April 2, 2019 § 2 Comments
I went through a very short podcasting phase a couple of years ago. Podcasting is difficult, requires technical expertise, and overwhelmed me after my first couple of attempts. Hats off to Brian Co at the SoCal Cycling podcast, now in its fourth year and going strong. If you want quality journalism and amazing production values, he’s your guy.
However, one of my podcasts was about Lance’s upcoming trial date back in 2017. A reader transcribed it and emailed it to me, suggesting I post it as a blog. I’d done the whole thing off the cuff and didn’t have a transcript. When she sent it I thought it was dated and irrelevant, but then I read it and realized that I hadn’t posted anything in a couple of days, so here it is.
It’s long. Dated. No pictures. And it ain’t Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Lance’s Date with Destiny
Today is back to the future day, where we check in on cycling’s bad boy and eternal scoundrel, Lance Armstrong. I tried to figure out what in the world is going on with the lawsuit he is so afraid of that he kicked the trial date down the road some more. This guy is in no hurry to face the jury, he has been in litigation now for five long years, and it’s not over yet. Sometimes the Lance Armstrong saga feels like fighting the Medusa. You lop off one head only to find out you are locked in mortal combat with another one. Everytime I swear this is the last time I will ever, absolutely, positively EVER say anything about that fucking guy, he makes himself relevant again.
How, I hope you are wondering, can this jerk possibly be relevant? TDF titles: stripped. Cheating ban: lifetime. Public reputation: in the shitter. Significance to cycling: none. But actually, he is relevant. Very relevant. And I am starting to make my peace with his permanent installation in the constellation. He is relevant because if you are in your mid-forties to late fifties, he was the definitive character in your personal cycling history. Young riders nowadays don’t know about him or care, and they certainly don’t read Outside magazine, or read for that matter, but those of us who were racing when Lance was young will ever be bracketed by the events in his life. His name strikes a sour note that can’t be listened away, if only because the note was once so sweet. YOU say “He is old, slow, wrinkled, balding and gray.”
But guess what? So are we.
Lance’s latest foray into relevance was written about, and written about well, in the September 15th issue of Outside Magazine. The gist of the article was simple and written by S.C Guin. Read it. Storyline 2017. Lance is racing ahead with his life, he is surrounded by hangers-on. He is rich. He’s a family man. He’s atoning for his sins. And he is still an asshole.
But we can stepmother this fairy tale as Lance’s date with destiny on May 7th, 2018, the date set by Judge Cooper, on which his false claims act and fraud trial will begin in a Washington, D.C. federal court. If the worst case scenario comes to pass, Lance will get dinged with a 96.9 million dollar judgement that will vaporize almost the entirety of his personal wealth. Suddenly, he might have to struggle to pay for the kids’ college, just like the rest of us. Dither between e-tap and mechanical, check the tires again to see if they really need to be replaced …
And Lance is worried about his dance date, too. In the Outside article he sends a clear signal to the Department of Justice that he is in the mood to settle. The risk here is sky-high for Lance, but only marginal for the government. Lance is already $15 million down in legal fees, but the government has also spent a fortune on this case. And there is no reason to think they will win in front of a jury, given that they’ve been out- maneuvered at almost every turn in the pretrial phase of the case. As the pressure builds, and both sides start to calculate how much they could lose, for Lance money, and the government a big fat black eye and a couple of lead lawyers careers wrecked, a settlement seems possible.
But they aren’t there yet, and they may never be, because the sum will be large, and in the meantime, the trial date is real.
In order to understand why Lance is pacing the floor, you have to understand the legal guts of his case. It’s remarkably simple. His lawyers have pared away virtually every single issue in the litigation until only one remains: Did the US Postal Service get what it bargained for? In other words, even though Lance lied, did the government come out ahead?
Because, if they did, Lance wins. That’s the only thing left in this case. The government tried to set up the issue for trial differently, arguing the value of the sponsorship was zero, because they would have never signed up if they had known about the cheating. If they paid $32 million for something worth nothing, then the USPS’s actual damages are three times the actual $32.3 million in sponsorships payments. Since the damages are trebled in a false claims act lawsuit, Lance would be on the hook for three times 32.3, or $96.9 million.
Armstrong tried to set it up differently, contending that the benefits USPS reaped from having him as their poster boy demonstrably outweighed the cost of sponsorship, and that the government’s actual damages are zero in that they got what they paid for in terms of publicity and actual media impressions, and then some. In the single biggest pretrial wrangle of the case, both sides moved for summary judgment, essentially asking for the court to rule in their favor before the case goes to a jury. The court’s ruling rejected both arguments, holding that the case would have to go to the jury to decide whether or not the USPS had been damaged. And if so, by how much?
This was ostensibly a win for the government, but Armstrong’s lawyers still get to go to the jury with the best possible of weapons. They have experts that will try to prove that USPS was not harmed and they’ll have withering cross examination to debunk USPS’s methodology for calculating the financial value of damages. That shouldn’t be hard, because there is no methodology. At least none that will survive a Daubert challenge. The court said in the motion for summary judgment that damages in FCA cases are generally measured based on the “benefit of the bargain” received by both parties. Under this approach, the government’s actual damages are equal to the difference between the market value of the products it received and retained, and the market value that the products would have had if they’d been of the specified quality.
