The lament of second tier sports

May 20, 2010

I can’t remember a time when I was not into sports. Either I was playing sports,  reading the newspaper , or watching on TV.  One of the advantages of going to a Catholic high school was the blazer we had to wear.  I also always drew the last seat in the first row due to my last name beginning with a “D.” When the Phillies would play an afternoon game -quite often back in the day- I would put a transistor radio into my breast pocket and run the earphone through the sleeve and into the palm of my hand.  I looked like just another student resting his head on his hand. 

Funny thing is, I never fell in love with the stars.  I always went for the grinders.  The guys who worked twice as hard to be half as good.  I identified with them since that mirrored my own paltry athletic career.  While most boys worshiped Dr. J, I saved a piece of hero worship for Bobby Jones.  Who, in the words of former Sixer GM Pat Williams “Bobby gives two hours of blood, showers, and goes home.”  Sometimes grinders break through and become stars of a sort.  The ultimate grinder-made-good is Jens Voigt. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I have grown to love two sports that are the grinders of the sporting world.  First and foremost, Cycling and more recently, I have developed an affection for Lacrosse.  The later sport is through my son who is currently following his father as a grinder in a grinder sport.

One of the downsides to following these second tier sports is that they only time they make the front pages is when there is bad news.  We all know by now about the horrible tragedy in Virginia and of course, cycling is front page again with Floyd Landis’ admission. Even more unfortunate, the sport gets defined by these stories.

I am hearing that Lacrosse is full of thugs, that the sport is too violent.  I’ve engaged in countless debates as to whether cycling is a dirty sport and full of cheaters.  Bad people play sports.  All sports.  NBA players are frequently making the police blotters for rape, weapons, and drug charges.  How many non-cyclists showed up on BALCO’s ledgers.  Is professional football a bad sport because Ben Roethlisberger is a scum bag?   

It is a tough line to walk when I try to defend the sport without defending the abhorrent acts of any of its individuals.  I think all such arguments are just white noise or better yet, akin to the “Wa wa wa wa wa” of any adult in a Peanuts cartoon.

I’ll keep tilting at those windmills.  Twice as hard to be half as good.


Did you hear?

May 20, 2010

This morning, my inbox was flooded with emails along the lines of “Did you hear?”  Unfortunately, I did.  Again.  Another cyclist coming clean after years of protesting his innocence.  Increasingly, I am getting disenchanted with my  sport. 

I started this blog in July of 2006 and found it fun and cathartic to express my views on professional cycling.  I would scan the news and provide a brief interpretation from my point of view.  Shortly after starting my blog, the Floyd Landis story broke.  I weighed in occasionally, tried to lighten the mood often, and really tried to keep the other news alive.  I did not want my blog to become a doping column.  The problem is that quite often, the only stories were of doping.  Basso, Hamilton, Vinokourov, Heras, Rico, and on and on and on.  Dick Pound got more cycling press than anyone.  His “Q score” in cycling was probably higher than Alberto Contador.

Then cycling acquired an autoimmune disease and started to attack itself.  Pound vs. McQuaid became a bigger draw than MMA.  Over the last year, my writing became sporadic since it was no longer cathartic but maddening.  I’ll still write from time to time but I’m in a cycling low right now.

I still read the news, follow the races, and cheer for riders. And pray they are clean.

Cross France off Floyd’s vacation list

February 17, 2010

Mr. Harden, it’s my duty to inform you that the larceny of an equine is a capital offense punishable by death, but you can rest assured that in this court a horse thief always gets a fair trial before he’s hung – The Westerner 1940

As things do, this story is finding its own level.  It seems that AFLD Director, Pierre Bordry over stated his authority.  Shocking that the French anti-doping authority would try to do such a thing.  I guess France is still reeling over their loss of influence over anything outside their borders.  They may see doping investigations for their Tour de France as a way back to relevancy. 

Pierre, now says that if Floyd chooses to return to Fench soil, he may be asked to come to suburban Paris to answer questions to a judge chosen by AFLD. Maybe the CIA can resurrect their New Earth Army program because Floyd has the incredible mind to match his athletic abilities.  He can win the Tour de France and rival Kevin Mitnik in computer “security” circles.

Just when you think it is over

February 15, 2010

Floyd Landis is back in the news. If you remember, back when Floyd was fighting for his professional life, he had copies of multiple files from the Chatenay-Malabry lab.  Those files showed how poorly samples were handled and multiple mistakes made by the lab.  It seems that those files were also stolen.

