August 5, 2017 § 46 Comments
Doping is twisted. And I’ve never understood why I’ve been so conflicted about it. On the one hand, I don’t care what you do, what you put in your body, or how you live your life. Drugs are great and pound through our veins from the minute we get up until the minute we sleep, and then after we sleep, too.
Everyone dopes, and they dope to gain an advantage, they dope to fix shit, they dope to get high, they dope to get through the mid-day lunchtime food coma. They coffee dope, alcohol dope, etc. etc. and etc.
Bike racer doping has been near and dear to my heart for decades. I’ve known so many dopers. Raced so many dopers. Been friends with so many dopers. Inspired by them, learned from them, respected them.
But at the same time, the notion of doping to beat someone in a bike race has always turned my stomach. Dopers are lame. Like I said, it’s a twisted topic.
There aren’t many things that can make me give up a fun day of bicycling, especially a Saturday like today, when the roads are littered with so many glistening baby seal pelts begging to be clubbed. Especially, I wouldn’t give up a ride for a book. I don’t think I’ve ever forgone a ride for a read, although I’ve dropped countless books onto the floor in order to hustle out the door and pedal. I love to read but I love to bike more.
I can’t remember the exact chronology of all this, so I’ll make it up. There I was, blogging about doping or something and some dude I’d never heard of named Mark Johnson asked me if I wanted a free copy of his book on doping. “Sure,” I emailed back, knowing that after a couple of pages, if that much, I’d toss it in the Shitty Book Pile and move on. How did I know I’d toss it in the Shitty Book Pile?
Because it was a book about cycling called “Spitting in the Soup,” and books about cycling are always terrible. Cyclist enthusiasts can’t write, and this blog is rededicated to that proposition on a daily basis. Cyclists can’t write for the simple reason that people in general can’t write. It is hard, takes talent, practice, and a brain. Once in a rare while someone will drop down from heaven and write well, but the rest of us basically suck.
When Mark’s book arrived I noted that it had a very nice inscription. Free book + nice inscription + cool postcard of Sean Kelly = I won’t trash your book immediately, maybe. I shoved it atop the Unread Pile and kept plowing through Yasunari Kawabata’s “Yuki Guni,” a very boring re-read about some old dude and a geisha somewhere up in the Tohoku. The great thing about reading Japanese Nobel laureates is that even though I had to look up every third word, I got huge mileage flashing it in airports as people nudged each other and muttered under their breath.
But back to Mark’s Unread-But-Destined-For-The-Shitty-Pile book. I picked it up and started reading. It was pretty disappointing. For starters, he had a degree in English literature. I hate English lit majors because they actually know about writing. The only thing worse than reading a shitty book about cycling (which is all of them) is reading a really good book about cycling, because it makes me feel even more inferior and inept than I already do.
A few pages in and I couldn’t believe my good fortune, or was it my bad fortune? Good fortune at a stunningly well written book, bad fortune at realizing how much better it was than my own daily fare of verbal gruel. Then it got even better or even worse. Mark’s a fine writer, so yeah, fuck that dude. But he’s also someone who has thought deeply about doping, then poured an incredible amount of time and effort into researching this complex and twisted subject.
Unlike the Paul Kimmage method of writing, where the author takes a gentle and refined tool such as a sledgehammer and pounds the shit out of everything nearby until the finished product is ground up into fine meal, Mark started with the intellectual concepts that underlay the Olympic movement, amateurism, and the concept that underlies sport, competitive performance.
With an astounding array masterful brushstrokes that tie in the Industrial Revolution, British public schools, the Franco-Prussian War, the rise of the proletariat, and the metamorphosis of sport from leisure activity of the rich to spectator event for the poor, Mark sets up the conflict inherent in doping that perfectly reflects the conflict, until now unidentified in me, between an activity — bike racing — that is based on the contradictory notions of fair play and on doing anything it takes to win.
