Olympic Gold: Men’s Road Cycling

Another race, another failure of strategy, another whine.  Bike racing is so interesting because it is a team sport, involving complex strategies both inter-team and intra-team.  The Olympic road race is always fascinating in that the teams are national teams, whereas the UCI racing calendar is based on the participation of “trade teams,” that is, commercially sponsored groups.  So Olympics make strange bedfellows, in which the pals of the Tour battles may be the foes on the Olympic road.

This year I was unable to follow the road race live, but the results and their attainment were ironic and unexpected.  First, Germany and Great Britain made an alliance to dominate the race and set up a sprint finish.  Germany and Britain? (“Don’t mention the War!  I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.”)  Neither of these nations put a man in the break, but they thought that by dominating the peloton, wearing out other riders, their strongest cyclists could control the finish, especially World Champion and the world’s best flat sprinter Mark Cavendish (Britain).

But the large breakaway group had other ideas.  The circuit took them over Box Hill a number of times (what would Emma Woodhouse have thought?), and the last time demonstrated that the Anglo-Saxon alliance had failed to achieve an hegemony.  New breakaway riders had invigorated the front group, and it was the peloton that was knackered, despite the forceful front-riding of Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome.  Though Fabian Cancelara crashed, Alexandr Vinokourov and Rigoberto Uran broke from the lead group to finish one-two.  The powerful American future star Taylor Phinney finished 4th, eight seconds back.

“Vino” was in some respects a disappointing winner, since he had served a two-year suspension for blood doping from 2007-2009.  However, he served his time, raced in last year’s Tour (where he was horribly injured in a crash while descending) and this year’s, and announced that he would retire after this Olympic event.  A little extra adrenalin there, ya think?  Now he can retire happy, and I’d even endorse Floyd Landis’ comments that people should be calling this a great victory for clean cycling, since Vino came back from disgrace and won clean.  Of course the eloquent ex-Mennonite also said that if Vino had said “f*** every mother******* one of you,” that would work too.  A tad bitter, are we, Floyd?  Why?

Cavendish criticized the “negative racing” of Australia.  Seems the 21st-century descendants of the former British penal colony did not have undying love for the present British team and refused to support their Cavendish-based objectives.  In fact Stuey O’Grady, the leading Aussie force, who finished fifth, called this race finish “the most incredible moment I’ve ever had in my life.”  It says volumes about the sport when a veteran racer who finished behind the medal winners can make that declaration.  As for Cavendish: Mark, Mark, Mark!  You’re the World Champion.  You’re the most feared sprinter in the world.  This situation goes with the territory.  Of course the first thing anybody racing against you is going to try to do is neutralize you.  Get over it.  Congratulate the victor, pick up your marbles, and move on.  Never forget that the ultimate racing rule is simple: first one across the finish line wins.  It’s your responsibility to do whatever it legally takes to get yourself there.

Cheers, Vino.  Hope life in Kazakhstan is good to you.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Advertisements

In the Pink

Several years ago I got a good deal on a couple of professional cycling jerseys, the GC  leader’s jersey and the points competition leader’s jersey for the Giro d’Italia.  Their design is very attractive, a sort of large, abstract image of a cyclist in various shades of the main jersey color.  They’re made by Santini, an outstanding cycling apparel manufacturer, with special layered moisture-shedding fabric and full-length zippers, easy to open and close and perfect for this brutal summer weather when a cyclist has to unzip pretty far sometimes to assure that the core stays cool.

The thing that I like about them is that their colors are unusual.  The points jersey is a dark raspberry/magenta, and the GC jersey is pink.  The pink color was determined just the way the maillot jaune was determined in the Tour: it’s the color of the pages in the sports section of the newspaper that first sponsored the Giro.  Although these two hues are not the American norm for masculine colors, one can hardly call the leaders’ jerseys of the second hardest stage race in the world symbols of wimpiness.

