In Defense of Cycling
I love cycling.
I know, that’s probably obvious from the title of the blog, but there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who couldn’t care less about the sport of cycling. But I love cycling. While for those who know me the lanky, big-nosed main character from the Triplets of Belleville that I use for my avatar may be a humorous look-alike, I definitely relate to his life-long love of cycling.
I’ve always loved bike riding. I distinctly remember getting my first two-wheeler for Christmas when I was 8. In New Hampshire December and January are not exactly peak cycling weather, so I proceeded to ride it around the mudroom. I also remember when I took it out for a ride and noticed that the training wheels weren’t rattling. My dad had raised them up without telling me and son-of-a-gun I was really riding it. I remember riding my 3-speed all the way from my house to downtown Concord, about 5 miles, just to buy some candy. And of course in college I rode my bike everywhere, and once in Ohio I started cycle-commuting right from the beginning.
I remember knowing about the Tour de France when I was little, and thinking that it was a pretty cool thing. A bunch of guys riding their bikes all over France, and the race has been going on since the beginning of the 20th century– what’s not to love about that? But I never seriously followed it.
Then about 4 years ago, a fellow cycho-commuter at work asked me two questions that completely changed my outlook on cycling. The first was, on seeing the mountain bike I was riding to work, “Dude, that thing’s a tank. Why don’t you get a road bike?” The second was “What do you think about the Tour this year?”
I suppose it helped that the Tour was being broadcast live on cable, so I started watching it. I was hooked. Epic battles as men pushed themselves to their absolute limit, screaming over some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. Speed, grace, athleticism, and the team working together to elevate one amongst them to even greater heights. It’s some of humanity’s greatest qualities all captured in miniature.
I’ve never really understood the reputation that cycling generally has in the United States. It always seems as though professional cyclists are portrayed as effete Europeans with sticks up their asses. I’ve wondered if it has to do with the spandex, but football players wear spandex too. I guess that without the pads to bulk them up the spandex-clad cyclists look like ponces to the average Joe 6-pack American.
But what these guys put themselves through! I doubt that the most athletic running back in the NFL would be able to keep up. These guys have to be hard core. And not only are they pushing their bodies to the absolute limit, they’re putting their lives on the line. If you wipe out coming off a 10,000 foot mountain at 65 mph, you’re pretty much dead.
Plus, the peloton has reality shows like Survivor beat for drama. The way cycling works, you have to all work together to get the maximum speeds possible. So you can wind up with a group of people in direct competition with each other having to temporarily support one another in a breakaway or heading up a mountain. But as soon as that sprint-point comes into view, all bets are off and it’s every man for himself.
Or consider the way the teams have to work. George Hincapie, undoubtedly one of the greatest cyclists in the world, took second fiddle to Lance for 7 years and did it willingly and happily. He was Lance’s lieutenant, pushing himself until he cracked so Lance could draft him and then go on to win. Two years ago he found himself out in front of the peloton by a huge margin, and Lance’s time was sufficient that he wasn’t going to need any help, so George got the nod to ride for himself for once. He went on to win his first-ever stage of the Tour. If he hadn’t been riding for Lance he probably would have had several by then. What a sacrifice for the team!
Cycling is so intense that its riders have brought themselves to the point where they think the only way for them to compete is by doping. There’s a reason why other sports don’t have anywhere near the problems that cycling does with doping. Other sports don’t demand as much from their athletes. But the doping problem in cycling has gotten to the point of being ridiculous and it’s detracting from the beauty of the sport. Now the presumption is that if you’re in cycling you’re doping, and that’s simply not the case. I absolutely believe that Lance never doped. I’m sorry, but going though chemo had a lot more to do with his remarkable run than any doping. First, he lost a lot of weight and was able to replace it with muscle. But second, once you’ve been through the pain of chemo, suddenly the Col du Galibier just doesn’t seem as painful anymore.
I also believe that Floyd Landis didn’t dope. The main reason for that is, testosterone simply wouldn’t have done anything for him under those circumstances. He’s just way too smart a cyclist to use something like that. If his test had come back positive for EPO or blood doping I might have had doubts, but testosterone just doesn’t work with a one-time shot. So either someone slipped him something the night before the race, accidentally or on purpose; or his sample was tainted after the fact, either accidentally or on purpose.
But all of these issues need to just go away. The vast majority of cyclists are clean now. The sport has realized that it’s better off without the dope. Things are turning around. So lets stop focusing on the mistakes of the past and enjoy the drama that’s about to unfold. Saturday is coming. London’s calling.
Entry filed under: Cycling.