… Or, A Tale of St. Gregory the Pious Cyclist
(With apologies to anyone fluent in Italian. The headline was translated into Italian through Google’s language tools.)
It takes a certain quirk of personality — a particularly sick one — to take pleasure in others’ pain. And yet, that’s exactly what a certain St. Greg seems to be doing, when talking about the current state that his “beloved” sport of cycling is in. An article in today’s San Jose Mercury News quotes the patron saint of the road bike as saying,
“I’m very excited about this year’s drug scandals,” Greg LeMond said this week by phone from his home in Minnesota. “It’s what was needed to happen to bring the sport to its knees.”
Cycling is on its knees, begging for credibility, because of an unending stream of doping scandals. LeMond, the original American champion, has become a voice for honesty in his beloved sport. LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France – he won three times – is scheduled to speak Sunday night at Santa Clara University on ethics in cycling. The event is unrelated to the Tour of California, which begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with a prologue in Palo Alto.
“Cycling is falling apart at the seams,” LeMond said. “It could take years to revive. I think it can, but only through drastic changes.”
I take no pleasure in the fact that cycling has been so under attack over the last few years. Many people are responsible for the state that the sport is in, including cyclists, team management, some of the promoters, the governing bodies and others both inside and outside the cycling establishment. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Even if this is what needed to happen in order for the sport to come clean, it is nothing to take pleasure in. Far from it. The current turmoils hurt real people. Some of them guilty, and some who are collateral damage. And some of the current turmoil is happening for reasons far removed from what the general public is led to believe.
No doubt, doping exists. And here’s a newsflash: It has been a part of professional cycling from the beginning. At least, performance enhancement has. The idea that some of it was cheating is newer than the idea of using whatever techniques one can find — short of killing oneself — in the eternal quest for better, stronger, faster athletic feats of derring-do.
For some, the sport is falling apart at the seams. Especially for those who aren’t willing to look further than a poorly-written, poorly fact-checked article. There is also much happening at the moment that points to a better future, no thanks to people like the subject of this story.
It’s easy to criticize and point fingers and say, “Oh, look over there. So-and-so is corrupt.” It’s much tougher to actually find solutions to the problems. Or even attempt to find solutions to the problems confronting the sport. And yet, people like Dr. Paul Strauss and Paul Scott, in founding the Agency for Cycling Ethics decided to do something positive. And a bit more than a year after they founded ACE, we have Slipstream/Chipotle and Team High Road (formerly T-Mobile), two high-profile teams, using their services as part of a comprehensive program to discourage doping.
And over in Europe, there’s Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, who’s doing the same thing for Team CSC and Team Astana. These are people whose efforts may actually improve the lot of cycling over the years to come. Did it take the current troubles to spur these folks to action? Perhaps. The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” didn’t just come from nowhere.
Just this week, the Tour de France announced it was banning Astana – the new team of last year’s winner Alberto Contador and reigning Tour de California champion Levi Leipheimmer – from the 2008 race because of past doping involvement.
“I’m optimistic and surprised,” LeMond said. “The line is being drawn. People who aren’t for change aren’t welcome in the sport.”
ASO’s public reason for not inviting Astana has to do with the behavior of former members of the team, not anything that Contador, Leipheimer or the team’s manager Johan Bruyneel did. (Although, Contador’s name has been connected to cycling’s current albatross of a doping investigation, also known as Operacion Puerto. But the evidence against young Contador is pretty scant — unless someone is holding something back.)
What the ASO seem to be saying is, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” And to go a bit further (quoting The Who), they’re saying they “won’t get fooled again.”
It seems a bit odd to be punishing the current team and current management for actions of the previous administration. But it’s the ASO’s party, they can invite whomever they want. Just don’t expect me to be watching this year, Mr. Big Money advertiser. You’ll find me spending time watching Superweek, rather than the Tour. Heck, I might even take part in some of the master’s races … if I get into good enough shape.
Right. Well, we’ve veered a bit away from San Gregorio, haven’t we? So St. Greg is, at least the way the article presents it, casting aspersions on both Contador and Leipheimer, by suggesting that they are dopers who aren’t for changing the sport. Does he have any direct evidence for this? Their previous employer was a team with a pretty spotless record when it comes to anti-doping results. Unless, that is, you happen to believe Johan Bruyneel is a mad genius who’s just brilliant enough to have successfully avoided getting caught over the last eight or ten years.
