19 September 2012

My Vegas post

I got this in my email this morning:
From: elle.anderson-at-casinotop10.net

Hi Chris,

I've been a follower of your blog now as I also love the trails. I enjoy reading your point of views especially the images when you're on the trails. In relation to this, I hope we can do a post on the upcoming interbike event in LV. I know your readers will like it. And I will add something with the post that could help some of your readers that will visit the event.

I look forward to your response.
Now, I'm just as open to flattery as the next writer. I'll admit, there's a certain amount of a buzz I get when someone I've never met tells me they've read my blog. Or even long-time acquaintances whom I had no idea even knew I wrote anything. But when Elle tells me she loves trails and has something for my readers if I post about Interbike, I'm afraid only one thing comes to mind:
Disturbance by Dicky
And that's just wrong.

No, I'm not in Vegas this week. Can I get an "Amen!"? We chose not to head to Sin City last year, and to focus our hard-earned dollars elsewhere -- I tell you, the cash you need just to free up a pallet from the netherlands of the Sands Convention Center is obscene. There's a joke among bike folk: "How do you make a million bucks in this industry? Start with two million." I swear half that loss is spent in Vegas.

Last time I went to Interbike, I watched what I ate, got lots of sleep, wore my compression socks everywhere, took the redeye home, fell asleep on the couch, and when I stood up, I passed out cold on the floor. It was frightening. Frightening like trying to go for a run in the pre-dawn hour on the Strip, when all the folks who look like that picture above are headed home and all the casinos are hosing down the streets. On the one hand, you're trying to be healthy; on the other, you just know something underneath is toxic as hell.

So, sorry to disappoint Elle-at-casinotop10. No show for me this year. And sorry readers, I just don't have that little something-something she's promising. You'll just have to find it somewhere else.

17 September 2012

14 September 2012

Don't say that you love me

My bike does not make crunchy noises.

I did not spend last evening tugging on my nut with inappropriate tools, nor damaging my thumbskin.

I feel really bad for Jeff Kerkove, who will never be able to unsee this image in his brain, ever again.

It did feel like 'cross season last night in the basement, as I decided last-minute to tear down the MonsterCross bike in order to install and test a few bits of extra mojo. I'm going with my trusty old Cannondale -- complete with top-tube dent that's a good decade old by now -- and it was in need of a bit of love. It's been a long time since I had lengths of SRAM SuperCork bar tape stuck to me in random places ... it felt good to be back.

I said to myself numerous times, it's great to have backup bits in hand that actually enhance the ride experience, minimal scrounging necessary.

Then, I stepped on the scale this morning, and my plan to negatively enhance my body this month seems to have worked. I'm not as small as, say, Dicky -- but then again, who is? Regardless, I'll be carrying an extra water bottle or two less than I have been in a long while.

Fleetwood Mac on the iStereo this morning. Do random Facebook movie quotes drive everyone to listen to Lindsey's sonic orgasm?

Just say that you want me.

Solid gold, baby. Solid gold.

Tomorrow is going to be fun.

10 September 2012

You make bath time lots of fun

Scene: Sitting at the kitchen table, a quiet Sunday morning.

Me: "Kate, you and me are going to hang out together with Brother while Mommy goes and practices for her race."

Kate: "Mommy, will there be boys in your race?"

Kim: "Yes, why?"

Kate: "They might throw their rubbers at you!"


Kim and me: "Kate, what did you say?"

Kate: "The boys. They might throw their rubbers at you!"


Kim and me: "Kate, what do you mean?"

Kate: "Well, the boys. They might throw their rubber duckies at you during the race. You have to be careful!"

05 September 2012

I believed

Unlike a lot of folks, particularly in the U.S., I know that bicycle racing didn't miraculously start with some sort of immaculate conception on July 3, 1999. In fact, by then, I'd already fallen in love with the sport, lost touch, and re-connected -- I joke that I remember when Bicycling was a "real" magazine but that I missed the ho-hum Indurain years. To put it another way, I was immersed enough to know that Lance Armstrong had a career before cancer, and to remember the day he quit the Tour prior to his diagnosis -- I remember thinking he was washed up, finished.

I literally grew up following the sport, seeing Breaking Away in the theater with my grandparents before I was in 1st grade and suffering alongside a mustachioed Kevin Costner when his brain exploded on the slopes of the Rockies a few years later. I was into bicycle racing when it wasn't cool -- I was teased mercilessly that I shaved my legs, the hair was so fine you couldn't see it -- and I used to spend every waking moment on the bike path near our house, riding for hours dreaming of being in the French countryside, just so I could get to the nearest bike shop with a VeloNews. This was decades before the Internet, so my frame of reference was "Wide World of Sports" -- ABC always showed the Tour and RAAM, and I still have some of the VHS tapes I captured on those long, lazy Sunday afternoons in July.

I cried the day I saw Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault cross the line together at Alpe d'Huez.