And these colors do have their advantages on the road.  For one thing, everybody notices them, and the whole purpose of bright-colored cycling clothes is to be noticed, especially by automobile drivers.  But women particularly notice them.  A couple of weeks back I was wearing the magenta one when a young female cyclist asked me at a stop sign “where did you get that jersey?  I’ve been looking one just that color.”  I explained and she replied that the problem is that most of the good jerseys are in men’s sizes and shapes only.  By this time we were rolling again, and we lamented the unavailability of the good kit for women for a bit before she took off at a faster cruising speed than mine.  Then today, in the pink one, I was rolling up the rise just outbound from Old Reston Avenue (“Old Reston”?  Gives the impression that this post-WWII planned community actually has a “tradition.”) when a woman cycling downhill in the opposite direction flashed a bright smile and said a cheerful “good morning” as she whizzed past.  This is not the usual notice I get from shapely women probably 1/3 my age.  I’m thinking she assumed that my pink jersey was pro-Komen, or at least pro-cancer-cure.  And I am the latter.  No time to explain to her about the Giro.  Nevertheless, if Giro jerseys can garner a sunny smile or a little conversation now and then, molto bene.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

The Old Racket

When AmVets came by last week, they got some good stuff from our house: old books, some clothes just right for slightly slimmer people than we, and a couple of old tennis rackets.  We got them out the door in a mad rush Monday night, because pickup, we were told, could be as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday.  Jane has been cleaning up, weeding out, reorganizing, all over the house.  Reality TV will never do a “hoarders” show here, despite our 650 classical LPs, full closets, and thousands of books.  (Note to younger readers: LPs were flat black plastic disks 12” in diameter, covered with grooves so tiny that when the light glanced off them right it was diffracted into rainbow colors.  The grooves played music when they were spun at exactly 33 1/3 r.p.m. on a “turntable” and a “stylus” was placed in them.  The sound was passed electronically to a “preamp” and then an “amplifier,” and finally to flattened cones, the “tweeter” and the “woofer,” that vibrated to create high and low pitches respectively.)

On Tuesday morning the truck hadn’t stopped by yet, and I went out to look at the stuff.  One of the tennis rackets was a T. A. Davis “Professional” model.  Made of laminated wood, the throat looked just as cool as ever with the light-dark pattern of the laminate, the “V” just below the face of the racket narrowing to the straight shank, which then broadened to the octagonal grip with its four wider faces and four narrower corners, the TDA anagram on the bottom.  In my hand, the familiar heft was comfortable and balanced, the tape just grippy enough without being sticky.  My left thumb fit snug along one of the corner edges.  I could still swing it back, cock it, and bring it straight down as if I were serving.  I could still get it in position to hit backhand and forehand.  I always used a one-handed grip to hit my ground strokes; the double-handed grip was unknown in those days.  That meant that I had to change my grip slightly to hit backhand strokes as opposed to forehand.  It still felt natural and automatic.

Davis Pro

T. A. Davis “Professional” circa 1970

This had been my racket in college and young adulthood.  It had witnessed a few rare triumphs on the courts, and lots of frustration, especially when I began to use it more and more sporadically.  Early on, I used it a lot, especially in the summers when I worked at a church retreat on Lake George, NY, and when I was in between grad school semesters.  Games became rarer and rarer: a few on the courts at NVCC, before they closed them for being “unsafe,” (Typical Virginia mentality: build them, but don’t maintain them because they’re a “frill,” then abandon them instead of making an effort to assure they’re used, and close them because somebody from the general public might get hurt on them.  Better not to have spent anything on them than to have spent just enough to assure that they would fail.), a few with my kids and friends at the Cunningham Park School courts, then nothing.

