Looking back on years as fans of professional cycling, we can see that we were very fortunate. We got on the inside a bit. We met famous people. We saw big, famous races and racers close up. We got to know Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen well, the faces and voices of professional cycling. We had our favorites. We shared the agony and the joy. We traveled to Europe to see the races. We stood beside the roads, we bought the magazines and newspapers, we bought the videos. I idolized Greg Lemond and fantasized about riding with him. I didn't have to fantasize about riding with the likes of Davis Phinney, Marty Jemison, and Connie Carpenter - I did ride with them. We were really, really big fans of professional bicycle racing. So what happened?
Somewhere along the way, I am not even sure exactly when, stories began to surface that certain riders were not racing honestly - clean. Sure, there had been stories of drug use in racing for years - things like amphetimines, for example. But in 1998 during the Tour de France it became evident that things were worse than we thought and that EPO (erythropoietin) was likely the drug most responsible for drug-induced changes that were happening in racing. Sure, there were other drugs, but EPO was the one I think in retrospect changed cycling the most and gave the greatest advantage to its users.
Looking back on it now, it appears to me that EPO made it possible for races like the Tour de France to be dominated by one racer and by one team, for riders who had been average to become brilliant, for riders who had never been climbers to become like eagles. And so on.
So, as fans we were duped. Am I angry? Not really. Do I blame anyone? Not really. Do I trust anyone who was or is involved in professional cycle racing? Of course not. I don't care who, and I don't care how many claims there are about racing clean, or accusations there are about racing dirty, I don't trust anyone in professional cycle racing now, nor do I trust anyone from racing's past.
I have been watching the videos from World Cycling Productions of Lance's Tour victories again, knowing what I now know after his confession to being on drugs. During those years I was a fan and I wanted so very much to bellieve he was clean. In fact, I kept repeating one of his claims about his being drug-free, specifically, why would anyone who had gone through what he had gone through with the cancer treatment be dumb enough to take drugs to win a bike race?
Well, now we know he did and I am left wondering why. But it doesn't take long to answer the question of why - money and power. In fact look anywhere in life where business is being conducted (or in politics) and you will see that to really understand what is happening you need to follow the money and the lust for power (in the case of bicycle racing, power is not only about real power but also about fame and celebrity, and the control of access to those). So, he did it for the money, for the fame, for the status as a celebrity, and for the power over others.
Does that make it any better in my eyes? No. I understand it but don't condone it. I ask again, do I blame anyone? Well, not really. I mean, I was the customer and went into this being a fan thing as an adult with my eyes wide open. I had the opportunity to suspect Lance and his team just like we suspected other riders that seemed to have gained an unfair advantage. Look at Bjarne Riis, for example. Here was an average team rider who of a sudden came to dominate the Tour one year, and then couldn't repeat. I ascribed that to EPO. Why did I not ascribe Lance's rise to dominance to the same thing? I didn't want to. I wanted his story to be the story of a hero.
The only small blame I place is on the journalists who failed to challenge the Lance is a hero story. There are many, but for me this little bit of blame falls mostly on Phil, Paul, and Bob Roll. Especially Paul and Bob. They had ridden the Tour de France and they knew how hard it was. They should have known, and maybe they did, that when Lance absolutely slaughtered the field day after day in the mountains, without so much as breathing hard, this was not a feat that was possible without some kind of help from outside. But, they hung in there, slathering on all the superlatives and hyperbole they could think of and falling over themselves to be in Lance's favor.
Money and power.
So, as a final note, how has all this impacted us as racing fans? Well, I think it's fair to say we are no longer fans of professional bicycle racing. I can't even figure out what would be needed for us to become fans again and to trust those involved in the sport and in sport journalism. But, that doesn't change at all the fact that we remain very much fans of the races themselves, of the climbs, the iconic stages, the cobbles and hills of Flanders, the suffering, the old blue collar side of the sport. We will be back to Europe to ride the courses, even if we decline the chance to watch the racers do it.
And finally, our latest contact with professional cycling came in the Spring of 2011 when we stumbled across a stage start in the Tour of Turkey, while in Turkey on a cycling tour with Tour TK.