As the book progresses, Mark unleashes the full brunt of his amazingly catholic reading diet, cruising through Hitler’s impact on sports marketing to the pharmacology of amphetamines and steroids to the global politics of Cold War conflict to the Nixon-Ehrlichman War on Drugs to Reagan and the Contras to Peter Ueberroth and the Salt Lake City fraudsters to Orrin Hatch and the FDA to Amgen and EPO and the social context of drugs themselves, from Viagra in the bedroom to Adderall in the classroom to Mark McGwire to the arch-doping villain Lance himself.
If any book could make you pump both fists in the air and praise doping, this book would be it, although that’s hardly its premise or its moral. Rather, “Spitting in the Soup” is a trip down Introspection Lane. Why do we compete? Why do we have rules? How can we have spectacle in sport without extremity? How can we expect athletes to attack the system that creates, enriches, then sustains them?
And of all the introspective alleys that Mark takes you down, none is narrower or richer than reflecting on how we demonize the dopers even as we demand that they dope. Because this is what Lance and Jonathan and David and Floyd said all along–“We only gave you what you wanted.”
Whether that is what any one individual wanted is open to dispute. But “Spitting in the Soup” makes clear that from legislation to global politics to the nature of competition in general and cycling in particular, society as a whole really does want its athletes to dope. And as Mark makes brutally clear, doping is what we want for ourselves as well, higher, faster, stronger lives that let us set world records in our own heads and on Strava, and that let us perform better at work, in school, and between the sheets.
Thankfully, the book doesn’t end by giving up on the notion that life can be wonderful with fewer drugs rather than more. To the contrary, even if we can’t achieve moral purity, even if we have to doctor up our shit to get through the day, even if we can’t be like Mike or Usain or Greg or Chris without boatloads of drugs, that doesn’t mean that an endless injection of substances is a good substitute for effort, rules, and the journey involved in getting the best out of the meatbag we were born in.
Although I would have never thought that a book about doping could make a person as genuinely horrible as Lance Armstrong look sympathetic, “Spitting in the Soup” helps transform him from monster into an ordinary jerk who, in a world that demanded spectacle, gave it to us in spades. And it makes much more sympathetic people like Floyd Landis, Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds, and any number of other athletes hung out to dry as doping pariahs. Devoid of Lance’s shithead personality, they were nothing more or less than people who played by the rules, or rather by The Rule: Do what it takes to win, and don’t get caught.
Even as the fair play notion, the don’t cheat notion, the don’t use chemicals notion balances on a knife edge, Mark kicks it over the side by making the point that we have already entered a world where performance enhancement may one day be decided before you were born, when your parents and doctor carefully scripted your genes to ensure that you were better endowed than the fetus next door. Did you dope because you inherited a big VO2 max through a gene splice? Did you? Nor will these questions be subject to much ethical hemming and hawing by countries like China, which are on the cutting edge of gene doping research. Like their East German forebears, if the name of the game is winning, don’t talk to me about playing nice.
In a few short months Lance will get tried in federal court under the False Claims Act. A verdict for the government will ruin him financially, and if that happens many a doping crusader will rejoice. As “Spitting in the Soup” makes clear, the narrative of the superstar athlete is only complete when he falls from grace, because without fallen angels we’d have no need for saviors to take their place. Yet no matter how unappealing Lance is as a human being, and no matter how egregiously he flouted the rules and The Rule, this book makes an almost airtight case that the cheater, the faker, the liar, the hypocrite, and the doper … is you.
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December 11, 2015 § 14 Comments
Somewhat bored retired pro cyclist Lance Armstrong sat down with CitSB today to follow up on an interview he gave with the Movember Men’s Health Podcast yesterday, in which he talked about the importance of treating people well.
CitSB: So you’ve had some time to think about your bad behavior, it sounds like?
LA: Yeah. And I’ve learned some lessons.
CitSB: Like what?
LA: First and foremost, you know, don’t be a dick.
CitSB: Would you care to elaborate?