I had played lots of tennis as a teenager, both at summer camp and in high school.  My game was OK, but I was completely self-taught and somewhat inconsistent.  It seemed that my backhand and forehand were rarely “grooved” at the same time.  I remember my Dad gamely playing a few games with me on the clay courts of Camp Adahi, Union, Maine, when he and Mom came to visit.  He was essentially in summer street clothes, I was in a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers.  I also remember the way we sat waiting for a free court at camp, killing the mosquitoes as they landed on our arms, and burying each victim in the dirt with a tiny pebble for a marker.  We had long rows of victims sometimes.  As a high school player, I played both singles and doubles.  We practiced on courts about a mile from home, and I recall walking home one day with my forehead split open across one eyebrow from the force of a self-inflicted blow from an errant swing.  I also recall one of my doubles buddies questioning me at practice about a girl I had recently stopped dating, trying to find out if she “put out.”  How should I know?  Maybe that’s why she broke up with me.

But last Tuesday I put that racket down for the last time.  I don’t know what use it will be to AmVets.  Still in fine condition, good string job, but slightly archaic.  Its wood-framed face is about 12” long and slightly less than 9” wide.  Compare that with a modern racket.  You had to be accurate to hit the ball with its “sweet spot.”  I don’t think my body can hold up any longer to the rigors of the tennis court.  But if I ever should play again, I’d get a new racket so that I could just flail in the general direction of the ball, and trust that the huge racket head would make contact.  And I’d try to learn to hit a two-handed backhand.  But for now I’ll just get back on my bike.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Tour de France 2012: Angels and Demons

I found out, much to my surprise and pleasure, that my daughter-in-law Angela not only watches the Tour de France, but also reacts to its subtler nuances.  And though she’s coming to it from a different perspective from mine, I have found in our Facebook conversations that Angela and I have a lot in common as fans of the race.

Her comments have provided some gravitational force toward which my reflections have drifted as the race winds down.  Two tough days of mountain racing in the Pyrénées confirmed the earlier trends in the race rather than realigned them.  Last year’s winner Cadel Evans has been way off his 2011 form, sits in sixth place at 9:57 back, and is not even the best-placed rider on his own team.  Brad Wiggins has held the Yellow Jersey since Stage 7, and consolidated his lead in a mountaintop finish yesterday.  He should be even farther ahead after the Saturday time trial, unless his teammate in second place, Chris Froome, pulls out all the stops.  But as always there are a dozen “races” going on at any moment in the Tour, and here’s where the complexity, charm, and nuanced excitement of the race really comes out.  And as in every mass sporting event, there are the good and the bad, the angels and the demons.

Angela says that she likes the modest, humble, unassuming type of cyclist.  The first thing that crossed my mind is the famed quip by Leo Durocher, feisty manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s: “Nice guys finish last.”  He meant that winners are by nature aggressive, self-confident to the point of egoism, driven to excel.  What top cyclist is modest and unassuming?  Well, actually Brad Wiggins comes close.  After a bad behavioral beginning to the Tour, he has been a model of off-bike deportment and good manners on the road, waiting for Evans when he picked up a tack (or was it a brad?) and flatted on Stage 15, encouraging Froome to go ahead of him at the end of the climb yesterday, and saying that Froome is worthy of winning the Tour some day, even after Froome had done some rather petulant boasting about his own superiority.

Then there’s Tommy Voekler.  He’s a believer in the simple concept that in bike racing you try to cross the finish line first, not always the strategy applied to three-week races.  So Voekler cannily wins stage 10 out of a breakaway group, senses he has a chance to win not the GC race but the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey.  He’s so far behind Wiggins that the contenders for the yellow jersey won’t chase him, and he’s a darn tough, persistent rider who is the best I’ve ever seen at pulling out a little extra energy after he looks ready to be medivacked  from the finish line to the emergency ward.  So he goes on an epic escapade on Stage 16, garners lots of KoM points by being the first over the top on several climbs, and wraps up the Mountains title the next day.  Two stage wins and a Paris podium—not too shabby for a gutsy, game rider.  Everybody loves the faces Voekler pulls when he’s under pressure and flirting with the red zone: a veritable gallery of anguished grimaces, and unlike the mugging of former KoM Richard Virenque, these are just spontaneous expressions.  Angela thinks Tommy is too quick to swat off annoying spectators, but I think one needs to have ridden near one’s limit to appreciate how life-or-death everything seems in those moments, how intolerant of interference one gets.