Even for a kid as naive as me, that far removed from the ancestral heart of the sport, it was hard to miss the signs. The old saying goes, you don't win Le Tour on bread and water, and throughout the 1980s the crescendo was building. There were rumors and inneuendo, there were positives and denials. Finally, in July 1988, when I was 15, Pedro Delgado tested positive for a substance called probenecid -- it was on the banned substance list for the International Olympic Committee, but not the UCI (the governing body of cycling), and so he was allowed to continue to race, without the 10-minute time loss that was the prescribed penalty at the time. He won the Tour over Steven Rooks by 7:13, with Fabio Parra in third, 9:58 in arrears.

By the time I received the Sports Illustrated covering that Tour, I had already made up my mind. I looked up probenecid in my parents' drug encyclopedia (they were volunteer paramedics at the time), and learned that it wasn't just a masking agent for anabolic steroids -- it was also used to treat gout. So I fired off a letter to SI, which was published in the next issue, defending Delgado and asking why the press hadn't consulted his doctor. I mean, really, it was possible to win the Tour while being treated for gout, right?

I saved the issue with my letter in it. And when I read it now, I feel silly.

Still, when Lance Armstrong won the Tour prologue at Le Puy du Fou on July 3, 1999, I believed. When 10 days later the grainy pictures were broadcast on the nightly news of Lance in the maillot jaune from the slopes of Sestrières, I believed. Never mind that he had won the individual time trial the day before, and "everyone knows" you can't be both a TT specialist and a climber. Never mind that he danced away from two decorated grimpeurs -- both of whom had been busted in doping scandals. Never mind that the eventual second-place finisher was part of the notorious Festina Affair.

Never mind that this guy had just beaten cancer.

I believed.

More accurately, I chose to believe. Over the course of the next few years, as one win became two became five, I let myself get caught up in the myth of Lance Armstrong. As a fan, my sport was enjoying unprecedented popularity -- I mean, holy crap, we could see every Grand Tour on television? All the big Classics? Mon dieu! This is awesome! -- and many of the massive gains he enjoyed could be explained away. Beat Jan "Pastry Boy" Ullrich? All you have to do is weigh your food in the off-season. Be the first over that Alpine pass? Do a training camp when the snow is 3 meters high, and when you can't get through you turn around and re-ride the first part again. Take the TT win and consolidate your lead? Get your ass on your time trial bike and ride it on the course, time after time after time, until you know every pothole, every corner. Do something that's never been done before, in order to do something that's never been done before.

I must have watched Road to Paris 50 times.

Perhaps the thing that had me most convinced it was on the up-and-up was my own racing results. During this time, I was progressing, and fairly rapidly. Almost before I knew it, I was meeting and exceeding personal goals I had set for myself, all the while keeping it clean. What had me going, was that I was taking the training plans I learned in my time as a runner and applying them to cycling -- and I was absolutely killing it, relatively speaking. I saw the same thing in Chris "Lance Armstrong's personal coach" Carmichael's books, and I wistfully bought into the idea that he was showing Lance a new way of doing things -- that training in cycling really was a decade or more behind running. I convinced myself because I thought it was plausible -- this is the sport, after all, that once had participants take drags off of cigarettes to "open their lungs" before climbing the Alps. Cycling had always been a bit backward, and that's one of the things I loved about it.

Dave Stohler said it best some 30-odd years ago. "Everybody cheats. I just didn't know it."

I believed because I wanted to believe. And once I didn't, the blinders came off. Eventually, reality set in. My mind was changed a while back, my idealism replaced by incredulity. The results became more and more implausible, the reasoning more and more hollow. I've watched as the sporting world developed an anti-doping authority, only to see it continually battled by cycling's governing body. I've paid attention to the payoffs and the underhanded deals, the questionable cover-ups. The technicality that allowed Delgado to win the Tour -- let alone the penalty he would have faced -- seems somehow quaint now. By the early 1990s, the peloton was going two speeds, and it was silly to think the Festina Affair of 1998 really changed anything. I've been around the sport way too long for that, yet I let myself suspend disbelief.

My most fervent hope is that we are now in a watershed moment, that this referendum on anti-doping comes out in favor of clean sport. There are a lot of folks who don't care, and a lot of folks for whom Armstrong's work on behalf of cancer survivors forgives his cheating. I do care, deeply, and I don't think his humanitarian work should be a shield for his actions as an athlete. There are also a lot of folks who think he's innocent, or at least not guilty in a legal sense -- to which I would say, Lance has fought the process, all along, but he's never truly fought the allegations. And when he couldn't win against the process -- the process set up by sport and government in order to deal with these things -- he gave up.

One of Lance's old teammates, Tyler Hamilton, is publishing a tell-all book today that names names and gives details. He's backed up by another nine teammates who agreed to go on record. I had to laugh -- out loud, it was so funny to me -- at the description of Chris Carmichael: Another teammate calls him a "beard," a decoy for the real coach who was supplying Armstrong with drugs. Mind you, Carmichael has built a training empire on Lance's reputation, but his background isn't so squeaky-clean either -- and I'm sad that I've gotten so cynical that this fall from grace is humorous to me.

Bike racing didn't begin with Lance. It won't end with him, either. At least I hope not. Because really, the sport is bigger than one guy, one scandal. Maybe not here, in the United States, but globally. I just hope this moment in time leads to real changes for once. It needs to.

I believe it will.