Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Tell Me there is no Such Thing as Santa - We live in the North Pole

View from a recent ride in the Tuscan Hills

It is not easy to write about the unfolding problems in cycling and... particularly about the allegations against Lance Armstrong.  It has taken awhile to process what it all means to the sport, to the cancer fighting community, and to us personally.  I don’t think we are alone in this regard.  It has been conflicting and sad in many ways.  The stories in the news of systematic cheating, lying, and general ugliness don’t correspond to the reality that we have experienced over the last five years on the ground.  Heck, we moved to France, we have been in the trenches, ridden our bikes all over Europe and North America, followed 4 Tours de France and many other great bike races, spent lots of time training and generally hanging out with professional cyclists.  During all this time, besides hearing stories in the press, we have never experienced any of the “dark side” of cycling. 

Classic Camargue- Amazing the things you see on a Mountain Bike
It may sound naïve and Pollyannaish, but in our eyes cycling is a pure sport with a bright future. For us, it is not about money or pressure to perform. It is about a boy, his father, two bikes, and a passion for riding. It helps, of course, that we live in a European playground filled with mountain passes, coastal roads winding along an azure blue sea, beautiful hilltop villages steeped in a rich tapestry of history and tradition, and that we are immersed in a culture which understands and respects cyclists and cycling in general. We ride in the light - on the positive side of cycling - in the sweet spot of a sport that has given and continues to give us a lot of joy.

Hanging in the sweet spot of cycling
In any human activity (with money involved) there is always going to be a temptation to cheat and people who do cheat. The cheating can be self-justified by saying that everyone is doing it, but in the end of the day cheating is cheating. Just as, in the end of the day, a lie is a lie. Cycling at the professional level is an incredibly difficult sport. The difference between 1st and 70th place is often in seconds not minutes. With careers in the balance it is a real temptation to “put your hand in the cookie jar” and take short cuts by cheating. The cookie jar, however, turns out to be filled with poisoned apples. The trouble is that once an athlete cheats and dopes, it becomes a crutch and it is easy to be convinced that it is the only way. It is like a reverse placebo effect. An athlete becomes limited by a belief that certain levels of performance are impossible without drugs. The truth is that a lot of the effects of doping and doping products can be achieved naturally and safely without taking drugs. For example: altitude can be used in place of EPO, diets high in zinc can stimulate the bodies natural testosterone production, learning how and when to rest and a proper diet can combat fatigue, acupuncture and massage – these natural methods are time intensive, sometimes difficult to maintain, and require listening to one’s body, but they work.

If the allegations are true, it appears that Lance Armstrong believed that it was impossible to win without cheating. He decided to cross the line, and to me that is disappointing and sad. Not just because he cheated and lied, but because he probably could have won without cheating. He apparently gave his power over to some poisoned apples - apples that became an ingredient in the cement that formed the foundation of an incredible sporting career. A house is only as strong as its foundation, and in the end it brought down the legacy of his cycling career. In the end of the day, Lance still went out and rode all those Tours, fought the fight, and inspired us all in the process. He just made some bad choices, and, in this, it shows that he is human.

All weather - Liam putting in the work
But, don’t tell me that just because cyclists have cheated in the past that it is impossible to be at the top of cycling without cheating. I know that there are cyclists in today’s peleton who are riding clean at the highest levels of the sport. I have a son who at 8yrs old was climbing alpine mountain passes, at 10 years old he was riding 100 mile cycling Fondos, now at 12 years old Liam is riding entire stages of the Tour de France and racing with a lot of success in Europe - all things that might be thought of as impossible. The secret to Liam’s success is hard work and the belief that anything is possible. It is my hope that he never has to face some of the decisions other cyclists had to face in the past, and when faced with difficult decisions he will have the strength to make the right choices. The magic of cycling is real – I know because we live it almost every day!

Magic place on a mountaintop high above Florence
Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well.

This is Bill and Liam signing out