The Rapture Rush and The Rush To Judge Lance Armstrong

The Rapture didn’t happen on Saturday, but for a lot of folks in the midwest nature did bring tribulation. Being a native midwesterner, I understand how this time of year can make you a little skittish. Severe weather is a part of life along the plains, but once in awhile it gets as violent as the storms that have hit Joplin, Missouri hard. If you want to know how you can help, please click here.

I’m going to be a lot of writing in the next two days, for there is a lot going on. Two of my favorite things happen this week. My birthday and the Indianapolis 500. We have 33 drivers on the grid after a wild qualifying weekend. We’ll have a full preview on the corner later in the week. Over the weekend, I can channel some Mike Gundy. I’M A MAN! I’M FORTY!

In the news? Well there was all the reports that the world was going to end. I even wrote a song about it? Wanna hear it? Here it go!

(sung to the tune of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”)

I guess we’re all still alive
Nope, He didn’t come back
Even while you weep
He still has work for you.

Harold Camping, don’t be dour
No one knows the day or the hour.
Why are we so quick to end the world?

As we try to seek to perfection of the Creator and the grace of the Creator, lets not be so heavenly minded that we aren’t minding the creation here on Earth. This is how the recent “Rapture Rush” and every eruption of this type strikes me.

I really want talk about Lance Armstrong. Didn’t this guy retire after a couple more tough bike rides last season? Isn’t he taking on cancer full-time these days? Lance Armstrong is out of the game, SO WHY IS EVERYBODY STILL CHASING AFTER HIM?

I checked out Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all on 60 Minutes. And when 60 Minutes gives more than half of the show to one topic, there’s got to be something.

I don’t buy Tyler Hamilton. I’ll say that up front. Here’s a guy who got caught and now he’s dropping dime Team Livestrong. Its the same with with Floyd “I Didn’t Do It Before I Did It” Landis. Both these guys are like the one petty crook who tells because “they can’t do all this time by themselves”.

I don’t buy a lot of the finger-pointing on Lance Armstrong by people who themselves got caught up. To quote some of my peeps on the street “STOP SNITCHIN'”

That is not to say I believe Lance Armstrong. I’d like to. We know the story. Young, budding cycling talent on the rise and then he is diagnosed with cancer. The cancer was fast moving, nasty and deadly. The doctors gave him 1 chance in 3 of beating it. That was 1996.

L.A.’s will combined with aggressive chemotherapy turned the tide. By 1997, he was cancer free and in training. In 1998, Lance Armstrong was back racing again. He opened up both barrels at the Tour of Spain, one of the Grand Tours, and finished 4th. Not bad for a guy who was full of tumors a year or more ago.
And then came 1999. Le Tour de France…and beginning of the Tour de France becoming the Tour de Lance
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. All Lance. All The Time.
America, you were watching it and getting into it. You were rocking the U.S. Postal Jerseys and bumpin’ John Tesh’s old school Tour de France music in your ride. At least a few of you got all hyped, bought a bicycle, and rode to Phil Liggett’s voice in your head as you climbed the Alps d’Huez in your immediate vicinity.

It was a comeback story on pedals and we love a comeback story. That is why I want to believe Lance Armstrong. He could have resigned himself to the idea that even if he beat cancer, he’d never ride a 10-speed at the razor’s edge again. But he not only wanted his life, his wanted his passion. He fought back. I respect that.

And there’s the facts in the case. Imagine being Lance Armstrong in 1999. Tough Texan back in France, and sacre bleu He’s owns France for a month. And every after stage, the words Controle du dopage become very familiar. That’s French for , “You will be peeing into a cup every day, Monsieur Armstrong.”

Lance Armstrong has been tested more than any world-class athlete ever. Over 500 different samples, including testing after every TdF stage he has finished. Lance has never yielded a positive test. Those are the facts. Yes, I know, a good cheat can find ways around the test. But that is with enough time and tools. Over the course of a 1-month, 23-stage race where you are on the bike and in front of the press every day, you don’t have the windows to be a good cheat. The detection methods have improved great deal over a short amount of time.

Also consider that you are dealing with organizations that have no reason to play you honest. The International Cycling Union makes the rules, but in the Tour de France, the French Cycling Federation has the primary responsibility to handle the anti-doping effort. You have an American dominating the biggest sporting event in France. Owning the very sport that is the French National Pastime. Given some of the hanky-panky that has been reported when American athlete meets European drug testing, its a conspiracy theory that has some legs to it. You don’t think at least some in French cycling wouldn’t love to have a big picture of Lance Armstrong on the front page of Le Figaro with a big headline screaming “LE BUSTED!”

And there are the health questions. Given Armstrong’s fight with cancer, why would he even fool with something like EPO, which stimulates red blood cell production. I’m no doctor, but at the basic level cancer is cell growth run amok. Why would a man who has beaten cancer do something that could theoretically cause it?

“Well gee Northside Chip, sounds like you are drinking the Lance Armstrong, Livestrong Nike flavored Kool Aid.

No. As much I want to believe Lance Armstrong, I do look at him with cross-eyes narrowed. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out that his yellow jersey turned dingy tainted brown when its all over.

Firstly, because of the nature of the sport. As an decidedly amateur cyclist and weekend triathlete, I can tell you that this sport HURTS. No athletic activity I’ve ever attempted can match the burning of pushing a 10-speed as fast as you can through some twisty bits. Many of us feel the burn on areas that are nothing like those climbs from hell in the Ardennes or the Alps.

