Tied up in the stories of the past.

The Tangled Past

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For more than three decades, I’ve been obsessed with Cycling. Not just the business of being in love with riding and training, but with following Professional Cycling as well. When I was young, I pored over the photos in Winning and other magazines that made their way into my possession; their spines were cracked to pieces with the pages falling out by the time I would retire an issue, and even then, many of the photos were cut out and hung on my bedroom or workshop wall.

The Pros were my muse; they gave me their style, position, and technique queues but they also inspired me to ride more. I would imagine myself racing with them when I was out training, I would envision myself dropping Greg LeMond on the local leg breaker or barely pip Steve Bauer in a two-up sprint to some imaginary finish line. (Poor Steve, the unluckiest rider of his generation, he couldn’t even beat me.) Those heroes retired and new ones emerged; the cycle continued.

They were my heroes, but in many ways they were my riding partners as well. They were role models who mattered to me deeply, more deeply than perhaps they should.

It was some time during the Armstrong Era that it started to change. Being lied to pathologically works like that; you believe the lie because the truth seems so awful. When that awful truth comes out, we want to find a way back to the old, happy story. It was just one rider, one crazy cheater who is ruining it for everyone. Then the lie comes out again, and we believe it again. Slowly, our willingness to believe is damaged, until finally you see the lies in everything, even in the truth.

Motors, TUEs, doping. It all tastes bitterly of the past, and the accused are going back to the same scripts that were used by the previous generation. We’ve heard it all before, and I’ve grown tired of hearing the same denials defiantly made against the same accusations.

I feel a certain amount of shame for not believing that Chris Froome or Brad Wiggins won the Tour de France paniagua; I want to believe in them and I would rather be the naïve hopeful who believes a liar than the cynic who accuses an honest man of cheating. But Sky is not going out of their way to make it easy for me to believe them.

I’ve never gotten myself too tangled up in whether or not a particular rider or team is doping, and in general I haven’t let the truth tarnish the nostalgia I have for my favorite riders and races of the past. And it certainly hasn’t touched how much I love actually riding my bike. But if the all this lying has had a lasting effect, it is that I don’t imagine myself riding with my heroes anymore.

// Defining Moments // Musings from the V-Bunker

  1. That’s a sad tale Frank.

  2. It’s a fucking bummer, innit?

  3. professional sports – all of them, not only cycling – are essentially a circus. in our current culture if you flood a system with huge amounts of money and a shot a celebrity the only possibile outcome is that human beings will do anything and everything in their power to grab it. you watch professional cycling like you go to a cinema to enjoy a good movie. you know it’s a show, a temporary escape, it isn’t about reality. if movie-going is your kind of thing, kick back and enjoy the show of pro cycling without fooling yourself about what it really is.

    i much prefer investing the time in training for my next race. ours really isn’t a spectator sport. if you want to find the soul of cycling, i think it’s at amateur races. it’s the real deal. there are people who cheat here too, but it’s a very small minority and they always end up paying the the high cost that DIY doping exacts. the rest of us do glorious and epic battle every weekend (and when we’re lucky, during the week too), immersed in the total craziness of juggling impossibile schedules to get in some quality training, inventing the most outlandish excuses to duck social events and work appointments to get to the races and hang out with kindred spirits.

  4. When I was young, I pored over the photos in Winning

    Never read the articles, the photos say it all!

  5. they could all cycle with a blood bag on their back like a camelbak, and i wouldn’t give a shit. i realized the world was lies and liars when i was 8. thus, i’ve never really had the burden of morality to carry around when it came to evaluating reality.

  6. It is fucking miserable to witness how the human spirit can create something so great and then corrupt the shit out of it until it is turned to…well, shit.

    Sometimes I wish cycling never went from being enjoyed by a minority of geeks to a worldwide business case managed by an excel sheet. It never turns out well…Just look a Formula 1: thirty years ago you had a bunch of crazy petrol heads driving around bad tracks at ungodly speeds strapped to an engine and a fuel tank. Those were the days. Those were the heroes.These days you have an idiot driver throwing a tantrum because the media didn’t give him enough attention…

    I swear to The Prophet, the day Sagan gets involved in this shit I am done with the pros.

  7. @pedro

    It is fucking miserable to witness how the human spirit can create something so great and then corrupt the shit out of it until it is turned to…well, shit.

    Sometimes I wish cycling never went from being enjoyed by a minority of geeks to a worldwide business case managed by an excel sheet. It never turns out well…Just look a Formula 1: thirty years ago you had a bunch of crazy petrol heads driving around bad tracks at ungodly speeds strapped to an engine and a fuel tank. Those were the days. Those were the heroes.These days you have an idiot driver throwing a tantrum because the media didn’t give him enough attention…

    I swear to The Prophet, the day Sagan gets involved in this shit I am done with the pros.

