Leading by bad example, or, “A Prayer for Neal Rogers”

March 2, 2015 § 61 Comments

I could only pedal slowly, my jaw scraping the tarmac as I rolled along, listening to the story. In brief, an up-and-coming youngster had chosen the wrong wheel with half a lap to go. The guy he was counting on to drag him to victory sat up, which made sense because he’d been out in a two-man breakaway for the last two laps, had been caught by a field averaging 30 mph for the entire race, and didn’t have the legs to sprint.

Junior, stuck on the wrong wheel, tried to come around when Mr. Deliverance stopped pedaling, but the train had already left the station.

To demonstrate his unhappiness with the actions of the lead-out man who wasn’t even on his team, Junior stormed off, threw himself into his dad’s car, locked the doors, and pouted. Fumble-futz dad sheepishly collected the gear, then went over to Junior’s teammates and began making excuses for Junior’s bad performance–not Junior’s dramatic performance of “Hamlet, Prince of Pout,” but his dramatic failure to seal the win.

There were so many things wrong with this story. First, why was a 19-year-old at a P/1/2 bike race in February? Didn’t he have coursework at college he was supposed to study over the weekend, and weren’t midterms around the corner? Second, why was the father of a grown man even at the bike race? Aren’t normal parents embarrassed by adult children who race bikes? Third, why was his father making excuses to the team? And fourth, why hadn’t the dad jerked Junior out of the car by the scruff of his neck and said something along the lines of “If you ever lock me out again I’ll kick your snotty little fucking ass and make you walk home, after I sell your stupid fucking bike for a tank of gas.”

The answer to all these questions is complex, but it boils down to “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be bike racers.” Because if you do, chances are good that they’ll always be babies.

Junior’s story isn’t the first one I’ve heard from this trove of tales from the failed parenting vault. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell their son that bike racing, unless pursued as a hobby, is a dead end. Over the years, excepting Lance Armstrong and Marco Vermeij, I’ve never seen a kid being “groomed for the pros” who actually made it as a Pro Tour rider or even anything close. What I’ve seen are rabid parents throwing money and pressure on kids, teaching them to spend their time cycling instead of getting good grades, and winding up with almost-good-enough-but-not-quite long term deadbeats. I’ve seen a lot of that.

Unlike other pro sports, where the chance of success is also infinitesimal but the rewards are at least astronomical if you hit the jackpot, the biggest winners in pro cycling are still chumps compared to the biggest earners in soccer, basketball, and baseball. The reason is that sponsors won’t go near cycling at the pro level, and their avoidance of the sport is only partially related to the structure of teams and the UCI.

Despite the fact that the “industry” is worth billions–when’s the last time you saw a Local Basketball Shop–the money in cycling is at the retail level, not the pro level. And one reason the pro level is devoid of meaningful money is because it cannot extricate itself from its association with doping. After an entire history of pretending that drugs weren’t a problem and cheerleading the Lance & Floyd + Trek & Oakley show, VeloNews has now taken the opposite tack: Ensuring that no one will ever forget the sport’s sordid past and, what’s worse, its sordid present.

Last night Neal Rogers, the VeloNews editor, posted a link on his Twitter account to an article written by Michele Ferrari. The article estimates Chris Froome’s VAM and “stratospheric” w/kg in a recent race, and insinuates the obvious: Froome is doped to the gills. Rogers’s posting adds a level of insinuation onto Ferrari’s insinuation: If anyone should know about stratospheric levels of cheating, it’s Michele.

Apparently Rogers, with over 15,000 Twitter followers and a venerable position in one of the most globally influential cycling rags, sees nothing wrong with linking to a web site that offers coaching services by an unrepentant cheater who’s been banned from cycling for life and who was the mastermind behind Armstrong’s drug-enhanced Tour victories. When questioned about promoting Ferrari on Twitter, Rogers shrugged it off and aggressively defended a guy who is more than a cancer: The advocacy and use of EPO in its early stages led to the death of numerous young riders.

Instead, Rogers doubled down, saying that Ferrari is “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” and his status “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to him, though. End of the day, he’s a number cruncher.”

