Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The past is ever present...and it matters

Canberran Mick Rogers rode his way to the overall win at the Tour of California on Sunday afternoon after his team showed off its smart GC rider protecting capability, he blitzed the ToC TT, and endured attack after attack from the other GC contenders on the final stage.

Instead of facing questions about, oh say, being back in the form of his life after difficult years, he was asked about doping, i.e. Landis. This is what he had to say:
“I’m getting a little bit sick of all this stuff…there’s so many great performances, and I just hope that people see those things. The sport has got to get away from negativity. We all have to do what we can to get away from the doping issues because it’s killing our sport.’  
I love Mick like I love my right hand and he deserved better, but Mick also seemed to forget where he was. The question he answered “who?” to the other day – they asked him about LA Lakers Kobe Bryant - hinted that this was never going to be about the bike.  Mick wasn’t in Europe or the cycling world.

He was in America. 
"Beating out Lindsay Lohan on the TV-shame pecking order? Cycling's not used to such attention, at least not in this country. Even Mr. Armstrong is far more famous as a celebrity/cancer warrior than he is as a day-to-day bike rider. On television, cycling is relegated to funny hours and is sometimes taunted like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football.

Consider last Tuesday, when a thrilling breakaway with Americans David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer and the Australian rider Michael Rogers approached the finish line in Santa Cruz with barely a mile to go, and the Versus network abruptly switched over to hockey. That's right, hockey: a marginalized sport with a searing television inferiority complex of its own.

By the end of the week, however, cycling had leapt on to the front page. Wall Street Journal
For most of America, cycling isn’t about the bike, it is about Lance. And they love nothing more than a celebrity scandal – and boy, a scandal had broken. Not just “I’ll see you in court disgruntled former teammate/employee” type scandal but one where the Feds are involved and everything. Maybe they would’ve asked questions about Mick’s performances if it had been the week before – that’s if many of them had bothered to show up but for Lance.

(just as a disclaimer, I write the following from a IF IT TURNS OUT TO BE TRUE. Rather than type it a thousand times, I will just put it the once here – unless otherwise stated).

Also annoyed by the overshadowing, this time of the awesome Australian performances at the Giro, Wade from CyclingTips – who I also love – had this to say: 
In my opinion, Lance has done more good for cycling and cancer than almost anyone else in the world and I hope nothing comes out of this. Was Lance ever racing dirty? I don’t think it matters. Look at the dodgy guys he beat in seven Tours. Dirty or clean it’s an amazing feat. We can’t go putting question marks on every great sporting achievement in the past. No good could come out of Landis’ allegations uncovering anything negative. Too many cancer victims have put hope on the Lance Armstrong story and he’s made cycling more popular than ever. Love him or hate him, the Lance Armstrong Corp. cannot have this happen.
Before I go on, and trust me, I will go on, I will ask this.  What coverage is he or other fans consuming? I have read, watched and listened to as much as I can out there on the Giro and I am not getting cold from Landis’ shadow. Porte’s been getting lots of coverage too – watching the La Gazetta broadcast on the interweb, they mention him just as much as Phil/Paul mention LA. ‘Car-dell Evanzz’ gets a go too. And I just read a comment on Cycling Central that said “nothing can take the gloss of (Mick Rogers') win."

Anyway back to the story.  Of course it matters and for so many reasons:

It matters because like Lance says those implicated are still enjoying the sport.  Sure everyone has said the following, which by the way appears not to have even a vibe of a denial about it: 

Stapleton (

“I believe that these guys that Landis named are playing by the rules and you have to judge them by the standards of today, and not look back to things that may have happened years ago, I don’t think a witch hunt will serve any purpose. I’m all for the older generation racing and succeeding and passing the drug tests, but they don’t define the sport anymore. Lance Armstrong doesn’t define the sport anymore. There’s a new generation of riders and teams who operate under a whole new set of rules. I think the fans should stay tuned for that.”

