Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Silver Lining

Enough already. Now it's Iban Mayo.
I'm trying to stay positive and find an upside to all of this. It's hard but I think I've come around and thought of two reasons for why this year's doping scandal has a silver lining.
Reason #1: The Baseball Hall of Fame.
The induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn into the Hall of Fame, was a marvelous and totally deserved honor for both the players and for baseball - but it may be the last for quite a while. Scandal is brewing among the players and writers who vote on the inductions about what to do with the coming crop of players from "The Steroid Years". Some are saying that they will never vote for someone they believe to have 'juiced', so Mark McGwire may have a long wait - and baseball may have 15 years of controversy to suffer through because they lacked the balls to test their own players until 2002.
At least that won't happen to cycling. You could argue that it was a gutsy move to stick it out and publicly renounce any and all riders who don't ride 'clean'. The sport's image has taken a beating, but I do feel like they mean it. (finally)
Reason #2: This has finally motivated me to read through that whole crop of cycling biographies that started coming out during the Lance era. I just couldn't face it in the beginning. The total Lance overkill. One must study the Greeks when learning western philosophy, and so, one must read up on Lance Armstrong in order to get a grip on the scandals of cycling today.
I read Floyd's book, "Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France" and followed it with Lance's first book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life".
I don't feel like debating Floyd's guilt or innocence - I know it's unfair, but at the height of a scandal, everyone gets tarred by the same brush - the brush of suspicion. His book is not written with any panache, but it does outline the insanity of how international drug testing in the sport of cycling is done - or screwed up, in his opinion. The argument for restructuring the system and his call for a true cyclers union is very persuasive.
Lance's best seller is a page-turner. Well written and not too syrupy sweet, it's a clear-eyed tale of a cancer patient's initial denial and later acceptance of his mortality and his will to survive.
As much as I've always admired Lance Armstrong as an athlete, the Only Lance, All The Time years gave me a very low threshold of tolerance for 'stories about Lance'. I couldn't even watch the Ted Koppel special with Leroy Sievers because of Lance overkill, but this book has cured me - now, I'm interested.
Next in line, "Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France"

For those of you who don't know, Leroy Sievers was the executive producer of Nightline with Ted Koppel, and has been a journalist for more than 25 years. He was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic colon cancer 20 months ago and has been writing a blog on NPR called "My Cancer".
Leroy Rocks!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I Give Up

I'm afraid to read the news anymore. Every time I read a headline about this year's Tour De France, I have to check to make sure it's not a satire from the Onion.
Now Rasmussen is gone. He's gone not because he missed 4 random doping controls last year, we've supposedly known that since June - although it was supposed to be leaked, oops, I mean confidential. He's gone because now that he's taken definitive control of the Tour with his victory in the final mountain stage, the Rabobank team has finally asked him where the hell he was when he was supposed to be available for testing. And what do you know, he lied.
Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one for years to come. I think the tour organizers never wanted Rasmussen to win. You could hear their reticence in the coverage that he got as he made his bid for victory. A walking cadaver nick-named 'Chicken' was not going to save the sport from the pit of bad publicity that Floyd Landis pushed it into last year. The tour wanted someone dashing, like Alejandro Valverde, or someone heroic, like Alexandre Vinokourov, or someone deserving like Cadel Evans, or actually anyone else other than the skinny guy who had the single most embarrassing time trial in recent memory to drop him off the podium into 7th place at the end of the 2005 tour.
With all of the pre-tour favorites either out of the race or putting in uninspired performances, Rasmussen was looking like a shoe-in after today's final stage in the mountains. All the hopes and wishes of merchandisers around the world just couldn't magically get Alberto Contador over that hill in first place to steal away the victory, and 3 minutes was looking like a lot of time to have to make up in the time trial on a man who has actually learned something (like how to take epo) in the last two years and humiliated pre-race favorite and fashion plate Alejandro Valverde by passing him for 3 minutes.
Christoph Moreau, Levi Leipheimer, Frank Shleck, Michael Rogers, even Denis Menchov and Thomas Dekker made the pre-race favorite lists. With his previous 'King of the Mountains' victories and his stated goal of winning the GC of the Tour this year, you'd think he would be right up there, but Rasmussen is never mentioned.
That said, I don't think there's any conspiracy at all. He's probably guilty - just like all the rest of them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who's Crying Now?