And there you have it. Rogers couldn’t care less about Ferrari’s role in the exploitation of young athletes, his lifetime sanction for cheating, or the fact that one of the worst faces in cycling is now selling his services on the Internet to any and all comers. At the end of the day he’s a number cruncher, a harmless old fellow with wire-rimmed spectacles doing complex math for the benefit of all the innumerates out there.

No, Neal, you have it exactly wrong. At the end of the day Ferrari is a liar, a cheat, and an evil person who is so bad for the sport you supposedly promote that he had been banned from it for life. It’s like saying that at the end of the day “Dr. Mengele was just a scientist.” In fact, the Nazi researchers — like Dr. Ferrari — weren’t simply “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” people. They were highly intelligent and scientifically minded people who used their high intelligence and science to harm people, break laws, and blithely pretend that it was okay.

As a result, you, Neal, should be really careful about not simply shrugging off Ferrari’s misdeeds as you actively promote him on your Twitter feed. Ferrari is a bad dude and you’ve given him your stamp of authority, even though you temper it with feeble protests about his “questionable ethics.”

Can you imagine the NFL promoting Lyle Alzado’s dealer, or MLB doing a promo link to the website of Balco and Victor Conte? Of course not, because the sponsors would raise holy hell.

And therein lies one of the intractable problems faced by kids who enter the sport, a problem not limited to pouting brats and their fumbling, apologetic, pathetic parents: The worst examples still abound at the very highest levels of cycling journalism which, after all these years, is still fanboy writing in its most supplicating form.

On the bright side, discerning parents will see positions like those taken by Rogers and realize what a joke the sport is at the Pro Tour level, and will encourage their kids to take another AP calculus class rather than sign up for another four-corner crit in Hooterville. And that is progress.

END

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§ 61 Responses to Leading by bad example, or, “A Prayer for Neal Rogers”

  • Brian in VA says:

    Who are these “discerning parents” of which you speak? The same ones who embarrass their kids in Little League/Soccer/Pop Warner/pick any other organized sport?

    I can only hope you’re correct, WM.

  • Greg says:

    The worst behavior by cyclists I’ve seen isn’t juniors by a long shot. It’s from the masters 1-3 categories. I’ve seen one of the prominent tatted-up masters rider (which doesn’t narrow it down too much) spend 20 minutes prancing around a course screaming profanities at anyone who’d listen. Particularly screaming at the officials.

    • channel_zero says:

      It’s been forever since I’ve attended a race and your post was why I stopped going. Nothing has changed at USAC.

      • fsethd says:

        Much has changed. Several people have moved on to make space for new people with the same old ideas. I think there was a Who song about that.

    • fsethd says:

      Yup. No one tops the masters for babydom. But you see, we are hopeless and have no future. The kids, on the other hand, could be devoting themselves to more productive activities like meth.

  • Ferrari’s ethics aren’t “questionable,” they’re crystal: If you pay him enough money, he will use every one of the many black arts at his disposal to make you go faster on a bicycle.

    That said — and I wasn’t part of the twitter exchange, so my view is probably not as informed as yours — I didn’t read a link to Ferrari’s post as a tacit endorsement of his skills, or an attempt to minimize his role in creating and perpetuating the greatest sporting myth of all time. Rather, I saw it as going to the source: who better to call out a cheater than a cheater? He can be a lying cheating doping gigantic world-class a-hole and still be good at math and human physiology. The 2 are far from mutually exclusive.

    But your point is well-taken: citing Ferrari on human athletic performance is not wholly unlike citing Mengele on genetics. A healthy caveat or 3 is required.

    • fsethd says:

      You nailed it. And think twice, then think again, when you’re the voice of VN and you’re about to link to the guy. I had no idea the guy provides coaching services, but thanks to VN, I do now. Checking to see if my credit card is good in Italy.

    • channel_zero says:

      Let’s look at Ferrari from Thom Wiesel/UCI perspective:

      -Came out of Conconi’s doping lab. Conconi, while doping cyclists, was some highly ranked UCI medical commissioner. Conconi/Ferrari are trusted

      -Both Conconi and Ferrari were responsible for fantastic human performances that generated some interest/sponsorship revenue in the sport. Nevermind it amounts to sports fraud.

