Thursday, August 4, 2011
Help Us Garmin-Cervelo, You May Be Our Only Hope
I first took notice of bike racing when I started doing triathlon, and I started to watch races on TV once in awhile. But soon, "once in awhile" turned into watching every stage of every race that I could find. I started subscribing to Cycle Sport magazine and now read it cover to cover (usually twice). Velonews.com is one of the very first websites I hit every morning. I know the teams and the riders. I even joined a fantasy Tour de France league. I got sucked in and have the foam fingers to prove it.
That all said, I'm not blind. It was immediately apparent that the sport was corrupt. There's probably been a high visibility doping case every year as far back as I've bothered to research. We all know about the allegations against Lance Armstrong. Most of us probably know about Floyd Landis. But spend a little time following the sport and you quickly learn about the European scandals like the Festina Affair and Operacion Peurto. These were both major doping conspiracies that implicated multiple riders and/or multiple teams in regular systematic doping practices.
This stuff is hard for me to stomach and has frequently made me question my admiration of the sport. After all, it was easy for me to write off guys like Jose Conseco and Roger Clemens when they got caught. Heck, I ended up losing interest in baseball. But with cycling, I keep watching, my hypocrisy in full swing.
I came across this video last night. It profiles the riders on Team Garmin-Cervelo in the days before the start of The Tour Of California.
Garmin-Cervelo's roots can be traced back to 2007 when Team Director Jonathan Vaughters established the team. The team was formed with a stated policy of zero-tolerance for doping. So far, so good - not one rider has tested positive or been accused of doping while being a member of the team.
For the Tour of California, Garmin-Cervelo fielded a squad that included Thor Hushovd, Johann Vansummeren, Tom Danielson, Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie, who are all interviewed in the video. I enjoyed these segments and thought they all had a humble, almost zen-like way about themselves. And it's not like these guys are ambitious upstarts trying to impress with a feigned earnestness. Hushovd is the current road racing world champion. Vansummeren won Paris-Roubaix earlier this year. Tom Danielson was the highest placed American in the 2011 Tour de France with a 10th place finish. Hesjedal got 4th in the Tour de France in 2010.
Ian is starting to identify his first role models. It's Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter for the moment, but that will eventually change to real world people. When it does, I hope he identifies with the somewhat more low-key individuals. If he's anything like me, that's where he'll probably gravitate to anyway. The Garmin-Cervelo riders fit that bill - humble yet immensely talented individuals who are dedicated to what they do. Especially the American riders. They are almost anti-heroes who are flying the flag of a still somewhat obscure sport in the US and excelling at it, regularly taking the fight to cycling's spiritual European home. To me, these riders represent any number of admirable qualities than anyone can learn from.
But there is a catch. Pro cycling as a whole has already done so much self-inflicted damage to itself that I can't help but still be dubious that the honest team that Garmin-Cervelo claims to be is the start of a new era. Could this all be too good to be true? Bigger ruses have certainly been pulled. Besides, can one team solve all the sport's ills from the inside out?
Yet, I want to believe. I'm a big fan of pro cycling because I love cycling itself. No other sport perfectly matches grace, mechanics and sheer guts like cycling does. Cycling has become a huge part of my life, and a part of my life I want to share with my son. But I don't want to have to explain the cheating and the disgraces. Instead, I want the idea of climbing on a bike and riding 130 miles over 3 mountain passes just because it's fun and beautiful (whether you are a professional or not) to be easy to explain. I don't want Ian to ever doubt that he could do it too if he wanted.
So I'll keep watching, waiting and hoping. Of course, it still could get much worse. But it might get better too.