October 10, 2014 § 15 Comments
The professional peloton was roiled by a news conference held by Andy Schleck, who announced today that he was “retiring from quitting.”
“That’s it,” said Schleck, who was visibly distraught. “No more quitting for me. I’ve quit my last professional race. I never thought it would end like this, having to quit being a quitter, but that’s life. Sometimes you just have to quit doing what you love, which for me is, you know, quitting.”
Older brother Frank Schleck, who confuses orthographers by sometimes writing his name with an umlaut and sometimes not, stroked Andy’s head while the younger brother sat mournfully in Frank’s lap. “Even though Andy says he’s done with quitting, we’re holding out hope that maybe next year he’ll be able to stage a comeback and quit again.”
CitSB caught up with several current and former stars, all of whom reminisced about Andy’s uncanny ability to give up when the going got tough, and often when the going got merely uncomfortable, or, most spectacularly when the going hadn’t really even gone anywhere yet.
“I’ll never forget when he quit the 2014 Tour,” ruminated Alberto Contador fondly. “He really went out on a high note, quitting with me, and Froome, and a bunch of other riders. The tenacity he showed in giving up … I’ll never forget it.”
Shleck’s first pro contract was with Velo Roubaix when he signed under legendary director Cyrille Guimard. Guimard recalls the moment when he realized that Andy had what it took. “It was a sunny day, rare for northern France in early winter, and Andy had just joined us for his first pro training camp. We were, oh, fifteen kilometers into the ride and he sat up and abandoned.
“‘What’s wrong?’ I asked from the team car, and without missing a beat he said, and I’ll never forget it, ‘My knee is sore and I have a cold and I’m wearing the wrong base layer.’ He pulled over and quit and dared anyone to make him continue. That’s when I knew he was in a class of his own.”
Cadel Evans, who won the 2011 Tour by ripping the yellow jersey from Schleck’s back in the final time trial, was even more effuse. “Andy wasn’t just a quitter. He could crumple, fold, and give up even when he had a race sewn up. I’ll never forget taking 2:31 out of him in Grenoble, it was like winning a World Cup final by thirty points. He didn’t simply throw in the towel, he had a way of rolling over and dying that was truly epic. His ability to fling himself into an abyss of hopelessness and defeat was incredible.”
At the end of the press conference in his living room, after Frank had dabbed away Andy’s tears, the younger Schleck put on a brave face and smiled wanly for his fan. “Don’t give up on me,” he said to Darcy McIntosh, who had traveled all the way from the end of the block to lend her support. “I can quit this on my own.”
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July 10, 2014 § 25 Comments
After Wednesday’s stunning reversal of fortune that saw last year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome fall off his bicycle three separate times, the stem-gazing Man Of Something Not Quite As Hard As Steel announced that after falling and getting an “ouchie” he would not be starting Thursday’s stage. Cycling in the South Bay caught up with Chris and director David Brailsford aboard the team bus, now affectionately known as the “Froome Wagon.”
CitSB: So, what happened?
Froome: Aw, it was fuggin’ awful, mate, a bloody shit show. Rain, cobbles, traffic furniture, 190 idiots trying to squeeze onto a cow track, y’know?
CitSB: Cobbles got the best of you?
Froome: Well, it was the pre-cobbles.
Froome: Yar. I sort of hit some wanker’s wheel and fell off me bike.
CitSB: Did you break your wrist in your first pre-cobbles bike-falling-off incident, or the second?
Froome: The second. It’s not quite broken. But it’s very sore. Incredibly hurty sore. I couldn’t continue.
CitSB: What’s the current Dx?
Froome: Oh, it’s very painful and hurts. The riding and such and the rain and the other people trying to beat me and the stress made it very ouchy and hurty, eh? Tough day in the saddle for us hard men, that’s for sure.
CitSB: When did you know you wouldn’t be able to start Thursday’s stage?
Froome: Right away. I hit me hand and scratched it pretty bad like. The doctor put on three Band-Aids and a cold pack, y’know? It was super hurty ouchy. I can really relate to what Johnny Hoogerland and Tyler Hamilton went through. But it’s a tough sport and not to brag, but we’re tough guys. Hard men.
