Lifelong worshipper of road cycling. Now dabbling elsewhere with lots of enthusiasm & mixed success.
The Hunter’s Response
March 4, 2011
- My apologies for the sporadic updates here on ‘What’s New.’ Our European excursion was a disruption, and then came the roll-out of our mobile-specific site and the unveiling of our Featured Bikes program . Both were the result of immense work by a lot of people. Sadly, sometimes the blogging must wait. It’s time for some catch up now, and we’ll be back with regularly scheduled What’s New columns in two weeks.
- When Paul Kimmage published ‘ A Rough Ride’ in 1990, doping was one of those topics most people in the cycling world strenuously avoided. He was, as he has repeatedly reminded the world since, the pro who broke the code of silence.
But while Kimmage deserves credit for speaking out about doping even before the rise of EPO, that doesn’t mean that he’s been a particularly effective advocate for his cause. At times Kimmage is more a zealot than a journalist. And his methods can sometimes give both descriptions a bad name. Kimmage apparently works on the principle that nearly everyone in the sport dopes or at least aids, condones or willfully ignores it. One wonders, at times, why he keeps writing about cycling.
In 2006, just as Puerto broke, Kimmage wrote a column that became infamous, at least in the tiny world of cycling journalism. After discussing the riders exposed by the police raids, he wrote: ‘But if the sport is ever to be saved there is another list that should be compiled: a list of the spineless, lazy, morally bankrupt wasters in the press room here.’
His disdain and self-righteousness extended beyond the salle de presse to the entire race itself. Early in the Tour, the photographer sharing a car with Kimmage asked him for a prediction about final result in Paris. Kimmage wrote that he replied: ‘There are a couple of things you need to understand about me if we’re going to get along. I have no interest at all in who’s going to win this race. It’s a condition I’ve had since the early 1990s. Now, you will probably hate the sight of me by the time we get to Paris, but if we’re to survive to at least Calais please don’t ask that question again.’
Nevertheless Kimmage still does write about cycling from time to time. Occasionally, he’s very effective, particularly in a piece about the relationship between Mark Cavendish and troubled brother he wrote for The Sunday Times last April.
The only drugs in the Cavendish story were recreational, were held by his brother and, ultimately, put him in jail. But at the end of January, Kimmage returned to chief cause with a long Sunday Times profile of Floyd Landis. While long, it contained few surprises other than a digression about a trip Landis claims to have made with Lance Armstrong to a strip club.
What followed, however, was much more unusual and journalistically dubious. Kimmage passed along a transcript his interview with Landis to his fellow crusaders at Velocity Nation.
‘Their 7 hour conversation was distilled into Kimmage’s Sunday Times article published yesterday, meant for a general audience,’ Velocity Nation explained. ‘Kimmage, however, felt that Landis’ detailed views on cycling needed to be aired, so he offered us the transcript of their interview. Naturally we accepted. The transcript is presented here in the form Kimmage intended, with no edits from us. We’d like to thank Kimmage and Landis for speaking freely.’
Most news organizations don’t publish complete transcripts or allow their reporters to pass them along for a number of reasons. The chief one, however, is that during interviews people often make claims that are ill-informed or simply untrue, knowingly or otherwise. Journalists aren’t stenographers. Their job is to test claims with additional reporting and to sift out the nonsense. ‘Speaking freely’ is a polite way of saying ‘shooting his mouth off,’ which has become Landis’s new specialty of sorts. Even Kimmage notes repeatedly at the top of the story that emerged from the interview, Landis is not someone universally associated with truthfulness.
That raises the other problem with transcripts. While Landis spewed out all manner of stories about a large number of people, none of it is challenged in the online posting nor did the many people he named have any chance at rebuttal. Britain’s excessively strict libel laws, to say nothing about tedium, meant that the bulk of Landis’s claims didn’t make it into The Sunday Times. But by passing along the transcript, Kimmage has apparently found a way to circumvent both a costly defamation case and his editors. (Or so he apparently calculates.) For a crusader, everything’s fair. But in journalism, that’s not a pro move.
