Thursday, July 26, 2007

I've been quiet the past few days as the Tour de France has spectacularly imploded on itself. My brief, terse post yesterday was an immediate and passionate response to the terrible news that Rasmussen had been pulled out of the Tour by his team and fired for lying to them about his actual whereabouts in June (he claimed he was in Mexico, while he was actually in Italy under suspicious circumstances). It was bad enough that Cofidis rider Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone and was escorted off the mountain by the French Gendarmerie, but Rasmussen had just won that very stage before getting sacked by his team. Rasmussen has been followed by a cloud of doping suspicion since his days as a pro MTB racer, so it really came as no surprise that his finest moment could turn so terribly ugly. This Tour has been rocked not once, not twice, not even three times by controversy... but four times. It is enough to make a true fan of the race, and the sport as a whole, want to throw up their arms and scream, "I give up!"

My previous post was not my abandonment of the sport I have loved so very passionately for the past 25 years. It was the scream of somebody whose love has been tainted by the constant stream of bad news. I thank all of you who have emailed or posted comments during this really very hard time. It's bad enough to be a fan and watch this happen, but it's another level of hurt being somebody who relies on the sport to make a living. There have been lots of great commentaries about this problem and one of my favorites has been by Joe Lindsey. Joe writes a great piece about how painful this whole process has been for those of us who love this silly sport and this silly race so much. He asked the question of whether or not the Tour should be simply stopped and no winner declared. It's a compelling question full of personal debate and inner conflict- it stirs thought. And, honestly, I don't know the answer.

Here are a few other great thoughts about this terrible Tour;
BikeHugger has a great quote from Eddy Merckx.
Fritz at Cyclelicious points out that the pain is potentially good.
Rich Kelly at Interbike Times feels the pain of a father trying to explain the nonsense to his daughter.
Bernie at Panther City Bicycles asks "what are we going to do?"
Phil at Spinopsys reports on the chaos (and in other posts too).
Donna at Unbreakable Bonds has a great post full of hope- which we all need.

Sara Best, a friend of mine, posted a great comment here after my angry post yesterday;

Come on guys. We can't complain about what doping is doing to cycling and then turn our backs on it the minute they start to actually crack down and root out the cheaters.
The tests are getting tougher, the teams and race organizers are starting to take it seriously, and we're seeing the results at this year's Tour.
It had to get worse before it was going to get better.
If you weren't going to be there to support cycling as it went through the pains of cleaning itself up, then you shouldn't have complained about the problems in the first place.

Sara's comment spurred a great conversation between her and I and I told her that I still love this sport and the race itself.

So, here is my one and only lengthy commentary I hope to make about this situation... go get a drink, this'll take a while.

Dopers; they really do suck. Big time. They are killing my beloved sport. It hurts each time one of these jerks get caught and then deny the facts and then say, "oh yeah... I did it... sorry." I really like David Millar, but he lied and denied and bitched about his teammates on Cofidis when they got caught doping... and then he turned it around and confessed when they came after him. I'm glad he finally confessed, but I really lost respect for him for lying in the first place. Don't even get me started on Richard Virenque! He doped, he lied, he later confessed and then became an even bigger star in France. Please... what an idiot. And now this year we get the bulk of the T-Mobile (formerly Telekom) team confessing to years of systematic doping. Bjarne Riis confessed to doping when he won the Tour for Telekom in 1996. Even Zabel admitted to "trying" doping in 1996 (still think that's a pretty lame story though). If you get caught doping, just man-up and admit it and spare us all the histrionics. Please. I think it's great that dopers eventually confess, but I can't tell you how much more respect I have for them when they just "do the right thing" (thinking of you Shep).

The Tour; the race will go on, as it likely should, though I am not sure how I feel about it. Yes, I looked at the results today and saw that Contador started the day in his white jersey for best young rider before finishing the stage and receiving his first yellow jersey. I was glad that Bennati won too. He's a good rider. I just hope to hell he's clean. And, for that matter, Contador was linked to the Puerto doping scandal as well- though his name was later removed in July of '06. Did I have the same interest in the stage as I had a few days ago? Not at all. Hardly any, really. Sure, I still want to see who "wins" this dirtiest edition of the Tour ever, but my love for the race is gone... for this year. And that sucks because this has been a fantastic race, full of savage and brutal beauty. The epic battle of man and machine against the road- it's been a doozy.

