Something to Believe
Editorial by Tom Demerly.
fans need something to believe. We have to believe either
Tour de France competitors are cheating by using performance
enhancing drugs, or drug test methods are faulty and produce
positive results when they don’t exist. We likely
will have to accept some frustrating combination of the
though, we want something to believe. We want to believe
something is real- something is absolute. For the sake of
the sport, we better get it soon. Right now, as a fan, I
don’t know what to believe.
cyclist and fan of the sport, high-tech entrepreneur Michael
Robertson, has called out Floyd Landis on his positive testosterone
test. He made an offer of $100,000 for Landis to clear his
reputation through a polygraph test. Robertson can make
good on his challenge. The founder of MP3.com, just one
of Robertson’s high-tech interests, sold MP3.com for
$372 million. Robertson has a reputation of holding parties
accountable for their claims. He’s done it before
with Linux and X-Box. In a phone interview with Robertson
he told me he wants to believe. “If I were Floyd,
I’d jump at the chance,” Said Robertson about
I asked Robertson if he had heard from Floyd Landis on the
offer that he tendered to Team Phonak two days before I
spoke with him. He has not received a reply.
like where Michael Robertson is going with this. The technicalities
of polygraph results aside, this is a sensational opportunity
for Floyd Landis to step up to his claims of innocence after
everything else seems to sensationally refute them. If Landis
were smart, he’d sit down for the polygraph offer
and cash the $100,000 check. Heck, if he were really smart
he’d take the test, pass it, give the $100K to charity
and score major public relations points. If Landis passes
on this offer his public relations skills could be compared
to Mel Gibson’s at this point. And the size of his
started as a rotten spectator sport and has only gotten
worse. It’s more fun to ride than to watch. Watching
cycling is confusing. Is what we are seeing real? For you
and me as participants, it probably doesn’t matter.
You and I just ride. Regardless of whether Landis, Armstrong,
Basso and Ullrich are clean you and I will still ride. It’s
the rest of the world and their perception of the sport
I’m concerned about.
legions of spectators brought into the cycling media by
the Lance Armstrong phenomenon and the emergence of U.S.
television and Internet coverage this is cycling’s
big test. Is what they have seen valid or is it fraud? Is
Armstrong the conquering hero, nearly risen from the almost-dead
to beat down cancer and kick ass in the Tour a record seven
times, or is he one of the greatest con men ever? Is Landis
his heir apparent or his henchman? The answer to that question
will likely decide whether cycling remains a predominantly
fringe sport celebrated by a few participants or if it continues
the leap to mainstream sport.
of three things is happening here:
Most cyclists are cheating. The assumption that drugs are
used widely in professional cycling is nearly consensus.
Cycling fans are cynical, maybe realistic. An August 2004
Poll in Velo-News magazine revealed that 73.6% of
reader/respondents felt that “Drugs are a problem
in the pro peloton”. In another Velo-News poll
(February, 2002) 21.6% of respondents- the majority- felt
that “All of ‘em [pro cyclists]” are using
some form of performance enhancing drugs. Only 4% of 2695
respondents to that poll thought that “Not Many”
pro cyclists use performance enhancing drugs. Only 4%. That
represents about 108 people of the 2695 that responded to
the poll. There are 200 guys in the Tour de France. I wager
more than a few of them look at Velo-News. I wonder
how those guys voted. On Floyd Landis’ Phonak Team
no less than seven riders have been somehow sanctioned for
drug related issues.
most top professional cyclists are guilty of using drugs
then there has been an enormous fraud perpetrated. If this
is true, Armstrong may have crafted an elaborate conspiracy
of covert doping practices that ran for years without detection.
If there were detection, those involved were intimidated
through the legal system or more subversive means to shut
back up. Good riders were fired from teams when they wouldn’t
dope or agree to honor the “code of silence”.
Riders who testified got black-listed and favors were called
in. Careers were threatened. The tendrils of the cartel
reached far and wide, exerting organized crime-like influence
on anyone who threatened to talk. All this was done behind
the “human shield” of cancer philanthropy that
has made Armstrong virtually impervious to criticism in
the public arena. Like a bizarre culture of neo-Maoists
devoted believers read “His” book and donned
the yellow bracelet of solidarity. If that type of a scandal
were reality it would eclipse Enron, Martha Stewart’s
insider trading scandal, the O.J. trial and other suspensions
of moral and ethical value in the interest of monetary gain.
If it were true…
thing is, we don’t know.