Applying this benefit of the bargain rule is often straightforward. In a typical case involving a governemnt supply contract, for example, the difference in market value between a conforming good and a non-conforming good can easlity be calculated, for example, computing the precise cost to replace a falsely branded tube in a radio kit supplied to the government. Calculating the benefit of the bargain becomes more difficult in cases where the market value of the product or the service involved is not readily ascertainable. This is particularly true for contracts for personal and professional services, like those provided by Lance’s cycling team. And the difficulty of this will play into Armstrong’s hand come trial time.
Armstrong buttressed his argument by attacking one of the government’s experts who attempted to document the value of the contract as well as a separate expert who testified about the value of the negative publicity resulting from the revelations of Armstrongs PED use. By striking these evidentiary claims, LA would have gutted the government’s ability to prove damages and would have won the case. Even if he were a bad boy, USPS could never have proven they had lost money on the deal. However, the judge held that both declarations did in fact have some bearing on the calculation of benefits USPS obtained from the cycling sponsorship, and thus were relevant to the actual damages. This doesn’t mean that a jury will buy the experts’ testimony, though. It just means that it will go to trial. Rest assured, the entirety of Armstrong’s defense will be based on demolishing these experts, and the fuzzy nature of their arithmetic means that he will likely succeed. As long as the jury understands the speculative nature of the experts’ calculations, Lance will likely win.
Armstrong’s claim that the USPS got more than it paid for has two parts: First, USPS said in documents obtained through discovery that it had obtained increased sales of $24 million over and above what it had paid for the Armstrong sponsorship. This seems to show that USPS clearly benefited. But the court said it isn’t increased sales, but rather increased “net” sales and USPS itself admitted that they couldn’t isolate reasons for the increased sales, which were affected by other factors in addition to the Armstrong sponsorship. In other words, the court said that the $24 millionnumber that Armstrong claims he increased USPS sales by was speculative, and therefore, the trial has to go forward on this point because it is a factual matter for the jury to decide.
Lance’s second prong in showing the benefits USPS had received was the alleged positive media exposure for being associated with such a cancer crushing, biking badass. If USPS had paid for all that good press, according to Armstrong’s experts, it would have cost $103 million, a number that far exceeds the $32 million in sponsorship. However, Armstrong’s own expert admitted that not at that time, or this time, or anytime, was anyone on earth ever going to spend $103 million on a cyclist for advertising a product. This strongly suggests that it’s what I call a unicorn number.
Think about it like this: Say you had a marble that cost a penny, and someone took the marble and smashed it into a thousand bits, then an expert examined the shards and opined that if someone were to manufacture each of those pieces separately and combine them into a single marble, it would cost $1000. Yes, except for the fact that no one would ever do that. They’d simply go to the five-and-dime and buy another marble for a penny. Even with things looking grim for Lance’s alchemist accounting, AND his astrological marketing analysis, the bottom line is that the government, who has the burden of proof, still cannot quantify how much it was harmed by the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s doping admission. And this difficulty is real easy to explain: The value of the bad press was zero.
Not a single person on earth thought worse of the USPS after LA flunked his Oprah exam with flying colors. And that’s not just because the sponsorship had ended five years before USADS’s Reasoned Decision and Joe Public had forgotten about USPS and its link to Lance in the first place. It’s because no one had a good impression of the USPS to start with. Americans may disagree on Trump, and they may disagree on Obama, but one thing they all hate in unison is the USPS. The USPS service hired Lance to provide services that no one could provide: the service of rehabilitating their horrible image. And the telling fact isn’t in their muddled claims about increased revenue, it’s in the fact the the USPS had, and has, an intractable PR problem that is created and maintained by Congress and the mechanism through which USPS is funded. Fixing USPS’ image with a few manorexic big wigs pedaling through sunflower fields in France, really? Uh, no.
There’s another huge problem with the USPS claims that the Armstrong deal was a money loser. The only way the USPS can make money on first class stamps, their traditional profit center, is this way: by people buying the stamps and not using them. That’s it, period. The reason is that no matter how much their sales increase, they lose money on every single first class mail transaction. The only net positive revenue they could have generated through Armstrongs publicity, or anyone’s publicity, was by selling first day covers or other collectibles that would have never been redeemed. Can you imagine a business model that depends on customers never using what they purchase in order to succeed? Can you say gift cards? What about lottery tickets?
By hiring Armstrong to increase Joe Public’s awareness of the USPS, and to encourage Americans to go write more letters, the USPS was hiring Lance to provide a service that, had it been successful, would have lost them even MORE money. From 1998 to 2003, the lucrative first class mail business was mortally wounded and had turned belly up. The Queequeg that had stuck the harpoon in the belly was email, and the USPS was blocked by Congress from leaping into equal parcel competition with UPS and Fed Ex. The first class mail biz that had been their cash cow for over 200 years had become the mill stone around USPS’s neck. Some estimate that it costs the USPS about twice the price of a stamp to actually deliver a first class letter. Nor would a Lance-led PR victory have reversed this trend, even if he’d won a hundred tours, riding yellow unicorns that farted cancer clearing gas clouds through pediatric oncology wards. USPS’s other services, junk mail, overnight mail, periodicals and packages, were all subsidized by the incredible profits of the first class mail business. Make that the formerly incredible profits.