Four years later, the French want to talk to Floyd about his part in the hacking.  An arrest warrant was issued after Landis ignored a summons sent last November.  An international warrant was also issued for Dr. Arnold Baker.  I have no idea what this means for the rider who just recently left his US based team OUCH (now United Healthcare). Just as he was looking good on the bike again.

Maybe this is in retaliation for Roman Polanski?

Moving on

July 2, 2008

Time waits for no one.  While I still feel a void left by the CAS ruling, I need to look forward to the sport I love.  Cycling is preparing to host the greatest event on the calendar.  The Tour de France.  Cycling is bigger than any one person regardless if that person is Floyd Landis or Christian Prudhomme.  So we move forward looking for the best in the sport out of the ashes of the worst.

So how is the race going to shape up?  Well, to call it wide open is an understatement. With no previous Tour winner in the race (I know what I am saying), the race is up for grabs.  Some may think that will yield an exciting race, I feel the odds point towards the opposite.  No rider has enough of an advantage over another rider to take the race.  therefore, you will probably see most of the GC guys riding not to lose as opposed to riding to win.

I do not criticize any rider for this strategy.  Cycling may be the last true sport where the athletes are not entertainers first and sportsmen second.  I can’t say that about the big sports here in the US.  These men are paid to win and they should race to their strengths.  That means Cadel Evans needs to ride each stage worried about the overall, not the stage victory.  This Tour may have a podium with no stage winners.

The top step of the podium is a very interesting question to ponder.  Here is my take.  I don’t know.  My pick?  Cadel has the highest probability of winning.  He will probably win due to the faults of others as opposed to anything he does.  Let me break down the short list of the Yellow Jersey contenders. I’ll put them in my projected order of finish

Cadel Evans. His greatest strength is he is good across the board.  Good climber, good time trialist, good all around rider.  His weakness is he is good across the board.  Not great.  He also will have one of the weaker teams among the contenders.

Denis Menchov. If you ask me to pick a winner in the “someone other than Cadel Evans” category, I’ll go with Menchov.  His strength is he looks and feels like a real GC rider.  His weakness is he always finds a way to have a real bad day.  In the Tour, this is 100% fatal (except in 2006).  This year, he may have an opportunity to recover since there may be others with bad days.

Carlos Sastre. I love Carlos.  He seems to be a real nice guy. The George Hincapie of GC contenders.  Strength is he is the best climber of the bunch.  His weakness is more than his time trialling.  He just can’t seem to deal the killer blow.  Is he too nice for his own good?  Look at past Tour winners.  Nice is usually not the first word used in the description.

Alejandro Valverde. The guy used to have a nick name of Invincible.  Now I would add brittle.  His strength is he is the most talented rider in the peloton.  He also has a very strong team.  His weakness is he finished only one tour.  Last year he was 6th.  I don’t think he has the staying power of a three week stage racer.  Neck down champion.  Neck up a great classics rider.

The rest of the bunch are also rans.  Guys like Damiano Cunego and Kim Kirchen will make noise, maybe win a stage or two but will not challenge for the overall.  If I had to pick a winner from left field, I would pick Frank Schleck.  The reason beyond heart is that most of the best talent beyond the top four is pledged to those top four.  Guys like Yaroslav Popovych are fully pledged to their leader.  They will kill themselves for their team and thus remove themselves from contention.  Frank is protected and may stay protected long enough to take over as team leader should Sastre falter.  The odds are long, very long against Frank.  Given the right circumstances….

One last cry “Habemus Judicium!”

July 1, 2008

It figures the judgement would be handed down while I am away from vacation and trying to stay away from the laptop.  In a not too surprising decision, the CAS decided to take a pass on the Floyd Landis case by dismissing Floyd Landis’ Appeal immediately prior to the start of the 2008 Tour de France.

What strikes me is the CAS ostensibly added 6 months to his suspension by setting the start date as January 30, 2007 instead backdating it to the last date of competition as they have had in the past.    That seems to be a little gratuitous.  Don’t you think?

Still Waiting

May 28, 2008

I have not filed reports from the square because, quite frankly, there has been nothing to report.  The CAS remains in conclave and with the exception of the occasional pizza delivery guy, there is not much action.  A few of us hard core Landis watchers keep the vigil while the locals sneak away to watch the Giro.

Rest assured that Endless Cycle reporters are on the scene ready to bring you the decision in the final chapter of this drama.