      -Ferrari was fundamental to the 7x winning legend and new sponsors/viewers. If Armstrong couldn’t produce the power, they couldn’t just give him the wins. They banned other riders that beat him though!!

      -UCI is okay with doping. Just bring in sponsor money while you do it.

      And so it follows, at the UCI/USAC favorite north American publication does not think twice about linking to a banned sports doctor. The transformation is complete, he does not think about the sport like a viewer, he thinks about it like the UCI.

      Let’s be fair to Neal. There are plenty of North American fans that have no problem with athletes doping. USAC is full of them.

      And yes, Froome is doping. But, the Sky project is working great. He’s never tested positive.

      • fsethd says:

        You need to go look at Neal’s response to my rude and unprofessional blog. (Unprofessional?? I get $2.99/month from some people!). He says that before “slamming” him I should have “reached out” to him first to make sure I “understood” him. Then I asked why he didn’t first reach out to me and he snidely says that’s “not how journalism works.” This from a guy who cut his teeth in music journalism at the University of Santa Cruz, which is kind of like being a war correspondent for the NYT minus the danger, courage, intellect, journalistic ethics, and writing ability. He reminds me again that I’m not “pro” but can’t even be bothered to conclude his sentences with “pro” periods, you know, those “pro” things that 3rd Graders learn to put at the end of sentences.

      • channel_zero says:

        Seth,

        Neal knows you only aspire to be where Neal is today. He’s scraping the barrel with interns providing semi-digested infomercials from their advertisers. That’s big time cycling industry stuff!

        You are on a good path, $2.50 at a time.

      • fsethd says:

        Excuse me. It’s $2.99.

    • Emacdo says:

      I hate to say it but “a health caveat or 3” does not excuse equating a sports doctor who worked with voluntary clients for a totally optional treatment with Mengele, who was immediately responsible for deatths of thousands of people.

      I know that it’s popular to do things like comparing the USCF offical who sanctions you for chopping someone in a crit to Hitler, but comparing anyone in the world of sport to Mengele is asinine, insulting, irresponsible and just plain historically wrong.

      To wit: where are the bodies that Ferrari vivisected?

      Grow up and stop thinking that PEDS are equivalent to genocide. Maybe spend some time at the LA Holocaust Museum, or attend Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in Glendale and ask some of the people there what they think.

      “A caveat or 3” is inexcusable.

      • fsethd says:

        You missed the point. It’s not about whether or not Ferrari vivisected people. It’s about the ethical dilemma of using science obtained by blatantly unethical means. This is a huge issue with German biological research done during the war. The parallel, while inexact, is completely on point. Ferrari’s (and Conconi’s) methods experimented on young athletes without even the faintest attempt to adhere to even the most fundamental ethical human testing protocols.

        As a result — a direct result — numerous athletes died. You may think that’s not comparable, but that’s just your opinion. When scientists (or nonscientists like Chris Carmichael) experiment on humans without permission or informed consent, they are violating the most basic human rights of all.

        Which brings us back to the question I raised: What in the hell is Neal Rogers doing pointing his 15k followers to the coaching web site of a guy who has performed despicably unethical experiments on people? So what if he’s an expert? So what if, in the main, he knows what he’s talking about?

        Doesn’t the EIC of VeloNews — and the future roving reporter for GCN — have a duty of care with regard to the experts he cites? It’s my opinion that he does, and one of the best places to look for the dilemma posed by scientific results obtained by unethical means is by human experimentation during the war.

        You may be oblivious to this issue, but even today scientists are wrestling with the question of what to do about many of the German experimental results on twins. Ignore them? Use them?

        And thanks for the witty, original, and wholly appropriate injunction that I grow up. I can tell by that remark that you’re a real substance guy who likes to focus on issues! Carry on!

      • Emacdo, I understand your point, but the point of figurative speech is that it’s figurative, not literal. I used hyperbole to make a point. I did not make a literal comparison between a guy who committed historically abhorrent war crimes to a god-dang sports doper. Sheesh. Forchrissakes dude, look at my user name. I have “spent some time” at the Holocaust museum. If you can’t understand the use of hyperbole in a blog post, I don’t understand why you’re reading this blog.