When Lance was winning his tours, USPS was a bottomless well of red ink. It’s amazing that Lance’s lawyers never identified this gaping gash in the government’s argument. Namely, that Lance didn’t cause them to lose more money, they were operating on a business model which guaranteed that greater revenue would lead to greater losses. The telling fact is this: USPS desperately wanted out of the sponsorship, much earlier than 2003 when the relationship finally ended and Armstrong was picked up by Discovery Channel. That’s the time when he was at the absolute top of his game, years before Landis outed him for doping. Management at USPS understood better than anyone alive that the Armstrong sponsorship was a bleeding failure, not because he was a doper and the value of his brand was zero, or because he had somehow besmirched their snow-white reputation, but because the more they sold, the more they lost. And every year they re-upped with team Lance, they were dumping millions of good money on top of the bad.
Long before 2003, USPS wanted out. What had started as a feel-good promotion for the stodgy old USPS, a kind of bargain basement expense on a nutty, niche sport, had morphed into the money eating Lance monster. The contracts for title and presenting sponsorships were reaching $9 million per year, and under the terms of a proposed new contract figure would bloat to about ten percent per year. And despite their fuzzy internal memos about $24 million in new revenue, and “We’re getting more from this relationship than they’re paying,” USPS knew better than anyone that they were getting nothing out of the sponsorship. This coincided with drops in bulk mailing contracts and budget crises that were coming to a head over USPS’s roughly $90 billion dollars in pension liability. $90 billion? What in the fuck were they doing spending so much as a penny on some shaved-leg asshole who raced his bike in France and was mean to people? And USPS had known from the very beginning that the Lance deal was stupid and meaningless, but, like every huge beaurocracy, once they got started it was damned hard to stop.
Not least because those were the heydays of the Armstrong bandwagon. You had to be there to believe the Armstrong feeding frenzy. Outside marketing people who wanted the deal to continue came up with all kinds of ways to turn the sponsorship into a net positive deal. But it took very little to realize that USPS did not give a fuck times a million. During the Armstrong era, post offices had every kind of tri fold and display, even at the lamest faux gift shops where you could buy postal themed crap. But you never, ever anywhere saw a US Postal cycling team display. No Sam the Eagle in a USPS jersey, none of those USPS themed action figure sets, where you might have a car and eight cyclists made of plastic or something like that. No posters, no caps, no jerseys, no rah-rah. No flat fucking nothing. USPS had checked out almost from the start because they were running a business based on losing money. Lance might be able to whoop up on cancer, but he was an impotent little clown show in the context of USPS’s debt. Did I mention the number $90 billion?
Even things as basic as Champs Elysees sales never happened. The vendors on the Champs Elysees as the Tour comes through make incredible money. Everything for sale is shlock, over-priced and ugly, dumb. But people want a memento. Do you remember those awesome USPS commemorative stamps that showed Lance and the team winning the tour? Lance in the yellow jersey? Lance and the guys doing a TTT in postal blue? Lance sticking a red hot poker up cancer’s ass? Remember those stamps? No? You know why? Because they never existed. USPS never even bothered with a vending truck near the finish line selling vintage USPS Lance commemorative stamps, items that would have sold by the book and by the sheet at ungodly markups. If there were ever a stamp someone would never use, it was a stamp purchased in France when they went over to France to watch Lance win the Tour. And not just win it, but crush it, leaving nothing in his wake but defeated dreams, empty syringes, howling Betsy and outraged Greg and Kathy.
USPS could have easily sold sheets of 50 cent stamps with a center image of the USPS eagle logo, and sold them as posters, or framed them, or framed and signed posters by Lance, or even Lance and the team. But nope! Nothing. Ever. USPS didn’t make money on Lance for the reason they never made money on anything. The first class mail cash cow had been slaughtered, skinned, butchered, packaged and sold at Safeway for pennies on the dollar. So the irony, here on the eve of trial, is that Lance’s best argument is the one he can’t use: USPS knew it was entering into a money loser and was defrauding the American public along the way by pretending that sponsorship deals of any kind were anything besides a breach of fiduciary duty to the taxpayers. The great news though, is that Armstrong can rest easy. Department of Justice lawyers may be clumsy in pretrial, but they are horrible in front of a jury, especially when they have to contend with top dollar private sector lawyers who are sharper than shark’s teeth. Armstrong’s team has, through relentless procedural mud fighting that has set Sir Lance back a cool $15 millskies, whittled the entire case down to a single issue: Did USPS lose more than it got? And by the time Armstrong’s lawyers get through with the fake numbers a dodgy calculations of the government’s experts, the case will be too muddled or too in tatters for a jury to do anything other than render a defense verdict. That’s my call.
Lance will still be able to hang onto his hundred millsky, his house in Aspen, his house in Austin, his bike shops, especially his tainted tour jerseys. Because even though close to twenty years have passed, no one from the years of 1999 to 2005 has stepped up asserting THEY raced clean, to claim them. You know what? No one ever will. Now isn’t that funny?
POSTSCRIPT: Lance settled with the government, paid a paltry $5M, and went his merry way.
February 6, 2019 § 2 Comments
After the bongshell announcement that former Tour de France ace and gadfly about town Floyd Landis had formed his own cycling team in cahoots with “Max Kash Aggro” beer peddler Roger G. Worthington, Cycling in the South Bay sat down with these two paragons of cycling wisdom and marketing wizardry to plumb the depths of their new plans to send cycling’s Ancien Regime up in smoke.