CitSB: What does this mean for the rest of your season?
Froome: It’s not too bad, actually. I plan on grabbing a couple of pints down at the pub tonight with Cav and Millar and maybe Wiggo. We’ve got a little support group going, eh. Rooney may show up, too. I get to rest all day today and all day Thursday, then I’ll pick up where I left off on Friday. It’s a stage that’s not too bad.
CitSB: Excuse me?
Froome: The Tour’s a three-week race, mate. What’s a day here or there? I’m surprised more guys don’t do it. Take a couple of days off and then come back sharper than a needle, if you know what I mean.
CitSB: So you’re going to just hop back in?
Froome: Yeah. Why wouldn’t I? I ain’t no quitter, mate.
CitSB: Have you discussed this with anyone?
Froome: Oh, sure. Brailsford’s on board with it. Right, Dave?
Brailsford: Absolutely. He’s prepared all year for this. A lot of guys would quit with a big nasty ouchie like that, but Chris is no quitter; he’s more like a pauser. He lives for the Tour. And for stems. And as he says, by Friday he’ll have recovered enough to have another go. We don’t expect him to pull on the yellow jersey until the mountains, though.
CitSB: Uh … don’t you guys know that, uh … never mind. So, have you had any second thoughts about Wiggo?
Froome: (laughs) Yeah. Our first thought was that he’s an arse. And our second thought is that he’s a hole. (guffaws)
CitSB: I mean, does your accident make you regret having left him off the team?
Froome: Not at all. Why would it?
CitSB: Well, if Wiggins had been selected he’d be able to lead the team now.
Froome: (suspiciously) What’s that supposed to mean? I told you I’m comin’ back on Friday, didn’t I? I’m the leader of this team, that’s sorted. And if I’d had me way I wouldn’t of rode today anyway. Stupid stage, like I said. I’m a bike racer, not a rock climber. I think next year we’ll do a bit more stage recon and skip the ones that ain’t a good fit.
Brailsford: We’re still planning on using Wiggins, actually.
CitSB: You are?
Brailsford: Yes. We’re saving him for a couple of key mountain stages. When everyone else is tired he’ll be fresh as a new blood bag. We’ll send him in to set pace for Chris. We figure that’s the best way to burn up Contador. Then we’ll rest him for a couple of stages and send him in again.
CitSB: Kind of like a pinch hitter in American baseball?
Froome: Yeah, exactly, without all the chewing tobacco.
CitSB: Any thoughts on the withdrawals of Andy Schleck and Mark Cavendish? They both went down in crashes, too.
Froome: (laughing) Them wankers ought to learn how to ride a bike!
June 27, 2014 § 21 Comments
CitSB sat down with Trek Factory Racing team manager Luca Guercilena to talk about the team’s 2014 TdF roster, announced two days ago.
CitSB: So it looks like Trek will be pinning its hopes on the single biggest bedwetter in pro cycling, his doped up older brother, and an over-the-hill-doper-who-never-got-busted?
Guercilena: That is outrageous and insulting. I wouldn’t call him a bedwetter. More like a nervous tinkler.
CitSB: Most observers agree that this is the team’s weakest Tour lineup ever. What gives?
Guercilena: Well, when we saw Team Sky drop Wiggins even though he had won the Tour of California, done well in Roubaix and Flanders, and had committed to help Froome, it was pretty clear.
CitSB: What was?
Guercilena: That to manage a winning pro cycling team you must be a complete idiot.
CitSB: But even with a colossal, hopelessly stupid person such as yourself, how can you expect to win with the Schlecks?
Guercilena: It will not be so difficult. Andy has been building since his Paris-Nice DNF in 2012. He had a very strong ride in the second stage that year, finishing 113th. It was impressive.
CitSB: It was?
Guercilena: Yes, especially when you consider how he followed it with his DNF in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Let’s remember that he came in 104th in the first stage before giving up and quitting.
CitSB: I don’t think we’ve forgotten.
