Why ride?

At 3.20pm on Saturday 13 October 2012, I posted a quick summary of how I felt. It had been a horrible day of weather in Sydney on Friday. But we woke early the next day and it was perfect outside. The Arnold Boys, father and his two sons, rode out of the garage door at 6.55am and returned at 11.55. There were stops along the way on the “Bread Shop Ride” – what my two-year-old begs for every morning, hoping that each day is the weekend. My seven-year-old is on his own bike and we make our way around a loop that takes in much of the harbour foreshore, largely based around the Anzac Bridge which, apparently, “we’ve ridden, like, at least 300 times”. So I’m told by my eldest.

We get to ride right near iconic structures: over Anzac Bridge, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, around the front of the Sydney Opera House, and a walk (for it’s obligatory) through the Botanic Gardens, past Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, through Woolloomooloo, up the Bourke Street cycle path through Surry Hills and home again.

That was today’s menu. Tomorrow it’ll be different. We know the city well: where to ride and when to make it enjoyable. If you have to get up early and adjust your breakfast schedule in order to be out before traffic really kicks in, then no problem. We’ll manage. Get going, follow a safe route, get what you need out of the day while turning the legs over and seeing the world for free. This is “our time”. The hours of the bike are bliss. We talk, we move, we see things, we go places. We ride. And we love it.

It’s not complicated and that’s what makes it beautiful.

And that brings me to how I felt later that day. At one of our stops, I saw the front page of a newspaper and it featured an item by a friend of mine and a contributor to RIDE in the past.

“Cycling boss in drugs inquiry.” So said the headline of the Sydney Morning Herald.

There was more in the sports pages. I didn’t get to them. I finished my coffee and went riding instead.

But before setting off, I posted a note on Facebook – not wanting to go against what the article offered, rather querying the manner in which the media is responding to the ruling by USADA, and its explanation of the end of the Armstrong Myth.

 

The headline says: “Cycling boss in drugs inquiry”

The final par says: “There are no adverse findings against White, Davis or Rogers… And the Herald does not suggest they are guilty of doping.”

Ah…

 

* * * * *

I followed this up with: “If there’s a link, fair enough. And [if] there are references but isn’t it better to publish the story when the story is complete?”

And later: “I’m guessing this isn’t the last that Rupe is going to write about the piece… but I’m also guessing there was pressure on him to provide some commentary on those riders’ links with the USADA file. The reason for my post, however, is that the sensational headline – and front page position – doesn’t match the text, certainly not the conclusion. I’m not naive: write the truth but write it when the story is complete. I’m sure that’s what Rupe would have liked to do…”

And then, in reaction to a suggestion that bias might be applied because of where the implicated riders may be from: “Someone’s nationality doesn’t exclude them from the practices of a generation plagued with EPO and other (more nasty) products. But wait… until the story is complete.”

Then, after reading a comment about the UCI – the governing body which has so far offered only a couple of paragraphs, doing little more than acknowledging that the USADA document exists. The suggestion was about offering an amnesty period for confessions: “Oh yeah, the UCI. Doesn’t that union have something to do with cycling? And, ah… ASADA? Doesn’t that have something to do with anti-doping?”

In other words, while the USADA has done what it has in reaciton to Lance Armstrong and all his wayward habits, what have we heard from the other agencies involved. WADA doesn’t seem to have much to say. The UCI is surely absorbing it – and it could take it’s time, and should that happen, perhaps an snarky email could be issued to remind them not to dwell. For the UCI was issued its own snarky email on the topic…

 

Part of the UCI’s reaction to the delay by USADA in releasing its “Reasoned Decision”

The UCI had no reason to assume that a full case file did not exist but USADA’s continued failure to produce the decision is now a cause for concern,” said Mr McQuaid, UCI President.

“It is over a month since USADA sanctioned Lance Armstrong. We thought that USADA were better prepared before initiating these proceedings” said Mr McQuaid.

“It seems that it would have been more useful for USADA to have used the time of the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and the Road World Championships to prepare their case in full rather than to make announcements.”

 

* * * * *

 

Some of these posts (not the official release by the UCI) were done while riding around Sydney with my kids. The topic is on everyone’s mind. Mr seven-year-old said to me, at one intersection while we waited for the ‘green bike’ to appear to give us the go ahead on the bike lane: “Dad, Lance Armstrong could rename himself. ‘Lance Armweak’, because he cheated. That’s weak.”

This is from a child seeing the news, hearing the radio, reading the paper, and listening to conversations. People are talking about it. And there’s a good reason: this story is Big News. There’s no doubt about it, cycling – or sport, for that matter – has not seen a ruling like this about any athlete before.