CitSB: You first, Floyd. What’s a nice boy like you doing in a shit-show like this?
Landis: It’s time to give back with more than just drugs. After getting that $750k from the Lance lawsuit, I wanted to help revitalize this sport that I love, or at least provide it with an alternative to opiates and manmade painkillers.
MKA: Hey, shut up, Floyd. It’s my turn to talk. Look, Wanky, your blog sucks, okay?
CitSB: We’ll get to you in a moment, little fellow. Floyd, you and Worthington have been friends a long time. How has that worked?
Landis: We go way back. Rog was one of the first people who believed in my innocence.
CitSB: One born every minute, right?
Landis: Pretty much.
MKA: Remember that time after you got banned that I had you announce at the Dana Point GP and you got hammered and sang all those Johnny Cash songs from the booth?
Landis: That was a gas, Rog. Good times! You are the best!
CitSB: Floyd, you’re on record as saying with regard to young people racing that “I would never encourage kids to get into it. It’s a catastrophe. It’s awful.” Has that changed?
Landis: Oh, absolutely. I totally encourage kids to get into bike racing now. It’s amazing. It’s fantastic.
CitSB: What’s changed?
Landis: The unicorns. They are everywhere now, with rainbow farts that smell like licorice and cetewale.
Landis: Middle English for “zedoary.”
Landis: Never mind.
CitSB: Okay. So back in 2017 when asked about the potential for change in cycling you said, “No, there’s no hope. There isn’t any. That’s just a fact. We can sit here and be pie in the sky, but they’re not changing.” And you described the U.S. governing body as “These are the same people, the same officials, the same USA Cycling. It’s all still just infested with disgusting people.” But things are different now?
Landis: Oh, absolutely.
Landis: Unicorns are in charge now and they are all eating Floyd’s Pot Shop cannabis products. Look! There goes a unicorn now!
CitSB: Where? Where?
Landis: Oh, dang it. You just missed it.
CitSB: Crap. Anyway, a couple of years ago you said, “In any case, the sport will never be clean and the guys who take the products will always be one step ahead.” Thoughts?
Landis: When I said “always” I didn’t add “and forever.” What I meant was “always” like “I will always love you, honey.” You know, one of those things no one believes. Come on. I was KIDDING. What I should have said is that the sport will never be clean until I and MKA get our own pro team and the riders are drinking Worthy Beer, the finest craft beverage currently produced in America.
MKA: It’s better than that!
Landis: You are the best, Rog. You rock, bro!
CitSB: A quick check of Beer Advocate has Worthy Brewing at 3.66 out of five. Just sayin’.
MKA: Those worthless sacks of shit at Beer Advocate wouldn’t know good beer if you poured it up their butts with a siphon.
MKA: It’s all a joke. Those beer rating things are scams. He who pays the most, wins! And I play to win. Our marketing budget for 2019 has quadrupled, with glossy back cover buys for 12 issues. That will increase our taste rating by a full point, you’ll see.
CitSB: MKA, in addition to your extensive background as a leaky prostate masters racer, what are you bringing to the effort?
MKA: I’m not a megalomaniac. I have, however, performed lung surgery, founded a Nobel Prize-winning institute that has cured mesothelioma and bunions, built a 50,000 square foot, zero-carbon footprint home in Bend, taught Chris Botti how to play trumpet, developed the best tasting beer hop on earth, won several football championships for Clear Lake High back in Houston, written a New York Times bestseller about hair regrowth in older men through pilates, recovered over $4,000 billion for deserving asbestos victims without ever setting foot in a courtroom, devised a plan to stabilize and re-freeze the Thwaites Glacier, mastered the comb-and-tissue paper, and personally delivered Christmas presents in a magical sleigh to over a billion people in Africa.
CitSB: So you’re thinking the bike racing venture should be pretty easy?
MKA: Who’s the winningest masters cycling team of all time? Labor Power, brought to you by MKA. Who’s the greatest brewer of all time? Worthy Brewing, brought to you by MKA. And who’s gonna win the Tour next year? Floyd’s Pot Shop, brought to you by MKA. I’m like Ceasar. I come, I see, I conquer. Got it?
CitSB: Yes, sir.
January 23, 2019 § 14 Comments
After announcing that a record number of masters cyclists were recognized for their doping achievements in the 2018 Vuelta a Miami, local SoCal crit racer Crumbs McIlhenny admitted that he had failed to fail a doping test, and issued a tearful apology to his family, friend, and fan.
“No idea how this happened,” said Crumbs behind a wall of damp tissues. “I have always doped just as hard as everyone else. Now this.”
Coming hard on the heels of SoCal’s most successful masters doping season, where doping hero Steve Strickler recently joined famed compatriots Rich “the Beaker” and “Tatty-Poo” LeoGrande, Crumbs’s dejection was abject. “I’ve demanded they test my B sample,” said Crumbs. “They gotta find something.”
When told that B-samples weren’t tested unless the A-sample revealed banned substances, Crumbs was inconsolable. “That is total bullshit!” he wailed. “I am taking this to CAS!”
After walking Crumbs back from the ledge of the open skyscraper window on which he was perched, his friend and fan tried to explain to him that CAS arbitration was only for those accused of cheating, which is a “bad” thing.