The sport; I still love cycling now as much as ever and that is likely why all of this hurts so much. I mean, if I was just a casual fan, I'd be over this whole thing in no time... but that ain't me. At one point in my life, I actually believed I would race in the Tour. Then years later, that dream shifted to reflect reality a little better and I simply dreamed of racing as a pro here in the US. That later shifted to just being one of the local heroes here in SoCal. Yes, I'd still love to get back in shape and actually make a real stab at becoming a National Champion on the track maybe, or even try to compete at the Masters World Championships on the track. I'd love to get myself one of them fancy World Champion jerseys- the right way. But now I race (or try) for the simple love of competing and riding my bike as fast as I can against a bunch of other guys who feel at least a little the same way. As an industry guy, I still love the sport too. In fact, I still plan to support our boys on the A&F Pro Development Team and hope to finally land that women's pro team I've been looking for too. That said, my heart is really with the grassroots teams out there- the shop teams and clubs that race because they love to be on their bikes. The folks who race because they have that drive to compete and match their strengths against other people. They are the ones who really light my fire... and they always have been.

I worry for the sport, but I know it won't ever go away because there are simply too many of us who love it too much to ever let that happen.

The fallout; I think that cycling is going to take a BIG hit in the next year or two. We're likely going back to the days of teams relying on multiple small sponsors to keep them afloat, rather than huge title sponsors and big budgets. Riders are going to make a lot less money now and they are going to be happy to get it. Hopefully this will help to force most of the dopers out (they will never go away completely), as there won't be as much of a financial incentive. Plus, the other riders who are not doping will help self-police the situation- their livelihoods will depend on it. Teams and sponsors are going to end up with very comprehensive doping policies- teams will tell riders that if they dope they are fired immediately (and they should be forced to repay their salaries to the team) and the sponsors should tell the teams that if the riders dope then the team loses the sponsorship and has to repay all the money they have been given. Once you have the threat of the money going away completely, the teams will get better at fighting the scourge of doping. Look at Team Slipstream-Chipotle and their extensive doping controls. Bravo! More teams should be doing this... NOW! The European scene as we know it now, will be decidedly different very soon... and that's a good thing.

Why love a dirty sport? Well, because not all riders are dirty and because it's a beautiful sport. The roads of France were still lined today as the Tour rolled through their towns. Sure, many people booed and chided the riders, but they were still there to watch because of the amazing spectacle that is the Tour and cycling. Every time I see a kid riding on a bike, my heart skips a beat, I swell with hope and pride because I earn a living making and selling bicycles so that people can enjoy riding a bike as much as I do. I can't tell you how much I enjoy my simple one hour lunch rides during the week and the periodic rides on the weekends. Every single year, for the past several years, I tell myself I'm not going to get a racing license and worry about trying to train or be fit. I'm just gonna ride my bike for fun, I tell myself. But every year, I send my money off to the powers that be and I worry about the training I'm not doing (or planning to do). I still fret about races and get race day/ night jitters as I roll up to the starting line. And I smile from ear to ear. I love riding my bikes and I hope I always will. I sure plan to. And I hope you will too.

Don't give up on the sport of cycling. Take comfort in knowing that your sport is taking far more stringent steps to get doping under control than any other sport in the world. Smile sarcastically when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's home run record and know that the commissioner of baseball is going to smile and shake his hand when it happens- but our sport is better. We'll never be like "those sports"- we're better. Encourage that local hotshot junior you see on your next ride or at the races. Tell'em to stay away from drugs- in and out of sport- and give'em the help they need to grow in the sport. Be glad that you enjoy riding your bike- whether for the scenery, the thrill of speed, the competition or the basic act of getting to and fro. Just enjoy cycling because it IS worthy of that. It is... I promise.

Tim (still very much in love with cycling)

12 comments:

masibestfriend said...

thanks for the words and more importantly thanks for all your support for myself and the team [team becher+], i know everyone races and rides their little hearts out on each ride and at each race. the new juniors have yet to meet you, but your are already an icon of insperation for them. you, i, we, everyone that reads this blog IS CYCLING.
NOW GO RIDE

Damian said...

Maybe a bit on the melodramatic side Tim ?