LA: Sure. It’s a bad idea to treat people like pieces of stinking shit. You know, to abuse them, harass them, scream at them, attack them, belittle them, make fun of them, hold them in contempt, treat them like lesser life forms, physically frighten them, call them liars when they’re telling the truth, ostracize them, fire them, get them fired, sue them, force them to defend meritless litigation, strip them of their dignity, grind them into the dirt as if they’re worthless pieces of subhuman shit, humiliate them in public, libel them in print, spread lies about them to hundreds of millions of people through social media, impugn their character, ruin their lives, destroy their family peace and happiness, crush their sense of self worth, leave them feeling isolated and hated, expose them to ridicule, maliciously defame them with the intent to wreck the foundations of their existence, orchestrate campaigns to devastate them emotionally, retain legal professionals to castigate and intimidate them, corner them in bars and threaten them, hire PR mouthpieces to spread rumors, call them up and terrorize them, berate them, curse them, kick them when they’re down, and, you know, just kind of generally not be a nice guy.
CitSB: Wow, that’s pretty insightful. And what was it that made you realize all this?
LA: Gosh, I’m about to be bankrupted and at age 40-something it looks like I may have to, you know, work for a living. Get a job, that kind of thing.
CitSB: Whoa. I’ve heard that’s a bummer.
LA: Me, too. But I’ll endure. I’m a survivor.
CitSB: Any last words you’d like to leave us with?
LA: Yeah. Trump. Donald Trump.
CitSB: What about him?
LA: Not trying to tell him how to live his life, but you know, if you go around squat-shitting on enough people’s heads, eventually you’re gonna shit on a Betsy. And you know the big karma wheel grinds slowly …
CitSB: … but it grinds exceedingly fine.
CitSB: Thanks for the interview.
LA: Don’t mention it. You hiring?
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November 2, 2015 § 27 Comments
Craig Hummer’s book, The Loyal Lieutenant, does a great job of revealing the character of George Hincapie. The book is filled with quotes by Lance Armstrong, Jonathan Vaughters, Frankie Andreu, Christian Vande Velde, Michael Barry, and Jim Ochowitz to name a few.
So what kind of guy was silent, loyal, smiling George?
“When we as a group made that decision to play ball, George and I, along with the others on the team, crossed over that threshold together.” Lance Armstrong, who wrote the Foreword to the book.
“I honestly felt I would never have to deal with my drug use.” George Hincapie.
“Milan-San Remo ended up being the final straw where [a number of us] decided we’d do it.” Lance Armstrong.
“I couldn’t compete on a level playing field without some assistance.” George Hincapie.
“I felt it was my only choice.” George Hincapie.
“I didn’t reach these decisions without careful consideration.” George Hincapie.
“I could tell from his tone and his protestations, that he’d already taken the infamous step, and that moment produced an epiphany for me. I had to do the same.” George Hincapie.
“Back then, those seemed like the only choices.” George Hincapie.
“I don’t have a choice. We have to do it to survive. Everybody’s doing it now. I don’t have a choice.” Frankie Andreu.
“I felt a little guilty.” George Hincapie.
“The thought of cheating never crossed my mind.” George Hincapie.
“I couldn’t make eye contact as I told them it wasn’t mine.” George Hincapie.
“I nervously asked for the drug.” George Hincapie.
“I exited the bathroom a changed man. I felt completely at peace.” George Hincapie.
“I also felt proud that I’d committed to the next level.” George Hincapie.
“I always tried to take the bare minimum.” George Hincapie.
“Where other teams had been good at simply cheating, we strived to be better at being professional in all aspects as required to win the Tour.” George Hincapie.
“I didn’t take any EPO that Tour because I started with a high hematocrit, or red blood cell count (my mother suffers from polycythemia vera).” George Hincapie.
“What also made Jonathan different, however, was that he was actively searching for new and better ways to dope.” George Hincapie.
“From a self-preservation standpoint, I felt it was important to know if there were any side effects.” Jonathan Vaughters.
“The biggest result of the 1999 Tour was that we started the gradual process of teaching a new generation of Americans about the sport, what it entailed, and what it took to make Lance the best.” George Hincapie.
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June 12, 2015 § 88 Comments
The handwriting is on the wall, it says “You are totally hosed,” and even Lance Armstrong can read it.