    Of course in the good old days of honour and trust without wall to wall media coverage, no one did anything like get on a train……..oh wait……..

  8. @Teocalli

    @pedro

    It is fucking miserable to witness how the human spirit can create something so great and then corrupt the shit out of it until it is turned to…well, shit.

    Sometimes I wish cycling never went from being enjoyed by a minority of geeks to a worldwide business case managed by an excel sheet. It never turns out well…Just look a Formula 1: thirty years ago you had a bunch of crazy petrol heads driving around bad tracks at ungodly speeds strapped to an engine and a fuel tank. Those were the days. Those were the heroes.These days you have an idiot driver throwing a tantrum because the media didn’t give him enough attention…

    I swear to The Prophet, the day Sagan gets involved in this shit I am done with the pros.

    Of course in the good old days of honour and trust without wall to wall media coverage, no one did anything like get on a train……..oh wait……..

    It’s a fair and serious point – there have always been heroes in cycling and always villians. And the same people are different things to different people. And there has always been suspicion – just about every champion in cycling has been accused of cheating in various ways and different times.

    The hope I have is the current champions are not generally under suspicion; Sagan, Quintana, Froome (I know Sky have some questions to answer but Froome seems to emerge from the TUE thing with more credit than most, i.e. he’s been open and hasn’t been caught lying), and the scrutiny they are under will hopefully means this continue.

    I’ve got more concern about what will come out of others sports, to be honest…

  9. @Teocalli

    It’s not the cheating that gets me. There are cheaters everywhere.

    I have no problems from the media coverage in itself.

    But there is a reason more and more people are turning to XCO over road cycling. And as soon as enough people (and money) turn into that sport it will become corrupted too…and the next one after that…nothing to do with good old days of people being more trustworthy. It has always been like this and it will still be so until the end of times.

    I just wish sports could always be as simple and beautiful as they are when they are in their infancy.

  10. As long as there has been competition, there has been cheating. Just gotta look past the douchebags.

  11. @Oli

    It’s a fucking bummer, innit?

    Exactly my feelings! Nice piece, Frank.

    Alright, maybe this will cheer us up…it’s from last year, but a DAMN important bit of science:

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/02/the-close-ties-between-exercise-and-beer/

  12. @Cary

    they could all cycle with a blood bag on their back like a camelbak, and i wouldn’t give a shit. i realized the world was lies and liars when i was 8. thus, i’ve never really had the burden of morality to carry around when it came to evaluating reality.

    Kinda reminds me of Woody Allen speaking in a documentary about him. He says that he was a very happy boy, until the age of 6. He realized all of this would end at some point, that death was waiting out there. He said that’s when he wanted to cash in his chips, get out of this life, and I think essentially when he became a cynic for life. Pretty amazing that he was only happy for six years…

  13. @cronoman

    professional sports – all of them, not only cycling – are essentially a circus. in our current culture if you flood a system with huge amounts of money and a shot a celebrity the only possibile outcome is that human beings will do anything and everything in their power to grab it. you watch professional cycling like you go to a cinema to enjoy a good movie. you know it’s a show, a temporary escape, it isn’t about reality. if movie-going is your kind of thing, kick back and enjoy the show of pro cycling without fooling yourself about what it really is.

    i much prefer investing the time in training for my next race. ours really isn’t a spectator sport. if you want to find the soul of cycling, i think it’s at amateur races. it’s the real deal. there are people who cheat here too, but it’s a very small minority and they always end up paying the the high cost that DIY doping exacts. the rest of us do glorious and epic battle every weekend (and when we’re lucky, during the week too), immersed in the total craziness of juggling impossibile schedules to get in some quality training, inventing the most outlandish excuses to duck social events and work appointments to get to the races and hang out with kindred spirits.

    Very, very nicely put; I want to be clear that the doping has done nothing to dampen my love for Cycling; I just don’t imagine myself racing against these guys anymore because I don’t really care about them.

    @Cary, @Teocalli, @RobSandy,

    @Ccos

    As long as there has been competition, there has been cheating. Just gotta look past the douchebags.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with the cheating; it has never affected my love for watching the sport. I mean, Ullrich and Pantani are some of my favorites of all time and it doesn’t matter one iota what they did or didn’t take.

    What bothers me is the same old bullshit around it. The worst is the incredulity by people like Brailsford, the attitude of them. We should just take the same old stories and accept that this time its different. I don’t really care if Sky abused TUEs in principle (so long as no one was injured). I am just disappointed that they can’t come up with a better explanation than to copy the style that USPS had.