Or is it just a poorly written article, tying two unrelated items together? That’s always a possibility, too. In the paragraph that follows the second quote, the writer promoted Will Geoghegan to Floyd’s lawyer. Will G may be many things, but the last time I checked, he wasn’t a lawyer. He was, however, Floyd’s business manager before the infamous phone call last May. That’s a far cry from being a lawyer. And the way the call was described at the hearing sounded more like a horrible prank gone horribly wrong than a real attempt at blackmail.
That whole event was terrible. And it shouldn’t have happened. Not much more can really be said about it. But when I read this:
“It was the meanest, cruelest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” said LeMond, 46.
A part of me wondered: Really? Worse than the abuse you suffered as a kid? Wow. As awful a thing as what Will did, I would think what happened to LeMond as a child was much meaner and crueler. That stuff appears to have scarred him for life. I hope, for St. Greg’s sake, that some day he’ll be able to put the whole incident in May behind him, and maybe even find a way to forgive Will.
Of course, we’re served up a heaping helping of the whole Armstrong-LeMond feud. Are the these two going to become the Hatfields and McCoys of the American cycling world? Inquiring minds want to know.
As the writer notes:
Armstrong’s defenders will say that he never failed a drug test. And it’s true that Armstrong made a clean getaway from the sport, despite the endless allegations against him.
But it is also true that the sport was rife with performance-enhancing drugs during Armstrong’s era.
Was rife during Armstrong’s era? Lady, I’ve got news for you. Cycling has always had an element of doping. It was just as rife with doping during the era of Lance as it was during the vaunted heyday of our patron saint of the big chain ring. There were cyclists doped to the gills back in St. Greg’s day, too. Even some using EPO, dare I say. In fact, over a period of several years in the late 80s to early 90s, somewhere around 20 otherwise healthy professional cyclists died mysterious deaths, which quite a few people believe were linked to EPO abuse.
LeMond knows firsthand how cheaters tip the scales in a race. The end of LeMond’s career coincided with the proliferation of the blood-boosting drug EPO among cyclists. After winning the Tour in 1986, and again in 1989 and 1990 – after a remarkable recovery from gunshot wounds in a hunting accident – LeMond found himself left behind. In LeMond’s era drug testing was so new if cyclists wanted to cheat they probably could get away with it.
According to LeMond, the use of EPO exploded in 1991 and he could never keep up with the peloton, ultimately causing himself permanent damage by overtraining.
This is one of my favorite all-time LeMond canards. Couldn’t keep up because of the EPO? Damaged himself by overtraining? Yeah, right. Guess something slipped his mind. Like his story in the mid-90s (covered in this post) about retiring because he was suffering from mitochondrial myopathy.
Something doesn’t add up between those two stories. LeMond was all over the papers (including this Sam Abt story from the New York Times in December 1994), explaining how his muscles just couldn’t work that hard anymore. It fit what happened during his last few seasons to a “T”. But it seems that in the ensuing 14 years, the memory has become a little more selective. So I guess that leaves us with the EPO being his current excuse for retiring. Doesn’t exactly add to his aura of credibility, though, does it?
By casting doubt on Armstrong, LeMond has been flattened by the speeding peloton of dopers. He found himself vilified, not only by Armstrong and his legion of supporters – fans approached me atop Alpe d’Huez during the 2004 Tour to express their hatred for the first American cycling legend – but also by the corporate structure that was cashing in on Armstrong-mania.
Or, perhaps he’s ruined his own reputation by speaking out on things when he didn’t really have a dog in the fight? It’s always wise to know when to pick your battles. Even back in his heyday, some thought of St. Greg as a whiner. I wasn’t among them. Then. But over the years, he’s really done a great deal to discredit himself.
Does LeMond care about the sport? I think so, after a fashion. But sometimes, St. Greg the Pious Cyclist has a funny way of showing it. Taking pleasure in the current troubles strikes me as odd. But perhaps that’s just me.
I often wonder whether the old coot is vying for a seat at the anti-doping table. Perhaps with ambitions of being the next Richard “Dick” Pound. I think I’ve heard something that would sum up such a possibility, and it goes like this:
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss…