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Something to Believe in.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Rabe chats with other riders infront of Bikesport
Cycling 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 two.

Ultimately 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.

One 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, just one of Robertson’s high-tech interests, sold 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 his offer.

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.

I 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 problems.

Cycling 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.

For 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.

One of three things is happening here:

One: 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.

If 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…

The thing is, we don’t know.

Two: 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?

Three: 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.

A 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 the rule.

So, we just don’t know. You and I are left not knowing what to believe.

I 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.

So 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.

Heroes 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.

This 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.

So 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.

After 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 Inc.
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