– Dear Lance: Long time, no talk. Looks like last week was nasty in more ways than one. A friend said he saw you on his Delta flight to NYC. You’re flying commercial again? Mellow Johnny’s Airlines has gone the way of Braniff. Bummer.
Buy a copy of ‘Titan’ by Ron Chernow. Yeah, it’s a behemoth. Over 700 pages narrating the life and times of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. The writing is fantastic, and the story reads better than most novels. But I’m recommending it to you for reasons beyond entertainment value. Why? Let me explain.
No company is more synonymous with the dark underbelly of the American industrial revolution than Standard Oil. And during the late 1800’s, nobody in America was as despised as its founder, John Rockefeller. He plundered the earth, obliterated his competitors, maltreated his employees, price-gouged his customers, and dismissed the government as a nasty little obstruction that was to be ignored or bribed away. Obsessed with enriching himself, Rockefeller’s amusement came from destroying everything in his way.
It wasn’t just what Rockefeller did. It’s how he did it. He was imperious, smug, silent, with zero regard for PR. The combination made him Public Enemy #1. Reining in Rockefeller became a top priority for Teddy Roosevelt during his second term as president. The result was the Sherman Antitrust Act and the eventual breakup of Standard Oil. Take heed, Lance: Wealth, power and a complete lack of charisma are a dangerous trifecta..
Rockefeller retired from Standard Oil relatively young. He watched the value of his stock skyrocket in the early 1900s in tandem with the world’s addiction to petroleum. Then the automobile became mainstream, making his personal worth unimaginable. At one point it equalled two percent of the American GDP. As he exited day-to-day operations of Standard Oil, he unexpectedly moved full time into giving his wealth away.
Rockefeller’s philanthropic obsession became medical science. His money drove the modernization of American medical education and research, to the benefit of all. He was also the original champion and funding source for the study of public health. His largesse directly led to the global eradication of hookworm.
At a certain point Rockefeller had a revelation that he’d won enough. Rather than continuing to obsess about his wealth and power, he turned the page and focused on the welfare of others, particularly those who had nothing at all. Keep in mind that for several decades he was the personification of greed and evil. But his subsequent pursuit of the public good made it so that by the end of his life he was considered an American treasure.
You’re at a similar crossroads, Lance. You’ve won everything. You did it during, ahem, a uniquely dubious era for ethics and integrity. You’re rich and powerful (nothing like a Rockefeller, but you know what I mean) and your PR index is in the dumps. Isn’t right now the ideal time for you to reboot your life’s agenda, like Rockefeller?
I hate to say this, but you look sort of pathetic with your irrepressible need to keep racing. Whether it’s dinky mountain bike races or Ironman triathlons, you’re the Masters-racing poster boy. Losing your flat stomach and your ripped legs isn’t synonymous with death, I swear.
You’ve been a catalyst to building one of our generation’s most amazing platforms for public health. Livestrong, specifically the version of the org that isn’t for-profit, is a powerhouse because of its proven record to inspire the sick, to educate those in need, and to fund serious medical innovation. Compared with the potential power for Livestrong to create public good, what meaning are you finding in rookie ball racing?
Do you have it in you to turn off Lance The Racer, and instead pour all of that energy into Livestrong and become Lance The Leader? Through 40 years of savage industrial monopoly, no name in American history was more toxic than Rockefeller. He cleansed it through a half-lifetime of good works. Can you pull off a similar redemption? Nobody doubts your drive. What’s unknown is your decision-making. C’mon Lance, just do it.
– Do what you hate. Hate what you do. A confession from the dark side of sport.
– What’s up with Deus, the motorcycle-surf-bicycle company? Why have I never heard of them before? Is their Venice store worth a visit?
– Between attending the Park City stage of this year’s Tour of Utah, then watching the television coverage of the Boulder stage in the Not-Tour-Of-Colorado, I feel sure that this was the best spell for bike racing in American since the glory days of the Tour de Trump in the late 1980’s.
The strangest sight at Utah was watching Team Liquigas’ Marco Benfatto racing on a Carerra instead of his team-issue Cannondale. And it wasn’t just on one day. Each time I saw him, he was on it.
My favorite photo of the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team from Utah:
The photo that comes closest to showing just how steep Guardsman’s Pass is. Look at the BMC rider in the background.