This Roy Gumpel photo is my all-time favorite cycling shot. I’ve had the good fortune to ride my bike in some of the most spectacular and storied places on the planet, yet for me this one image transcends every place and every epic image of cycling greatness. There is nothing that compares to the sublime experience of making fresh tracks in falling snow for the very first time. It is a moment of pure joy and exhilaration. I remember feeling like the luckiest person on earth. Now, whenever I feel the craziness of the world closing in, I look at this photo and am reminded of that moment in time, of its freshness, joy and innocence. More than anything else, it is why I ride.
I’ve been working out of the office for the last couple days trying to stay focused on some exciting projects we have going on. But Hurricane Lance has been relentless, becoming a Category 5 media storm not to be ignored. Having been connected to the sport for 40 years, I can’t let it pass without comment.
I’m expecting Oprah’s interview to be another attempt at orchestrating some form of public support or sympathy, as the big guy attempts to rip the Band-Aid off, minimizing his pain. Hopefully Oprah makes him remove the bandage slowly.
Though he wasn’t alone in orchestrating his deeds, Lance was the tip of the spear of an organized Machiavellian effort, driven by a lust for greed, ego, power and wealth. Lots of us who have been inspired by his near-death comeback and his positive impact on battling cancer are so hurt by the truth that we desperately wish to call the justice scale somewhat balanced. I’m convinced that even without all the bad stuff, Lance’s hard work, natural gifts and mental capacity for focus and pain would have still brought a spectacular return to racing. To the people for whom it matters most, he could have been just as inspirational had he just completed one Tour, and his legacy still worthy of Hallmark.
I’m glad that Lance and his Cycling Incorporated organization came along. Just as past great empires shone on the outside just before imploding from internal forces of power and corruption, professional cycling slowly became increasingly, quietly corrupt. From politics to business to professional sports, our culture espouses that winning is everything and we have consistently embraced our winners as heroes while simultaneously forgiving their indiscretions along the way. Fair or not, the rest of the world sees this as distinctly American, so we are sad and humiliated and we wish it had been someone else who exposed the ugly underpinning of our sport.
Like in most scandals, we want to say, “OK it’s done, let’s get back to normal.” This time I’m hoping that cyclists everywhere won’t allow “getting back to normal” to descend too quickly. Greg LeMond is absolutely right. From the general public’s vantage, the professional branch of our sport is void of integrity. The UCI and national governing bodies everywhere need to put their total focus on a transparent reworking of their organizations to whatever extent is necessary to bring credibility and trust back for the sake of competitors as well as the public, who ultimately pays to support the sport.
As for the rest of us who are connected to the sport, we have to find a way to engage change. Willing to admit it or not, top officials and sponsors fall into one of two categories: either they were ignorant to a level of utter incompetence or they were in one way or another complicit in the on-goings, making them, in my opinion, enablers at best. There is no third category.
We humans have an uncanny ability to let anyone else take the fall then move on in unearned innocence. Drug use and/or blood manipulation has been in the sport for decades, perhaps since the beginning. What is astounding to me is that anyone connected to the sport could be surprised. We were just unwilling to connect the dots, face facts and take action. I am not in any way saying that everyone connected to the sport was guilty of doping or supporting it, but I am saying that we all have to take some responsibility for allowing it to fester.
It is stunning that a story connected with our beloved sport is a global lead feature of equal billing, right alongside the gun debate. In a way, perhaps it’s a further sign that our American community is finally ready to look in the mirror and take responsibility for the world around us and evaluate the permissions that we have given by doing nothing. I’m hoping so.
For the next year our governing bodies should let unsanctioned events like the Tour of the Battenkill, the many timed Fondos and local events flourish without he slightest hint of retribution to the organizers or participants, letting the spirit of competition live while the organizations refresh, rework and reorganize.
What a wonderful overhaul it could be. Let’s write letters, support local events and push the UCI to start fresh with the enthusiasm of youthful innocence and give the sport an opportunity to make fresh tracks in the snow.