the oncoming pack, and later took responsibility for his fine and suspension.]
The rider who crashed him out received no penalty at all, even though the whole thing was on video and is one of the most brazen examples of evil and malicious bike riding you have ever seen. Check the video here if you don’t believe me. Seconds 39-42 are unbelievable, but not as unbelievable as the fact that the rider who got punished was Bahati.
Similarly, at an April race in Florida, a spectator reported Bahati as having caused a crash. USA Cycling suspended him, but not before telling him that he could “appeal” if he paid a $300 fee. As a courtesy, they provided him with the provisional ruling. Hint: After we take your money we’re still going to suspend you. Bahati has now missed three of the most important and potentially lucrative races on his calendar.
Get it? Someone intentionally crashes out the black dude and the black dude gets suspended. Someone reports that the black dude caused a crash, someone not even in the race, and the black dude gets suspended.
Get it? The black dude gets suspended.
The travesty goes beyond the obvious. Bahati is one of the few successful pros of any color who spends significant time and money spreading the cycling gospel. In Milwaukee last year he visited an elementary school to fire up black kids about cycling. USA Cycling, rather than lending a hand, prefers to designate him as Public Enemy.
Race and the local crit
The irony is that black bike racers don’t get into the sport to make a political statement. They do it because they like racing bikes. What’s even more to the point, among local racers in Southern California there’s relatively little racial friction when blacks race with whites, although the Rule of Black still applies: You better be twice as good as your white counterpart if you want their respect.
Respect, of course, is exactly what riders like Justin Williams, Corey Williams, Charon Smith, and Kelly Henderson have earned. Guys like Rome Mubarak in NorCal, and Mike Davis and Pischon Jones in SoCal are just a few of the black bike racers who mix it up in the group rides and races every week, but for every one of them there are a hundred more black cyclists who should be racing and winning.
USA Cycling’s approach to growing the black base? Suspend the most charismatic spokesman and ambassador of fair play in a kangaroo court.
Tell ‘em how you feel
If you think that your voice doesn’t matter, you’re right. If you think it does matter, you’re right.
USA Cycling deserves to know that you find its treatment of Bahati and its failure to support black cycling despicable. Email their CEO, Steve Johnson, at email@example.com with this simple message: “Free Bahati.”
And you can tell him I sent you.