If most top professional cyclists are innocent then the
system that polices them is defective. It produces erroneous
results for cyclists who have an exceptional day, like Landis
on Stage 17 of this year, and it may also let a few dopers
slip through the cracks and up onto the podium. It simply
isn’t working. It is easy to imagine the system for
detecting illegal drug use is faulty. Firstly, the incentive
to successfully dope is much greater than the incentive
to detect doping. In other words, if the Tour organizers
catch dopers they create an untidy circumstance for themselves
and effectively make their own event look less credible.
If they tolerate secret doping then heroes are born and
TV ratings climb. The Tour becomes big business. What big
business plans its own demise as a check and balance?
Some combination of One and Two. This is the likely situation.
Some guys cheat, some don’t. It’s hard to say
how many since the ones that do largely won’t admit
it, and the ones that don’t use drugs probably won’t
tell on the ones that do.
notable exception is the case of David Millar. Millar never
tested positive for banned performance enhancing drugs before
his apprehension by French police in 2004. He had never
tested positive. He did reveal to French police that he
used performance enhancing drugs and subsequently to the
public. He came clean, served banishment from competitive
cycling and re-entered pro cycling at this year’s
Tour de France. While I don’t respect that Millar
used drugs in the first place, I respect that he came clean
and is back to racing. I feel like I can believe in Robert
Millar. The guy told the truth. He is the exception, not
we just don’t know. You and I are left not knowing
what to believe.
want to believe. When Landis broke away by himself on stage
17 of the Tour de France I stood in my living room with
tears running down my cheeks: A forty-four year old man
actually crying over the incredible courage, daring and
boldness. “Go Floyd….” I thought, “Never
give up, show them whose boss…” I cried for
every time I had my ass kicked on the bike and couldn’t
do anything about it. Floyd was doing something about it.
For all the mamby-pamby, media-coached bullshit interviews
other cyclists gave in previous years, Floyd offered a glaring
flood of clarity. He simply said it: “I just want
to win the Tour de France… I’m not done fighting.”
I cried for my departed friend Mike who would have loved
to see this, who would have loved to believe. I
drove to my bike shop that morning with my hands shaking,
knowing that at that very second- that moment-
half way around the world a man was defying everything we
knew about competitive cycling. He was re-writing the history
books. I went back in history: Hinault, Merckx, Anquetil….
It had never been done before. I was living to see history.
I wanted that. Now I don’t know.
now the race is reduced to a legal affair. The outcome is
decided not on the mountain passes and time trials, but
in the lab and the courts. Instead of televising the final
time trial OLN should have covered the lab testing of the
urine samples and the legal wrangling of the governing bodies.
That is where the real results are generated. The rest was
just for show. That makes me feel like I was defrauded.
I mean, I bought into to it so much I actually wept. What
an ass I feel like now.
come and go. Some are more enduring than others, but many
are fabricated through deeds that are more fiction than
fact. And ultimately, if we are searching for something
to believe in, maybe the best place to look is in the mirror.
We may not find a hero there- but we might.
weekend is the Ford Ironman 70.3 Whirlpool Steelhead Triathlon.
It is the largest triathlon in the history of the state
with over 1800 participants registered. In the search for
something to believe in, frustrated by the Tour de France
affair, I’m packing my race equipment to go to the
race. I haven’t trained enough, I have a strained
Achilles tendon from trying to train too much at the last
minute and I am worried about the weather at the race. As
I type this the heat index is 106 degrees, there is the
threat of rough water for the swim. I could use something
to believe in right now. I would like to invoke the image
of Floyd Landis on the slopes of the Col du Joux-Plane,
hip disintegrating, ignoring the pain of effort, defying
history and the odds. I would like to carry that image in
my head and use the mantra, “If Landis can do it in
France, I can do something similar here…” That
would be a useful inspiration. But I can’t.
this weekend you and I will line up at Steelhead and face
whatever the race throws at us. Floyd Landis will be of
no help to us. Heroic stories won’t inspire us. It
is just us guys. Whether this is our first half Ironman
or our tenth the only thing we will have with us on the
course is our belief in ourselves and our support of one
another. It is almost as though this whole Tour de France
thing didn’t happen. Just like the sport was ten or
twenty years ago the only thing we can call upon is whatever
you and I bring to the start line.
all we’ve been through over this Tour de France thing,
it goes back to the same thing we had when it started. Guys-
the one thing we can really believe in is ourselves. The
rest is suspect.
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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