Spring Classics 2006
In 2006 my then son-in-law and I went to the Spring Classics, my third trip and his first. Tim Grady at World Cycling Productions was no longer taking tourists along, so we had to find another tour company - we didn't care to try it on our own, mostly because of traveling fairly long distances between the races. We chose Marty Jemison Cycle Tours. Chris and I had met Jill Jemison back in 1997 in Compiegne, at the start of Paris-Roubaix, and we liked her a lot, so we decided to go with their tour company. This turned out to be a very good decision. Marty ran an excellent tour. He chose great hotels in good locations and he had really good rides mapped out. Even though we were there for the first week of Spring Classics, we spent time riding in the Ardennes, including riding up La Redoute.
For Tour of Flanders, we hung out at the start and then rode some of the course before finding a spot to watch the race go by. I think we rode 4 or 5 of the climbs. Then after the race we drove the rest of the course.
For Ghent Wevelgem we got a hotel room in the hotel at the top of the Kemmelberg. We were set up with snacks and drinks and a TV set. When the race came by we ran outside to watch.
For Paris-Roubaix we stayed in a hotel in the Compiegne Forest and then on race day stopped at a few good spots to watch, including a picnic lunch at one of them. Prior to the race we had ridden a couple of the cobbled sections, including Arenberg, and we got to chat with Graham Watson who was at the Arenberg doing some pre race photos. For the finish of the race we were in the grandstands at the velodrome, and I have to say I liked this better than being in the infield since we were up higher and could see better. This turned out to be one of my favorite cycle trips to Europe. Kudos Marty and staff!
Tour of Flanders 2006.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2006, atop the Kemmelberg.
Visit with the Sherwen family in England in the summer of 1998.
The guys wait patiently while Mark fixes another flat. Well, they're waiting anyway! Belgium, 1997.
Press room near finish line of Tour of Flanders, 1997.
Entrance to the pave, Forest of Arenberg, 1997.
George Hincapie at the start of Tour of Flanders, 1997.
Frankie Andreu at the start of Tour of Flanders, 1997.
Everything about this photo speaks for itself. Later that day we climbed to Cauterets.
The Mapei Boys enter the velodrome in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Paris Roubaix, 1996.
Tour de France 1996
Our experience at the 1995 Tour had given us just a taste of the excitement of seeing our favorite riders up close, so we signed up in 1996 for an organized tour for race viewing in France. The tour company we used was Velo Vacations, and they were very good. (www.velovacations.com) We spent a couple of weeks riding on our own in the Dordogne and then joined the tour group in Pau. Our race watching began in the Pyrenees and ended in Paris. We took in 2 mountain stages, a road stage, a time trial, and the finish on the Champs. One of the highlights for us was sharing a little picnic time with Phil, Pat, and Paul in the press area on the Champs prior to the race arrival. We had our Tandem TwosDay by Bike Friday and did very well on the climbs. We rode the Col du Tourmalet, up to Cauterets, Hautcam, and then in Paris, not to mention some rides in the Bordeaux area. Lance didn't finish that race - little did we know that he was no doubt already growing the tumor that would be discovered that fall. Bjarne Riis beat our man Indurain and Jan Ulrich scorched the final time trial. The organizers at Velo Vacations and the folks they chose for the tour made this one of our most memorable trips ever. We very much enjoyed the ride up Hautcam on race day - being cheered on literally by thousands of spectators on the climb.
The Motorola Boys in the Forest of Arenberg, Paris Roubaix, 1996.
Riding with Tim Grady and Pat Liggett near Bruges, Belgium, 1996.
