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.