This is a moment to savor if you enjoy watching the mighty brought low. It’s a delicious experience like no other to read the lying, cheating, doping, scheming evildoer as he contemplates a most unheroic end, the end of bankruptcy, of utter ruin, of losing every single bit of his ill-gotten gains.
Betsy Andreu, the sworn enemy of the world’s most infamous cyclist, must surely have floating dinner reservations for the expected date of the jury verdict when Armstrong’s fraud case goes to trial. The case is so overwhelmingly against him that it’s hard to see any impartial jury finding in his favor.
He ripped off the government. He lied about it. He covered it up. Then … he admitted the entire fraud on television.
Juries are unpredictable, and of course no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Random chance may pull this one out of the fire simply because, as Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until you punch him in the face.” Maybe Lance’s lawyers will get in the first shot and it will be a haymaker.
Realistically, his fate in this case will be no different from his fate in the SCA Promotions fraud case. Judges and juries are repulsed by sociopaths when their lies are finally exposed, and the human instinct to punish the powerful is almost as strong as the urge to put them on the pedestal to begin with.
Of course, what’s happening to Lance is the grossest injustice, as the Ninth Circuit recently ruled in the case of another allegedly lying, corrupt, doped-up cheater who’s now a hobby cyclist by the name of Barry Bonds. The appeals court essentially held that a non-responsive answer to a question posed to a jock cannot be a criminal act. No shit.
By the time justice was served, Bonds had been required to do his time. So far, the Betsy Andreus of the baseball world are likewise smacking their lips in satisfaction, the joy of seeing evildoers punished. Unlike Lance, Bonds still gets to keep his millions, though.
Where Betsy and all the sanctimonious people “betrayed by Lance” have gone awry is by ignoring the ugly fact that the cheap actions of a self-admitted “dick” are the matters on which the criminal system devotes itself, when not one single person has seen a jail cell as the result of Wall Street’s takedown of the economy, its obstruction of justice, and its co-option of agencies created to protect the public from the worst criminals in our history–people who don’t pull triggers and who don’t shoot up elementary schools or movie theaters, but rather people who wreck the lives of millions and leave them to rot.
But don’t worry, because those same criminals have re-made their billions with taxpayer bailouts and with a surging stock market, recouping their losses in the “free market” and taxpayer-funded one. What’s that? You didn’t get rich during the bust? There’s a word for people like you, friend. It’s called “sucker.”
Hanging Lance from his ball passes for justice because it is great theater. It’s easy to hate the guy many used to love; it’s impossible to hate a Harvard MBA at a bank you’ve never even heard of. It’s easy to hate doping cheaters; it’s impossible to hate people who cheat with things you only vaguely even understand like mortgage backed securities and default credit swaps. It’s easy to put the “little” millionaire’s ass in a sling; it’s impossible for the entire SEC to win a single case against banks worth hundreds of billions.
Sports make great entertainment and greater crime. Think O.J., Lance, Barry, Marion, and now the granddaddy of them all, FIFA. Of course the targets in the FIFA investigation include people from wretchedly poor countries such as Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Nicaragua, corrupt and bribery-prone third world countries where the petty graft from FIFA is huge money. Not a single person from Switzerland, though …
These sporting crimes, on a global scale, are meaningless in the context of institutionalized money laundering and tax theft in corporate fraud havens like the Cayman Islands.
“I’ve heard of FIFA! Go get ’em!”
“The Cayman Islands? Where the hell is that, and why are you wasting my tax dollars on it?”
The hallmark of justice is not its ability to punish wrongdoers. Any fundamentalist crazy from ISIS with a Koran and a sword can do that. The hallmark of justice is refusing to exact total retribution on the small criminal while the big ones go free. When “No one is above the law” comes with the asterisk “Except the richest,” then you’d better take care, because your neck will soon be on the chopping block, too.
Betsy may have made dinner reservations for twelve in joyful anticipation of the final ruinous act in Lance’s tragic opera, but the satisfaction of revenge doesn’t make it just.
