Riders on a Storm

Riders on a Storm

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Tyler Hamilton’s win in La Doyenne in 2003 was one of the highlights in what was generally a fantastic season. A great Spring campaign, a great Giro, a great Tour, a great Fall; unpredictable races, and closely-fought battles littered the events. But, with the luxury of 20-20 hindsight and a quick cross-reference of results listings to doping scandals, it’s safe to assume that season landed smack in the middle of an era of jet-fueled racing that rivals the 1990’s in their indulgence.

It’s a tough time to be a cyclist. Death, doping scandals, corruption in the organizing bodies of the sport. We test our athletes more than any other sport, but the tests are flawed and incomplete, and rumors persist that teams and riders pay off not just the labs to surpress positive tests, but also the UCI. Hamilton’s confession on 60 Minutes this week is the latest in an unsettling chain of events that keep peeling back more layers of the onion. I was a big fan of Tyler’s and part of me even believed in his innocence. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy – much too nice a guy to get involved in cheating. But there he was on television, talking openly about the magnitude of drugs-taking within the USPS team.

On the other hand, I’ve never been a fan of Armstrong’s. I find him to be arrogent, controlling, manipulative. His Tour wins were too formulaic; in sharp contrast to his fight with cancer, his racing showed no element of humanism. I have taken it for granted that his wins came with considerable assistance from a carefully planned and executed doping regimen. But these beliefs were woven together by a thread of doubt, and the possibility always existed that his were clean wins.

Hearing Hamilton talk of the seemingly nonchalant attitude towards doping at USPS and, in particular, by Armstrong, is surprising not in the content of the message, but in how hard the message hit. I expected the words. I had read them. I have even written many of them myself. But there was always a tangible element of speculation about them. For me, that element is now gone, and it feels strange to say the least.

Even as someone who generally accepts that doping is commonplace in the peloton, it hurts me every time another allegation of doping comes out. It takes me days to recover from it. But even if the worst happens, if Professional Cycling as we know it today falls apart, cycling will continue. Because cycling is more than watching others race bikes. It’s about racing or riding the bike yourself. It’s about overcoming your own limitations. It’s about the rider and the machine working together. It’s about cleaning, caring for, thinking about your bike. It’s about taking photos of it so you can look at it when you’re away.

Cycling rides through a storm today, but we will always have the bike. We will always have la Vie Velominatus.

 

// General

  1. BTW, the only reason we’re even discussing this is because Bertie actually found it necessary to use a freaking diet drug during his spring training before he made his blood bank deposit for use in July. How idiotic is that? Here’s a guy whose only full time job is to basically ride his bike. No 40+ hour work week as a desk jockey, cashier, etc. A team and assorted servants to take care of his every need. Yet for some reason he found it necessary to take a diet drug instead of say, oh I don’t know, RIDING his bicycle MORE or being more CAREFUL of what he EATS???

    This is the exact same reason that Flandis got popped. He wasn’t stupid enough to use T during the Tour, he was an idiot to think that somehow the substance would magically disappear in the blood bag when he was using it during training and employing the Vampire method.

  2. http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/05/news/origins-video-jens-voigt-on-his-first-bike-races_175812

    Jens, being an inspiring antidote to a lot of the aforementioned frustrations of professional cycling, belongs in this comment string, I think.

    When he was talking about his first race in 1981, I couldn’t help but to picture a 9.5 year-old, arm wrapped in bandage netting from an earlier wreck, leading Hinault through some killer descent.

  3. @Seth!
    Brilliant. Just when it’s all getting depressing what with Tyler and George and the whole ‘We need more time to think about the beef situation’ news, someone finds that perfect antidote – Jens!. Thanks. Am looking forward to seeing the other interviews in the series – though I cannot imagine they’ll be as engaging as Jens!’ one.

  4. @Marcus
    Marcus, you’re right. I am being a smartarse, and Armstrong was no slouch pre-cancer. Just trying to start a conversation. That’s what makes this forum so great.

  5. @Xponti

    For sure the bike assisted with his recovery and will to live – no doubt about that. However, without chemo and other scary ass drugs, just riding a bike isn’t going to cure your cancer – especially with the serious illness Lance was facing.

  6. @Dan O
    Didn’t say that JUST riding was going to, only that it was a part of his will to beat cancer. You can drug people up as much as you like but if they don’t think they have anything to live for, then they won’t. If there is something there to fight for and something driving them to beat cancer, then that is a help. The body is still a mystery and the brain even more so.