Guercilena: Then he continued his build with his 2012 DNF at the Brabantse Pijl. In this DNF he fought with great courage before throwing in the towel at Mile 45, and he followed it up with his amazing Stage Six flop-n-drop in the Criterium du Dauphine. When he quit that race it was a victory; his fans were thrilled. As William Stone reminds us, it is not winning that makes a winner, but rather a juice box and the courage to not admit defeat even when, in the face of defeat, you are soundly defeated.
CitSB: Is that when they started calling him The Bedwetter?
Guercilena: No, that was before. A few days after the Dauphine he confirmed his promise with a strong DNF at the Binche-Tournai-Binche/ 3rd Mémorial Frank Vandenbroucke. It was impressive the way he sobbed and hit his handlebars in frustration. The fans went wild at this display of raw competitive emotion.
CitSB: Yes. Yes, they did.
Guercilena: And how can we forget the cherry on top, the icing on the cake in 2012, the cornerstone of his preparation, when he bailed during Stage Six at the Tour of Beijing after strong placings in the previous stages of 137th, 132nd, 137th, and next-to-last? He quit that race with gusto, let me tell you! The Chinese government released 4 gigatons of coal smoke in celebration. It was beautiful!
CitSB: Fans went wild again, I’m guessing?
Guercilena: Oh, absolutely, the ones who didn’t die from the smoke. And the one pretty girl in Luxembourg sent him her 76th wedding proposal, a fitting end to a great year. And 2013 continued his march, building his momentum even stronger. He began with a powerful DNF in the Santos Tour Down Under, followed it with a devastating DNF in the Tour Méditerranéen Cycliste Professionnel, crushed the peloton with a masterful quitting performance in the Strade Bianchi, and culminated his March training block with an unbelievable DNF at Tirreno-Adriatico.
CitSB: Why was it unbelievable?
Guercilena: You jest, no? He grimaced, he suffered, he endured, he wrecked himself until he could do more. It was beautiful suffering. And then halfway through the first stage there was no more, he was spent, he had given all he had. How you Americans say? He left it all on a toad.
CitSB: The fans went nuts again, right?
Guercilena: Yes. The girl from his home country (her name is Hilda) sent him flowers and a certificate that she was also a 17-year-old virgin, Luxembourg’s first.
CitSB: Then what?
Guercilena: The rest has been history “writ large” as they say. Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, DNF. Amstel Gold Race, DNF. GP Oueste Plouay, DNF. Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, DNF. Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, DNF. Milano-Torino, DNF. Il Lombardia, DNF.
CitSB: Pretty amazing palmares.
Guercilena: And let’s not forget that as the team’s most highly paid stage racer he finished an impressive 20th in the Tour that year, 40th in the Tour de Suisse, 25th in the Tour of California and 35th in the US Pro Challenge.
CitSB: Sounds like he’s peaking for 2014.
Guercilena: Exactly, and his schedule confirms it. With a DNF in the Criterium Internationale this year, a DNF at Amstel Gold, a DNF at Flèche-Wallone, a DNF at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a DNF at the GP du canton d’Argovie, and a stunning 29th place at the Tour de Suisse, no one can say that he is not poised to do what he does best.
Guercilena: We can only hope.
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June 20, 2014 § 26 Comments
Now is the summer frenzy held once every four years when British people remind us that it’s called “football,” when British people remind us that they invented the world’s most popular sport, and when British people quietly make their traditional early exit from the World Cup tournament grumbling “Wait ’til next time.”
Still, despite their national love affair with a sport they’re not very good at (something the French share with regard to cycling), after catching a few games on TV I’m convinced that World Cup soccer is way better than the Tour de France. Here’s why.
- To compete as a masters racer in cycling you need tens of thousands of dollars in equipment. To play World Cup soccer you need a pair of legs. And a ball.
- The winner of the World Cup is never determined two weeks before the tournament ends.
- The same team doesn’t win the World Cup seven times in a row and then have its victories nullified because of cheating.
- Chris Froome.
- The Tour may be the hardest sporting event in the world, but World Cup soccer displays the most athleticism — running, jumping, kicking, twisting, tackling, throwing up your arms in shock that you’ve been penalized for chopping an opposing player in the throat, and of course flopping.
