In light of the recent drama surrounding professional cycling, many pros are wondering where to stand during the aftermath. Caught in the awkward space where they grew to stardom within a Petri dish of rotten principles and over-lookers who turned a blind eye that enabled dirty riders and teams to rise to the top, current pros are wondering which game the UCI is playing. Suddenly, most teams are touting cleanliness and moral righteousness while also producing new records compared to the dirtiest period in the drug infested history of pro cycling. We hold them up, look at them, say they are great, and place them on the mantle as a icon of what an athlete should be. Then a few years later they crumble under the pressure or simply admit to doping. The pants fall, the ceramic figures smash on the hearth.
So what really IS a “real cyclist” in the 2010’s?
Like you, I’ve pondered laboriously over the the testimonials that dig back dozen and dozens of years that expose our pristine sport as nothing more than a sideshow of politics and pharmaceutical engineering rather than the show we all really wanted to see of physical hardship and bicycle engineering. Exactly, when did we consign away our sport to people who could care less, who had never pedaled up a hill higher than on-ramp but who noticed they could spin their witchcraft to the benefit of those who wanted desperately to get faster. After all, these riders sacrificed everything just to get to “this point” where they realize they suck on the world stage. They’ve invested everything — their time, their friends, their money, their (other) career prospects… there is no turning back.
It’s like diving off an Olympic diving board 3 years ago and on the way down you sneak a peak during your normal routine and notice the blue water is really just a slab of concrete smeared with the blood of other cyclists. At that point… it’s a little to late to backpedal and physics isn’t on your side, so it’s better to continue the routine and make it look as good as possible.
You hit the concrete with the forum of a champion and instead of euphoria, you smash headfirst into sober pain. You pull out of the pool, dejected and hurting, but the ghosts of other recent cyclists congratulate you on playing the game. You are now in the league of the nouveau champion. You raise the flower bouquet with dispassion. People watching on TV say “you see, that’s why he’s a champion, he only knows how to ride a bike, not to celebrate”.
The problem is that these athletes rise to the top since they are the creme de la creme, but their celestial height that rises above all in training has an internal sadness once the penultimate feat is achieved. What makes this realization even more sad, is that the other athletes who were brushed away en-route would be ecstatic standing in that position in all joyousness. Instead, we get a water-down version of achievement that is hard to embrace and as this trend continues, the cycling fan perceives all ‘winners’ in this manner.
The melancholy is not news to cycling fans… most of us have known (and struggled) this notion for years where watching races must be chased with several liters of diluted salt and water.
The good news is that grabbing your handle bars and setting out for a ride is just the same now as it was a hundred years ago. The early heroes of cycling are our true role models… Amazingly fast, brutally devotional, and their only motivation was the love for the ride and the road ahead – not because they had a contract with Trek, Nike, Amgen, or Omega Pharma.
I often reflect on the Golden Age of cycling and then bump into a guy at the store with the yellow bracelet, Nike shoes, and ‘Just Do It’ attitude… I can’t think of anything to say to him. I get home, grab my bike, go on a ride and get honked and yelled at by drivers with ‘cancer awareness’ license plants with yellow bracelets around their wrists… clearly the average cyclist is not a champion.
and we keep pedaling through it all…