– Summer morning. The breeze curls across the road and the warmth holds me gently, like your palms around a baby bird. If August has a redeeming quality it’s 6am. No traffic and plenty of light, the air absent of the inferno to come. It’s time for solo riding and conversations with myself. The peace I feel is extravagant and it walks me hand-in-hand to a place, a generous place, I otherwise shut away -- Of all things, my mind turns to thoughts of forgiveness. Of amnesty. Of bikes and bike racing. Not just any amnesty. I’m talking mass amnesty.
My mind keys in onto something narrow: The unsavory headlines we confront as fans of the world’s most beautiful sport. UCI, why not set a date in stone and declare that any doping infraction uncaught up to that date would be forgiven? 1999 or 2009 (or 1969) -- it doesn’t matter when it happened. If a rider hasn’t been formally accused already, just officially forget about it.
In exchange for this, all current & future riders by virtue of taking out a license would assent to the use of a Big Brother bio-passport system. It would be administered by the UCI, not the teams themselves in order to ensure an equal quality of oversight regardless of who the rider is & what their team budget is (and what their motivations may be.) For once provide authentic confidentiality and due process to the riders, and in return they’ll agree to new, increasingly steep penalties. One strike and you’re out. Who amongst them wouldn’t be relieved to put yesterday’s sins behind them?
As it is, no sport requires its athletes to undergo such relentless testing. The extent of the testing matters less, I think, than the fact that no sport is more densely populated by stakeholders (the athletes, the managers, and the sponsors) who acknowledge how pervasive the doping problems once were. There was a decade where doping wasn’t optional. If you wanted to be a pro, you doped. Does anyone deny this anymore? Does anyone look at doping-in-the-late-90’s-and-beyond as a moral flaw anymore? In collective recognition of what was a lost generation (the remnants of which still race today), wouldn’t ritual purification give the sport the closest thing it’ll ever get to a fresh start?
I pondered mass amnesty for most of my ride. The upsides seemed legion: The peloton is indisputably
more fearful of testing cleaner now than it’s been in nearly 2 decades. It’s imperfect, but aren’t we a million miles from 1999? Perhaps hitting the moral reset button will take things one step closer to perfection. And, in terms of immediate financial benefit, is there a cost savings to be had by closing the books on current open investigations and investing that manpower & money into testing advancements instead?
But just as early a.m. warmth is slain by the mid-morning blaze, my belief in amnesty crumbled under the weight of reality. Why? Let me answer the question with a question: Upon occasion do you ever linger over photos of lovely naked women on the internet? Forgive me Father, for I have done so not infrequently and will surely do so again. I’ve marveled at their mind-bendingly perfect shapes, with their curves like an Austrian luge course, but nevertheless a stronger thought predominates: How do women of such fabulous form end up on the internet naked in the first place? A woman like that…if she were here…she would be fêted by the best men in town. Love, fidelity, respect -- being so lovely makes it a little easier to find, no? Why, then, do they end up instead unclothed & oiled-up on-line?
Perhaps it’s poverty -- that of the true economic type, i.e. what I see on the screen is an eastern European no-hoper, whose dirt-scraping beet-farming family history previews her near-certain destiny; or it could be poverty of the experiential type, i.e. what 20 year old -- regardless of economic background -- doesn’t view conventional adulthood as the most despicable drudgery? Opportunity (real or perceived) is different for them than us.
Or perhaps what I’m seeing is the result of a youthful predilection for need-now thrills. With so many primal urges to answer to, who has time for reason? Concupiscence is a ferocious thing in all of its manifestations -- shaved-down Russian hottie, craning before the Nikon, you’re no different from the needle-stuck Belorussian neo-pro readying for the GP Plouay. Both take dark pleasure in their acts of rule-bending; both are brainwashed by the infallibility of youth; and both are terrified of what dismal future awaits back home if this doesn’t work out.
And this is why mass amnesty won’t work. Youth cannot be contained. No oath of this generation can stop next year’s batch of kids from the destructive-stupid shit they’ll always do. Doping, porn, vices #3, 4, 5 and onward -- youth blinds kids to consequences, and too many kids have nothing to lose anyway. There was a time when the conventional wisdom was that the new generation of riders should be the least inclined to dope -- and it’s why it stung so much when they got caught again and again. Now I see the opposite is true: The new generation is the one most likely to dope. Mass amnesty: Great idea at 6am. The stuff of naïfs at 9am.
– Last week I talked smack about how boring August racing is, and then the gods make me look like a buffoon with a Tour of Ireland that had the vibe & the intensity of the best April racing. I’ve heard of pro races getting shortened because of snow. But rain? Never once that I recall. Stage 3 in Ireland was supposed to finish with 3 circuits, but the rainstorms and wind (by some accounts gusting to 100kph) was so savage that the organizers dropped it to 2 circuits only. The 23% St. Patrick’s Hill in the torrent made for a spectacle. Since GC was so tight, the last 10km was a bloodbath. Congrats, by the way, to Competitive Cyclist homeboy Craig Lewis of Team Columbia-- 4th on the stage and finishing 7th in GC. This portends good things for next week’s USPro road race, I think.
– Bike industry & the economy #1: Tough sledding at Mavic so far this year. It’s hard to do a happy spin on a -13% performance. Not much insight in this article, either, about the economic impact of the R-SYS recall. Also not much in the way of projections based on the fact that the R-SYS platform is a central part of the Mavic product line in 2010.
– Why Euskatel shouldn’t be field sprinting.
– Quick question: In years past did any of you pay attention to the annual track & field world championships? From nowhere, it seems, it’s gone from LPGA prominence to front page/all-over-the-internet. I never felt bad about not caring about it before, but it seems like I’m the only one not paying attention now. What’s changed in the last week? I understand that Usain Bolt is killing world records. But it’s not like world records aren’t always getting broken. I’m not dissing track -- it’s a fine sport. But the attention it’s getting is as big as the Olympics itself.
– A question: In any race that isn’t the Tour de France but where key riders are wearing their leader’s jerseys from the Tour de France -- is it safe to assume that the race is fixed? Not fixed in a Black Sox kind of way, but fixed in a theatrical sense -- ensuring the pleasure of the crowd, etc.?
– Bike industry & the economy #2: Tough sledding at Easton-Bell. Like Mavic, another great company. Surely Giro and Bell are shining stars for Easton-Bell. If they could sexify Easton wheelsets as an upgrade/aftermarket item they’d discover they’re sitting on a gold mine. Ditto with their bars & stems. 5 or 6 years ago Easton bars & stems were a must-have item. What happened? Based on what we can tell it’s not a quality problem (Easton components are quite good, in fact.) It’s a marketing problem. How do you earn mindshare?
– Three facts you should know: (1) I don’t want to die on my bicycle. (2) I love the phrase ‘True, true, unrelated.’ (3) If you only get 1 magazine subscription delivered to your door, it should be the Atlantic.
– The nameTodd Marinovich strikes terror in any mellow parent whose kids play team sports. When parents’ yelling is anything but occasional -- and is anything other than pure encouragement -- it’s terror for the rest of us in the crowd. For a tale of the opposite, check this out. If this is a surefire way to turn children into pro athletes, I’m all for it.