Thursday, August 10, 2006

Take on the Tour

I wonder if people have found themselves curious about my take on the aftermath of the 2006 Tour de France -- namely, the scandal surrounding the alleged doping of Tour winner Floyd Landis. I've kept no secrets in this space about my affinity towards the sport of cycling (and towards the Tour de France in particular), and even my four-year-old son Elliot has posted about Floyd Landis and the Tour de France on his blog... So it's only natural to consider our response to the demise of our countryman and champion of cycling's greatest race.

Yet, in short, I don't really know what to think about everything. I'm trying to leave room for there to be a mistake -- a misunderstanding -- some glitch in the system... But the damnifying evidence seems rather overwhelming. Thus my overwhelming emotion to this overwhelming evidence is a profound and overwhelming sense of sadness.

But, of course, this is only natural. The Proverbs of Solomon speak extensively to these issues: "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother" (Proverbs 10:1). And in the case of one of America's presumedly great sons -- and one of the triumphant products of the sport of cycling -- a doping scandal brings nothing but grief to us, the progenitors and supporters of these constituencies... It feels like a personal stain on my conscience and the conscience of my family.

I decided to tell Elliot about the situation last Saturday -- when the news broke about the second testing of laboratory samples and the immediate disciplinary actions being taken by Landis' racing team and the officials of the Tour de France. In the weeks since the beginning of the Tour de France, Elliot had embraced Floyd Landis as a hero -- as a persona, even. He would wear his yellow bicycle helmet and his yellow rain-jacket, racing around the house on his four-wheeled plastic "racing bike" -- soliciting cheers for Floyd Landis, answering to the name of Floyd Landis, reveling in the glory of Floyd Landis. And since there was a very real possibility that Elliot might go off and introduce himself to some stranger with his gruff make-believe voice -- "Hi, I'm Floyd Landis" -- it seemed that it would be best for him to hear the demoralizing news from us and be given a framework for processing the news... But honestly, I didn't know if Elliot would understand...

He did, though. His lower lip quivered, in fact, and his face was painfully downcast as he personalized the shame of Floyd Landis. While all of the other racers had been expected to ride the same kind of bicycles and eat the same kind of food and drink the same kind of drink, Floyd Landis had eaten a special kind of medicine that had made him strong and given him an unfair advantage in the race. And that's cheating. And that's bad. And when you take a kind of medicine without a doctor's approval and without following the rules, it's called "drugs." And drugs are really bad. Cheating is bad, and drugs are bad.

It was actually a very good teaching moment. Again, it was sad. Yet through the experience, hopefully our son can learn the value of righteousness and gain wisdom from the mistakes of others. Like it says in the Proverbs of Solomon, "Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked... The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot" (Proverbs 10:2-3, 7). And, to reassure you, Elliot was fine after we told him that he could have just as much fun pretending to be Oscar Pereiro instead of Floyd Landis. He even thought that "Oscar" was a cool name (why is it, by the way, that so many cyclists have "old man" names like Floyd, George, Levi, and Oscar???); kids are great like that...

As for me, honestly, I'm learning quite a bit through the experience as well. Obviously, I've had to rethink some of my thoughts on spectacular vulnerability (though I still think there's something to this that will always pester me)... And, yeah, maybe it's not so bad to identify with Lance Armstrong instead of Floyd Landis. Methodical, robotic, calculated -- call it whatever you want -- but seven straight cleanly-contested (though some would argue this) Tour de France championships look a lot better in the history books than one line item, smudged out and scribbled over, no matter how much "heart" that ride seemed to have. This whole sequence of events in the cycling world has encouraged me to simply persevere in my unglamorous attempts to plod along the straight-and-narrow here in the real world: "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out... And when the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever" (Proverbs 10:9, 25).

Yet I must confess that I do not feel secure or firm. I cannot be arrogant or smug. For it wasn't until the 17th Stage (out of 20) in this year's Tour de France that Floyd Landis allegedly resorted to cheating... And as a young man of just 29 years, I fear that I've not yet even crossed into the Pyrenees of Stage 10. I need God's help to persevere! And I need a strong and steady team to keep me in the race. Just staying the course, pumping the pedals, honestly striving, avoiding temptations so that I can one day say: "I've fought the good fight. I've finished the race. I've kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). Gloria in excelsis deo.


At 5:40 AM, Anonymous Matt A. said...


I too wonder about the Landis incident. The questions that bothers me is why take synthetic steriods at that point in the race. The benefit of the steriods would not be seen for some time. Steriods allow you to train harder and recover sooner allowing more training. No immediate affect takes place. He was tested throughout the tour before that day and all the other tests came back clean. Now I am no conspiracy theorist, but you have to wonder if somebody tampered with his food and drink, or the samples themselves. Certian people would have the opportunity and reason. I am sure we will never know the complete truth, which is unfortunate.

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an op-ed from the newspaper in Floyd's hometown -- Murrieta, CA. I thought it was pretty good.

Bruce R.

Landis still a hero
By Nancy Fay

8/19/2006 5:31:35 PM

Even in a world where some professional or even low-level athlete gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs just about every day, Floyd Landis stands alone.

Landis is probably the first guy to be accused of doping when there was no way he could benefit from taking the illegal drugs.

Performance-enhancing drugs do help. That’s why so many athletes take them. But you have to take them over a period of several weeks to actually increase strength and speed up recovery time. Landis, according to the French lab that tested him seven times during the race, only took steroids in the 17th stage of the race — three days before it ended — hardly enough time to reap any reward.

So why would he?

Like every other bicycle racer in the Tour de France, Landis knew one thing for sure: He would be tested for drugs several times during the race. And he was. Six times before the seventh ill-fated test.

Landis tested negative, so it’s easy to conclude he wasn’t doping at all at least up until the 17th stage.

The point is, Landis knew he would be tested and he knew if he took performance-enhancing drugs it would be detected.

So why would he?

It’s no secret that the French loathe the thought of an American winning the Tour de France again, or ever, even — especially an American with a malady. Greg LeMond, the first American to win, finished the race with shotgun pellets still lodged in his body from a hunting accident. Lance Armstrong took the title seven years in a row and at least part of the time he was racing he endured excruciating pain because he had cancer. Then comes Landis, who can’t run, can’t walk up stairs and walks with a limp. And he wins the race. Of course the French aren’t happy about that.

Why would they be?

Next thing you know, Landis is accused of doping, an accusation he vehemently denies. But the French are adamant. After testing negative all those times, our hometown hero finally came up short: They found some in his urine.

For his friends, it won’t really matter that much: Landis has been an inspiration, not for riding a bike but for his pursuit of excellence.

For his admirers, probably the same: We might not know him, but we are proud our area is hospitable to world-class talent of any kind. And that still includes Landis.

But some local folks may not be too happy with our adopted favorite son. Fair enough.

He is at the mercy of the French. The same French who accused Lance Armstrong of doping every single time he won the tour but lacked the evidence. The same French who haven’t yet but undoubtedly will come forward with some flawless chain of custody of the urine sample.

Though having the French enforce rules is like putting Willie Sutton in charge of bank security: They are not really into rules over there, unless it is convenient. So now it is convenient for them to say that somehow our hometown hero is tarnished. They said he broke the rules and now they want him stripped of his title.

But Floyd Landis, who gave that race everything he had in order to win, has asked us for just one thing: Don’t rush to judgment.

Either way, he’s still the best bicycle racer on the planet.

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