I also like the “hard men” of the tour, tough as nails, guys like Jens Voigt, who can ride at the front for hours, just banging it out.  Jens was in one really good break in this Tour.  He’s 40 but seems 30, and is a very nice guy off the bike, apparently.  I’ve already praised his teammate Fabian Cancellara.  But another “hard man” emerged yesterday in Chris Anker Sörensen.  He reached down to get some newspaper out of his front wheel spokes and caught his fingers.  Pro cyclists use aerodynamic spokes, so each one was like a dull knife cutting his fingers at about 90 rpm.  His hand was bleeding so badly that his left side bar tape was bright red.  The TV commentator thought he had cut his leg too because so much blood was dripping onto it.  After the stage he had stitches, and he will need a skin graft.  But of course he rode today’s stage, and ended the day sitting in 14th place, about 18 minutes behind.  He wins the “put me back on my bike” award.

One of the other tour angels is the likeable, up-and-coming American Tejay Van Garderen, who is the higher-placed teammate of Evans and could be on a “contender” trajectory for this race.  Like Froome and a number of other young riders he’s pretty big, over 6 feet.  This seems to be a trend in the sport—even the big boys can climb.

Angela says that any rider who proves to have taken EPO or other PEDs is off her list forever.  This struck a deep chord with me as a fan, because I too have a strong “say it ain’t so, Joe” streak in me.  I want to believe in the heroic strength, skill, and will of athletes.  If I can’t, sport means that much less.  It’s kind of like the “great man” theory of history, I guess.  So Fränk Schleck is off her list now.  Yes, the same guy who complained that he couldn’t hold form long enough to do well in the TdF, into which he was thrust when his brother Andy broke his pelvis in June, the same guy who said he didn’t want to be the team leader of RadioShack because he would get blamed if he failed, that guy tested positive for a banned substance.  Today the B sample confirmed the result.  So he’s not just a runner-up, but a cheating runner-up, one of the devils of the Tour, a man who is willing to sully the reputation of his sport, his team, and himself in the highest-profile event of the year.  Now he will be blamed because he failed everybody.  He, of course, has proclaimed his innocence.  He’s currently trying to track down the mystery source of the drug he unknowingly ingested.  His quest is analogous to O. J. Simpson’s.  Well, Fränkie, you can’t say your friends from back home brought you contaminated steak, because Alberto used that one last year.

Angela says she doesn’t like personalities like Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan, presumably because they are not humble or modest.  She would have hated Robbie McEwan.  I know what she means, and I’m also annoyed by the boastful style in which they demolish their opponents.  I think it’s largely the huge adrenalin/endorphin/testosterone rush they have to muster to sprint like they do.  Three hundred meters of unbelievable intensity.  But these guys don’t do it with the elegant aplomb and even humor that Mario Cipollini had; it’s all snarling muscle-flexinging and fist-pumping.  Not that Cipo lacked the passion and power, but being Italian he seems to have been able to channel the old Renaissance ideal of sprezzatura, or “grace under pressure,” sometimes expressed as “never let them see you sweat.”  But did you see that Stage 18 finish today?  No denying it, Cavendish was sahweeeeet!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Mechanical Problem Solved

For the last several months, my Trek has been making a ticking noise.  It’s gotten louder and more persistent, rather like Captain Hook’s nemesis crocodile in Peter Pan.  It had become my nemisis too.  Any second I expected to hear the greeting “Hullo, zeeba neighba.”

