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A Freezer Named Siberia

– Shall I tell you of the gold-speckled mushrooms I once ate? With great care I pressed them onto a slice of pepperoni pizza. The next four hours were magnificent. At one point I proposed to an oak tree.

Ah, memories of youthful drug consumption and the middle-aged bildungsromans that often result. Whether it’s collegiate ‘shrooming or the US Postal pharmacopoeia, it’s like that old cliché about porn: At first, so enthralling. Then soon, the tedium arrives.

The Secret Race‘The Secret Race’ by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle is just that. It’s a coming-of-age story that fascinates in countless ways before a slow deflation by the end. It shines brilliantly in its anecdotal detail. I now know of the eerie chill in the veins that accompanies the transfusion of refrigerated blood. I understand the agony of losing those final three pounds when you have none left to give. (Those three pounds, I learned, are worth more than three added percent points of hematocrit.) I’ve lived Tyler’s speechless terror when confronted by Lance in the infamous night at Aspen’s tony Cache-Cache restaurant.

The book titillates, too, in its exhaustive overview of US Postal’s institutionalized doping. Everything from the gentle justifications the team doctors offered doping ingénues — ‘It’s for your health’ — to the evolution of blood bag storage from refrigeration to a freezer named ‘Siberia’, to the reasons behind the change from walloping doses of sub-cutaneous EPO to intravenous microdosing.

Tyler HamiltonThe book only takes a day to read, which is something you may be grateful for after Tyler’s umpteenth accounting of a pre-race dose of ‘Edgar,’ and his umpteenth rationalization why his all-you-can-eat dopage buffet was anything-but-cheating. And the repetition is wrapped in Tyler’s relentless ‘aw schucks’ narrative voice.

Tyler was indisputably one of the great sporting cheats of our generation, yet he strains past the point of credulity to portray himself as an ordinary guy victimized by superhuman insecurities. His ‘golly gee’ approach to explaining his decisions leave the same annoying residue as the ‘Thanks for reading’ faux-humble tagline at the end of his early-2000’s VeloNews diary entries (which we now know were written by his wife, Haven.)

There’s nothing resembling a crisis of conscience about his decision to dope. Even worse, he never appeared to have a crisis about his lack of a crisis. Not then, and not now. That makes ‘The Secret Race’ a study of the mechanics of a multi-national doping organization. But if want to see inside a rider’s soul, ‘Racing Into The Dark’ by David Millar is a more compelling read.

– My father devoted two decades to providing the poorest women in Arkansas modern obstetrical care. Destitution in the South comes in countless forms: Urban ghetto lifers, meth-addled rednecks, and the semi-slaves of migrant farm work, among them. He preached the value of prenatal care and lived and died by data on low birth weight babies. His job taught him plenty about women, which resulted in this observation: ’90 percent of the women in prison are there because the shit their boyfriends manipulated them to do.’

Womans PrisonHis words came back to me as I read ‘The Secret Race’ and saw time and again how the women of US Postal were sucked into the doping vortex. ‘Kik’ Armstrong lived with boxes of EPO sitting in the fridge alongside the OJ and cracked jokes to Tyler about his sky-high hematocrit. Haven Hamilton served as first line of defense against the intrusion of random drug testers and acted as Tyler’s accounts payable clerk for payments to Operation Puerto’s notorious Dr. Fuentes. The initiation of these women into the world of dopage and how it became part of their day-to-day lives is worthy of a book of its own.

While I’m not sure about Haven, it’s clear that ‘Kik’ ended up in front of a grand jury. Both marriages ended up in divorce, and one fact becomes clear: The only hero of this story is the oft-maligned Betsy Andreu. She made her opposition to doping crystal clear to her husband. Her clarity about right and wrong was clearly rare in those days. And whether you ponder the notion of women in jail, in front of a grand jury, or otherwise suffering the thousand lies that can rip apart a marriage, the one true role model is clear.

– I want to inform our customers and vendors that our Director of Marketing, Matt Heitmann, has left Competitive Cyclist. Some of you know Matt from his days spearheading the star-crossed Cadence Cycling and Multisport experiment in Philly and NYC. Others of you know him from his work in pushing through Josh Rechnitz’s vision for a world-class velodrome in NYC. And many of you know him from the years he spent here helping us build Competitive Cyclist.

Our industry is rife with self-proclaimed ‘brand savants.’ But Matt looked at marketing as more of a science, and less of an art. He brought a methodical quantitative approach to an area usually driven by gut instinct. Most marketers think Opex and Capex are the names of two of the ghosts in Pac Man, but Matt could talk about a balance sheet like an MBA grad. We are worse off for his departure, but more worth mentioning is my sense of gratitude for the steadiness of his contributions to Competitive Cyclist, and for the great friendship we’ve shared.

The good news is that Matt is now the head of Marketing for BMC bikes in North America, as the company continues to expand its footprint with a two-pronged attack. Between the technology of its bikes and the success of its professional race team, they have a lot of to exploit from a marketing perspective. I’m looking forward to seeing Matt’s work in a new context. I’m sure many of you will become increasingly tempted to buy a BMC thanks to his skillful ways.