    All I am saying is that his determination to beat cancer AND to get back on the bike HELPED him to beat cancer, not WAS the REASON he beat cancer.

  7. frank :

    No, the origins of the Japanese “Oiiiii” is not English. It originated when Godzilla traipsed all over that place and freaked them all out.

    It was Mothra; Gojira hit Tokyo and I understand it was more like “faaark me” than “oiii, here comes that big beastie”

  8. @il ciclista medio
    Oooooh. Thanks for the clarification.

    @all
    Just saw this; interesting details:

    Saugy, who was the lab’s scientific director at the time, told Swiss newspaper Neue Züricher Zeitung that he remembered four “suspect” samples from the 2001 Tour de Suisse but did not know whether they belonged to Armstrong.

    And, regarding the meeting with Pharmy:

    However, Saugy said that the meeting did not take place at the Swiss lab – as stated by Hamilton in the 60 Minutes TV show – but during a trip made to collect blood samples. “And it also wasn’t about discussing a particular result or to cover up anything. I explained how the EPO test worked and why there were suspect samples as well as positive ones. This information was part of a lecture that I had been giving in various locations.”

  9. A few last words on LA or COTHO. I don’t know him and I’m not a personal friend of Armstrong. That is a very short list. I have raced on and off for over 20 years in Texas and I have been in races that Armstrong participated in during the period of the late 80s. (A former life when I was 155 lbs of pure fucking steel, piss and vinegar). I can tell you he was the strongest rider I have ever seen in Texas including several others that have gone on to be European professionals. He was also a stupid, abrasive, arrogant, chubby teenager that should have won every race he entered. He would almost always go straight off the front from the bell and try to shame the rest of the pack with his huge motor. I’ve seen him lap the field in circuit races and I’ve seen him lose to much lesser riders because of his lack of tactical sense. I’m fairly certain that Richardson Bike Mart was not supplying him with PEDs at that time and he was a fucking beast.

    I can tell you that based on what I know of him that he is a difficult person to work for. Again, arrogant and abrasive with very high expectations. I know people who have had personal and/or professional relationships with LA that would agree with Frank’s assessment of his personality.

    However, I know for a fact that Livestrong is a purely altruistic pursuit for him. He does NOT benefit from it financially and his demeanor towards the survivors and volunteers is a complete contrast to his other professional relationships. To say Livestrong is a “cash cow” or some sort of fodder to mask his persona is total bullchit. Look at the financial statements that are a matter of public record.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of COTHO, but to piss on Livestrong is completely fucking ridiculous. It is what it says it is and it does what it says it does.

    Now back to my present life…2 hours of towing 185 lbs up and down these ATEX hills. Still a lot of piss and vinegar. Not much steel.

  10. Tibbaustin:
    I can tell you that based on what I know of him that he is a difficult person to work for.

    Well yeah, look at how he would yell at Alfonso to get off of his bike and back to work at the office during last year’s TdF “The Shack” commercials. I assume those were real, yes?

    In all seriousness, thanks for the ‘local’ insights. My personal take on doping, in regards to Armstrong (and other riders who have been suspected dopers but have gone on to crush their opponents) isn’t that doping is what made them great, it’s that they were already at the top of their game and doping provided just one more little advantage. I think riders like Armstrong or Alberto could still do amazing things, even without doping – but if they did indeed dope, were just looking for any little advantage they could get, because in professional racing, a difference of seconds or meters matters can matter a lot.

  11. @mcsqueak

    Damn, learn to proof read already.

    That last sentence should be “… because in professional racing, a difference of seconds or meters can matter a lot.”

  12. I’m of the mindset that cyclingnews et. al. could cease publishing headlines about Ricco. I realize ignoring the problem won’t make it go away but why bother giving this shitbag attention-shore any press? And to call him a “controversial” rider is a bit of an understatement. Why not just make the headline “Fuckwaffle Rider, Ricco, to Sign with some other straw-grasping continental team”.

  13. @Marko
    Seconded.

    In fact, they could just start using one headline for all these types of “news”: “Fuckknuckle publicity whore finds desparate suitor. Ignore this article.”

