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The Worst Kind Of Innocence

– It has been three weeks since the USADA Cycling report was issued. The monumentally forceful outcry has now seemingly run its course. So much schadenfreude, heartbrokenness, and huffy-puffiness, all of it spent. Now what?

It seems that only two things are certain. Lance will remain a very comfortably rich man. And I, for one, am already becoming sentimental for those sweet days of 2003. No doubt, the protagonists back then were junkies through-and-through, salivating like Keith Richards at the sight of a needle. But good God the racing and the drama in those days was the best. By comparison, Wiggins and Froome are gold medal-winning synchronized divers — elegant and feminine in their meatless bodies; codependent on each other and prone to tantrums towards the world; all of it leaving television viewers desperate for a mid-race nap.

But US Postal vs. ONCE? It was a blood-spattered clash between good and evil. Like the contemplation of true love or pondering the possibility of eternity, to capture the brutish mayhem of 2003 you must resort to writers of a slightly higher order than the VeloNews staff —

Let them come:
They come like sacrifices in their trim,
And to the fire-eyed maid of smoky war
All hot and bleeding will we offer them:
The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit
Up to the ears in blood.

Addicts keen on slaughter: How else to describe the 2003 Tour de France? Sure, the same can be said for MMA. But bike racing — at least at its best as in 2003 — is a more elevated thing. Yes, the machines and mountains are gorgeous and that’s a difference. But more crucial, bike racing is as much about the foreplay as the crescendo, something few other sports can claim. The entire 2003 Tour was the best foreplay ever. Waiting, waiting, waiting, every stage and every hour becoming more intense.

Addicts keen on slaughter: Addiction never gets mentioned in conversation about cycling’s lost generation. Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ is 300 pages about a junkie’s coming of age. Take Lance’s enigmatic tweet the day after the USADA report was issued. It was a Youtube link for our generation’s best, most heroin-soaked, and earliest-to-die-from-it musician, Elliott Smith. It’s impossible to separate his music from knowing how it all ended for him.

Addicts keen on slaughter: Those were races worth watching. Moral cesspool or not, I miss you 2003.


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– It was like a re-enactment of the legendary Gap stage of the 2003 Tour, and in some ways it was a reunion. Convene a gang of Spaniards, queue up a crash, then unleash a desperate pursuit of the finish line. It even features a celebrity appearance from Francisco ‘Paco’ Mancebo, handsome in his Competitive Cyclist kit while trying his damndest to channel his Banesto form circa-2003.

– I’ll confess I’m deep in sentimental mode right now. It goes beyond 2003. It stretches forward to 2005, the glory days of Landis. And it also goes in reverse to 1990, the dawn of the chemical warfare era. It makes a stop in 2010 when I first discovered my all-time favorite cycling blogger, The Inner Ring. A whole blog on Nutella? Really? How delicately sweet fanhood once was.

The last couple of years have brought the worst kind of innocence. It allows you to believe that you’re plenty battle-scarred, only to learn that you don’t know a thing. Just a month ago, all of us floated in the same clouds of naïveté. It’s sickening to look at recent race footage — so recent that I remember watching it new — and to now understand what a childlike bubble of deception we were living in.

It’s not the ubiquity of doping that I resent. Rather, it’s the embarrassment of having thought I was insider who had calibrated his cynicism to the perfect degree. I thought I knew the darkness of the sport, but could love it nevertheless. In seeing how shamefully wrong I got it, sentimentality seems to be the last hope. Is there any other alternative to the most natural reaction: Being eaten alive by a new, passion-snuffing cynicism, a thousand times bigger than anything I’d ever known?

The truth will set you free