- When you fly halfway around the world to watch a World Cup soccer match, you get to watch it live for more than 2 or 3 seconds.
- Soccer may not be as exciting as, say, snake tossing, but nothing is as boring as watching skinny people in their underwear pedaling bikes. Nothing.
- “Teamwork” never means “Everyone sacrifice everything for that one dude who is the only official winner.”
- You can start an argument, brawl, or minor riot in any bar in any country on earth by discussing the World Cup.
- When you talk about the World Cup winner, no one ever says “Who?”
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October 21, 2013 § 47 Comments
I just finished reading “Tour de Lance” by Bill Strickland and “Breaking the Chain” by Willy Voet. Voet was the soigneur/drug dealer who was busted by French customs officials as he crossed over from Belgium into France with a load of goodies destined for the Festina team a few days prior to the 1998 Tour. The bust and its payload of EPO, among other things, resulted in the exposure of French star Richard Virenque as a doper, and got Festina booted from the Tour.
Strickland is one of the worst hacks in the world of faux cycling journalism, and his hagiography of Armstrong is fully revealed in the title. “Tour de Lance” is one fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy as he follows the team bus and watches Armstrong try, and fail, to win his eighth Tour. For Strickland, the project was a win-win. Either Armstrong stood atop the podium and the book could conclude “greatest athlete ever,” or Armstrong didn’t win, and Strickland could piously intone that Lance was now “more human. More like us.”
Either way, there would be a mountain of used Kleenex to get rid of.
Justice for Lance
With each disgraced doper retiring into comfortable fame, the accusation of Armstrong as “the most evil person to ever live including Hitler and Stalin” becomes sillier to read and more ridiculous to maintain. When Michael Barry begins publishing soporific, sappy little magazine tidbits that exhort us to “never forget the fun of cycling,” I have to choke back down my breakfast. This is the same Michael Barry who doped throughout his career, and we’re now supposed to take anything seriously that he has to say about what’s important in cycling?
Of course the most egregious offenders are George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, who run successful businesses and ragingly popular Gran Fondos that are successful due to the fame they achieved as cheats, liars, dopers, and sporting frauds. And when Christian Vandevelde or Dave Zabriskie hang up their cleats, their cheating legacies are mere asterisks, nothing more.
But Lance, of course, is different because he exterminated the hopes of countless 12k dreamers. He personally directed the deaths of millions as a leader in the Khmer Rouge and as a henchman to Idi Amin. Plus, he was really mean to Betsy, so we should pursue him forever, no matter what. If Lance hadn’t lied about drugs, I’d have won the Tour, I know that in my heart.
The real culprits
We all know who the real culprits in the doping saga are. They are the athletes who cheat. They are spectators who uncritically adulate. And they are the media who refuse to act like journalists and instead act like PR shills.
“Breaking the Chain,” written shortly after the Festina scandal, is a short, punchy, brutal look at the rich history of drugs in cycling. When Laurent Fignon piously intoned in his autobiography that in his day doping methods were minuscule, he is contradicted by Voet’s detailed description of the methods, means, and effects that had been around for decades — including the years in which Fignon raced (busted for doping twice, in ’87 and ’89).
Although it only plays a vaguely minor scale to the tune of “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” Voet’s book reveals an old truth. The mules and drug dealers and soigneurs will get hung out to dry long before the stars. At worst, Voet was a bottom feeder and a drug addict himself who worked assiduously to master the black art of obtaining and administering drugs to racers. At best he was a tiny cog in a nasty, evil machine, culpable perhaps, but nothing on the level of the real villains.
And such a real villain is Bill Strickland
If you can get through “Tour de Lance” without alternating bouts of rage, incredulity, revulsion, and despair, you are made of pretty stern stuff. Here’s a guy who writes for Bicycling magazine as its editor at large, writing nine years after the publication of “Breaking the Chain,” and who can’t do anything other than hang around the Trek team bus and insinuate himself into the good graces of the mechanics and Bruyneel and Lance himself in order to uncritically accept every spoon-fed lie that is doled out.
