Monday, July 22, 2013

The Eternal Asterisk

"Everybody cheats. I just didn't know."  (Dave Stohler, Breaking Away)
The big bike race in France just ended. Yippee. And, like a big Texas deus ex machina, Lance Armstrong happened to start his trek (pun not intended, but I'll take it) across Iowa with RAGBRAI on the same day. 

I was home on the day that the racers went over Mount Ventoux, and -- gripped by a morbid curiosity -- decided to watch.  

I can't lie. It was kind of exciting. Big guy in the yellow jersey somehow digs deep, finds another gear, and motors away from his rivals like they're hardly moving. And then I thought, "Huh... why does this seem so familiar?"

And that, dear reader, is the Lance Legacy. Namely, fans (or even nonplussed observers) of professional cycling don't know what they're watching any more. Is any of it real? How long until the B-sample comes back to negate that drama on Ventoux? When will we learn that it was really just a test of who had the better pharmacist? Next week? A month? Ten years?

For the record: I'm not saying Chris Froome is dirty. I don't know that. And that's the shame in all of this: Maybe that effort on Ventoux was the real deal, just an athlete triumphing because he trained harder, had the better team, and had the strongest legs. But even if he did it all himself, all guts and no needles, the recent shame of the sport will mark his accomplishment -- and the accomplishment of all future winners -- with an asterisk. We'll always be holding our breath, waiting for the next scandal to break. The three weeks of excitement that used to be the entirety of the Tour have become a meaningless prologue. The real winners and losers are determined in a lab, long after the lanterne rouge crosses the finish line in Paris.

The only thing we can know for sure is that we, the fans, lost.


Pondero said...

Yeah. I used to love to follow pro cycling. I want to do it again, but I'm afraid to come back.

Anonymous said...

Why do I have echos of "I'm shocked to learn that there is gambling in Casablanca!"

Yeah... no one ever doped before Lance, and Breaking Away was filmed in 2005.

In my opinion, Lance isn't bad because he doped; he's bad because he abused everyone else around him.

I do hope the UCI really is cleaning things up, and cleaning up their administrative messes too. As for Chris Froome, I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I did enjoy watching quite a bit of the Tour.

Steve in Peoria