Out of step

Ever since I stopped racing, I’ve become gradually less concerned about what’s going on in the local scene. It’s not that I don’t care, but more that it just doesn’t seem relevant. Actually, I don’t feel relevant. There seems to be a wall between racers and non-racers that few recreational riders successfully bridge – if you’re not racing, you don’t have anything to offer. I know it’s nothing malicious, just a difference in priorities about how to ride and why. For me, I started riding because it was fun, then I started racing because it was fun, and then I really got into racing and trying to get better because it was fun. And then, at some point, it wasn’t fun anymore – so I stopped. Along the way, I had a lot of good rides with a lot of cool folks. It was as much a social outlet as a physical one. Now, as an ex-racer, I’m having fun again (except for that nasty little spill and broken rib – the rib still hurts, a lot, but I’m riding pretty strong again), but I don’t feel like I fit into the social scene anymore. It is probably as much my own perception as it is anything real, but I’m curious to see how involved I get with group rides as conditions begin to warm up later this spring.

Since I’ve had my finger on the local pulse less and less, each time I do take a reading I’m struck by an apparent chasm between what I enjoy about cycling and what others enjoy (or are annoyed by). I never noticed it before, probably because I was too close to things and constantly swayed. Watching the Tour of California this week has really brought this to my attention. I didn’t pay much attention to the cycling media in the weeks leading up to the race, and I wasn’t sure I would even be interested since I no longer race. As soon as the race started, however, all that went out the window – I was hooked! This week has almost seemed like the three weeks in July – spending the evening watching Tivo recordings of the live coverage of each stage (resorting to the enhanced evening coverage if technical glitches or scheduling snafus made that necessary) before going to bed way later than I should and suffering the consequences the next morning. It’s bike racing – it’s the pros – and it’s the best Tour of California ever, both in terms of the competition and the coverage, and due to the undeniably compelling comeback of Lance Armstrong. Yet, to read the local chatter, you’d think this race sucks and that the coverage is so bad that it’s a wonder anyone watches it. WHAT A BUNCH OF WHINEY PANTS!!!

Lance Armstrong – face it, this is an unbelievably compelling story. Lance has huge draw power. The crowds prove it, even with all the crappy weather. I could understand the snickers if it turned out that he wasn’t a strong competitor, but he is currently sitting FOURTH IN THE G.C. How does anybody do that, much less do it at 37 years of age and after not racing for 3 years. If you don’t think Lance is good for cycling, then you are out of step. People love Lance, and cyclists should, too. The Tour of California is better because he is in it. Of course, maybe you want to be out of step – go for it, don’t enjoy watching the story unfold, but let the rest of us.

VS (OLN) Coverage – The first year of the TOC, OLN showed a one hour “highlight show” hosted by the lovable but less than articulate Bob Roll with Paul Sherwyn as the straight man. This year we’ve got LIVE COVERAGE with VS’ Tour de France A-Team – Phil, Paul, and Craig. I said, live coverage – 3+ hours of it, picture break ups and all. What to you guys want? Remember, we’re in America, where most people drive big trucks and hate those skinny euro fags! Yes, live coverage of Stage 3? was cut off to move to hockey – no problem, just watch the rest of the stage on the enhanced coverage.

Commercials – who do you think pays for all that live coverage? I’m amazed VS managed to find a way to make money with their coverage of TOC, given the majority of their regular viewers are pissed as hell that they don’t get to watch PBR Bull Riding after a hard day of digging ditches. If you’ve got Tivo, is it so hard to hit the button three times every 10 minutes? Does it really suck that much? Try hitting dirt with a pick mallet three times every 10 seconds and then coming home to find PBR has been bumped, then you’ll know what really sucks.

Dopers – I think I’d better leave this one alone. Or not. Let’s just say that if I rooted against every rider who may have the stain of doping in their blood, it would be a pretty boring race. If compelling evidence is presented in a proper adjudication, then I’ll be the first to condemn those who defraud the sport and its fans. But I also believe in due process and begrudgingly acknowledge the special circumstances created by the systemic nature of doping in cycling. Maybe Mancebo doped – but it’s just as possible that he didn’t, we don’t really know. “Retiring” because of “Puerta” can be construed as acting guilty – or also as frustration with a system that doesn’t appear to have procedures for ensuring good science and protecting rider’s rights while the processes play out. Maybe Lance doped – and maybe he didn’t. Evidence secured improperly and with bias is not evidence. It is human nature to go ahead and judge cases such as these for ourselves anyway, and I fight the urge constantly. In the end, I have to remind myself that it is much more fun to just watch bike racing and reserve my judgments for those cases where the evidence is compelling.

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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4 Responses to Out of step

  1. James says:

    Ted,

    I think you hit on a very relevant topic. I’m a semi-racer and based on some recent experiences I tend to agree that there is a big difference between racers and non racers. Even within the racing community there are distinct differences between disciplines. Just looking at number there are far fewer registered racers with USA Cycling then total cyclists. Seems like those who ride for enjoyment far out number racers. Look at the crowds at any major race. Most of them are not racers. I try and be friendly with anyone I see on the bike. We all share the same interest – riding bikes. From new guy at Castlewood to 30+ year veteran. All out there to burn some calories and have fun.

    I also side with you that 3 hours of live coverage is better then no coverage at all. Take what you can get. I’ve been enjoying the coverage while I ride that dreaded thing you truly hate – the trainer.

  2. Bobber says:

    Well said guys. I am enjoying the ToC coverage as well. But as a non-racer now, I don’t feel like I have much to say about it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Welcome to the other side of the fence. Adjustments always take time when you change your perspective. Soon you’ll find your niche and you’ll be engaged again.

    Lance: yes, he’s bad for the racing part of the sport. Lance is about making money and could really care less about the peleton. Even my wife sees that. He belongs on the podium only to hand out prizes and endorsements; and in the commentators booth ala Dan Marino with Bobke and Phil. Casual cycling fans care that Lance is around, not that he’s racing.

    Versus: yes, the coverage sucks. The problem is in the production, not that Versus sells ads. Why would I want to see 3 hours of racing but be denied a look at the finish – the most exciting part of the race? Hummer is a muppet. Bobke belongs in the color commentators chair. Its hard enough for the neophyte to follow a bike race without being jerked around by poorly placed ads and bad profile segments. How can the sport grow when the coverage is pandering, uninteresting, and spotty?

    Drugs: better living through chemistry. Its been that way since the dawn of time. Might as well get it out in the open because that’s what it takes to make it at that level. At least if you want the *big* money. People want to see the spectacular feats. You gotta admit Ricco standing up and riding away in the mountains last year was pretty spectacular. Most people don’t care that a rider uses CERA or a ball player uses steriods. They care about the action in the game. Where they get turned off about drugs is from the constant barrage of phony moral outrage – the divisiveness and “gotcha” politics.

    Don’t let it get you down. In the grand scheme, none of this means a thing when you’re in the saddle. See you out there!

  4. sherkat says:

    Cycling.tv!!!! Magnus Backstedt’s Swenglish commentary got better with every stage. You actually learn stuff!!!

    I hated Lance, until he spent the last three years working his nad. Now, he’s an old horndog! What’s not to root for?

    Floyd’s really ugly, that’s why you should root for or against him. Tyler’s not as ugly as he looks on TV, but I was really happy to see him win Nationals. Same with the rest.

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