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April 28, 2015 § 62 Comments
The end of the road isn’t really near for Lance Armstrong. He lost the suit by SCA and is now on the hook to repay $10,000,000 that he probably doesn’t have, or if he does, will have a hard time scraping up. The Justice Department nixed a settlement agreement between Floyd Landis and Armstrong’s henchmen, Bart Knaggs and Bill Stapleton, which puts further pressure on Lance to cough up millions more to settle the False Claims Act lawsuit brought against him by Landis and the U.S. government.
No matter that Lance is a complete douchebag, that he’s an arrogant jerk of a sociopath who caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. When you begin thinking that cycling is really just a metaphor for the broader community and the people in it, maybe Armstrong is a victim.
How? How in the world can the Darth Vader of cycling be a victim?
Well, that depends on what you think about fairness. Our government has thrown its full weight behind Landis’s False Claims Act lawsuit. When they get finished with Armstrong, whose sole defenses are that USPS knew he was doping and thus wasn’t defrauded, and that they suffered no economic damages because of the publicity Lance brought them by winning the Tour, he will be penniless.
Lance Armstrong will have been punished to the full extent of the law, and some will even say he got off easy because of Andrew Birotte’s decision not to pursue federal criminal charges a/la Barry Bonds. In the end, even if he wins — which he won’t — the legal fees will bankrupt him.
This isn’t fair. It’s unfair because the government is focusing its resources on the smallest of the small timers and letting the big fish go free. Examples? Name one single criminal investigation from the 2008 crash that targeted a banking executive. Let me help you. There were none.
Now, consider this. The banks that caused the crisis were first let completely off the hook for their crimes, crimes that had far worse consequences than the hurt feelings or derailed career of a bicycle racer or his masseuse. Then the American taxpayers were forced by their elected officials to reimburse the banking thieves who stole the money and wrecked the global economy. There is a story here, and the story line goes like this: Make an example of the minor crook and reward the greatest thieves with a kingdom.
That’s why the prosecution and attempted extradition of Briton Singh Sarao is such a complement to Armstrong’s prosecution. In the same way that MLB, FIFA, the NBA, and the NFL have made billions through the performance of drugged athletes, Wall Street has made hundreds of billions through sophisticated computer programs that buy and sell with sophistication and efficiency that ordinary investors can never match. As in poker, when you’re investing your money if you can’t tell who the sucker is, you’re the sucker.
As the Department of Justice continues to roast alive Armstrong the small-time thug, one of its other tentacles prepares to extradite Sarao for causing the Flash Crash of 2010, an allegation that is kind of like blaming a tsunami on some kid who tossed a pebble into the ocean. But the story line is real. Mask the greatest of crimes by punishing the smallest of crooks, especially when they are personally revolting as Armstrong most assuredly is.
The Armstrong saga plays itself out by analogy in so many other arenas as well, often on the same day in the same newspaper on the same page. Congress approves the CIA’s drone assassinations and gets weekly briefings that show people being blown to bits. Civilians are murdered in the process, most recently an American and an Italian hostage, oops, but that’s a cheap price compared to actually going to Yemen with troops or committing trillions to building peace.
A few columns later we learn that Western governments are outraged that Indonesia plans to execute nine more drug traffickers … No due process! … The judiciary is corrupt! … The punishment doesn’t fit the crime! …
It’s strange how these same curses of unfairness apply to drone strikes, police murders, and Wall Street’s get out of jail pass for its great predation of 2008, not to mention its aggressive attempts to roll back the trading regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank. But the way we keep the hypocrisy out of the public eye, especially leading up to an election year, is by focusing on something we can all agree on, especially Betsy: Lance Armstrong is a bad guy, so off with his head while the real Hydras thrive.
For once, I’m finally pulling for Lance.
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January 29, 2015 § 24 Comments
Are you sure you’re the guy asking to be allowed to have your ban lifted so you can compete?
“I would probably do it again.” Lance Armstrong, affirming that if given the choice to do it over, he would take drugs and cheat. BBC Sport, Jan. 26, 2015.
How much is a dozen, again?
“I was an asshole to a dozen people.” Lance Armstrong, reflecting on his bad behavior while apparently forgetting that he had duped millions of cancer survivors and millions of cycling fans. BBC Sport, Jan. 26, 2015.