The source of the sound was in the drive train; it was periodic with the revolution of my pedals, so I figured it must be the chain, the bottom bracket, or the pedals.  My pedals, being toe-clip style, are likely to make noise, because they have four screws holding the pedal platform onto the pedal axle, and two more holding the toe clip onto the pedal.  Especially the latter two tend to work loose, just from the various pressures and stresses of riding.  But when I hear them making noise, I tighten them up, because random noises irritate and worry me.  What if it’s something really serious—and every now and then it is.

This noise was so loud and so persistent, however, that I didn’t believe it could be from the pedals.  I tightened and the noise was still there.  I could even feel a physical jolt when it clicked on every single revolution.  People on the trail seemed to hear me approach.  And yet on the workstand I could not make the bike make the noise.

Finally last Sunday I did what needed to be done.  I removed the pedals from the Trek, and swapped them out for a pair from another bike.  Actually, it was a bit more complex than that, since each of my other two pertinent bikes had mismatched pedals, thanks to a minor emergency a while back that’s not worth explaining now.  Soon I had all three of the bikes on the ground, pedal-less.  (I am pretty meticulous about greasing the bolts when they go in the sockets, so a medium-firm pull on the pedal wrench is enough to dislodge them).

With the alternate pedals on, the Trek glided along in blessed noiselessness.  Needless to say I was relieved that the pedals were the problem, because a decent pair only sets you back about $30, while bottom brackets are expensive.  One forgets that after a few thousand miles the axles and especially the bearings on pedals are bound to be seriously worn.

Furthermore, this is a fix that even I can make.  I got to the local shop before it closed and picked up a new pair of pedals, as well as new toe clips and straps.  Partly for cosmetics, yes, but also Performance Bikes carries toe clips in two sizes, not the usual one-size-fits-all.  The larger Men’s 10+ size puts the ball of my foot on a much better spot on the pedal.  The “maiden voyage” of these pedals was this morning’s ride, and the smooth, quiet ride made the bike “feel” more solid and powerful.  Psychology counts for something.  By the time I was returning home my ears got used to the smaller, more nuanced musical, mechanical sounds of the drive train that had been masked:  The chain running over the gears, the chain being lifted onto the big chainring, the sprockets clicking through the derailleur, the . . . wait, what’s that funny little rattle the chain makes every so often?  Can’t be anything serious, but still . . . Hold on, Arn, let’s just enjoy the ride!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Tour Reflections

I haven’t been writing regularly about the Tour de France this season.  If you want the full, daily scoop with expert analysis see Matt Gilchrist’s Weblog on my Blogroll.  But I do have a few reflections as the Tour hits a couple of indolent days of more or less flat stage riding between the Alps and the Pyrénées.

First, I will now agree with Matt that Brad Wiggins is very likely to win the tour.  He has a 2:05 minute time gap over the second place rider, Chris Froome, who is another member of his own team.  His time over the third rider, Vincenzo Nibali, is 2:23.  Last year’s champion, Cadel Evans, is at 3:19.  Wiggins got through the Alps in good shape, and has an ally, not a rival, in Froome.  His team, Sky Procycling, has winning the Tour’s General Classification as its goal, and it’s the strongest team in terms of having members who are powerful riders, able to support the team leader effectively.

The fly in the ointment is that Wiggins is a pure time trialist.  He can (barely) keep up with the other top riders on the hardest mountain climbs.  But he masters rivals in the time trials.  Riders who can both dominate the time trials and climb to mountain stage victories win the Tour.  Americans Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong are two examples.  Some riders who do it Wiggins’ way have also been champions, notably Miguel Indurain, who won five straight Tours from 1991 through 1995.  Indurain, however, was a little stronger than Wiggins has so far shown in both the mountains and the race against the clock.  In fact, Wiggins has never won a Tour stage before this year, and his one victory this year was in the first long time trial.  There is one more, even longer, such stage on the next to last day of the Tour.