Let’s hope it doesn’t just become a precedent. There was a good reason why the USADA did what it did. There is an irrational denial of something that has forever tainted cycling as a sport. The ruling – or, rather, its explanation– was issued this week and it has become quite overwhelming for many. When I did some interviews for the national broadcaster – on television and for radio this Thursday – there was an obvious sentiment that this was The Story of the Day. It is big, beyond the little cycling stratosphere that I usual find myself in. Now, after 20 years of covering the sport, I was called upon to comment about something that is national news, front page material, ‘water-cooler conversation’ stuff… there are all the usual questions… Is it shocking? No (not really, because it was a long time in leaking before the flood came). Is cycling now clean? No (but it’s a hell of a lot better off than it was 10 years ago). Can the sport recover? Yes. Of course.

This is The Big One though. Someone put it as “Cycling’s 9/11”. Yep. But there have been many other attacks: the Festina Affair, Operacion Puerto, the losses of two Tour de France titles and admissions of guilt by other former champions.

RIDE has covered it all during the course of the magazine’s existence.

It’s been referenced before, but I’ll repeat it for old time’s sake: the first issue of RIDE Cycling Review was on sale for the first time on the same day that Willy Voet was arrested. That heralded the start of what became the Festina Affair. And doping was finally put out into the open. It became The Discussed Topic at bike races and everyone was learning about how rampant these clandestine undertakings were. Apparently – and oft-repeated – “everyone” was doing it.

Some weren’t. Those who did it, said “everyone”. Those that didn’t knew they would either eventually surrender – capitulate – or they would: 1. Be behind. Or, 2. Be there as long as they could last… clean.

“Everyone” is a big tally. The scalps in the fight against doping are vast: big names and small have been excluded from racing because they wanted to cheat. Careers have ended, reputations ruined, lives destroyed. And all because someone thought they could do something beyond the rules in order to go faster on a bicycle.

It’s a sick compilation that you can read about if you download the USADA file. It makes the stomach churn and details offered by people named in the document – that creates its own headline, ‘Reasoned Decision’ – in accounts either to Travis Tygart or in books or (legitimate) reports on the topic of doping make you wonder why you would be interested in those who ride. But to me it’s still fascinating.

Remember when you first watched a bike race? If you don’t, then you haven’t seen one. The first time is often the best: it’s captivating and makes you want to watch. And that’s why you’ve probably seen another since. Or at least gone out for a ride and thought of yourself in the vision on the racetrack – as a spectator, on the roadside or television. If you’re reading this, on the RIDE Media site, then chances are: you ride. Some can’t. My father doesn’t have the ability to do so anymore, and friends of mine who once raced with panache and on pure ability – one in particular springs to mind, and he can no longer pedal because of an accident in a race – do so now with more mild ambitions. There are plenty in my realm who stopped racing a bike because they knew that the way to continue was to mess with the body: do things that weren’t natural, weren’t normal “pas normal” (Lance!), but did enhance performance. Some of the ones who quit weren’t cowards at all: they were the ones who decided to, dare I say it, live strong and be honest. If that meant surrendering the act of racing a bike, then so be it. If that meant not fulfilling potential all because they refused to comply with some irrational decision to cheat… they are the winners to me.

This is a time for cycling to reflect. There’s a call for immediate resolution. People want to know if Armstrong and his ilk are going to get the due punishment, others argue that he has been a victim, some will ride to the grave believing in “miracles” – like this one-time superstar suggested we all should do on the day he last stood in the middle of the Champs-Elysées being bestowed as the champion of the Tour de France.

Lance had won the race. He had won the hearts of many. He had created a story that was so incredible it couldn’t help but inspire.

The problem is, it would now seem, he didn’t do so honestly.

Lance, honestly?

That’s all. That’s the question we should be asking.

 

That’s what we want to know after seeing the “Reasoned Decision”.

 

But there are still more questions that need answering. Fundamental among them is this: why ride? But really, the way I feel, it’s too complex to consider. The better query would be: why not ride? For I don’t have that answer.

 

And so, back to where we started. With the question I asked at 3.20pm 13 October. It was simple really, but began with a statement.

 

If you really believe that the ‘Reasoned Decision’ has killed cycling, get up early on a weekend morning and go for a ride. Everywhere I’ve been at that time in recent months, I’ve seen more riders than ever before.

One great thing about history is that it serves as education. It’s happened, and there’s naught that can be done about it: but that doesn’t mean everything is over.

Enjoy your next ride… and the one after that.

I’m not going to stop using my bike. Are you?

 

* * * * *

 

Never!” replied Steve. “Well said.

Hell yeah, get on your bike, the wind in your face makes it all good!” wrote Kasey.

Would you stop driving your car because Pastor Maldonado did something epically stupid in the F1? No? Then why would you stop riding your bike because someone did something epically stupid in pro cycling?” said Kelly.

Brad was even more blunt: “It’s just disappointing for the clean riders and all the people that believed in a man who now appears to have zero integrity. However I’ll only stop riding when they pry my cold dead feet from the pedals.

Well said RIDE.” Simple sentiment (to be pleased with) from Don.

Well spoken,” from Jane.

Amen! Maybe I should go for another ride today,” Matt chimed in.

 

* * * * *

 

I’ve got a lot more to say on the matter, but I think I might go for a ride.

See you out there.

 

Rob

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