– If there’s one thing bike race fans are immune from by now, it’s surprise. Grand Tour results no longer inspire awe at feats of human endurance. Rather, who amongst us doesn’t conjure images like this? Froome, Simoni, Indurain — the names don’t matter anymore. If you win, you’re guilty. The thought is uncontrollable, a coping mechanism for having once fallen in love with heroes, then getting steamrolled by doping control. It’s a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome: We’ve all devoted too much of our lives desperately loving the sport. Thus invested, corruption is no longer a turnoff, it’s become a neverending trope. What makes me think that this trivial twitter post is tied to GC contender prep for the Tour of Utah?
Cyclingfans, Inner Ring, Phil and Paul — these are the tools of ignorance. It’s a willful sort of ignorance we possess. Giving up on the sport is something we can’t do, but it comes with a consequence. Ours is a jaded fanhood. Habitual, stripped clean of joy. The unexpected performance raises suspicion, yet the expected one does the same. Calloused, the race-day surprise is the last thing we’d celebrate. Which is why “Braking Bad: Chasing Lance Armstrong and the Cancer of Corruption” by Richard Poplak is such an astonishing achievement. It’s a self-described “meditation” on the fall of Lance Armstrong and how his arc of hero-to-antihero mirrors that of post-imperalist Africa. It’s available only on the Kindle, it comes in at a whopping 56 pages or 90 minutes of couch time and costs less than a Starbucks coffee. Nevertheless, it’s the most remarkable thing written about modern-day cycling since Dan Coyle’s “Lance Armstrong’s War”.
What makes Poplak’s book a must-read isn’t the tale he tells. The analogies he makes between the US Postal Team and the nascent state of South Sudan are sometimes convincing, and sometimes a stretch. His personal narrative provides the fascination that playing Peeping Tom in other’s lives always does. But it is, at other times, tiresomely solipsistic. No, Poplak’s book is something you should purchase because of the remarkable artfulness of his language. Certain pages describe the futility of the racing cyclist’s life with words so sharply and gorgeously composed that they stand alone as prose poetry, like the best-ever art project about the nihilistic act called being PRO. Take, for example, his description of Tour-caliber climbers —
“…they are minimalist interpretations of human beings, shorn of all fat and adverbs, reduced to short sentences and sinew, something Steve Jobs would have created were he actually God — iPeople.”
The final quarter of the book is its weakest part. He drags us too deep into the imperfections of his marriage. From meditation it degrades into diary entry. Nonetheless, the bulk of “Braking Bad” sparkles with Poplak’s insightfulness and graceful writing.
– In case you don’t recall, Poplak first came on our radar because of an interesting article he wrote about fellow Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. And while Ryder’s fame might largely be related to his 2012 victory in the Giro d’Italia, I’ll always remember him more for his stylish choice in eyewear during this year’s Tour de France, possibly the high point of on-the-bike PRO fashion since 1986 —
– And one final piece of Canadiana — I must give props to my favorite band of the moment, the Rural Alberta Advantage. If you haven’t heard it, most definitely beg, borrow or steal its album “Hometowns.” There are days I think it’s the best album of the last decade, and there are times where I think that its song “Edmonton” is maybe the greatest love song of all time even though it’s about a city and not a girl.
– I have no idea who Patrick Redford is, but a few weeks back he wrote a clairvoyant article about Team Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. Not surprisingly, it was for The Classical, a website not remotely related to pro bike racing, which is as much a statement about how cool The Classical is as it is a statement about the sad, sad state of cycling-specific sites and magazines.
– Love this series in concept. Love the posters in execution. Love the flipcard design of the site. Can’t wait for the second round to get unveiled next week.
– While it’s easy to agree that Above Category and the Rapha Cycle Club are two of the finest retail bike experiences in the US, it’s even easier to agree that the Outside Magazine website is an unreadable clusterfuck of pop-ups and flashing ads. There was a time — long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away — when Outside defined a way of life. It was its own sort of glorious counterculture. And now, so sad and empty.
– Perhaps a bit thick with hagiography, but an interesting quick read nevertheless.