      • fsethd says:

        Hey, Medioc, I ran into one if your shit-talking Alabama pals here a few months back. Did he mention it?

        Thanks for trying to educate Macdo and his farm, but it may be a lost cause.

      • He did. Classic shit-talker. Old school hard-ass. Still stupid fast.
        I hate that I can’t attempt to express a single semi-coherent thought on the internet without somebody telling me I need to grow up / respect the Holocaust. Don’t know how you put up with it.

      • fsethd says:

        I’m just appreciative for the crumbs of attention thrown my way, even from the half-witted and illiterate. They are ostensibly reading something without pictures, after all.

  • +1

    And that is why we in LB, don’t ride with water in our water bottles!

  • channel_zero says:

    What I’ve seen are rabid parents throwing money and pressure on kids, teaching them to spend their time cycling instead of getting good grades, and winding up with almost-good-enough-but-not-quite long term deadbeats

    This is the USA Cycling business model. It worked once, over a decade ago, except it required copious amounts of mandatory doping and wasting a bunch of human lives along the way. Allegedly, Thom Wiesel never new about the doping. I’m not sure how that fits with an alleged doping incident in his vacation home at a national championships…..

    Rogers is towing the USAC party line. Doping is okay, except if you don’t win or beat our favored athletes.

    • fsethd says:

      He’s breaking the first rule of prostitution: Don’t remind the guy you’re fucking him for money in the middle of the act.

      • channel_zero says:

        Well stated. A craft water toast to you.

        And that’s why as much as new enthusiasts can believe the sport is growing, it’s constantly “firing” fans/participants who have been around long enough to experience how it really works.

      • fsethd says:

        You gotta check the Twitter. Or not!

  • BigBug says:

    Hooterville?!?!?!?! Sign me up.

  • dangerstu says:

    Thanks for spreading the word, is the site in English or Just Italian, BWR is fast approaching and I need some extra juice!

    • fsethd says:

      It’s in English, and I’m pretty sure ol’ MIchele is used to dealing with those of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion.

  • Winemaker says:

    Thanks, Seth. All good stuff there.

    • fsethd says:

      Neal Rogers isn’t amused, says I’m not “pro.” Maybe if I raise my rate to $3.99? I think my resume to be EIC at VeloNews isn’t going anywhere.

  • spinner says:

    Great story regarding the junior rider!
    Here’s a brief story from my junior boxing days.
    I was scheduled to fight a boxer who was undefeated in 25 fights. My record, at that time,was 29/2/1 (29 “wins”,2 draws and 1 defeat). The father of my opponent cornered me in the locker room, before the fight, and told me that not only was his son going to kick my ass he was gonna kill me! Further, his son was on the way to the pros and I was going nowhere. I have to admit that I was intimidated. We get into the ring and my opponent starts “explaining” that he’s going to kill me. I was now afraid!
    Fight starts and the guy is all over me.He’s hitting me with punches I can’t even see. I get on my bicycle (boxing speak for running around the ring). I notice that when I jab he drops his right hand. My next jab is a fake and I unload with my right. It smashes into his jaw, his eyes roll up, and down he goes, out cold.
    I have three more fights that evening with varying success….
    I walk out to my car,after the meet, and standing next to it is my opponent, his father, and my opponents trainer. My opponent charges at me and I hit him with exactly the same right hand I knocked him out with earlier.Down he goes. The old man jumps he and I hit him with a same punch. Down he goes. The trainer jumps me and beats the shit out of me: I have to run away. The cops come. I GET ARRESTED…..
    Junior level sport sucks…..

    • fsethd says:

      Great story. Sports aren’t a career, they’re a hobby. The only thing you’ll ever end up calling the geeky nerd in high school is “boss.” Thanks for sharing.

    • ” The cops come. I GET ARRESTED…..”

      That’s when you know you did some damage! :-))

      • fsethd says:

        I love that he beat up one guy twice, then beat up the guy’s dad … all with the same punch. I guess the trainer was a super badass, or he had a tire iron, or both. I told my kids that they could pursue their professional athletic dreams the moment they moved out.