The book isn’t even about Lance, it’s about Strickland and his fanboy fantasy as he revels in being on the inside even at a time when no critical writer could have accepted the plethora of lying denials regarding Armstrong’s doping. To make it even more sick, there is a post-script that mentions Landis’s confessions and accusations regarding drugs on Armstrong’s US Postal team, but even with that Strickland can’t bring himself to do anything more journalistic than jerk himself off one last time as he slobbers about how much more human Lance has become in his failed comeback bid.
And Strickland’s motivations for refusing to acknowledge the truth are just as base as his motivations for writing the fanbook in the first place: He’s simultaneously working on another lickspittle book that hoists up Johan Bruyneel as the greatest race director of all time — “We Might as Well Win,” and it simply wouldn’t do to take the wind out of that sail. After all, we’re talking money here. Bill’s money.
As we all found out, the people who threw Lance under the Postal bus the quickest were the very media whores and corporate rapists who had deflected all criticism and refused to investigate even his most incredible lies. Strickland is now back to his old business, writing puff pieces about the joys of bicycling even as Lance pays for his sins — and pays, and pays, and pays, and even as Lance’s former cronies continue to profit from their ill-gotten gains, gains made possible by people like Strickland.
The juxtaposition of “Breaking the Chain” and “Tour de Lance,” especially when read in sequence, tells you everything you really need to know about how it all happened, why it all happened, and whether it’s happening still. And no matter what the fanboys say, it is.
September 24, 2013 § 24 Comments
I was talking to Pops on the phone the other day while I was driving to court. “I’ve started riding my bike again,” he said. Pops is 76.
“Yep, had to stop taking my walks because of my heel.”
“Biking’s better, anyhow.”
“I got a helmet and everything. But hey, I have a question for you,” he said.
“I’m trying to find the right kind of mirror and don’t know if I should get one for my helmet or for my glasses.”
Pops has a very stiff neck and can’t turn around to see what’s behind him. “Let me ask around and get back with you.”
“Okay. Boy, riding sure does bring back memories of my first bicycle when I was a kid.”
“Oh, yes. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Pops, would you do me a big favor?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Would you write down your bicycle memories and email them to me? I’d love to post it on my blog.”
“Consider it done.”
Pops’s Old Timey Bike Story
Bikes. Not easy to come by when I was growing up in the dusty little wide spot in the road in southern New Mexico of Lordsburg, population 3,000 or so, not including rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, and horny toads. Well, used bikes were fairly easy to come by. But a new one, that required big money, and the cool dudes had them. I dreamed that I, too, might one day acquire one. We’re talking the 1940’s.
I got my first bike after I got my first gun. My dad was a U.S. Border Patrolman. He wore a pistol and loved guns. He had grown up on a West Texas cattle ranch, and you needed guns to kill rattlers, deer, rabbits, foxes, rustlers, and so forth. Maybe not the rustlers. When I was nine or ten I asked my mom if she would tell Santa Claus I’d like a BB gun for Christmas. Several of my friends had one. A week or so later she informed me that Santa had said “No.”
BB guns were dangerous, and Santa said kids thought they were toys and would shoot each other with them, sometimes putting out an eye or doing some other kind of damage. “Oh well,” I thought.
Christmas morning I walked into the living room, and there under the tree was a gun. “A BB gun!” I yelled and raced toward it.
“No,” my dad said. “It’s not.” I picked it up. It was a bolt-action Springfield .22 rifle, complete with a scope sight. I thought I was dreaming. My dad said, “That can kill someone real quick. And you’re not going to shoot it until we have some safety lessons.” Later that morning he took me into the desert outside town and I spent quite a while learning about gun safety. I never killed anybody unintentionally thereafter. What a Christmas! I never had another one quite that exciting, not even the one a year or two later when I got a bike.
But that was a pretty exciting present, too. It was a brand new single speed, which was standard in the 1940’s. It was also kind of fancy. There was a thingamajig beneath the cross bar that enclosed a battery and a buzzer. Whenever I came up behind someone, instead of merely ringing a little bell on the handlebar, I pressed a button on the thingamajig and it would buzz. Damn! Now I was really, truly a cool dude because I didn’t simply ride a bike, but a new bike with a buzzer.
