It’s tough being a pro bicycle rider today. Not only do you have to always report where you will be, but when you get there you must smile too. It’s all a bit too much to ask apparently, as in evidence at the presentation of top riders at the Tirreno-Adriatico. The featured photo gallery on cyclingnews shows what appear to be some quite displeased, if not downright angry pro bicycle racers. Surely, the riders were made to answer doping questions, or they’d just been served rancid patte. It’s hard riding your bike for a large salary.
I heart cycling in the rain, I really do. Most people seem to loathe riding bikes in the rain, but I’ve always enjoyed it. Teammates have called me crazy for it. That’s not really a novelty I guess.
Seattle teams have gotten snobbish about fenders on rain rides. The (strict) rule is that if you don’t have fenders with long, double-bolted flaps, you’re not welcome on team rain rides. I understand; no one wants to get grit-filled teeth from the rooster tails. I did that for years though.
For twenty or more years, I rode without fenders, getting wetter than wet from the rooster tail off the back wheel. I still ride without a front fender, because my bike geometry is so tight that I lack reasonable toe clearance with a front fender on. No need to up the danger factor.
Warm rain is my second favorite ride weather, only to 70′s and sunny. While cold rain holds no special place in my heart, a warm rain ride can be a lot of fun. There is often less traffic on the road and almost no traffic on the trail. I naturally ride a bit slower for safety, resulting in less energy expended and longer rides.
There’s something inherently more epic about riding in a torrential downpour or even an all-day drizzle. With the right clothes, I can stay out five or six hours. It’s a kind of meditation, ticking over the pedal on wet country roads. I used to do it soaked to the bone, but now I keep my upper body dry at least.
Getting so wet I can’t feel the rain anymore is an unusual sensation. Can’t wait for the next rain ride.
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong today wasn’t all that surprising (though it was at times touching). For me, it was another chapter in his storied tale. Since I took up a support position from the outset of USADA’s investigation, people have asked if I’m disappointed or switching sides or whatever, and the truth is that absolutely nothing has changed. I believed in him before he ever raced professionally, and I still do today.
Watching the interview, it felt as if I was reading a memoir that turned out to be part fiction, but his athletic achievements are still just as entertaining today as they were when Armstrong was in the races. In 2010′s Tour de France, after crashing out of overall contention, Armstrong soldiered on to complete the race, showing he is human. Today’s interview reinforced that. His story is no less compelling now that he has confessed to using performance enhancing drugs. In fact, the story is now arguably more compelling because in admitting his mistakes and owning up to a massive responsibility, once again Armstrong is showing his strong character. He said he’ll be paying for those mistakes for the rest of his life, and in some ways I’m sure he will.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here one more time: The day Armstrong finished dead last in his first professional bike race, in dumping rain and cold was when his character caught my attention, because he finished when no one expected him to. When he later parlayed his bike racing exploits into a foundation that would ultimately change the way people think about cancer, from diagnosis to fighting and quality of life after beating it, his character shone even brighter—brighter than bike racing, brighter than doping, brighter than one man could realistically be expected to shine.
Everybody makes mistakes, some bigger than others. People with good character turn their mistakes into positive force however they can. I believe Lance Armstrong will do just that.
Forgive me mother, for I have sinned. I slipped behind the wheel of my aging cliche bike racer Subaru and drove. For three months I drove. I walked too, my occasional saving grace.
Now that it’s cold and raining, I am in my element, once again perched atop my bicycle, ticking over the miles on the lonely bike trail.
Friends and teammates have oft called me crazy for liking riding in the rain. One of my favorite rides ever was a 90-miler on my birthday some years back. I woke to the beautiful sound of rain pelting the roof, dressed, threw a pear and a gel in my pocket, and hit the road during a torrential downpour. As I leaned into a left-hand turn off the main drag by my abode, I crossed a three-inch deep stream of rain water hurtling down the hill, my back wheel slipping through the off-camber corner.