“Huh?” Crumbs said. “I failed to fail that test because the system is rigged. It’s because of my vanishing twin or some non-alcoholic whiskey I drank or an untainted steak I ate for breakfast that masked the drug cocktail that came with my Thorfinn-Sasquatch kit order. I mean, I have Joe Papp on speed dial. And now this?”
Masters cycling commentators were aghast at the non-positive A-sample. “This is killing our beloved sport,” said Htes Nosdvidad, retired masters racer and noted notary public. “People are simply not going to keep paying to race when the events are stacked with non-dopers. And for every non-doper who doesn’t get caught not cheating, there are fifty more who get a free pass. The whole thing stinks.”
Leaders of major SoCal racing squads were similarly hard-pressed to justify their continued commitment to the sport. Veteran Cat 5 masters racer Nivek Klas wasn’t at a loss for words. “Clean racing? What’s next? Not posting awesome sock and cleat photos on the ‘Bag? After devoting twenty-four months of my life and $25,000 of the club’s money to orange folding chairs, all it takes is one clean racer to ruin everything.”
Less than 24 hours after being outed as clean, Crumbs posted the following apology on his Facebook page, which has since been taken down:
I apologize sincerely to my family, friend, and fan for letting them down. They know I am better than this. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I made a mistake and knowingly raced clean. I took a risk and was just going there to support my team mates. I accept the punishment of USADA, condemning me to another season of racing, and to the judgment of my peers, who know that I really do have the desire to win at all costs even if I raced clean that one time. But I will come out of this a better man, a faster racer, and a more committed advocate for filthy sport.Crumbs McIlhenny
January 7, 2019 § 11 Comments
By now everyone, especially Steven Strickler and Rich Meeker, has heard of Carl Grove, the 90-year-old Indiana track racer who tested positive for epitrenbolone, a metabolite of the banned steroid trenbolone, most commonly used in livestock to increase muscle mass and appetite.
Cycling in the South Bay sat down with Carl to talk about his record setting doping performance.
CitSB: This is quite a milestone. The oldest cyclist to ever test positive and get stripped of a title. How did you do it?
CG: It wasn’t easy.
CitSB: How so?
CG: No one gives a fat fart about 90-year-old track racers.
CitSB: Not sure it’s limited to 90-year-olds but continue.
CG: I mean we suffer just as much as the pros. We ride the same equipment. We train like beasts. You really think Daniel Holloway is a better bike racer than I am?
CG: Well of course he is, but I mean for my age I’m just as good if not better.
CitSB: Kind of like if grandma had balls she’d be grandpa?
CG: Yeah, I guess so. But anyway, I go out and win a national title in the individual pursuit, and do you think CyclingNews or VeloNews or the Times gives a shit?
CitSB: I’ll take a flyer on that one. No?
CG: Exactly. I sent out 15,000 press releases after I won the title. Hired an agent. Posted deets on all my friends’ FB pages. Not a single interview. Not even a response to my emails or text messages saying “No, thank you.” I sent copies to the White House, to my congressman, to my great-great-grandson’s kindergarten teacher, to the heirs of the sergeant I served under in WWI, fer fugg’s sake.
CG: Hell yes, crickets. So I decided to get on everybody’s fuggin’ radar.
CitSB: With the positive doping test.
CG: Yes. And it worked, didn’t it? I’m now being personally interviewed by one of the most somewhat modest niche self-published online small circulation blogs devoted to cycling and masters doping.
CitSB: Right. Now, your critics are claiming that your motives were a bit dirtier, that you were doping in order to, you know, actually win.
CG: That’s ridiculous. I was the only guy in the race.
CitSB: But it’s a fact that you have a pretty good time. 38+kph for three minutes. Not a bad time at an age when most people have been dead for twenty years.
CG: Come on. I’m not so good that I’d have to dope to beat myself.
CitSB: And people point to your healthy teeth, full head of hair, the moistness and firm texture of your skin. Folks are saying you could easily pass for 85 or even 82.
CG: I’d never dope to beat me. Cheating is wrong.
CitSB: You tested positive.
CG: And USADA agreed that my meat was tainted. Just like Alberto’s.
CitSB: Come on, Carl. Admit it. You had to have the title. Only one other 90-year-old stood between you and delusions even bigger and more grotesque than Kevin Salk’s.
CG: Hey, fuck you, buddy.
CitSB: And so you did what bike racers have always done when they can’t get the job done with their own two legs. You doped to beat the competition. And the best part? You knew that the guy you beat would never rat you out.
CG: (Throws down mic.) This interview is a joke. Your blog is a joke. You are a joke. I’m outta here.
CitSB: Tune in next week for the next edition of “Ridiculously Narcissistic Old People Taking Drugs to Win Bicycle Races.”
November 19, 2018 § 16 Comments
When you are busted for doping you need to shut up. This is because the more you talk, the worse you sound. The best dopers are Eastern European because they say nothing when they get busted. And when they get through shutting up, you know what they do?
They shut up some more.
Sorry not sorry
I had hoped that posting about Steve Strickler and his sorry, cheating, doping behavior would help him do what he needs to do: Shut up. This is because when you are a lying, doping cheater, nothing you say is going to help your cause except exactly the thing you cannot say, which is this:
I am sorry for lying to and cheating my friends, family, fellow competitors, race promoters, and race sponsors. I am a liar and a cheat and I have tarnished all the people who believed that I was an honest athlete and who raced on my team. I am going to go away now and ride my bike and try to make sense of how I could be such a narcissistic, lying cheat.
