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Archive for July 22nd, 2010

Twenty years ago today, American cyclist Greg LeMond won his third Tour de France.  The Tour is, in my mind, the most difficult and strenuous event in existence.  In three weeks, the world’s premier cyclists cover roughly 2,200 miles, negotiating the most challenging terrain that any cyclist will ever see.  With two rest days, it averages to well over 100 miles of competitive riding per day.  On level ground, that’s a supremely tall order.  But the Tour isn’t run on level ground.  There are numerous “beyond category” climbs up the Alps and/or the Pyrenees.

After a years-long hiatus, I started riding again in March.  It’s been great exercise and a great way to burn a bunch of calories.  At first, I rode over my lunch hour.  Then I stretched it to riding to and from work, an 18-mile round-trip trek.  This week, I altered my course, increasing it to 22.5 miles.  And I feel really good about it…until I go back and read that first paragraph again.  It’s then that I realize just how strong Tour riders are.  They rides stages that are 5 to 7 times longer than my 22 miles.  They ride at double the speeds I achieve.  And they do it nearly every day for three weeks.  It’s pretty remarkable, and what LeMond accomplished on July 22, 1990 is especially noteworthy, as there haven’t been all that many riders to win 3 or more Tours.

I read an article today out on Yahoo! that describes these “supermen” as mutants.  Their bodies are hardened through years of grueling training, strict diet, and extreme dedication.  But even more than that, the article contends that these men are genetic “freaks” of nature.  They are better equipped to turn oxygen and calories into the power and stamina needed just to complete the Tour, much less compete and vie for victory.

It’s what makes men like LeMond (a three-time winner), Lance Armstrong (an incredible seven-time winner), and Miguel Indurain (I believe five times on the top step) such marvels.

Unfortunately, the level of competition, the prestige that comes from winning, and the lucrative prize have all combined to make some of these men “add a little something” to the mix.  The dark cloud of illegal drugs and banned substances has long followed the cyclists, as surely as the chase cars that accompany them on the road.  And I say this as though PED’s are new to the Tour.  They are not.  Almost from the beginning (in the early 1900’s), performance-enhancing drugs have been a problem, with riders seeking to gain that little extra advantage over their competitors.

Today, drug testing has become prolific in cycling (and with the Tour in particular).  But as testing has advanced, so have the methods riders employ to avoid detection.  Greg LeMond has been, at various times, in the center of this controversy.  I don’t think he ever tested positive, but he has never shied away from speaking his mind on the subject.  When Floyd Landis was accused of doping after his win in 2006, LeMond urged him to come completely clean, believing a confession by Landis would change the landscape of the sport.  Landis didn’t and was stripped of his title.

Greg LeMond has on many occasions accused Armstrong of using illegal substances.  Some call it sour grapes…a 3-time winner jealous of a 7-time winner and arguably the greatest in the sport.  But he is not alone in his accusations and, although Armstrong has never, ever failed a drug test, the accusations persist against the sport’s most famous participant.

And in recent days, we see that a federal probe into Lance Armstrong has apparently begun.  Armstrong has hired legal counsel to help him wade through what is surely going to be an ugly affair.  Greg LeMond has been summoned to testify, and he’s more than happy to do so.

It’s one thing to see Landis, a one-time Tour winner and one who admitted he cheated (after years of denial), stripped of his title.  It’s another to see Armstrong in that same position.

I’m a fan of both LeMond and Armstrong.  They’re both incredible athletes who brought the world stage of cycling to America.  But it’s a shame to see them as such personal rivals.  I think it’s obvious that LeMond wants the sport of cycling to be cleaned up.  Armstrong wants to protect his assertion that he rode clean.  It’s just a shame that these two are approaching the same goal head-on.  The confrontation has, and will, hurt fans of both men.

At the end of the day, my utopian mind wishes that all cyclists everywhere rode drug-free.  Drop the flag, pedal as hard as you can, and do your best.  If you win, awesome!!!  If you don’t win, you’re still awesome because you’re doing something that only a few people on the planet can even hope to attempt.

But my utopian mind doesn’t control real-world cycling.

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