I took the same route I’d ridden a few times before out to Sultan, stopped at a quick mart there to buy anything to eat, shaking from the cold and hunger. A woman followed me through the store with a mop as I dripped and skittered across the linoleum, grabbing a couple of Powerbars on my way to checkout. The Powerbars were so hard from the cold I could barely chew them. Pulling my gloves over frozen hands and settling in for a long ride home, I somehow found my way back to Seattle.
I saw just one other rider the whole day, and we exchanged big fat teeth-baring grins for the shared enjoyment of such an epic day for a ride.
Recalling that ride brings me great motivation. I’ve parked the car again now that it’s 40 and dumping rain. I walk to get groceries if I don’t feel like riding. My rides have become less about commuting and more about enjoying the ride. Always a good approach.
Way back when Lance Armstrong was relatively unknown to the non-cycling world at large, back when he was battling cancer and being denied medical coverage by his employer (Cofidis), Oakley stepped in and compelled their insurance company to cover Armstrong’s medical bills. He was, they reasoned, eligible as an Oakley-sponsored athlete. It was an amazing gesture, the kind anyone would be proud to make.
Last Thursday, Oakley once again showed what a class act they are by becoming an official sponsor of cycling’s biggest event, the Tour de France, at a time when other corporate cycling sponsors are bailing.
Professional cycling is a tremendous marketing medium, and Oakley has consistently been able to capitalize on its popularity. Even in the wake of recent scandals, Oakley is acting like the admirable leader they are. No doubt others will follow that lead and help raise cycling’s public awareness to a more honorable, admirable stature.
It’s been nearly three weeks since I rode my bike. I had not driven from July through September, until I got a cold/flu thing in October that knocked me over. Shivering in 44F degree rain and cold seemed like an ill-fated recipe for recovering my health, so I opted for driving the car until I kicked the sickness. I checked bus times first, incidentally, but it turns out that while riding a bicycle from my humble abode to downtown Seattle takes about 40 minutes, it takes at least 90 minutes by bus, or over two hours at the evening time I needed to travel.
Chinese herbs saw me get healthy again in short order, but by then my work schedule dictated insane hours, which left me zapped for riding energy. I thought I’d put weight on again, but no. I’m working too hard for that I guess.
But enough with the not riding. I’ve found that even if I spend all night working on client collateral designs, gulping down caffeine like it was candy, and depriving myself of precious sleep to meet the almighty deadlines, not riding my bike has left a vacant spot in my soul that an automobile’s convenience and work’s exhaustion will never fill.
So tomorrow I ride. Joy, no doubt, shall ensue.
Side Note: Tour de Frank and Olympic Time Trial champion Bradley Wiggins was taken out by a driver during a training ride, perhaps breaking ribs. Upon leaving the hospital, he displayed his exceptionally long middle finger for reporters hounding him through an automobile window. Since I have no such notoriety, I have no way of objectively commenting on his reaction. I suspect, however, that media hounds suck, and Mr. Wiggins was probably justifiably unhappy about being taken out by a negligent driver, a nemesis of which the world has far too many, to be happy to give a soundbite to barking reporters.
Negligent drivers can reignite the soul of any bicyclist in seconds flat, right after inflicting the pain and insult of directing their 2,000 pound vehicle into you. I had it happen twice in one week in September. It’s an all too common occurrence in Seattle, where soulless drivers literally hate bicyclists and certainly loathe all bicycle commuters.
The man, he said, “Just put your feet on the pedals and go,” the entirety of his ‘how to ride a bicycle’ lesson leveled on my six-year old mind. I did as I was instructed, put my left foot on the pedal. And I fell over. I couldn’t reach the right pedal before losing my balance.
I fell over not once or twice, but so many times I lost count. The man, he watched and laughed and laughed, never offering a word of advice or encouragement. No practical instruction at all. It seemed as if he took great pleasure in watching me fall down, my new bike falling down on top of my tiny body, and me struggling to push it off.