Hincapie ( 
“Whoever wants to talk about something eight years ago, fine, they can waste their time on that. I want to talk about the future of the sport and the sacrifices we put into it.”

“Dave is a very private and quiet person. I simply expressed to him that I believe he can win this race, currently, clean, and that we’re going to support him doing that. And that we can withstand any level of scrutiny anyone would place on us in that regard. I think Dave is going to focus on winning this race clean, along with the rest of our team.”

How can we trust that these people implicated are riding clean now if they were lying then? And if it turns out to be true, lying now? Through drug testing? Not if it’s easy to orchestrate systemic cover ups. And why should we ignore it if they're riding on teams like Sky or Garmin where they’re uber clean? Now they have a conscience but they kept their silence before because....why?   There were questions too about the cleanliness of Lance's current comeback e.g. the showers and the UCI delay, then Astana last year treating UCI to a coffee for an hour before testing at the TDF, and the scientists who questioned his blood values at TDF09 as opposed to Giro 09.

Of course I don't doubt every test out there or even all of these riders now, but you see my point how it’s not about the past.  If it's true, for their own sakes wouldn't they want the doubt now to not hang over their heads? 

It matters because some implicated are still running the sport.  This goes beyond Lance. Riders, fans and media will know it is more than fanciful to bribe the people who are in charge of cleaning up the sport. Then there’s Rihs. And Johan’s involvement in the former Astana rider Gusev’s case - and if Gusev really was innocent, it's possible to tarnish anyone if you wanted to.  This also calls into question Damsgaard’s integrity in relation to internal doping controls wherever he has worked (including with the other Riis).

This matters for the current generation, for example, the Meyers and the Bobridges. Not only have they watched the arse falling out of Olympic track cycling, how can they trust their governing body on anti-doping?

While Pellizotti is of the current generation (and he may turn out to be guilty), the processes around him and his blood passport values were more than questionable. Just one off the top of my head – they didn’t do any extra testing simulatenously with the passport, and also the timing of the announcement.  Another thing around Pellizotti too is the hypocrisy of the peloton.  Pellizotti has not yet had 'his day in court' but riders are tweeting, show him the door' 

Whether it’s true or not, at the very least, UCI’s Pat McQuaid sounds like he’s part of the Team Radioshack defence, calling into question his objectivity. His demonisation of Landis too could also dissuade many future confessors.  And again, at the very least, UCI is still far from establishing a robust system of anti-doping, including testing, for the people that matter the most - the riders. 

It matters because it’s OK to go digging in the past for some riders and not for others. For example - Valverde. This was pointed out to Wade on his blog who correctly commented there was evidence for Valverde.  But at one point, there never used to be. To get that evidence, UCI/Italian authorities went digging all on the word of a journalist who one day remembered interviewing him once and could’ve sworn Valverde said his dog’s name was Piti. A string of people have come out over the years and testified under oath about Lance, and maybe noone other than the crazy jealous French ever went officially digging.  

The other point is that Wade and Stapleton appear and I only say appear to be saying, well, there probably is evidence for Lance but who cares it was so long ago - let's move on.  But the UCI are still not letting go of Valverde and it’s been four years since Puerto. Everyone says, the DNA and the blood bags calls into question every victory he has had since then. But Valverde too has never failed a drug test. But sssh…let’s not talk about Lance.

It matters because he told everyone many times and under oath that he never doped and he built his wealth on that - his first comeback was drug free, he kept on telling us. Not only was it an amazing feat to beat all the cancer in his body, he then beat the best dopers in the peloton seven times without chemical assistance. He had cancer, he’d never do that to his body…he said. He said his comeback is not about showing Sastre he's shit, but so his kids would google his name and not find doper against it.  This isn't sleeping around on your wife, selling yourself as a family man, swing a stick on the weekend and win golf tournaments.  This calls into question everything that defines Lance and LanceCo.  This is fraud. 