That Christmas season I rode around town a lot on my bike, of course. What’s a bike with a buzzer for if not to show off, especially to the girls? Some of them had bikes, too, but they were, well, girls’ bikes, without a cross bar, so they could get on and off without raising a leg and kicking their skirt up. No cross bar, no thingamajig, no buzzer.
I had a lot of fun with that bike, even beyond showing it off. After a bit of rough weather in Lordsburg such as a sandstorm, say, that could sandblast a car windshield, a new bike wasn’t new any longer. There was one place in particular I liked to ride it. South of town there was a ghost town called Shakespeare. Only one family lived there. The rest of the community had long left or died or both. It had a great cemetery, and some old 19th Century buildings. It was a bit up on a hill, and I found it hard getting there, although a serious biker would scoff at anybody who would call the climb hard. But I was not, well, a serious biker. Coming back to Lordsburg from Shakespeare was a lot of fun, anyhow. It gave a new meaning to “Going downhill,” at least in the good sense of the term. I’m now going downhill in a different sense, and that’s another story. Instead of traveling from a ghost town, I think I may be heading toward one.
Anyhow, such was a biker’s life in Lordsburg, New Mexico near the end of World War II. We didn’t even wear bicycle helmets. I don’t think we had even heard of them, or really anything except Levi’s and tennies. Helmets were something soldiers wore. We had no idea that bikers, real bikers, wore biking outfits. I don’t think we had ever heard of the Tour de France. Of course, there was no Tour during World War II, and that was before TV, anyhow.
Well, there you have it in a nutshell, a young biker’s life in the New Mexico desert. I thought it was the good life. I guess I still do.
— Chandler Davidson
July 23, 2013 § 55 Comments
Does anyone know Lance’s cell phone? ‘Cause we need him bad.
This Wiggins-Froome thing has gotten totally out of hand. One day we were watching a doped up superman who boinked models and actresses and rock stars, who owned ranches and mansions and private jets, who was devilishly good looking, whose ego was bigger than Dallas and twice as gnarly, who ground people up into hamburger meat on and off the bike, who beat cancer, cured cancer, sued enemies into oblivion, had an entourage of global financiers, Italian dope doctors, starlets, drug mules, presidents and scientists and who, with only one nut still had bigger balls than the entire pro peloton, and then, BAM!
We were watching Chris fucking Froome, a human insect who can’t even pedal properly, a craven little wussmeister whose doping program is “marginal gains” instead of “ram the whole 12,000 cc up my ass,” an awkward, unappetizing robot who confirms what every motorist instinctively knows: Cyclists are contemptible arthropods deserving nothing so much as the heel of a boot.
Sure, I used to bag on Dopestrong…until I saw the last two years of Dopeweak. What happened to the drug-crazed cannibals of yore, handsome, muttonchopped, steel-willed manly men who ate raw meat with their fists and swallowed their cocaine-heroin-strychnine cocktails in one-pint tumblers? How could we have banished the lying, cheating, brash and big-balled Texan who rode a chrome Harley, threw massive charity balls, charged 100k to jocksniffing millionaires for a group ride appearance, won triathlons, raced marathons, conquered Leadville, and ruled the entire UCI with the iron grip of a drug kingpin, which he was, and traded him in for the sniveling, milquetoast, dainty British softmen who drink tea, slurp warm beer, and race like simpering weenies or, what’s infinitely worse, like British people?
Where is the wrath, the insane bloodlust fueled by too many drugs in the wrong combination, the tortured beastly exhibitions of athletic porn, the Texas gunslinger who rode over the bones of his challengers and fell as mightily as he rose, in full color on a giant screen surrounded by a frothing media scrum and presided over by the queen of daytime TV? I’ll tell you where: He’s been replaced by “champions” who are no cleaner but a thousand times less entertaining to watch, the insect class, the automaton class, the zombies of the road.
Please, if you have his number, call Lance for me and beg him to either come back or to give these pasty-faced cab drivers a few lessons in how to race like the future of the galaxy depended on it. I’ll take les forcats de la route over the zombies of the road any day.