I don't know how you can say this is the dirtiest tour. You know well this stuff has been going on for years and years, except now a lot more of the riders are being caught and punished.

Logically then, this makes it the cleanest tour in many years.

Phil said...

I knew what you meant Tim, just a bit of time out to breathe in, I needed that too.....good comeback....LETS RACE!

You, that is, I'm just gonna have a coffee and watch.

mindblob said...

Way to go Tim. This kind of perspective can (I truly believe that) make things change from the roots. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they are precious for whoever cares about the spirit of sports.

Donna T. said...

Good stuff, Tim. I'm sure your team was very happy to read that you still intend on sponsoring them. Many teams will not be as lucky to have a sponsor who can see through the haze to the good in the sport.
And yes, let's all ride...teach a kid to ride...do it all for the enjoyment we all feel when we ride.

Anonymous said...

I like Phil Liggett's comment on this morning's telecast. When asked about, "...the Tour's darkest hour..."-"...perhaps in a couple years', this will be viewed as it's finest hour." Amen

Design-o-mite said...

Come on guys! Do you really think that if you had all the money in the world, could quit your job to train everyday, that you could be an elite professional athlete? If that was the case, then how about having a contest to build a team of "top" racers. The county boy, the inner city dude, etc. I have seen kids who can sprint and wheelie down an entire block without effort who would never even get a shot at a simple bmx race. Post race massages, chef diets, windtunnel testing, sleep tents, training all over the world at altitude, seem like ways to enhance performance, and that doesn't even take drugs and supplements into consideration. I believe thta the real issue is that the sports seems so simple, that anyone could get some equipment, show up to a local race, and compete is attractive. You can't do that with NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA, etc.

Anonymous said...

This Tour sucks for sure - but I look at it as good thing. The sport, at least at a pro level, is at rock bottom – or at least quickly getting there. It may take that before it rebuilds with clean riders. The Tour itself is far from being finished – it will always be “the” event. The current nonsense is a blip on the 100 year history of the Tour and hopefully just a painful memory a few years down the road.

I’ve had to explain to my 8 year old son why and how people cheat in the Tour. We’ll still watch the coverage until the end to witness the final result. He’ll learn that cheating is wrong and people paid the consequences for their actions. He’s also old enough to know not everyone is cheating and that most riders are the real deal.

Still, the “real” sport of cycling is the grassroots level of racing or just general riding – not 189 pros in the Tour. Yeah, we dig watching it and maybe even get inspired by it, but it’s just a small percentage of the real cycling world. In the grand scheme of things, a microscopic slice of the cycling pie. The real world of cycling is racing in a local crit, ‘cross or mountain bike race – commuting to work, social rides, get-away-from-it-all solo rides and rides with your kids.

For me - dragging my tired ass out of bed for the 17 mile ride to work is the real deal. Taking my 8 year old son mountain biking is the real deal.

Dan O

wrw said...

Tim,
"Chin Up!"
Recommendation:
1) Eliminate ALL sponsors with their 'uber' technology and teams. (common equipment, individual rider)
2) Quarantine ALL participants. (common, secure lodging)
3) No pre-sighting of an event course.
4) Performance and drug test (independent) the top ten finishing riders at said events conclusion. (Assure event registration provides participant legal protection while announcing a 'NO contest' provision of results!)
One simple solution, difficult to enact!

Bill said...

The sport is not dirty, Tim. Some of the participants are. It is good to see UCI and ASO draw a line in the sand and say no more! And for some of the teams, at least, to support that. Perfect enforcement, of course not. But a step in the right direction.

Valeria Maltoni said...

Tim:

I thought of you as I read the reports. What's nice about this community is that there is an expert, someone who loves something at every corner -- that makes us all more connected to everything. And being more connected, I felt your pain. Wanted to write about the tour... and deferred to you for doing so more from the heart. You did.

On a fun note, of course if a bloke is mysteriously ending up in Italy it must be in suspicious circumstances ;-) How can one not have fun in my country? Sights, great food, great people (modestly), etc. Taking advantage of your team's (and sport) trust -- unforgivable.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I need to get into contact with someone who knows something about Masis. I have a Masi Grand Corsa and I know NOTHING about road bikes. Since you are the Masiguy I was hoping you could help.. What do you say??