May 3, 2014

Will Cynicism Kill the Pastime?

  Coffee poured, the Android device open to my feed reader - Saturday mornings in the easy chair, watching the sun slowly illuminate the front room while I dream of faraway roads and endless miles of joy.  These are how the non-riding weekend mornings are spent.  Before I mow the grass or start the laundry, a few encouraging words from the annals of cycling blog and newsletter fill my brain with delights.

  No joy?  Really?  Well, he does have a point... I'm speaking of Bicycle Quarterly's latest post on the subject of divisions in cycling, specifically the one against racing.  I do understand this, and agree with BQ's stance; but, one key factor remained absent in the author's analysis:  doping culture.  It's unfortunate that "doping" and "racing" are inextricably intertwined, and likely will be for the foreseeable future of cycling competition, but - racing, in of itself, is not "evil."  Heck,
I've been guilty a time or two of preaching division within cycling, about racing, and even about specific casual riding groups.  I was, and am, wrong to do this.  The main takeaway from BQ's post:  the joy of cycling.  It cannot be proven at any point that Lance, or anyone else, wasn't feeling pure cycling pleasure while ascending an impossible Pyrennean Alp.  Of course, any racer in such circumstances is focused on the win, but, what GOT them there?  When things are quiet, near the edges of the feed zone... when you see Peter Sagan pull a perfect wheelie and ham it up for the cameras when he knows he's out of the running for a stage victory... when you see a teammate of a stage victor throwing his hands in the air, 25 places back in the crowd...  there is joy behind these actions.  I think the division should start at the doping line.  I doubt anyone would disagree here - and the talk, perhaps even the actions, of cycling's elite in the "post-Armstrong" era, points towards a time where the JOY of competition - and not its ugly underbelly - will again attract youth to the sport.  We shouldn't hate, nor teach our children to hate, professional cycling or racing - amateur or otherwise.  If our sport is to have a future, we must ensure that those who will mount up to provide it are unfettered by divisions, hate, and "anti." 

Velo-Orange went on, in one of their recent posts, about our shrinking demographic.  Steel is in decline (at least, good steel), as are mountain bike sales and, worryingly, BMX sales - the sort of sales where youth cycling really begins.  I can't help but wonder in this age of technological wonder if much of this has been eclipsed by something other than division or opinion on the sport - which is likely - however, while Lance (yes, love-or-loathe, Armstrong will remain in cycling rhetoric for the next 100 years or more - the whole situation really is that impactful) had certainly helped spark a resurgence of road cycling and youth interest a few years back, I must posit that his ultimate fall from grace likely threw an equally damaging blow to it.  What would a parent explain to a young teen about doping, scandal, and the dirty truth about sport -- not just cycling.  Baseball vs. Barry Bonds?  Olympic cheating?  Football scandals?  Basketball controversy?  Any... and I do mean ANY... sort of competition invites those whoe will look to succeed by introducing an unfair advantage to their benefit.  Had we the records to peruse, this activity likely extends as far backward in time as the first Olympiad, the first Roman foot-race, the ancient Arabian horse races across vast deserts.  It's an unfortunate part of the human condition.  We are only just learning as a global society to fight and rally against it.

Sales are down, hateful division still exists - but, there must be darkness before the dawn.  Even as Lance has quietly begun to emerge in the backdrop of cycling culture again, attempting a self-deprecating approach to facing the public about his far-reaching doping allegations, the sun is slowly rising.  We need to pull down the divisions.  We need to invite tourists and hard-core racers to the next indoor sprints.  We need to get our BMX friend onto a 'cross bike this next fall.  We need to grab a few commuters and pull them into a weeknight fun-ride.  We need to hunt garage sales and build up a fixxie.  We need to grab a mountain biker and introduce them to randonneuring.  

Anti-doping sentiment?  I agree with it.  There is no place for performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport - especially cycling - but, to defame racers and racing as a whole?  To dethrone our storied champions, captured in black-and-white with gleaming smiles across their tired faces?  No.  We can't go that far.  We mustn't.  We still need our heroes.  No matter what any of them may have done to win, they started riding because it was FUN.  They started riding because of the sensations Jan Heine describes in his post - the singing of tires, the rush of wind, the feel of the bike and rider as one.  We need to install stainless-steel fenders on a carbon bike and not have to apologize for it.  Profession, average speed, style of kit or bike should not enter into it.  We need to wave at each other on the trails again.  We need to share a pint.  We need to talk and geek-out over each other's gear - no matter what the material it's made from.  We need to show our kids how to behave, and how to find this joy again.  

As I saddle up later this morning for a ride with my son, I will stay very aware of that which pulled me away from reading - and to the keyboard - this morning.  I want to encourage him.  I want to teach him how and when to shift, when to stand, when to attack - and yes, when to throw down hard, the way Marco Pantani had.  I want to remind him that cheating is wrong - and that fighting cancer and returning to the sport -- regardless of the tools Armstrong used to rise to the top -- still represents a remarkable human story, and a lesson to help us all move forward; not a reason to give up.  I don't care what people have said, or will say.  Passion, joy, energy... let's agree to leave the dividing-line firmly with cheating and doping.  That aside, who can say that cycling isn't a joyful activity?  I see it in my son's eyes.  I see the future.  It will be bright again.  Let's not allow negative energy to rob our beloved pastime of its future.  Let's not allow it to slip away - the joy of those future cycling fans that will scour the internet, as we do today, to find footage of the spring classics.  Let's forgive, and forget.

Let's go ride.

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