Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Anticipation

I'm sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting to catch a flight to Switzerland. The shop won a trip to Switzerland for a corporate tour and to participate in the Gran Prix d'Alex Moos on August 1st (Swiss National Holiday) at the Interbike tradeshow last year. After a grueling selection process between Jeff and me, Jeff was originally awarded dibs, but has generously deferred the trip to me. This will be my first time out of the country (except for trips to Canada, which, let's face it, is a cleaner, nicer, cooler version of what the US could be) and to say I am excited is an understatement. I'm flying overnight to Frankfurt and then catching a plane to Geneva. The tour will take place on Thursday and then we will transfer to the Alps for the ride/race on Friday. There will be multiple hotels, restaurants and probably a healthy amount of German beer, since we will be in the German portion of the country. I will post pics and commentary as I can.

Several of you have asked for my thoughts on this years Tour and I have been contemplating it since it ended on Sunday. I have a lot of faith that the sport is lurching towards a dope-free future, but there are going to be some definite rough spots between now and then. I think that the strong performance of Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia have gone a long way to restoring some people's faith in the sport, but the outpouring of love and devotion to Ricardo Ricco show that cycling still has a long way to go.

David Millar was criticized by some for statements he made about Ricco, saying that he was "too good to be true". I don't think that Millar went far enough. Watch those stages that Ricco won. When you see the top riders in the world obviously riding at their limit and you see a rider right in the middle of them barely breathing hard, you're seeing doping in action. What's worse is that Ricco was an arrogant little prick and now there are reports that he may have begun doping at the age of 15. 15! Having just seen a bunch of wide-eyed juniors overflowing with energy lining up for our local crit series, I can't help but think about what may await them if they head over to Europe to pursue "the dream"...

For me, cycling is the same beautiful sport that I fell in love with 20+ years ago. I still remember running in the house from outside to watch Paris-Roubaix on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The Phil Ligget pre-written soliloquies, the John Tesh soundtrack, the way John Dockery butchered the pronunciation of every french town that the peloton passed through. Though I would come to learn that the spectre of doping hung thick and low over the riders in those days, I still hold strong to the idea that my heroes were clean. I'll never forget seeing Andy Hampsten sitting silently, holding his head in his hands at the end of an alpine stage of the Tour; coming to the realization that he wouldn't win the race... again.

We have come to expect the riders to be superhuman. In some ways we have made them become subhuman. We applaud their strength and cruelly hammer them when they show weakness. I long for the fragile hero, the quicksilver flash of brilliance that comes when I man finds some untapped power within himself and pushes to a new realm of pain and suffering. I yearn to see a rider throw it all out on the table in some hellbent-for-leather, go for broke attack that will spell everlasting glory or doom, like Icarus in his dash to the sun. I want a rider with passion and ethics.

I firmly believe that Andy Hampsten left the guaranteed success of La Vie Claire for the complete roll of the dice of 7-Eleven because he knew that you didn't have to dope to win. He said at the time that he wanted to do things his way and I believe that way was clean. Hampsten embodies the ideal of the Grand Tour rider for me and I saw that again this year with Christian Vandevelde. Vdv's 5th place was a confirmation for me of how things should be. Next year, instead of the top 10, Christian will hopefully be aiming for the podium.
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