Spring Classics 1996
My friend, Greg Dufault, and I spent a week in Belgium and France in April 1996 to see the Tour of Flanders, Ghent Wevelgem, and Paris Roubaix. We signed on with a group organized by Tim Grady, owner of World Cycling Productions. At that time I think it was called Famous Cycling Videos. Anyway, Tim's idea was to have a small group tag along with him for his filming of the Spring Classics, mingling with and getting to know the guys who helped on his videos. It ended up being even more intimate than Tim hoped for, I think. We had Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and Graham Watson pretty much all to ourselves for the week. We rode together, we took meals together, we sat and talked for hours about racing. Phil's wife, Pat was with us, as were Joe the cameraman, Sylvia a driver, and Eddy DeGroot, a soigneur for the Motorola team that also signed on as a driver, but who turned out to be a true font of knowledge about the racing scene. We had press passes so we got behind the scenes and in amongst the riders. This will be remembered by me as one of my favorite race viewing trips.
It's not really possible these days to avoid hearing or reading news of the troubles that professional bicycle racing has with performance enhancing drugs. This is called to mind for me since I just finished reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell. No doubt fans of professional racing mostly have their own opinions; I certainly have mine. More to the point, I've been spending time reflecting on why I have the opinions and feelings I do, based on my own history as a fan.
For me, thoughts and opinions regarding doping in professional cycling have been on the basis of plausible explanations, and still are, to a significant extent. Just as examples: 1) When Greg Lemond started to fade as a contender in the Tour de France, the plausible explanation was that he was suffering from chronic lead poisoning, based on lead shot still in his body from a hunting accident (the official plausible explanation I think had to do with some sort of mitochondrial abnormality in his muscles, but I figured it was lead poisoning). What did not come up at that time, but is now my favored plausible explanation, is that Lemond did not do EPO, so was left behind, so to speak, by the pro peloton. 2) When Miguel Indurain was taking the European 3-week stage races by storm, the plausible explanation at the time was that he was superior physically (lung capacity mostly) to other racers. The possibility that he was enhanced chemically was not brought up and maybe still hasn't been for Indurain, I don't know. I do know that I was a huge fan of his and now wonder if there is an alternate plausible explanation. 3) When Bjarne Riis, Jan Ulrich, and Marco Pantani were winning the grand tours, the plausible explanation had to do with weight control and training. Now we know the real plausible explanation had more to do with chemistry. 4) When Lance first started winning the Tour de France in 1999 the plausible explanation was that he had lost 20 pounds during his cancer treatment and that he approached race preparation with a thorough, scientific approach. Both were true, but we now know that, once again, chemistry figures prominently in the real plausible explanation for his dominance.
And so it goes, on and on, as we think through the successful racers of the 1990's and 2000's. It would now appear that winning races required a multi-faceted approach to preparation and pharmaceuticals and blood transfusions were an important part of that. Are they still? I wonder, but I don't know.
Why is this important to me? To us at Tandem Diversity? Well, it is very important for the very simple reason that we have been avid fans of bicycle racing and racers for many years, and we have spent many thousands of dollars over the years pursuing the lifestyle of bicycle racing fans.
I'd like to share with you a very brief overview of our lives as cycle racing fans, and then we can revisit together the question of why the doping issue is important to us, if it really is.
We learned about professional bicycle racing and became fans in the early 1980's. A friend in Portland, Greg Artis, was an amateur racer and introduced us to the world of racing including local amateur races, the Olympics (he worked for the team doc in the 1980 Olympics, the ones the US boycotted), and professional races which at that time were mostly in Europe. Right away we became interested in the Tour de France, though it was difficult to follow since there was very little coverage in the US. How grand it was when Greg Lemond won the Tour in 1986 and again in 1989 and 1990! How fascinating it was when Miguel Indurain began to dominate the race in the early 90's!
1995 Tour de France:
Chris and I began our "career" attending races more or less accidentally. We were in France in July, 1995 for our first self-contained, self-supported tandem tour on our Tandem TwosDay by Bike Friday. We were spending a few days in Paris prior to touring in the Loire Valley and discovered that we happened to be in Paris the day the 1995 Tour finished on the Champs Elysees; our hotel was just a block off the Champs. So, naturally, being fans, we rose early on the Sunday, checked out the Tour bling vendors, and secured ourselves a place at the rail to watch the race. We staked out our spot at 11:30 AM for a 4:30 PM Tour arrival and had an excellent day visiting with all the other fans coming to town to see the race. It was thrilling to see the race go by us so close we could reach out and touch the riders if we wanted - to see our heroes in the flesh. It was even better when they took their victory laps and we could see them go by more slowly. We were hooked!