The experience now has Velocity Nation spinning in a whirl of self-importance. When lawyers on the other side of Lance Armstrong in the SCA insurance case passed along videos of his depositions, Velocity Nation boasted that it has ‘gained a reputation for being a cycling WikiLeaks.’ Well maybe. But when real news organizations write stories based on WikiLeaks material, they give everyone a chance to reply and verify all they can through the dull, old fashioned business of reporting .
Whatever one thinks of Wikileaks or journalists, there’s no question that both of them should reveal uncomfortable truths that many people and organization would prefer to keep hidden. But dumping smears in the open without testing them or letting their subjects have their say is, to paraphrase Kimmage, spineless, lazy and morally bankrupt.
- Other post-Euro excursion clean-up:, In the ‘comments’ section of our piece about Girona, someone remarked about the surprising size of Dominique Rollin’s ass. For those of us who still chuckle at the thought of Daniel Coyle’s ‘ass check’ section in his fine book ‘Lance Armstrong’s War’, and for those of us who’ve ridden with enough pros to appreciate the fact that for all their hardness, they’re mostly built with the frail narrowness of a ballerina — yes, Dom’s ass is akin to a PT Cruiser. Both in size and horsepower. The dude is a monster on the bike, and from what I saw I don’t know how a big-ass breakthrough victory isn’t in the works for him in 2011. Keep your eyes on him.
Dom’s up-armored physique was most impressive, however, when he was viewed alongside current time trial World Champion Emma Pooley of Team Garmin-Cervelo. She is about one-third the size of Dom in every way: slight, light, and narrow, spinning the pedals with an elegance reminiscent of Fondriest. She may be diminutive, but in every type of terrain she went blow for blow with the ProTour dudes. To see her at the front pulling at length alongside Dom at near-30mph was a reminder of how ferociously fit women pros are. As I hung on for dear life, it was odd to recall the strange debate earlier this year about the legitimacy (is there a better word to describe the essence of the debate?) of pro women’s racing. The problem most certainly isn’t the riders, it’s the spectators. More men’s bike racing fans should experience getting dropped when Emma was on the front. It was as subtle as an uppercut to the face.
- While in Girona, I met a British pro named Yanto Barker. A Google search shows he knows the cruelty of the sport . He once showed all the signs of breaking into the big leagues, but never made it. That being said, his British sense of cheer was a delight, and I was impressed by what I saw from his nascent clothing company, Le Col. I also came to discover he blogs and has just the right word of caution for the half-wheelers of the world.
- The final lesson from Girona is a dark-secret bit of prep work some Spring Classics hopefuls do to prepare for the horrors of Belgium. The ‘Hunter’s Response’? It’s training your hands and feet to tolerate the cold by carefully and methodically riding in colder and colder temps without gloves and booties. Just when I thought it was all about diet and motorpacing…
- Add these to the list of bike shops worth visiting. I spoke to no one when I was at either one. Rather, it was their vibe. The vibe blew me away:
(1) Bicycles of Ojai in Ojai, CA. It’s in a charming neighborhood house, not a strip mall. You walk in and first see the typical staple stuff of American bike shops — hybrids, kids’ bikes, locks, and cheap rubber. But continue to the back and you enter the mad mind of the proprietor. Mad, mad, mad for bike racing. It seems they race a lot, promote a lot, and are way embedded into the SoCal scene. I say this based on the posters and race numbers on the walls and three decades worth of high-end equipment and assorted paraphernalia strewn about everywhere else. It’s jam-packed, disheveled, totally unexpected and worth a stop for sure.
(2) Velo Studio in Burbank, CA. it sits next to a coffee shop engorged with Hollywood’s beautiful people. Down the street from Bob’s Big Boy. This is an itsy-bitsy, super-pro shop. Walk in and see lovingly merchandized Colnago, Time, and BMC bikes. The inventory is spare and the presentation is sparkling. As I wandered through Velo Studio I wondered how in the hell a place so dedicated to PRO in an area this tony as this could possibly survive. My guess is that for all of the downsides of trying to live and train in a major metropolitan area, one upside is the massive wealth at every turn.. Tiny, but tremendous.