It matters to everyone who’s been vilified, bullied and excluded at the word of LanceCo - and this list is long. Here’s just a few: The Andreux, Simeoni, Cunego (if he too is innocent of implication in latest scandal), French authorities, Bassons,  his former PA, his former soigneur, respected scientists, crazy journos like Paul Kimmage and Charlie Walsh. 

It matters because it shows us what happens to our sport when it revolves around the one man.  Stapleton said that Lance doesn’t define the sport anymore. For discerning cycling fans and press, no, he never did.

But not just America, for many in the world and for many cycling fans and journalists, it's still all about Lance - and his celebrity.  At least since his comeback, Lance seems to be the only story the cycling world has ever told.  Take for example the Tour Down Under 2010.  Not the first year of his comeback but the second.  I needed the word Advertorial to be put on some of the Fairfax reports in order to know the difference between what was Team Radioshack/LanceCo publicity and news.  It was disgusting and it all involved a formerly blacklisted journalist - if a blacklist ever existed that is. 

While SBS is nothing like this and is a large contributor to the success of Australian cycling (as is the formerly blacklisted journalist mentioned previously) - not just elite wise, but people getting out there even as commuters - it has admitted SBS often runs stories, even inane ones, on Lance because Brand Lance is news. (SBS also has news on many other riders so I'm not being nasty). 

Many mock, including me, Australian programs like Offsiders for only talking about Lance/Landis on the weekend not Porte/Evans/Rogers/Lloyd/Lancaster but prior to the Giro - which is coincidentally Radioshack free - hardly a few days would go by in the cycling world without some mention of Lance.  If Lance is all the rest of the world hears, then that’s all they’re going to talk about – his good and his bad.  While there are many other stories there too on cycling news sites around the world,he'll be all they look for mostly because of the hype he's self built but which we all have at some point given oxygen to. 

Stapleton also said, "There’s a new generation of riders and teams who operate under a whole new set of rules. I think the fans should stay tuned for that.”  This is true.  But this doesn't mean they don’t want the 'cancer' out of the sport.  I can cheer on muddy Cadel in bed with my iPhone app AND can endure like Myerson says, 'burning it down.'.  OK, maybe not burn it down because what will you replace it with, but let's at least send in the cleaners.   It will survive because there's people like you and me and Wade who want it to be about the Portes, the Meyers, the Rogers's, Evans', the Lancasters.  It won't be about one man. 

Wade says "Lance has done more good for cycling and cancer than almost anyone else in the world and I hope nothing comes out of this."  

Out on a ride this weekend, I saw lots of young kids out on their bikes.  All had that smile on their faces that you only get from cycling. None of them have heard of Lance. It's also the same smile I got after watching Stage 7, 11, or 15 of this year's Giro.  Cycling will go on without him and people will still fight and die from cancer without him.  Not only that, they'll still donate to cancer charities.   But IF IT's TRUE, in years to come, even if not soon, we'll still talk about 'the look' and his awesome battles with Pantani and Ullrich. 

We just won't think he's all that great a man. 

While I agree with what Mick said at his press conference, at the same time, the two GC contenders who sat on his wheel or alongside him on the mountain passes were implicated by Landis. Ever present, the past stole his limelight.  And that matters.  If it's true, Lance has done a lot of good for cycling, but I hope something comes out of this - for the sake of the riders.

If it's not true, I hope something comes out of this for the sake of the riders. 

1 comment:

  1. Shit you know your stuff! I for one would like the whole thing cleared up sooner rather than later. Yes, everything revolves around Lance, and I have never liked him as a person, but to have Mick's moment in the sun tarnished by THAT DISINGENUOUS BASTARD REALLY PISSES ME OFF! So if we could just move on and get it sorted that'd be nice thanks. Landis may well be a headcase, but I'm sure there's some truth in his rambling. Out with the old and in with the new....out the cheats and let people like Mick get some recognition for hard work done clean. And as soon as Lance moves on, clean or dirty, maybe there'll be some balance in the cycling world. (BTW it's a great feeling watching Mick piss all over him at the ToC!)