  • Tb says:

    It’s only complex math for cyclists… As you pointed out how many “cyclists” focused on riding and not school. Wake up kids, parents and adult cyclists – cycling is a recreational hobby.

    The black magic of crunching watts and formulas which generate those pretty graphs, charts and aspirations are based on basic math – tought in Jr. High School.

  • vcscribe says:

    Not to sure about equating Ferrari with Mengele. Maybe Ferrari with Von Braun? Because, after all, Von Braun may have been a Nazi scientist, but by god, he was “our” Nazi scientist!

    • fsethd says:

      Yeah, good point. Our Nazi scientists were a pretty fun-loving, highly intelligent and scientific bunch, give or take a few V2’s and the odd thermonuclear blast. Just doing what came natural! Plus, everyone else was doing it! Oh, they weren’t. Well, they would have if they could have!

  • schincat says:

    You buried the lead. 🙂

  • Bill Stone says:

    It took several paragraphs but you invoked Godwin’s Law just in time to lose the argument. Yes, giving EPO is exactly the same thing as experimenting on children. Excellent us of analogy.

    • dangerstu says:

      Cycling in the the rest of the world is a bit more than a hobby, it’s legitimate transportation.

    • fsethd says:

      You need to review Godwin’s Law, chump, which I specifically pled around. Sorry to ruin your morning troll in the park.

    • channel_zero says:

      Bill,

      Whatever you do, don’t look up what Chris Carmichael did to kids.

      Google the phrase “60 minutes dope and glory”

      Do you think the 300lb NCAA footballers just grow to that size naturally?

      Think about it.

      • fsethd says:

        Bill is just trying to yank my chain. He just got back from Florida on a hard-fought legal case to get compensation for some horribly injured kid. He’s a bleeding heart, cupcake-soft, puddin’ headed liberal cloaked in a few rude nouns and the occasionally lively string of invective.

      • Bart says:

        Here is a nice reference, look at the ’70s onward for doping past and consider those still in the sport.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doping_cases_in_cycling
        Note 1984 and the legal blood doping going on as well.
        I’ve seen Carmichael at many of the big stage races in the US and always greet him with, Ah, Mr. Enabler, no response yet but of course the comeback would be would you prefer I call you a pusher…

      • fsethd says:

        It’s all clean except for the parts that aren’t.

  • wolfsbane says:

    Further, he posted it on twitter. You might as well put a dartboard on your face when posting something like that on social media. If he was that glutton for abuse, he should have written a blog post.

  • Jim Bangs says:

    Seth you have described many sports here, same story. Kids racing on skis, skating as young girls and boys being told that if they only committed themselves they would be winning gold medals. Perfectly dressed 8 year-olds with $800 drivers on the driving range being told they are the next Tiger. Parents pretty much fuck up any fun, sports are for kids.
    I can’t tell you how many parents have come through our high school basketball program telling us that their kid is D-1 talent and it is up to us to make sure he gets there. We pretty much nip that in the bud by inviting the parent to practice and watch their kid and let them know that we love their kid and love him to be part of our program but after high school he could have some fun playing intermurals in the fraternity college league. Parents are the only downside of coaching at the high school level.
    That’s my soapbox I am standing on!!

    • fsethd says:

      So awesome. Even if they are D-1 or NBA talent, they’re one bad high school injury away from being a large, uneducated, unemployable bum. I wish I had a nickel for every idiot who’s told me that “sports build character.” As if hard work at school, doing your homework, debate class, and busting your ass to make a good score on the SAT don’t.

  • Edwin says:

    Are you saying Marco Vermeij was groomed by his parents for the pros? I always thought of him as the self-made happy go lucky adventurer who really liked to ride bike races. Not that I’ve ever met him – just a fellow Dutchman.

    • fsethd says:

      No, he wasn’t groomed at all. He was a self-made pro. But with the exception of him and Lance, I’ve never met a young cyclist who made the big time. Marco was everything Lance was not, by the way. Honest, hard working, funny, smart …

  • devin says:

    “I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

    Lance floated dreams of miracles and hard work for families. Before Mom finally admitted it was more Ferrari than hard work. Before Oprah. Now junior is too old to learn how to hit a curveball. And he has too many bikes.

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