Eventually, he handed me a four-by-four inch block of wood to step up onto and steady myself. I placed my right foot on the pedal and stayed glued to the block with my left foot. I had fallen down so many times, I had become afraid to step off the block. He would walk over and threaten to take the block away if I didn’t go. So go I would just before falling down.
He never explained how putting my feet on the pedals would make the bike go, never mentioned pushing down. So I did as he said, and I learned how to fall over really well. The bike, it seemed, did not go by itself.
Eventually, I made the mental connection between pushing the pedals and moving forward, I finally made it! I was riding a bike! For twelve whole feet, before—BAM, I ran into a parking strip tree. I instantly learned to keep my head up. The man was mad I’d hurt the tree.
I returned to the four-by-four block, stepped up, pushed the pedals, looked ahead, and rode away from what my young mind thought was surely Hell. The bike was my instrument of freedom. It was the first time I could recall having manifested my own joy.
I live on a hill now, so I don’t even have to pedal. (No more wood block either.) I just clip my feet into the pedals and go. And the man? I don’t know what became of him. I’m just riding my bike.
You may have gotten the idea that I am no fan of the scapegoating of Lance Armstrong, but there’s an underlying reason (beyond the abject wrongness of it all) I don’t like it. That reason is joy. Bicycling is the most joyful experience I know of. It’s both more difficult and better than sex. It transports the body and mind, providing transportation and a kind of meditation at the same time. Being a lifelong fan of professional bicycle racing, the completely unnecessary public self-outting of pro cycling’s dirty secret past has soured the former joy I took in reading cyclingnews and Velonews, supplanting racing news with he-said-she-said BS that few racing fans care about. Cycling is cleaning itself up. This latest cleansing of the past record books could have been either skipped or done without a public lynching of a scapegoat.
I nearly stopped reading Velonews a month ago, and found myself instead perusing popurls far more often than ever before. When I read cyclingnews, I quickly scan the first page for race results and get the hell off the page before I have to see any more bloody gut-spilling doping nonsense.
In the last few days, however, it was impossible to omit the following doping bits from my eyes, because here we had some pro cyclists actually making sense. If I managed somehow to land my now-skinny arse upon a pro cycling gig (no breath holding here), these are the guys I’d want on my team. 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, UCI President Pat McQuaid, Laurent Jalabert, Alberto Contador, Chris Horner, and probably Italian national team coach Paolo Bettini. And Sean Kelly because in addition to his great last name, he was the classiest rider of his generation. And Ryder Hesjedal because he seems to be the classiest of the current generation. Oh, and probably Lance Armstrong too, if the media will leave him alone.
From here on out, I’ll avoid talking about dopingnews and get back to the joy that is bicycling.
I left one important part out of yesterday’s post. Maybe two. I’m still counting. Levi Leipheimer and all the rest of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates who have fallen out of the doping closet and are now telling stories of regret, redemption, hope, and a better future are consistently leaving out one important fact. They talk about pro cycling throwing riders under the bus if they confessed all on their own, and how that wouldn’t do any good for the sport, so they kept silent. Okay, um, yeah.
It seems that maybe what they are doing instead of getting themselves thrown under the bus is throwing Lance Armstrong under the bus. If the things they say are true — that Lance Armstrong is the mastermind of the most sophisticated doping “regime” in professional sports — then they basically took everything they could get out of their association with him, then betrayed the man utterly and completely. They made or boosted their careers by doping while riding on his team, leveraged their resultant success to get contracts on other teams, and made a lot of money (oh and got to ride their bikes for a living). Having used up every ounce of profitability, they threw Armstrong under the bus. Oh, and they made deals for immunity in exchange for their forced testimony.
I’m sorry, but I’m missing the redemption part of this.
My apologies if it seems my head is stuck in the sand. I just haven’t found the daylight yet. I still admire guys like Leipheimer because I’ve followed their sporting exploits for so many years, just as I admire Lance Armstrong. Their inner tussles and texts and so on are not part of my sandy world.