Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lance + Oprah

I’m a cyclist, (or in less self-important terms, I ride a bicycle pretty regularly).
I race a few times a year and do ok for my age group. All in all, I'm pretty much sufficiently average when it comes to competition, relatively speaking.
But it's just fun to pedal.
Dirt or road, there is simply nothing like going fast on a bike.

I got into cycling because mountain bikes are cool. Then I started getting more miles in on the road to train for long mountain bike events. Then I noticed that the Spring Classic races, (particularly the ones in Belgium and France), are just spectacular. 
Gent Wevelgem  http://www.gent-wevelgem.be/en
Tour of Flanders http://www.rondevanvlaanderen.be/en
Paris Roubaix  http://www.letour.com/indexPRX_us.html
Yeah, this guy was a doper too, but still, it's Paris Roubaix, "Hell of the North"!
From there I started paying closer attention to the personalities and particulars of the highest competitive levels of the sport. This was mostly post Lance though so I never really was much into Armstrong. So the personal Lance let down for me was pretty minimal. In fact, I was pretty happy for the poop to hit the fan. The idea of Lance always seemed like a big sales gimmick to me, (having the benefit of mostly hindsight). Nike, Livestrong, Oakley. etc. If you paid attention to cycling you pretty much assumed that everyone doped. Personally, my take was that the big sponsored teams doped a little less and with more discretion and restraint. So yeah, I thought Lance probably had doped but just not to the full scale, systematic way in which it turned out that he did.
Lance was not a “nice” guy in the peloton and everyone knew this. He was a “take no prisoners, demand absolute loyalty and win at all costs” guy and the retribution he unleashed on anyone who challenged him was no secret. But cyclists did generally respect him even if they didn't particularly enjoy being around him all the time. He was pretty charismatic and could be generous when he wanted to be. The thing that did surprise me about the WADA report is that Lance actually ratted out other dopers when they started to present a competitive challenge. Ugh.
Like all of us, the guy is a bundle of complexities and contradictions.
But, no one is above the law. Bullies and cronies included.
Lance getting exposed is good for America. It shows that everyone is accountable.

However, when Lance announced that he was going to pay a visit to America's Head Priestess, the thought of that was not the most compelling thing for cycling, sport or personal accountability. Sure, Oprah is maybe going to sling a tough question or two in Lance's general direction. The interview wouldn't be exactly this:
But at the end of the show, after Lance takes his verbal spank he'll get some time for a good public cry and an explanation that he just "got caught up." Yeah, that will be pretty pathetic.

If you want an overly thorough and detailed account of how this was more than just a case of getting "caught up" there is an excellent post here at the Science of Sport blog. If you don't have time for it, there are two main points that Dr. McGowan makes that need to be drawn out and highlighted:
1.) The argument that "everyone does it" does not hold water and is bad science. PED's do not level the playing field because every individual's physiology responds to them differently. "Your results may vary."
2.) Lance went way beyond demanding loyalty and even a "punch back twice as hard" approach. The dude was a hypocritical rat fink. He told on fellow dopers for doping when they posed a competitive threat.

There is however, some internet jibber jabber that Lance's confession on Oprah may also involve calling out the higher-ups in cycling to include the competitive governing bodies and leadership at UCI and USA Cycling. That may actually be worth something because the corruption in the sport is deep, wide and all the way to the top. I think it’s possible that the last two Tour winners were clean but I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong. We just don’t know.
But the UCI knows and they knew just how rampant doping was for years.
They've done more than anyone to keep a lid on the level of corruption in cycling.

So all of this exposure is good. Even on Oprah.
It shows that when it comes to the human person and sport we actually somewhere inside our true selves still believe that there is something cynical about just slinging PED's around willy-nilly and treating the athlete like a mere machine to manipulate for results. 
We somehow are still not comfortable with the idea that a person, (world class athletes included), has an unrestrained right to do whatever they want to their own body.
In a culture of hyper-fixation on rights-speak and individual autonomy, this is a pleasant contradiction. 
If you’ve ever watched a mountain top finish in the Tour it is a beautiful spectacle of sport. Or at least it should be anyway, because you always know there is a possibility that what you’re seeing is part frankenstein. That’s a problem that is bigger than Lance and until the entire sport comes clean at the highest and lowest levels nothing will really change. We'll still have extreme suffering and beauty and see moments of raw sport that will leave us in awe, but we'll just know it's part fake.

Either way, at the end of the day, you're going to have more fun on your own bike, pedaling fast, climbing obstacles and pushing your own limits.

Contador and Schleck duke it out up the Col du Tourmalet.
It's beautiful, but it's not real.

Update Jan 18:
Darn, I missed the Oprah show last night.
So apparently, (several takes on Velonews, who incidentally used to looooove Lance).
Lance did not cry - good.
Lance did not exactly apologize or give a well scripted detailing of his his remorse - interesting.
I am intrigued. 

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