Instead, Strickler chose to post this non-apology on Facebook, and yes, I will help break it down. It is pretty fucked up.
What it all means, line by line
- “It has been brought to my attention, that it is important for those connected to bicycle racing to understand the current situation about my recent ban.” Wanky interp: People are calling me out as a liar and a cheat, especially that asshole blogger Seth. I wouldn’t have said anything about this unless publicly pressured. I feel no guilt about this at all but I am going to re-direct you in case you have been paying attention to facts.
- “In November of 2017, I received a full knee replacement. On the direction of my doctor, and with standard testosterone therapy prescription I started to replace my low testosterone in March of 2018 to aid in my recover and for overall well-being.” Wanky interp: My cheating was medically necessary. Because my doctor prescribed me banned drugs for overall well-being, cheating is okay. Don’t you feel sorry for me now?
- “I had absolutely no intentions of racing in 2018.” Wanky interp: I didn’t plan to cheat, it just happened. Like rain.
- “Impulsively at a last moment I decided to go to the Dana Point Grand Pre.” Wanky interp: Doping is okay if it is done at the last moment and misspelled.
- “I knew I would not be competitive, I just wanted to be there to support the event and the cycling community.” Wanky interp: I was doping for YOU.
- “The results of that choice are now public and will forever be such. I can’t alter this bad choice.” Wanky interp: I got caught. FML.
- “This was the one and only race I attended this year.” Wanky interp: Cheating once is okay, and I never ever cheated before this. Really!
- “I was randomly selected in the field and yes, I tested positive for a banned substance.” Wanky interp: It was pretty unfair that I got caught.
- “I accept full responsibility for this choice and the ban that comes with my choice.” Wanky interp: I’m not going to apologize because I did nothing wrong besides getting caught.
- “However, I do not want this choice and set up circumstances to define me or my 30 years of cycling.” Wanky interp: I never cheated before, I promise.
- “I will seek to make something good from this, for me personally and for the sport that I love so much.” Wanky interp: No apologies, no refunds, just a vague promise to be a good boy while I sit in the corner.
- “I am asking nothing in return from anyone. I just feel this needs to be in context, to this situation, and was asked by someone I respect to provide that context.” Wanky interp: I didn’t cheat and my situation is really unique.
- “I am not excusing myself, just explaining.” Wanky interp: I did nothing wrong.
There are really only a couple of issues here that need to be addressed, as the whole thing is so absurdly self-serving as to barely warrant reading with a straight face.
First is Steve’s suggestion that this was a one-off, medically necessary step that he blundered into. He insinuates that the testosterone was medically necessary by juxtaposing it with a knee operation as if testosterone replacement therapy has something to do with knee surgery. Of course it doesn’t, and Steve admits that it’s simply a “well-being” thing.
This is a key part of his plea, the idea that at age 58 he suddenly needed the testosterone. He’s hoping you are stupid enough to think that putting “knee replacement surgery” and “standard testosterone therapy” in the same paragraph makes the two related.
If Steve were telling the truth, all he would have to do is find a neutral third party and authorize that party to get copies of his medical records for the past ten years, redacting them except as they show that he received the doping therapy only in March, 2018. Of course the problem with this approach is that Steve’s story may well be one big fat lie, and his medical records may well show that he has been doping for years. If he’s telling the truth, why not release the records? It would at least prove that he came to doping recently, and not, say, during the years when he dominated and, you know, won that national title. And all those races in 2017. And 2016. And 2015. And etcetera.
Second is Steve’s insinuation that he has never cheated before. As a fellow leaky prostate masters racer, why would anyone believe him? What is more believable, that he has been doping for years, or that this is the only time he doped? If someone gets busted for DUI, by the way, they have typically driven drunk 80 times before they get caught. With cycling, I’d argue that dopers use drugs even more because testing is so rare. People who wind up in the snare are much more likely to be in the Kayle LeoGrande mold than the accidental old fellow who mistakenly took the green pill instead of the white one.
It’s my opinion that Steve perfectly fits the profile of a career doper. 1) Great results. 2) Old dude. 3) Has the money to pay for the doctor and the drugs. 4) Best buddies with doping hacks like Rich Meeker. 5) Refuses to apologize. 6) Never admits to cheating even though he was caught cheating. 7) Claims it was a one-off deal. 8) Ignores the fact that he tried to cheat every other competitor in the race, and got caught doing it. 9) Claims to love the sport even as he destroys it by cheating. 10) Covers his tracks with a do-gooder foundation of questionable value.
Strickler’s education campaign on Facegag is less an exculpation of him than a Rorschach Test: How narcissistic are YOU, how much of a sucker are YOU, how deeply do YOU want to ignore facts in order to fit a phony narrative from some dude who you personally like and respect? Most importantly, how willing are YOU to admit you were completely wrong about a guy you liked? The #fakerace leaky prostate scene is irredeemable and either you see it or you don’t.
Third and most appalling is the suggestion that Steve is somehow taking responsibility by acknowledging a fact. Lance Armstrong never denied testing positive for testosterone, he simply said it was medically authorized. No athlete denies the positive test unless there was an actual problem with the testing, so saying that “I admit I tested positive” is NOT AN ADMISSION OF ANYTHING. The point is not for Steve to admit that he was busted and banned, it’s for him to apologize for being a drug cheat and all that goes with it. Lance at least finally came to grips with the fact that he cheated others, as did David Millar, Floyd Landis, and a few other notables. The rest, like Strickler, Meeker, LeoGrande, and Brandt-Sorenson, simply dissembled and slunk away.