Which is frankly better than the Crazy Bitch from Hell spigot.
“When the going gets tough, he turns on the charm.” Betsy Andreu, on her contempt for Lance’s attempts rehabilitate himself. BBC Sport, Jan. 27, 2015.
That’s why we’ve created http://www.getlanceanewjacketandpairofshoes.com; PayPal accepted.
“But when I saw him last year, he was alone, he was badly dressed, he avoided eye contact, he didn’t seem happy.” Christophe Bassons, former Lance victim, reflecting on the fallen hero’s demeanor and embarrassing couture. BBC Sport, Jan. 27, 2015.
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November 21, 2014 § 26 Comments
A new documentary about Lance Armstrong, following hard on the heels of the eye-popping biopics “Stop at Nothing,” “The Armstrong Lie,” and “Child Murderer at Dawn,” tells the never-before-told story of Armstrong’s connections to the mafia, the Yamaguchi-gumi, Barrio Azteca, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Chase Bank.
While known mostly as a thief of childhood dreams and Betsy, not to mention being a colossal asshole who can’t drink a beer and run a mile, this new movie, entitled “Lance: Spawn of Satan,” details Armstrong’s complicity in some of the worst crimes and human rights abuses in history. Snoopy O’Flummigan, an independent filmmaker from Lancaster, CA, took three entire weeks to produce this riveting expose.
“Most people think that Lance was just your typical Texas Delta Bravo with a tiny wanker,” said O’Flummigan. “Few people know that he was worse than Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Rick Perry combined.”
The movie shows that in addition to masterminding the assassination of John F. Kennedy a full eight years before he was born, Armstrong set up a prison gulag system in the Texas Panhandle where dissident cyclists and Betsy were interned and deprived of Facebag, the Twitter, and access to online bicycle chat forums.
“It’s common knowledge that Armstrong stole the childhood dreams of millions of young children, children who simply wanted a chance to get brain cancer in order to have Lance send them an ‘attaboy’ and a signed t-shirt, only to find out that their hero was stealing their dreams and selling them on eBay. But hardly anyone knows about his work at Abu Graib, his legal treatises that legitimized torture, and his behind-the-scenes manipulations that brought Citizens United and Hobby Lobby to fruition as Supreme Court decisions that helped turn the U.S. into a far-right oligarchy. And you remember the dick-pic that Brett Favre sent to his masseuse? Lance did that, too.”
Whereas most books and movies currently detailing the “biggest fraud in sporting history” tend to focus on Armstrong’s drug use and the scorched earth tactics he employed to take down his detractors, O’Flummigan found the story to be more nuanced. “Lots of people think cheating is bad, and it is. But you have to balance that against Armstrong’s use of sarin gas against unarmed civilians in Syria, his human experiments on twins, and the way he set up extra-territorial renditions as a way to keep people quiet. His invention and aggressive peddling of mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps, along with his lobbying to gut Sarbanes-Oxley and deregulate the banking industry are what single-handedly destroyed the world economy,” adds O’Flummigan. “He was a very bad boy.”
Leaders in the the Lance hating community have showered effusive praise on the biopic. “O’Flummigan has done what no filmmaker to date has dared,” said Tootsie Pookums, weekend cyclist and noted notary public. “He has proven that Lance was the gunman on the grassy knoll.”
When asked how Armstrong could have assassinated someone before he was alive, Pookums cited to the important work of John Stewart Bell and his proof of quantum entanglement theory. “Paired electrons exert an instantaneous effect on each other even when they are no longer paired,” said Pookums. “Lance’s electrons killed JFK after the fact.”
The Lance Jocksniffer Support Society, headed by a major cycling publication in Los Angeles, immediately condemned the documentary. “Lance didn’t do anything that Hitler didn’t do, and Betsy. Holding Lance to a higher standard than Hitler is unfair, and is making him a scapegoat. We demand that this trial-by-media immediately cease, and that he be allowed to shoot himself in a bunker 30 feet underground near the Reichstag in Berlin.”
The documentary will open in theaters throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo on November 28.
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