There are only two mountain stages next week during which Wiggins could conceivably lose two or three minutes to key rivals, and they’d need to get more like four or five to be able to hold him off in the time trial.  So the prospect seems unlikely.  It’s especially so when you look at the rivals.  Cadel Evans’ attack on Thursday, designed to gain him serious time against Wiggins, ended with him instead cracking and losing almost 1:30 to the yellow jersey.  He couldn’t sustain the attack, which he started early out of perceived necessity.  Wiggins’ Sky team simply rode hard and patiently to overtake Evans, whose own BMC team lacked the strength to organize and hold off Sky.  A couple more attacks like that and he’ll be out of the top ten.  Nibali, the next most likely challenger, also attacked, and looked like he might gain at least 30 or 40 seconds on the last climb, but again he could not sustain his advantage and ended up with the same time as Wiggins.  Wiggins, however, has shown enough vulnerability in the mountains for me to be convinced that if Alberto Contador and/or Andy Schleck were in the race and on form, Wiggins would be dead meat.

One way Wiggo could be dead meat this year would be if his teammate Chris Fromme were allowed to ride for himself instead of being a super domestique.  Yesterday with about 4 km to go on a steep uphill finish, Fromme, riding just ahead of Wiggins, put in a vicious attack to escort Wiggins forward.  That would have given him additional time over all his rivals.  None of the rivals could answer the attack, and soon Fromme had a big gap.  Trouble is, Wiggins could not answer it either.  But the team car, seeing the situation, immediately instructed Fromme to back off and wait for Wiggins.  The episode unintentionally revealed who had the biggest engine, and it was not the team leader.  This situation is reminiscent of other Tours, especially 1996 when Deutsche Telecom leader Bjarne Riis seemed less powerful than youngster Jan Ullrich, who rode in his support and finished second in the Tour overall.  Also there was 1990, when Banesto’s team leader was Pedro Delgado.  Riding in his support was the young Miguel Indurain, who had to hold back at some key points to escort his team leader.  Greg Lemond won this Tour, but the thinking is that Idurain might have challenged him if he had been riding on his own.  A similar issue may be brewing this year on BMC, with the failing Cadel Evans as team leader, and the rising young American Tejay Van Garderen as the stronger support rider.

If Wiggins does become the 2012 Tour de France winner, he’d better learn to behave like a champion.  So far his demeanor with the media and his fellow riders has been that of a crude, arrogant lout.  He has used foul language, walked out of press conferences, gestured rudely to rivals at the end of stages, and generally created an unprecedentedly vulgar tone at the Tour.  This race has a century-old tradition of collegiality and respect.  Riders don’t attack one another during on-cycle bathroom breaks, they don’t take advantage of mechanical failures or accidents by chief rivals, they do not use foul language in interviews.  When these codes are broken, it is cause for comment.  So far Wiggins has dishonored the Yellow Jersey with his behavior.

RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, who lost their team leader Andy Schleck to a broken pelvis before the race began, has the majority of their team (5 of 9) in the top 20 riders right now.  Problem is, they are a torso without a head.  None of the five is a legitimate contender for the GC victory, so while they may win the Team Championship, they won’t have a rider on the podium in all likelihood.  Andy’s brother Frank, also on the team, announced that he didn’t want to replace his brother as team leader, lest he be blamed if he did not win.  The heart of a runner-up.  RadioShack Directeur Sportif Johan Bruyneel is not with the team because of the announced doping investigation by the USADA.  And the team’s best participating rider, and wearer of the Yellow Jersey for the first seven stages of the race, Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara, left the race yesterday to be with his wife as she delivered their second child.  A “hard man” as a bike rider, and an honorable human being.  What a mixed bag of successes, disappointments, and downright sourness this team has produced this year.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

The Lance Factor VII:  Whistle-Blowers or Stoolies?