By throwing in the bit about supporting the cycling community (through doped racing, no less), by emphasizing the random nature of the control (as if doping controls could work otherwise), and by saying that he’s not asking anything from anyone, Strickler has come up with what he thinks is the perfect formula to bring down the cognitive dissonance from its roaring boil.
Unfortunately, he does the exact opposite for anyone with even a shred of critical reasoning, namely: Cheating isn’t supporting the community, random controls work because they root out cheaters, and what kind of sociopath would be asking for something from the very people he had cheated? Isn’t it Steve who should be offering something up, like, say, an apology, a release of his medical records, and an admission of intentional cheating? What about refunding his prize money?
We all know that people who don’t apologize don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. If he was a 3-year-old, he’d have to cough up the words “I’m sorry for cheating” whether he wanted to or not. But that ain’t gonna happen.
So instead of blathering on with all the humbuggery, my personal advice to Steve is to STFU. Silence, baby, is golden.
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November 12, 2018 § 30 Comments
The worst thing about masters doping scandals is that there is nothing even vaguely scandalous about them. Outrage? At what? Some narcissistic, saggy old fart stealing money from other narcissistic, saggy old farts?
In the case of Steven Strickler, the latest in a hoary line of SoCal masters “athletes” to get busted for doping, there is not much I can add. I’ve raced with Strychnine for about ten years and have never beaten him when it mattered. He couldn’t climb but like Meeker the Beaker and Tatty-Poo LeoGrande, he could sure race an old farts’ crit.
The last few years I always wondered how a guy who looked well into his third trimester could consistently get on the podium. “Experience. Savvy. A lifetime of bike racing,” I always thought as I eyed his prodigious gut. It never occurred to me that aw-shucks, Gomer Pyle Strickler was a drug cheat, which is my way of saying “I am a complete fucking moron.”
This past year he stood on the podium a bunch, often on the top step. I was always impressed when he showed up with his monster gut, fit as a beach ball, and still somehow made the split. “Talent and a lifetime of bike racing,” It didn’t occur to me to add, “and a whole bunch of banned drugs.”
Although I always assume the very worst about anyone who races a bike, not limited to doping, Strychnine never seemed like a doper. First, my theory has always been that the vast majority of dopers are in the middle and end of the field. Second, the people who invariably get on my radar are the donkeys who grow the legs of a racehorse, like this wanker who I wrote about a while ago and is still just killing it. You know, the guy who can barely hang on one year and is dragging the field around like a tin can a few months later.
Strychnine was also disarmingly aw-shucks. Unlike The Beaker, who made you want to take a shower after talking with him, or like Tatty-Poo, who had the silent churn of a guy thinking about how to immediately exercise his 2nd Amendment rights, Strychnine was a grinning goofy dude who was savvy and quick.
Now I’m waiting for the team’s statement. Something along the lines of “Steve is a complete fuckhead for tainting all of us, ripping off promoters and competitors, and doing it in our team colors.” Uh, yeah. Ain’t gonna happen. Just like when The Beaker got the boot and everyone over at Amgen kind of mumbled and then went on about their business. “Rich who? Oh, the guy we’ve been racing with for ten years? Him? Uh, I dunno, man. I had noooo idea.”
What team is Steve on, you may be wondering? None other than the G3 Foundation, a non-profit that allegedly supports clean groundwater projects in poor countries. I say “alleged” because here’s the organization’s info on Guidestar. Oh, and super cozily, Strickler is also CEO of the company that shares the non-profit’s name. Lots of transparency here, folks.
As you cruise through G3 Foundation and Strickler’s FB page, they are simply carrying on as usual. No comment about Steve’s cheating, no comment about Steve tainting the entire team, zip. Why? Because no one on the team feels tainted? Racing with, sponsored by, and buddies with a drug cheat is no big deal? Huh.
But don’t get too bothered by this “business as usual” approach because it’s simply business as usual. Doping so thoroughly part of the SoCal masters racing scene that if it is ever eradicated, the fields will be thin, indeed. Oh, what I am I saying? THEY ALREADY ARE. As the threat of having to pee in a cup gets more real, gran fondos and The Stravver look lots better. Strickie is a cheat, a dude who would gladly dope for the thrill of a win, but what does it say about all the people who simply mumble and carry on?
Hint: Nothing good.
A brief history of SoCal Masters Doping
The illustrious list of masters cheats includes Rich Meeker, Nick Brandt-Sorenson, Kayle LeoGrande, and now Steve Strickler. With the exception of Brandt-Sorenson, whose “about” section on his clothing web site says that he “stopped racing 14 years later after competing against some of the world’s top professional cyclists” (AND WHY WAS THAT, NICKY?), these guys have won a whole bunch of races.
On the bright side, Strychnine’s demise may hasten one worthy goal, which is the total collapse of masters racing. Although I’m not hopeful enough to think it will spill over to the aged track cheaters competing for a “world champion” jersey as they out-dope two other feeble riders for their “world champion” title, perhaps this bust will add one more nail to the coffin of USAC-sanctioned masters cheating, uh, I mean, racing.