    And on that subject; I love that Armstrong asked Ger if he was crazy when he asked him if he’d ever used mechanical doping. Because I’m having a hard time imagining anyone with less credibility when it comes to telling the truth and/or stopping short at nothing in order to take an advantage.

  14. @Rick

    You’d have to be an imbecile or hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year can hold himself together without stimulants.

    Jacques Anquetil

    Coppi:

    Question: Do cyclists take la bomba (amphetamine)?

    Answer: Yes, and those who claim otherwise, it’s not worth talking to them about cycling.

    Question: And you, did you take la bomba?

    Answer: Yes. Whenever it was necessary.

    Question: And when was it necessary?

    Answer: Almost all the time!

  15. @Ron

    @Cary

    they could all cycle with a blood bag on their back like a camelbak, and i wouldn’t give a shit. i realized the world was lies and liars when i was 8. thus, i’ve never really had the burden of morality to carry around when it came to evaluating reality.

    Kinda reminds me of Woody Allen speaking in a documentary about him. He says that he was a very happy boy, until the age of 6. He realized all of this would end at some point, that death was waiting out there. He said that’s when he wanted to cash in his chips, get out of this life, and I think essentially when he became a cynic for life. Pretty amazing that he was only happy for six years…

    i never said i wasn’t happy. it’s just that since well before adulthood, i’ve had a very realistic and clearheaded view of human nature. i’m all in, every day, despite this, i promise you. i get off my bike every day with my heart in my throat, and ya know, so do the guys that dope. i did a few cycles of steroids when i was in the Marine Corps, and Rule #10 applies, for sure. in fact, in the weight room, steroids only INCREASE your capacity to throroughly cripple yourself.

    none of this really matters to me very much, now. i’m going to ride my bike, watch races, do my job, enjoy my family, and sleep well, no matter the fools that dope, or the hypocrites that police them.

  16. Frank: It’s hard to be enthusiastic about your ride imagining that just as Lance’s battery begins to die, you have a fresh one, switch it on, and start to gap him. Not really inspiring stuff.

  17. @Jim

    Lucky for us, Cycling is still incredible on its own merits and we can still love turning the legs around with or without the Pro cycling scene.

  18. BINGO!

  19. @frank

    Right, I’ve amended my post: Just gotta look past the douchebags. Brailsford is annoying for being just that. He fails the look test fo sho, truth telling or not.

  20. In ’92 Bobby Bonilla bailed from the Pirates for free agency and in ’93 Barry Bonds bailed. BIG $$$… I’m a big Bucco’s fan and the NL winning team is getting dismantled by free agency greed. I hated it. Then MLB players go on strike. Huh ?!? They come back the following year and soon thereafter Barry’s no longer the lanky golden glove outfielder but the big home run slugger. Strange how that happened. Mark McGuire is battling Sammy Sosa for HR title. Turns out it was a juiced competition and even later, Sosa busts a corked bat at the plate. We could go on. Those are just the incidents that struck me. Every baseball fan has a list of similar type letdowns I’m sure.

    All this time, despite having just spent a previous ten plus years on a bike virtually every day, I’m oblivious to everything going on in the pro cycling ranks. Just wasn’t on my radar. Baseball was however and turns out that baseball was not better. Maybe worse? Don’t believe that cycling was, or even today is, the singular sport influenced by all the BS.

  21. Thanks Frank. Your photo and caption selection summarize your article completely. Like you, I’m still inspired to throw a leg over my bike and hit the roads with my brothers and sisters. They are my heroes. This past weekend it turned out only one other club member showed up for the “Sunday Long.” 137 km and 878 m later we gave each other a fist pump and headed to our respective homes for Thanksgiving dinner. Life is good. Nothing more needs to be said.

    -freddy

  22. I love our fucking crazy juiced-up, drug-addicted sport.

    At some point you just have to choose: Are you going to still love it and embrace all the fucked up shit along with all the amazingness and history and sublime experience or just finally cut the tie and walk away for good.

    When I was young, I absolutely adored the sport and LeMan, Kelly and Fignon. They were the heroes of my youth. They were always just up around the bend on all of my rides, beckoning me on, making me add the extra 5 k to the end of an exhausted ride.

    Then I was “initiated” into the sport and heard rumors about the drugs, etc in the early-to-mid-90’s and it hurt a lot and I finally walked away from the sport in the late 90’s for a good 5-8 years.

    But like that crazy, mad lover who you finally say “forget her, she is just not worth it” to, it was always in the back of my mind and I finally came back in the mid-2000’s.