The last time I wrote about Lance Armstrong and his impact on bike racing (6/1/2011), I was contemplating charges made in public (by some) and before a grand jury (by others) by former members of Lance’s professional cycling teams.  They all attested to the presence of performance-enhancing drug use on those teams, and of Lance using his powerful influence to quash suspicious test results.  Since then the federal investigation of Lance has concluded without any charges being issued.  Most observers thought that the entire investigation was a waste of taxpayer money.  The prevailing sentiment was that the era between 1992 and 2007, when many individual riders and teams were apparently using drugs, should not be revived for further scrutiny, because now a new ethos and testing process are in use.

But the USADA (United States Anti-Drug Agency) has opened its own investigation of the matter, using some of the federal evidence.  The problem is that the USADA has neither the power nor the responsibility under law that the federal government does.  It cannot send Armstrong to prison.  Yet it can strip him of all his titles, even those not won under USADA jurisdiction, and essentially destroy his reputation and obscure the significance of his achievements.  And it does not have to follow the same protocols of due process or validity of evidence that the federal court system must.  Lance ironically, in some ways, is more vulnerable and less able to defend himself than he would be in a federal court.  And thus it is not surprising that his lawyers have sought to make this a legal issue by moving it to the federal courtroom.  They are suing the USADA, challenging the legitimacy of its methods and procedures, and seeking a restraining order against the proceedings against Armstrong.  This could drag on longer than the Contador matter.

Just as the Tour began this year, a European newspaper leaked the names of some of those associates of Lance who had given Grand Jury testimony against him.  The fact that these things always arise right as the Tour is ready to start shows how the media seek topics that are “timely” in a way that emphasizes publicity rather than social justice, and also shows how interest groups, knowing that about the media, use the instincts of the media to advance their own causes.

The five named associates are riders Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, and Christian Vande Velde, and ex-rider and present Garmin Directeur Sportif Jonathan Vaughters.  The latter has been an outspoken anti-drug figure in cycling for several years; the others have kept a low profile about the issue, to the best of my knowledge.  None has ever tested positive for drugs.  Yet all of them admitted to using drugs, and all the riders apparently will be getting six-month suspensions, conveniently beginning on September 1, by which time the season is winding down, in exchange for their testimony.

Are these guys honorable whistle-blowers, taking a stand for clean sports, or detestable rat-fink stoolies?  I go with the latter.  They all go back well over a decade with Lance.  Hincapie rode on Lance’s team for every one of his seven Tour victories.  Over the years each of them has benefited from his association with Lance, both professionally and financially.  Hincapie, for instance, has a line of cycling clothing that he supplies to certain first-line cycling teams.  He wouldn’t have had the reputation and credibility to make that business succeed simply by winning Ghent-Wevelgem and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne once each.  He made his name riding on the front of the U. S. Postal train in the Tour de France, setting an infernal pace to weaken Lance’s opposition.

When the Feds came and said to Hincapie, and to the others, “we have evidence of drugging in U. S. Postal, and we know you were involved.  But we’re really after Lance Armstrong and (coach) Johan Bruyneel, so tell us what you know and we’ll give you only a minor suspension,” they moved to save their own skins.  Whistle-blowers observe corruption, are not involved in it, and come forward of their own volition.  The morality of their motives is evident.  At best, the morality of this group is ambiguous.  If, and it’s a big “if,” their testimony provides a “smoking gun,” they will have done their bit for drug-free sporting.  But they also have shown themselves to have been uninterested in doing so until threatened with their own punishment.  Having profited for years from being associated with Armstrong’s successes, under pressure they reveal themselves as moral cowards.

When the news broke last week Hincapie at least commented that he felt sorry that Lance that had to go through this, and that Lance had achieved amazing things and done much good for his sport.  Leipheimer, Zabriskie, and Vaughters all said in effect that they were busy with the Tour and had nothing to say.  Vande Velde was too far down the General Classification to be reached.

TdF 2012 First Rest Day Stoolie placings:

19  Leipheimer  8:34
49  Hincapie  25:25
81 Vande Velde  36:16
116  Zabriskie  44:12

21 (out of 22)  Garmim-Sharp (DS Vaughters)  1:25:42

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.