Remembering and Reflecting
With Andy in Tuscany, 1998.
We also met Greg Lemond once, though not long enough to get to know him - just for a photo op. He had come to Washington State for a fund raising ride we were on, and we were fortunate enough to have a photo with him and to say a few words.
With Greg in Wenatchee, Washington, 2006.
We were fans of Lance, as evidenced by these two posters we used to have up in our shop.
We had a chance to get to know Andy Hampsten and his then wife, Linda. In the Fall of 1998 we toured in Tuscany with Santana Cycles; Andy and Linda had helped to organize that tour and rode with us.
With Connie Carpenter near Beaver Creek, Colorado, 1994.
Carpenter-Phinney Cycling Camps, 1994 and 1997
Along with riding buddies from Portland, I had the privilege of attending two of the cycle training camps put on by Davis Phinney and his wife, Connie Carpenter. The first of these was in the Colorado Rockies, and the second was at Sun River in Oregon. For the latter, I was able to work with Connie and Andy Pruitt to put on an exercise science symposium that ran along with the training camp. Given how successful Davis was as a racer, and Connie as well, I was floored by how humble and kind they are. Not only did I learn a lot about riding technique, but I also learned to know these two wonderful people well on a personal level. This was a true direct insight into the world of professional racing via two of the sport's finest people (and their crew).
Davis and the guys at Beaver Creek, Colorado, Carpenter/Phinney Camp 1994.
Cancellara enters the velodrome just prior to crossing the line as the winner of Paris-Roubaix 2006.
Marty with the guys in Compiegne the day before Paris-Roubaix 2006. Marty is wearing his US Pro Championship jersey.
Spring Classics 1997
Chris and I took our TwosDay Tandem to Belgium in the Spring of 1997, again with World Cycling Productions. This time there were only 4 of us tourists in the group, so we had excellent access to races and racers, as well as Phil, Paul, Pat, and Graham Watson. Sylvia drove again, and Joe the Cameraman was there again. We did quite a lot of riding with that group. The weather for the Tour of Flanders was much warmer than the year before, and Paris Roubaix was dry and sunny. We rode part of the Ghent-Wevelgem route with Pat Liggett, and with Pat we also rode some of the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix route. We had Schwalbe tires and they were not very good; I hope their tires are better now than they were in those days. Phil Liggett got pretty frustrated with us when we held the ride up a couple of times with flats.
The Tour of Flanders race viewing was great, as was Paris-Roubaix. It was nerve racking when we drove the race course for Paris-Roubaix. Sometimes the crowds were so thick we had trouble staying ahead of the race.
In Roubaix we once again watched the finish from the infield of the velodrome. We hung out with the likes of Fred Moncassin's wife and chatted with folks while we waited for the riders to arrive. The trouble with being in the infield is we were not up high to really see the finish line well. I thought Max Sciandri won , but turns out it was Frederic Guesdon.
We went back to the Tractor Restaurant again for dinner the last night. All in all it was a great time. We got to know Paul Sherwen very well and we ended up with quite a bit of respect for the man. In fact, when we went on a family trip to England and Wales the following summer in 1998, we stopped in at the Sherwen's and had lunch with Paul, Katherine, and their new baby Alexander.
Picnic at the finish in Paris, Tour de France 1996.
The race rushes past. Tour de France 1996.
Riding the Champs Elysees on the morning of the race finish in Paris.
Photo op mit der Teufel. Hautcam. Tour de France, 1996.
Bjarne Riis warms up for the Bordeaux time trial. Tour de France, 1996.
The man himself signs a photo and a jersey (now framed in my shop!)
Lance at the sign in, Tour of Flanders, 1996.
Graham Watson joins us, Ghent, Belgium, 1996.
Riding with Paul Sherwen, Monts des Cats, 1996.
Out for a ride with the Liggetts near Ghent, Belgium, 1996.
The Banesto boys take a victory lap.
Big Mig goes by on the Champs.
Race viewing on the Champs Elysees.