Many people predicted the repercussions that would unfold if/when Lance Armstrong was ever proven to have cheated. I’m not sure many predicted that the ultimate proof would come along with proof of the vast majority of the rest of the once famous, now infamous, US Postal team. So far the consequences are right in line with what many people predicted – and unfortunately we probably are not done with the worst of it.
First off, the vast majority of the population has now had a reaffirmation of what was joked about and assumed by so many – professional cycling was riddled with dopers. Unfortunately, for a lot of people their mind hears that professional cycling is riddled with dopers – not was. That creates a negative image in the minds of many. And not just pro cyclists, but often anyone that chooses to ride a bike for convenience, health, pleasure, competition, or any combination thereof. If you are reading this blog, that probably means you and me.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of comments from people I know that have been cycling for years expressing their disgust and frustration with the current situation. I share this frustration. All of this happened right after I had an amazing opportunity to meet with, and interview, one of my favorite pro cyclists Chris Horner at the Clark’s Corner Cycling Challenge. By all records, including UCI opinion, and race performance records, Chris Horner appears to be one of those folks that did, in fact, decide to race clean. But I can not deny that he has ridden with riders, and under management, of folks that we now know engaged in systematic doping practices. This, even for me, casts a dark shadow over all of the riders that were riding in the peloton from that era. And that is extremely sad. Chris, Jens Voigt, the old guard – all are instinctively thrown into a basked with the likes of Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong. Unfortunately a whole lot of people have probably now written them off as well. And that is a huge loss to cycling.
Truth be told, the reign of Lance Armstrong over the pro peloton was a bit before my time as an active cycling fan. I have, however, heard from many that were fans of that era actually complaining about the machine-like predictability of the Tour de France during that time. One former co-worker described it as follows (quoted from memory):
There were times when the race would just get interesting. There was an interesting breakaway, or someone bonked unexpectedly… then “Oh look… here come’s US Postal.” The race just got boring to watch.
It is that sentiment that actually gives me hope, perhaps paradoxically. Let me explain.
Cycling is an odd sort of sport. The difference between winning and losing can be fractions of a percent of difference in performance. The same athlete can dominate today, and struggle across the line in the groupetto the next week. This fickleness is what it is like when actually, non-doped humans ride bikes as pros. Maybe they were one bottle short of water the night before. Maybe they ate the wrong foods that morning. Maybe they threw one item too many out of the musette through the feed zone. Human riders, human decisions, human mistakes and victories. Human drama.
We saw it in the last Tour of California. Many had their hopes pinned on Chris Horner. He was a contender, the possibility always dangled before us. And then he completely fell apart in the time trial. Badly. Surely he was out of the race.
But no! He attacked on the stage to Mt Baldy with an all-or-nothing effort. He had a couple of team mates do the same – throwing everything they had into snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. He was the GC leader by a good gap out on the road – having recovered over two minutes of time in this all-or-nothing effort. But by the end of the stage, after he and his teammates pushed themselves to the limit, they couldn’t hold off the will of the peloton. Pictures of him after the finish show team staff literally holding him up under his arms, exhausted. THAT’S racing. THAT’S the excitement that got me interested. And yes, that is was the US Postal team, and its associated incarnations, stole from us.
So why does cycling need you? Because now, perhaps more than any time in a very long while, cycling needs you out there riding your bike. Cycling needs you blogging, Tweeting, and posting to Facebook – sharing with the world the idea that there are millions of average people, not doping, riding their bikes. Your commute to work will help us rebuild the image of cycling. Your weekend Cat 5 Crit will help us rebuild the image of cycling. Your thoughts about who will win the next pro race will help us rebuild the image of cycling.
Right now, all the world’s media is focused on how messed up cycling is. And this is where the rubber meets the road for pro cycling, and the image of cycling in general. Commercial interests are fleeing after over 17 years of sponsorship, withdrawing their money from the sport. I unfortunately expect many others to follow suit. Right now, cycling is bad publicity. That, again, is why cycling needs you now. We are an audience, we spend money, pay taxes, buy goods and services, and there are a lot more of us than you might think. Right now cycling looks like a bad business investment. It is up to us to remind businesses that we are still here, we are still riding, and we are still in love with this sport. It is up to us to remind them that cycling is a good investment.
Maybe JustAnotherCyclist had it right and we should allow Lance Armstrong to metaphorically burn to atone for the sins of the past. While I, personally, didn’t get into cycling because of Lance Armstrong, there are undeniably a large number of folks that did. Let’s make sure that his unsavory exit from the sport doesn’t result in the opposite reaction – and exodus of support from the sport.
Get out there and ride. Then tell all the rest of us about it.