Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011: Me And Pro Cycling

Since I've become involved in triathlon, I've become a pro-cycling fan.  And it's funny - even though I've gone to plenty of triathlons as a spectator, and have watched triathlon, swimming and running events on TV, they don't hold the same thing for me that cycling does.

The first time I watched pro-cycling on TV was in 2009.  It was in mid July, so it must have been the Tour de France.  I remember liking the commentators right away.  I also remember being drawn in by the fluid motion of a hundred tightly bunched riders dressed in all sorts of colorful kit moving at 30 + MPH like one.   But after about an hour, we had an earthquake.  And after an earthquake, the web browser is immediately pointed to the USGS Earthquake page and television is changed to the local news channel.  The Tour was forgotten.

After that, I never did get around to watching any more cycling that year.

Fast forward to 2010.  I was surfing through the channels one Sunday in April and Versus was showing Paris Roubaix.  I don't remember how much time was left on the race, but by the time I tuned in Fabian Cancellera had broken away from the pack and was on his way to winning.  It was the same commentators that I had heard the year before, and I quickly learned that their names where Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin.  As the cameras followed Cancellara to the finish in Roubaix, I was struck by how he made going fast look so easy.

From there, I watched everything I could find.  In May, Ian and I drove up to Big Bear to watch the finish of one of the Tour Of California stages.  The lead riders blew by us in a flash, but it was thrilling.  On TV, I watched The Tour of Romandie, The Giro d'Italia, The Tour de Suisse, The Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.  The voices of Phil and Paul became an inseparable part of the coverage.  These guys love working together and they love cycling; as a result they added so much value to the broadcast.  It's truly a chemistry that you don't find very often these days when it comes to TV sports coverage.

I learned as much as I could about the art of racing.  I wasn't so much into a team, but I got into riders - Cavendish, Chavenel, Schleck, Hushovd, Nibali, and so many others.  And since every good sports fan has to be a hater too, I chose Contador.  It was a great summer.  I loved it.

But that love was not without guilt.  As I dug deeper into the sport, I uncovered how screwed up the sport is, especially when it comes to doping.  I'd always been aware that there was an issue with doping in cycling in the sense that one picks up on stuff like this from here and there.  But I had no idea how deep the problem ran, how long it been around and how it had evolved into a conspiracy of doctors and science.

I went into the winter knowing two things.  One was that I could not wait for the 2011 season.  The other was that I wanted to come to some sort of understanding about doping.  Well, the 2011 season is here.  But I have have yet to come to an understanding about doping.

You'd think getting a grip on the doping thing would be easy - it's wrong and that's the end of the story.  But what made it more confusing wasn't all the dirt that came out in the off season about who got caught doing what and when, but how the UCI, WADA, and all the national anti-doping are unable to deal with the problem with any consistency.  It's almost to the point where (and I don't REALLY mean this) doping should just be legalized, the cost of such programs should be an accepted line item on a team's profit and loss statement and the athletes should just be able to what they please.  Because then you'd have consistency.  It would be a messed up, dangerous, and unsportsmanlike consistency, but a consistency nonetheless.

I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to bury my head in the sand and enjoy the 2011 cycling season, warts and all.  I'm looking forward to the mid-summer's night routine of staying up late with a bottle of mineral water watching the day's DVR'ed action.  And I'm looking forward to taking Ian to the Tour Of California again this year.  Because even though a cyclist's guilt of doping isn't mitigated by a lack of proper oversight on the other side of the equation, it will take both sides working together to solve the problem.  But both sides are so far off, and there's nothing I can do about it.  So I won't make it my problem, and I'll watch cycling for what got me into it in the first place - the fluid motion of a hundred tightly bunched riders dressed in all sorts of colorful kit moving 30 + MPH like one.  It's all I can do.


Jennifer said...

For the past 10 years I am a total hermit during those precious weeks in July. Unfortunately this year without cable I may just implode! It really is one of the most exciting things to watc. Someday maybe I'll see you in one of those packs!

Tri-James said...

I love cycling also. However, just as in baseball or basketball or any of the other sport, once we become complacent change will never happen. The machine keeps rolling. The money keeps coming flowing.

I appreciate your honestly but I cannot turn a blind eye.

Punishment of the principle players is the only way to stop the PEDs. Doping is enormous and systemic. If the director of a team is banned and fined and disgraced when his crew is caught doping then maybe we start losing some of the corrupt infrastructure. Don’t hate the players, hate the game. And the game is played by the directors.

KovasP said...

Cycling would be completely and utterly uninteresting without Phil and Paul.

Tri4Success said...

Looks like you picked up in 2010 one race late. The Tour de Flanders (usually the week before Roubaix) is absolutely thrilling to watch. There's just something amazing about a course so tough all these pros are walking their bikes up climbs and it's not a question of if they crash but how many times. Versus doesn't seem to have it listed in its Epic Cycle lineup for this season for some reason. That had better be a mistake.

misszippy said...

I'm totally with you here...I love to watch it. I've had a year or two where I got so disgusted with it, though, where I had to tune it out. Now, however, I just turn ostrich and enjoy it, regardless.

Christi said...

I love watching the Tour but you are right it is very disheartening when you think about all the doping. I usually put my head in the sand as well.

TRI714 said...

First of all I think it was awesome that you road tripped with Ian. I remember reading that way back when and I thought it was awesome. I have no comment on the doping portion because it is all such an "f" mess. We have talked about this and I think we share the same opinion. cycling is so much more than people see or can imagine. And at that level is just that much more ridiculous. I think you know where I stand with cycling. should be a fun summer of evening crits and LaHabra/Fullerton loops. I can't wait. Your going to be getting some extra riding in this year homie. Im going to make sure of that.

Lucas R. Tucker said...

Pro cycling is something I have never gotten into. Not that I wouldn't give it a try if I had any channels it comes on, but I would have to get cable or sat first. I don't follow any pro sports, but I see how it could be cool to watch on TV.

The doping does need to be addressed, cycling, traithlon, olympics, baseball and everywhere else. On a side note- anyone know where I can get some Clen? Just kidding.

Joe said...

Cycling has become my favorite spectator sport. I'd much rather watch a big hill stage in the middle of the tour than any baseball/football/hockey game. I share your hesitance with regards to doping, and like yourself and others, i've decided to take the hot dog approach (I don't want to know what makes it good) to it.

With so many pro US sports threatening lockouts and the NCAA so completely passing the buck on holding their coaches and leagues accountable, I think a few dope cheats in cycling are small potatoes in comparison. And I kind of find myself rooting for guys like David Millar, if for no other reason than because based on his experiences, his perspective on events is often pretty insightful.

valen said...

such great TV watching!... I'm with you about the doping, although there's a generation that's leaving and a newer cleaner one on the way.

Emz said...

a bottle of mineral water and cycling.

remind me I don't want to ever turn 40.

Unknown said...

I recently got into enjoying watching the Tour de France last year and it worked out perfectly because it was on before work, then I could watch the end on the replays after work.

I too bury my head when it comes to doping, I just want to see some good bicycling.

Chris K said...

I'll watch it only after you explain it to me.

I like watching golf.

Barbie said...

I love watching the cycling too and only since I got started in Triathlons. I shall keep my head buried too right beside you :) Not that I like all the doping issues.


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