Chris Lotts, one of most offensive people to ever promote a bike race and therefore perfect for the job, had it right when he identified masters racing as the sport’s predominant cancer. Mast-holes suck time, attention, and money from the only area that can possibly sustain competitive cycling–juniors and Cat 5/4 racer recruitment and development.
Was I the only person who noted the sick contrast of having the #fakeworld #masterstrackchampionships at the same time that America’s underfunded, largely ignored elite track program was in town? The same program gunning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with #3 in the world omnium racer Daniel Holloway? Is there any incongruity there? Guess not … better hit the boards hard to get my rainbow jersey as I beat that other 70-year-old.
Witness the absurd lengths to which mast-hole road racing has metastasized, even as events vanish and new rider numbers implode. Mast-hole teams demand and get bikes, clothing, and equipment discounts when college clubs are groveling for $500 sponsorships to defray gas costs. National road champions like Justin Williams have to compete for resources with guys who “race” in the 55+ category.
But you can feel good about your membership on G3 because they are helping poor people get clean drinking water. They say. And what’s a few injectables when we are saving lives over in Africa? Africa is a country right? Well, they’re saving people somewhere.
If anything, everyone with a USAC license who is over the age of 40, if not 35, should shred his/her license and donate the money to a junior or a Cat 5/4 rider. Why? Because you can’t possibly have any reasonable doubt left that old fart races are rife with cheaters.
Probably would have lost anyway
The fact is that the winning dopers, without drugs, wouldn’t have won as much. But they still would have won. Bike racing is too much a combination of smarts and strength for a few injections to put you over the top. Look at Icarus Wankarus, the documentary that exposed the Russian Sochi doping program, if you want to understand the old adage that you can’t make a donkey into a racehorse.
Filmmaker and super donkey Brian Fogel did everything right in his quest to dope to victory and he still sucked. Why? Because he fucking sucked, and people who fucking suck can’t buy the podium with a syringe.
Strychnine, The Beaker, Tatty Poo, and Thorfinn-Assquat were good bike racers. If they had stayed off the juice they wouldn’t have won as much, and some of the glory would have been spread around a bit more, if glory is what you call winning $50 while standing atop a wooden box and being buffeted by a sandstorm in the desert as absolutely NO ONE looks on or gives two broken fucks.
Every year ya gotta re-up
No matter what anyone says, after a certain number of years #fakeracing bikes, you find yourself asking the hard questions as you contemplate forking over money for yet another overpriced USAC racing license. Questions like this:
- Why am I such a moron?
- What is wrong with me?
- What normal person could possibly enjoy this?
- Why can’t I quit?
- Would someone shoot me now?
As the circle of douchebag cheaters gets bigger and bigger, what possible reason is there to continue? The scenery at the brokedown bizpark crit?
For this worn out old shoe, there is no reason. At least I can thank Steve Strickler for finally showing me the door.
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May 29, 2018 § 3 Comments
When Chris Froome dashed away for a little 80 km solo breakaway and “pulled a Landis” to ride himself into the pink jersey at the Giro, it seemed a bit much, even for the severely disabled #fakesport of professional cycling.
I mean, a guy who is currently in the death throes of a doping investigation that will certainly find him guilty of cheating, suddenly vaulting himself atop the Tour of Italy, from whence he will be de-throned once his doping positive is upheld … doesn’t anyone see how this will play out?
Of course they do, but like an alcoholic who knows exactly which gutter he’s going to wind up in when he takes the first drink, pro cycling can’t help itself. So Darth Froome will not only win and then be stripped of his Giro crown, but he will also win the Turdy France and have that jersey torn off his back as well. This will inspire generations of parents to say to their children, “Don’t you fucking dare start bike racing.”
So that at least is a benefit.
After being stripped of his jerseys and publicly humiliated, some second-place schmo who didn’t dope as well for as long will be awarded Froome’s victories and say, “I’d rather not have won it this way,” when what he means is “I’m sure glad that Darth got busted and not me,” followed by “Where’s my check?”
Cynicism is the new optimism
Darth isn’t to be blamed for vacuuming up the spoils and sashaying onto the next grand tour. This salbutamol thing is vexing, to be sure, but it goes with the territory, and better to win a couple of tours and have them taken away than to stay home and not ever win them at all. And who knows? Tyler’s vanishing twin theory may actually be proven true this time, exonerating Darth fully.
Darth’s ride on Stage 19 in this Giro was summed up by Sean Kelly in one word: “Unbelievable.” It’s the most that he could have said without being sued for defamation.
But Froome, laughing all the way to Milan, made no bones about the fact that pro cycling fans are the stupidest humans alive. Refusing to share his power data, which would have shown how his Stage 19 performance really occurred, Darth instead said that “It was interesting to see yesterday I made up most of my time on the descents by the looks of it.”
Ah, yes, of course. He beat the world’s best time trialists and climbers on a mountainous stage at the end of the Giro by going downhill faster than anyone else. Who needs to see actual power data to confirm that? Not Froome, the maniacal marginal-gains data wonk, that’s for sure. “No, I’m not looking at the computer, I’m riding as hard as I can.”
Yes, old school, Eddy Merckx style, exactly what Team Vader is best known for.
Fortunately, Froome and Brailsford’s Trumpian “offense always” approach is already lined up and spit-polished for the Tour. According to Froome, “I’m certainly planning to go there and give it everything.”
And by everything, I’m sure he means, uh, everything.
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