The athletes who participate in Grand Tour cycling are superhuman to me. They have turned their bodies into the most efficient machines possible. Consider oxygen transfer, VO2 Max, calorie intake-usage, heart rate etc. You are dealing with some elite Good Lord Engineering developed to a degree that most human beings couldn’t imagine, much less achieve.

Even with that preparation, the concept of finding the “unfair advantage” isn’t new to cycling. That quest has been around since the sport’s beginnings, and intensified in the last 50 years. It began with amphetamine-type stimulants and cortisone in the 1960s and 1970s. Even the greatest cyclist to ever push a pedal, the Cannibal Eddy Merckx got caught in four separate incidents involving stimulants between 1968 and 1974, including being thrown out of a Grand Tour. In the 1980s, blood doping became the next magic bullet, and one of the biggest users was just about the entire 1984 U.S. Olympic Cycling squad.

The late 1980s and 1990s brought the next wave with those three special letters: EPO. That’s short for Erythropoietin. Its a protein hormone used to treat anemia, and it can really help on a steep climb. EPO boosts the oxygen capacity per unit of blood, and much like a well-tuned engine, the more oxygen you can get into the fuel mixture the more power you can put down on the road. (For a more detailed clinical explanation of EPO click here)

A tough sport full of highly talented human beings that have shaped and honed their bodies to a fine point through grueling conditions that I don’t think the Creator had in mind when we were created. And now lets add the simple fact that this is major league sport, which means $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

Maybe us Americans only pay attention when you have a Lance or a Greg LeMond around, but across the Atlantic, this is what you check the papers and the websites for every day, and it pays to be able to ride a bike fast. Go to Spain or France or Germany and you will find Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Mark Cavandish on the billboards across the continent.

Its no different than any other major sport you are used to. Its big-time competition, big-time entertainment worth a lot of Dollars, Euros, Marks, Lira, Pounds or whatever money you want to use. And just like here in the States, Second place is considered the first loser.
And just like here in the States , The next wave is coming younger, and stronger, and there’s only so many jerseys and free high-end bikes to go around

To me its time to stop the endless witch hunt on performance enhancing drugs. This “war on drugs” can only be won on the demand side. Such in endeavor is nearly impossible, even with all the federal indictments and subpoenas, because the genie is so far out of the bottle that he’s not going back in.

I can understand why its hard for athletes to say no to seeking an edge. I’ve worked in a big piece of the industry that makes its really tempting to reach for the the PEDs.

All the bromides we tell our kids about “winning isn’t everything” become absolute lies the minute there’s some money on the table. In modern big-time athletics winning is truly everything.

You don’t think our young people know it? It starts from the beginning.

Check out the increasing numbers of people who are pouring money into the quest for an athletic scholarship when the little boy or girl is still figuring out long division. I wonder how much those same parents pour into their child’s education, but that’s another blog post for another day.

The kid know it the minute they start getting those letters for colleges. Imagine being that kid who notices that the rival at his position has Nick Saban visiting his school and his house…and you? Well UConn or Kansas are considering you as a walk-on.

Or imagine being a 6-foot middle blocker. Penn State is looking at you, and they are looking at that girl across town, too. Nebraska, Stanford and Hawaii people were looking at her last week, too…Oh by the way, you got an email from the PSU coach…”There are others we are looking at ahead of you but we will keep you in mind…” The exact same email you got from a lot of the first-tier schools. A lot of second and third-tier schools are offering, but most of those are not competitive NCAA-tourney caliber teams.

Winning is everything for every college dreaming of a Bowl Championship Series bid. That’s $15 million to $20 million of revenue on the line. And you don’t think the kids know it? They know that if they are the weak link on the road to the BCS, you will get cut off. A coach’s family eats dinner based on your performance. If you’re messing with somebody’s money, you will get recruited over.

Imagine being that Olympic athlete. You have that USA team uniform that you’ve worked a lifetime for. Now its your time to hit that track and or jump on that bike and grab that gold…which could also mean you could grab some green. But to get the green, you have to win the gold.

Imagine being that young kid who worked his way through to get sponsored and win a road race, or a triathlon and now he’s blazing a trail toward the pro ranks. He or she has the posters of Lance Armstrong and Chris McCormack on their wall. And they are busting their butts, but seeing that are falling short because somebody has the talent, plus the edge…and some interviewer on Versus is wondering, “when is ________ going to finally break through and win?

Imagine being that 12-year veteran who wants to keep playing, and the front office is squeezing him out for that next wave . They are coming younger, stronger, faster and you are a year older. That siren is singing, “Do you want that arm firing rockets again, or do you want to spend 2 more weeks on IR while young hotshot is taking your job and sending you down to the minors?”

The siren will call to all of them, and those of us who are fans are part of the call whether we mean to be or not. We are a part of it every time we fume that “Derek Jeter just ain’t hitting that ball like he used to” or “that pitcher’s a rag arm” or “we can’t win with this guy as our quarterback” or “with that girl as our point guard”. We are a part of it each time we hear some Olympic commentator mournfully say “American athlete __________ had to settle for silver” and then turn the “bitter defeat” into C.S.I. London.

We are a part of it every time we call some sports talk show and bellow, “Coach ________ sucks! FIRE HIM/HER”

If its all about winning, why are we getting all upset because athletes are taking the steps to make winning happen?

Did Lance dope or not? Does it matter?

I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying what is.

A view I’m feeling.
Bicycling Magazine had a very thought provoking article on this in an issue last year. (Would you like to know more? click here)


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