Sunday, June 6, 2010

Feet of steel, not clay

Somewhere in Ridgecrest, California there is a satyr-like man doing a satyr-like dance around his livingroom, imbued with a sense of revelry because he thinks he was right, profoundly, absolutely right about something.

In 2006, when Floyd Landis won the Tour de France, I was happy for him. Floyd seemed like a nice guy, and he was a good cyclist, having ridden with Lance Armstrong. But immediately following the win came the announcement that Landis had tested positive for extremely high levels of testosterone, meaning he’d supplemented the hormone to enhance his performance. Thus began a flurry of email exchanges between myself and the satyr. On my part, I was defending Landis, just waiting to see what his hearings would bear out. On the satyr’s part, he saw this as concrete evidence of what he’d believed all along—that all professional cyclists dope, including and especially Lance.

Sigh. Of course this is a man who does not follow and has never followed professional cycling. When you talk to someone who remarks, ‘Why is this a big surprise to anyone? All cyclists dope!’ you can be sure they don’t follow cycling. You can be equally sure that they’re entrenched in their opinion—like the satyr, who was convinced that my starry-eyed love of Lance had blinded me. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I didn’t even like Lance before he had cancer. I’d followed his career since he was a teenager, and I didn’t like his attitude. To say he was rough around the edges is an understatement. Most boys who ride bikes competitively come from a background of privilege, which is understandable, given the cost of the sport. Lance was raised by a single mom who, at times, struggled to make ends meet. Lance was strong-willed, and he lived and rode with a huge chip on his shoulder for years. Fighting cancer knocked that chip off, made him human, then made him super-human as he fought valiantly to come back even stronger than he was before. The chemo-therapy changed his body and metabolism permanently, making him a lean, less-mean pedaling machine. People have told me, ‘He almost died. How do you think he came back and won the Tour de France? He had to have taken steroids.’ My response has always been, ‘You don’t know Lance.’ It will continue to be so until there is evidence produced that he has used performance enhancers. Even just once.

Before the recent Amgen Tour of California, Floyd Landis, no longer suspended from cycling, expressed his desire for an invitation to race. As I understand it, he sent out emails months in advance of the tour, vaguely threatening to go public with information about others doping if he didn’t get to race. He didn’t, and suddenly in the midst of the tour, he made an announcement admitting, finally, that he had used performance enhancers. Part of his ‘confession’ included telling tales on nearly every professional cyclist out there, not just Lance, but men like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, cyclists who are known as men of integrity in the sport.

You will draw your own conclusions. The satyr has, I’m sure. Though we no longer correspond, I’m confident in my vision of him doing a victory dance. I would only caution the public, as Emerson did, to form opinions slowly, and be ready to change them if new information arises. Winning in tour competition is not a matter of the strongest, fastest man on a bike. Winning requires experience, skill, strategy, teamwork, quick-thinking, fierce determination and a whole lot of luck. Lance was fortunate to have had all those tools in the years that he dominated the sport. And, post-cancer, he could add one more critical component: The ability to withstand intense pain without giving up.

Has the revelation of Floyd Landis diminished my love of cycling? Not one whit. I look forward with great excitement to next month’s Tour de France, will plan my summer schedule around it as I have for over twenty years, and once again, seeing what these guys endure will inspire me to work hard for what I want to achieve in life… and it will get me back on my bike.

*Note: The photo accompanying today’s blog was taken during a stage of this year’s Tour of California. These riders created a six-man breakaway that led nearly all of a 135-mile stage. In the Stars & Stripes jersey is George Hincapie, my hero and last year’s National Professional Road Champion.


  1. You go Kay! I'm not sure about Alberto, but I'm with you on Lance and for sure George Hincapie.
    Laura H

  2. i dont follow this sport or know dooklums about it, but I am glad to see you back at this sport.. how have you been,,glenn