Me. That's who.
I'm still a child when it comes to sports.
Playoffs are like Christmas, and if I'm lucky, Christmas comes more than once a year. Sometimes in the form of the Olympics, sometimes disguised as the World Cup, but always, like clockwork, in the heat of the summer, I am showered in the gifts of the Annual Tour De France.
Today Santa Died.
I shrugged away Marco Pantani's failed drug test in 1999. I supported Lance's denials through every year that he won. I cried when Tyler Hamilton kissed the tag of his deceased dog, Tugboat, that he carried on his Olympic Gold Medal winning ride in 2004. I cried harder when he was sentenced to a two-year suspension from racing for doping in 2005. I believed that Ivan Basso was unfairly targeted when he was forced to withdraw one day before the start of the 2006 Tour. My heart broke for Floyd when he cracked on stage 16 and I wept with joy as I watched him ride away from the pack on stage 17. Ivan declared his innocence only to be replaced by Levi. Jan retired rather than face the press. Floyd went to court and his business manager went after Greg Lemond.
But none of these compares to how I feel today.
Alexandre Vinokourov's positive blood test and the subsequent withdrwal of the Astana team from this years Tour De France have landed a killing blow to my love of this sport. Barry Bonds can get as big as the Hulk and Michael Vick can go to hell for killing dogs and it changes nothing for me. I never believed there was any purity in the sports of baseball or football. Big money, big business, big egos and big disappointments are all I ever got from mainstream American sports anyway. But cycling...
I've only been watching cycling for 10 years. Many would argue that I've been watching for the 10 years most likely to make me a cynic, but as naive as it may sound, I really did believe that there must be a mistake, that there must be a flaw in the system, they couldn't ALL be cheating.
Today - I am the other guy in the poster. I've been dunked over, shot past and passed by. I am one of the nameless and faceless millions who have been screwed over by our love for sports.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Tour de France Makes Me Cry

Who thinks Al Trautwig is an idiot? Raise your hand.
I can't even watch the "expanded" edition of the Tour on Versus for fear that Al Trautwig's inane commentary will make me gouge out my own eyeballs. I wouldn't be upset about it except that it means I'm not getting my Bobke fix. You'd think that someone over at VS would have noticed by now that they've paired the comedy relief with the weather girl to anchor the evening news. Maybe now that it's not the Only Lance Network anymore they just don't even bother to watch their own coverage.
I finally got myself a DVR just so that I can record the live coverage with Phil and Paul and watch it while the prime-time show is going on. This kills two birds with one stone: One - no more Al, Two - I can fast forward through the six commercials they run every five minutes during their tour coverage. To add insult to injury, they're the same six commercials they ran last year during the tour. What is this, the quantity beats quality argument? Will I somehow become more disposed to like a product because I've seen the same commercial for it every five minutes for three straight weeks - for two full years? Could they only find five companies that thought it worthwhile to advertise during the Tour? (One company actually bothers to run two different spots - hats off to them) I've been considering writing one or two of the sponsors to ask them if THEY bother to watch the tour on VS - but my guess is 'no' to that as well.
I love the Tour Day France (as Bob Roll calls it). The majesty of it. The athleticism. The no guts, no glory, take no prisoners, no gifts, no free lunch, no excuses, single greatest epic sporting event 'epic - ness' - of it. Alexandre Vinokourov's seesaw ride back and forth between victory and despair may have me biting my nails this year, but it's the crappiness of the coverage that's making me cry.