The Truth about Cycling

Wattage, breakfast & Lance

7 Tours

Washing dirty linen in public is never an edifying spectacle. And so it is with our sport, subject to the on-going snide remarks of the inexpert sports reporters, the same people who brought you the Tour de France and other races (which other races?), the exposure to the breakfast TV presenter. Lance did this, Lance did that, all the while overlooking that Lance also trained and trained and worked and worked and still had to break himself to overcome. Why? Because he wasn’t the only doper, because cycling is still the merciless, back breaking sport we love, and is won by effort as well as subterfuge, legal or otherwise.

So now we wait, with baited breath, upon the Oprah interview. Let us be grateful for one thing, it wasn’t Jerry Springer. In all of this let us not forget, that, despite all the story telling and conscience clearing, could Big George ever really win a mountains stage clean? Did we ever really believe?

Here really lies the rub. Did we ever really believe? Or did we believe what we wanted to?

I believed, not in Lance’s rides, I believed in the drama, and the happy memories, and the legend, and to my mind this is really the issue, the creation of a legend and the importance of a fable, both to cycling culture and the world at large. This is cycling, the legend, the culture, as per Christopher Thompson’s 2006 book, The Tour de France: A Cultural History. For a summary see, Velonews.

The Tour was invented to find the last man standing, to create the myth. The father of the Tour, Henri Desgrange, is reported as saying that the ultimate Tour would be one so hard that only one rider would finish.

Stretching from the personal to the professional, the cyclist’s life is based on myth as much as fact, the qualitative as much as the quantitative. The truth about your last ride is as much what you want to believe, your frame of mind, as it is about how much you measured it. The record of your wattage meter tells a one-sided story, not the story of the headwind, or tailwind, or a bad night’s sleep, or the right or wrong breakfast, what made you feel good or bad, and on and on.

So from the personal to the professional and where they meet. Did you ride with Cipo, or ride with this team, or that rider, it’s something that means nothing to them but everything to you. They don’t even remember the rider in the mismatched kit who rode with them on one random ride for 5 km in 50,000. You are to them as one white line on the road, where a million look the same. But this is not important to you, the stolen moments of the association with greatness is what is important, the myth that you tell your riding mates, your girlfriend or your kids.

And the myth of Lance? The myth of Lance is this for me, and it starts with the myth of another well known doper, David Millar:

My myth is this. I was at school with David Millar, who was a year below my brother, and strangely had the same response to the school as my brother, and followed his chosen path away from that. I even rode mountain bikes with Millar, before there was a hint of greatness. But this is not the important story of Millar for me, this just helped me appreciate his achievements. I don’t care whether he doped, I don’t care if he reformed. I care that on the 1st July 2000 he wore the yellow jersey at Futuroscope after taking the prologue. The other event of that day, 12 hours before, was sitting on my father’s bed as he finally succumbed to cancer. In this dark hour Dave pulled on a measure of light, where his myth overlapped mine, although he never knew.

And so to Lance. I don’t care who uncovered what, who made their name through his downfall, who said ‘I told you so’ about his riding. He won seven tours, SEVEN, it was always going to be a myth, let’s not pretend we didn’t know at the time. But does killing this myth, the inglorious revealing of the feet of clay, serve a greater purpose than the hope he held out to those who fought cancer in his name and with his myth as hope?