  14. Hamilton officially has had his gold medal taken away from 2004.  Thankfully it went to Veino, who we all know was squeeky clean in 2004.   That’s the only problem with revoking these medals years later.  Hamilton admits it, has his medal taken away.  Others who are not above doubt admit nothing and inherit medals.  Something definitely wrong there.

  15. @Buck Rogers It actually went to Ekimov, but the irony probably still applies…

  16. @Oli

    @Buck Rogers It actually went to Ekimov, but the irony probably still applies…

    Oops!  Mixing my “Russian/Kazakh” riders up there!  Thanks for the clarification!  And you rode/ride track???  Man, the only time I have ever ridden on a track was the two finishing laps that I did in Roubaix this June and, let me tell you, that scared the HELL out of me!  Pure respect for all of you track riders out there!

  17. The Wellington Velodrome is rougher than any pussy cobbles that Paris-Roubaix race can throw up!

  18. @Oli Yeah, I have heard that the banking at the Roubaix velodrome is pretty tame in comparison to a lot of tracks.  But I actually have no idea as it is the only track that I have ever been on and it was scary enough for me!  I would love to live near a track and take some lessons in the future, though.

  19. @Buck Rogers The worst grazes I ever had from a bike crash – including high-speed MTB crashes, road crashes from 70kph descents and various other ways I used to attempt to maim myself – are from when my front tubular exploded as I was slowly rolling around the banking of our track after a scratch race.  I went down like a sack of shit, and smeared my side (arm, hands, shoulder, hip, buttock, thigh, calf and ankle) the whole way to the bottom. I ruined my shorts, my jersey, my gloves, my handlebar tape and so much skin I couldn’t even bandage the whole lot up – for what seemed like weeks I’d wake up in the mornings with the sheets semi-permanently stuck to me in large patches in several different uncomfortable places…

  20. @Buck Rogers

    @Oli

    And the class thing about Hamilton’s medal being taken away from him was that it was done as a direct request by him to the IOC.

  21. bah. edit.

    …it was done as the result of a direct request..yada yada yada

  22. @Oli

    @Buck Rogers The worst grazes I ever had from a bike crash – including high-speed MTB crashes, road crashes from 70kph descents and various other ways I used to attempt to maim myself – are from when my front tubular exploded as I was slowly rolling around the banking of our track after a scratch race.  I went down like a sack of shit, and smeared my side (arm, hands, shoulder, hip, buttock, thigh, calf and ankle) the whole way to the bottom. I ruined my shorts, my jersey, my gloves, my handlebar tape and so much skin I couldn’t even bandage the whole lot up – for what seemed like weeks I’d wake up in the mornings with the sheets semi-permanently stuck to me in large patches in several different uncomfortable places…

    Reaaaallly making me want to get on the track there, Oli (secretly thanking God that there is not a track within several hundred kilometers of me!)

  23. @mouse

    @Buck Rogers

    @Oli

    And the class thing about Hamilton’s medal being taken away from him was that it was done as a direct request by him to the IOC.

    I did not know that.  Tough call on him.  He made some seriously lame excuses when it was all coming out and acted like a total wanker and soap opera star, but he has really tried to make amends for the last year or so.  It will be interesting to see what his legacy will be.  But I have gained just a little more respect or him knowing that.  Thanks!

  24. Wow, just clicked on and re-read this. Hmm, how fucking true so many of these words are right now.

    I’d also like to think that such an article and such sentiments helped me to see behind the curtain far earlier than many people were willing to look. I guess it’s a bitter pill to swallow that you thought so much of was not being truthful.

  25. @Ron,

    You know the thing is, that even though it might hurt at times having said curtain pulled back at times the thing about cycling is that it is still growing.  I’m new to this site, and really still rather new to cycling, actually.  I grew up racing motocross and got into mountain biking as training for that, and followed competetive mtbing for quite a while.  But eventually I stopped following it because I didn’t like the direction it was going (too much X-Games influence in my opinion).  While I had never really paid all that much attention to “road racing” the last few years have really opened my eyes to the breadth of the history, culture and all round excellence of cycling.  Also this sight has done wonders for my education as well.  But what I see, as a newcomer to this world is that it seems like things may have finally reached the tipping point and that now REAL change might be coming.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I am encouraged and not the least bit turned off by what I see and the number of people coming out and openly talking about the issues facing the sport in a way that people were never able or willing to before. 

    Just my two cents.

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