Riders on a Storm

Hamilton races to victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege

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.

 

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155 Replies to “Riders on a Storm”

  1. @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!)

  2. @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!

  3. 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.

  4. @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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