    Now I am here with eyes wide open and just love the sport. Sure, I told my kiddos this summer that I truly believe that the top 10% are absolutely doping in some way, shape or form and that I hate that aspect but I also believe it is not to the level it once was and that if you know what you are getting into, then you can choose to watch it and enjoy it for the entertainment aspect or you can just walk away (kind of like an election going on right now somewhere in the world).

    And then there is always our friend Cippo to keep it real: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/cipollini-nibali-should-have-offered-henao-cash-to-help-him-win-olympic-gold/

  23. And while we’re at it, where are all the heroes now in the peloton??? The only one I can get behind is Sagan these days. Yup, I’m officially old.

    I hear this song at least once a day commuting to work on German radio. So bizarre after not hearing it for decades in the Sates.

  24. @Buck Rogers

    And while we’re at it, where are all the heroes now in the peloton??? The only one I can get behind is Sagan these days. Yup, I’m officially old.

    I think the heroes now aren’t the GC contenders, but the super domestiques and the guys who get in breaks day after day, going for stage wins (often the same guys who win Classics). That’s where the glory is. De Gendt, Gesink, GT, Stannard, Alaphillipe, Tony Martin…these are the guys I love watching.

    And in some was I wouldn’t care if they are doping – even if they are you can see that they are deep, deep in the pain cave when they race.

  25. Can’t agree with people looking past the intention to cheat ones fellow pros out of a living because they have a man crush on the person in question.

    All professional sport, by definition, has lost its Corinthian values. The Operation Puerto findings revealed bigger cheats than the cyclists, but cycling is an easy target and other sports have more financial backing that helps to bring pressure to bury these sort of allegations. Criticism of McQuaid is warranted, but he was defending the position of cycling in the same way football has done. Protecting its reputation and right to an assumption of cleanliness. Outing and making a pariah of LA has only served to justify continued and unending accusations within cycling….this will never go away now. “The most famous cyclist ever cheated, so it’s a sport of cheats” mentality.

    I watch no football these days, which I played at a semi pro level. I watch little cycling either, an industry I work in and participate in every day. I visit here less and less…..the fan boys have taken over and I can’t get onboard with the deification.

    I just ride my bike.

    Nice article Frank.

  26. The thing about “doping” for me is that in cycling, pro team sports, and certainly track and field its a fair playing field.

    Its not the odd athlete here or there. PED’s are known, the risks are known, and the marginal benefits are known.

    What ruins it for me is not the “cheating” per se I can never tell the extent of most cheating – its that I view competitive sport as a healthy substitute for actual conflict. Much better than war or a real fight.

    So the more I realize this, the more my spectating gravitates away from sports where there is too much risk of injury: american football is almost out for me, boxing and MMA is out. Hockey barely hanging on.

    I cannot take joy in watching others put themselves at actual harm for my amusement. Cycling would be perfect if not for the actual, although very small, risk of death or serious injury. But that risk is small and hardly the “point” of the sport.

    So the main downer for me is whether the PED in question involves an exchange of health for performance.

    Otherwise its just one degree away from a cortizone shot.

  27. Armstrong didn’t break my heart by cheating. Instead, he earned my disgust by being such a dick about it, smashing through people’s lives like a wrecking ball in service to his own ego.

    The sports figure that really broke my heart is Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Man, that guy was fabulous after he first came up. He could do anything, and I really held him up as a hero to my kids. Surprise surprise, he got caught. And then, much like Armstrong, he compounded the deed by lying about it and ruining other people’s lives in the process.

    I think that’s what sickens me the most–not the fact that they cheated. I’m grown up enough to know that cheating is rampant in a lot of professional sports. It’s when they fail to face up to it when they’re caught.

  28. I’m with you @oracle, I long to hear a rider face up to a doping violation with the words “it’s a fair cop, Guv”. Even once would be a refreshing change.

  29. @frank

    Agreed, the occasional villain will never tarnish the sport (and every good story needs some villains).

  30. @Steve Trice

    David Millar, Stephen Hodge et al

  31. @frank

    Fuck sake.

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mechanical-doping-inventor-says-uci-obstructed-police-attempts-to-find-cheaters-at-this-years-tour/

    Can’t have Sparty getting caught his last time out, eh???

  32. Maybe Robin Williams’ collection up for auction will make you feel better. Some of these are historic items. A Phonak frame? Speaking of dopage.

    https://m.paddle8.com/auction/robin-williams/

  33. @Owen

    Maybe Robin Williams’ collection up for auction will make you feel better. Some of these are historic items. A Phonak frame? Speaking of dopage.

    https://m.paddle8.com/auction/robin-williams/

    awesome, what a cool guy.

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