This is the first July in over 20 years that I have not either watched the tour de France on TV or before live coverage, followed the tour on the web, AOL the paper or any news outlet that would publish the daily standings in the USA.
In the summer of 1987 as a 20 year old, completely-unrealistically-confident amateur cyclist, I flew with my bike to the Netherlands in hopes of a summer of amateur racing with actual european riders. As it turned out, I instead spent the summer in Parsons Green, London, England with my bike on top of my bunk on the third floor of the White Horse pub where I worked as a barman serving Bass Ale to locals. I was able to watch the tour on TV most days live which I could not do in the states in 87. I think I gained like 15 pounds that summer – blood pooding and all that delicious english pub food.
Anyways…after watching twenty tours I think the past two decades can best be described as this: in the early days (ok from the beginning of the sport possibly) big pharma was smarter then the drug tests, BUT now the drug tests have caught up with big pharma and guess what? There’s a lot of gold in them thar blood banks.
But, for some reason after 20 tours I am not interested in watching a bunch of skinny guys climb mountains when I could be watching a MotoGP race. No these guys are not completely crazy.
There is no way in the world you can ride a super bike at over 210mph high on EPO, Testosterone or other Go-Juice. And in order to ride a super-bike that fast believe it or not, you also have be a tour de France rider underneath. These guys spend 99% of their training time on road bicycles. Superbike racing requires an incredibly still mind, a ton of endurance, skill, bravery and sometimes a bit of luck.
This Saturday’s WSJ story, For Cycling’s Big Backers, Joy Ride Ends in Grief saddened me. It’s been hard these past few years to be a professional cycling fan – with all the doping and such. But I am not deterred. Cycling is one of the hardest physical sports on earth, and I will always respect the guys and nowadays women that commit themselves to it.
I started riding seriously in college in 1987 and raced competitively for three years until I graduated. If I was not in class or studying I was on my bike putting in between 200 to 250 training miles per week. I raced every week from spring through fall while idolizing Greg Lemond and the Tour de France. I was also involved in quite a few major crashes while racing (1989 picture) which I am still reminded of when I look at myself in the mirror. I no longer race competitively, but have kept training to this day.
A few years ago as CEO of a software company I had co-founded. I started sponsoring local teams and criteriums. In total I sponsored over 450+ riders spanning three teams in the bay area from 2007-2009. This was my first experience as a cycling sponsor and I was especially proud of the Los Gatos Elite Women’s team in 2007-8. Last year I sponsored Third Pillar Racing via BackBeatApps.
So…it is hard to see the sport of cycling go through such publicly difficult times today. Compared to other popular sports such as football, baseball, basketball, tennis and running – all great sports. Cycling by far requires more endurance, core strength and skill. The effort to crank out 50 miles in less then three hours can not be matched. The life long benefits of a strong heart and vascular system with minimal impact to bones and cartilage is also unmatched. Cycling is also good for the mind. Riding for two to three hours can help reduce my stress level in that I can get my emotions out on the bike and what ever might be bothering me at the end of the ride is usually real, not emotional. I have also found that by riding I can sustain greater stress loads in my daily life…the list goes on.
One final perspective on the present doping problem, I do not think it is fair to pay professional cyclists a fraction of what most athletes earn and expect one or two team leaders to place first out of 115+ Tour de France riders for consecutive years in a row. Greg and Lance proved it can be done and I belive they were clean when they did it. But as a rule I do not think it is realistic for one person to win a 21 stage, 2,100 mile race every year with such odds.
If it would only stop raining so I could go out for a ride. -john