Thursday, June 21, 2007

OCD'n on the OTB

After days of hand-wringing over amazon's ever-shifting ship dates, I decided to put a copy of the Floyd Landis book on reserve at my "local" Borders. I figured, at least I can get it on the 26th if amazon really was going to push shipping back to July. Lo and behold, I get the e-mail saying the book is there at Borders, ready and waiting for me to pick it up. I call, and ask the guy at least five times if he's sure I can pick it up today. (Borders is almost an hour and a half away for us boonie-folk, I need guarantees.) He says yes, he's looking at it, it'll be right there behind the counter for me. I finish out my work day, and off I go to the city. Yes, I'm avoiding the title, Positively False - I hate it, and I'm not in love with the cover art. I always thought One Tough Bitch would be the perfect title, but I guess Arlene wouldn't want that on the coffee table. But the hard cover, underneath the jacket, is pure yellow, you go Floyd!

I'm just about to turn into the mall, when NPR is doing a little satire about how it will be when Barry Bonds breaks the home run record. It's clever enough, but I'm flexing my stomach muscles, waiting for the punch, I know it's coming. And sure enough, their big finish - Floyd Landis presides over the on-field ceremony, in lieu of the Commissioner. You know, even if Floyd actually doped that would sting. As it is, it burns. And I know it shouldn't, it's just people being stupid, but it's not right, they shouldn't be in the same sentence. Anyway, not the point of the story, so I'll move on. But suffice it to say it left me even more primed.

Fair warning: if you want to have your own personal first experience with this book, read no further. And if you're averse to overwrought sentimental goo, well, what are you doing here in the first place? I walk into Borders, with plans to hit the restroom first (did I mention it was a long drive?). But along the way I have to check the new release stacks, see if the book is actually sitting out there, not just hiding behind the counter. (I'm still not convinced they're going to give me this book, though I'm sure I'm not leaving the store without it.) And there it is, tidy little stack. Who knew? Of course I pick it up immediately and start paging through. And the tears start coming. Not actually streaming down my face, but a hard blink could get that going at any moment.

The pictures bring actual sniffles, right alongside laughs (the captions are a hoot). The earnest young boy, the Postal days, with Amber, with Ryan (please, tear my heart right out of my chest, I don't need it), with a walker last fall. And then I notice the photo credits, and my heart breaks just a little more, because it's all of these precious family moments. The final photo just about brought me to my knees - Floyd in yellow on the stage podium, flanked by Hinault and Merckx, and looking straight at Amber, who is taking the picture. I manage to read a few more passages, then realize I really do have to make that pit stop, now also to compose myself a bit.

I realize I'm not going to make it to the movies as planned (hey, we don't get to the city often, it's usually best to multi-task). No way I'll be able to forget about the book and enjoy the movie. I wander around, pick up a CD, then check out and get my reserved copy. And stand in the foyer of the store and read it. And go sit in my car and read it. I'm blind in one eye, so I'm already vehicular-ly challenged, thus I resist the urge to read it while driving home. Not that I actually considered it, of course, but I had to laugh as the thought passed through my mind. I glance over to it, though, making sure it's still there on the long drive home.

Anyone who shrugs this book off as ho-hum boilerplate has no soul. Er, I mean to say, perhaps has interests other than cycling. You see, we who are obsessed always want more, and are enthralled by every new detail. We watch at least six hours of the Tour a day in July. We see our boys ride, eat, drink, warm-up, cool-down - if the cameras aren't paying attention, we even see them pee occasionally. But we want it all - we want to know what they were saying to each other, at breakfast, during the stage, on the bus, at dinner, over booze and Johnny Cash. We want to hear about the endearing Amber-Floyd courtship - when two OTBs collide. We want to hear about the lean days, the training days, the heartbreak days, the wear-a-suit days, the hometown love. You know, we heard a lot about Floyd's "choice of company" after The Call. But take a look beyond that, and you see a pretty extraordinary group of people that Floyd chose and that chose Floyd - from his parents, to Amber, and right on down - strong, straightforward, take-no-crap people who know what's what.

Alright, now I have to actually go read the thing cover to cover, but I think I can safely say this so far - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe (Will), you'll wince (Lance), you'll cheer, you'll hiss (guess who), you'll see TBV immortalized in print, and generally satisfy your itch. I don't know if this book will make it beyond the choir, but I certainly hope so, because folks could learn a thing or two, and wouldn't that be refreshing.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

How Do You Spell Panache?

As the raids and accusations continue to fly, let's look forward. There's hope that the current difficulties are ushering in a new, cleaner era of cycling. So what does a clean Tour winner look like in this rosy future? Hmmm, a consistent rider, using measured efforts and tactical moves. Stays with the leading group in the mountains, but doesn't fly so far ahead that he can file his nails and still win the stage. In fact, he doesn't fly at all, he just rolls along, grinding it out day after day. Maybe he wins one or two stages, with one or two big efforts, and then is just consistent for the rest of the race. He's even likely to have one bad day, it's only natural, a big stage race wears you down.

Oh wait - we had that, last year, and his name was Floyd Landis, and people bitched that he had no panache. Make up your mind, folks, do you want it real or do you want it pretty? But let's set aside that question for now, and review how real it was for Floyd: he took yellow the first time by coming in 3rd on the stage. He knew that he and his team were human, so he let the jersey go on a leisurely stroll that would've seen him eliminated from the race if he didn't have the entire peloton with him. He regained the jersey by coming in 4th on the glory stage up L'Alpe d'Huez. Then he promptly lost it again on the aforementioned bad day. Definitely not pretty there. He got his one stage win with a solid effort as the peloton filed their nails. The final TT saw him regain yellow by coming in 3rd. If ever there was a picture of a non-doping winner, it's Floyd. (Yes, you've caught me with my hand in the cookie jar again, watching my DVDs of the 2006 Tour - all 12 hours.)

That one stage win, of course, was Floyd's brief flirtation with panache - hailed as brilliant tactics one day and held up as proof positive of a cheat the next. I remember 17 well, I couldn't tear myself away and when I arrived late at work, I happily proclaimed that I had just seen the greatest day of cycling in recent history. So I'm the last one who wants to break up the party, but in the cold light of day, the racing itself wasn't that spectacular. It was very emotionally satisfying, and a hell of a ride by Floyd - the descents were mind-boggling - but until CSC woke up before the final climb, there wasn't much racing going on.

After bridging up to the breakaway, Floyd noodled around with them for a little bit, catching his breath and looking for allies. He soon got back to his steady pace, but had company for quite a while. He was with one or more riders from that breakaway for two hours. He was alone again only on the final climb and descent, with about 24K to go, and for less than an hour. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was playing the Life cereal game - you chase him, no you chase him, I'm not gonna chase him. It wasn't until just 48K left to go when they finally found their Mikey - Jens "I'll chase anything" Voigt, god bless him. One imagines they had to strap him to another rider to keep him from going before then; I'd love to know what he was saying under his breath all those dreary miles. Probably something like, "Carlos could wrap this thing up today if they'd just let us drop the rest of these lazy bums now…" So the chase began, and lo and behold, the gap went down - sorry Dick, no Harleys here, just some really lame tactics.

Even USADA gave up the idea that 17 was some superhuman ride propelled by Testosterone. No, their theory was that Floyd took T throughout the race, in micro-doses, to recover. Yeah, that must be why he bonked miserably in 16. Oops, forgot to take it last night - I know, I'll take it before the parade stage into Paris, just to make up the dose.

Mr. Suh and Mr. Jacobs are still finalizing their summaries for the arbs, presumably. I think they should toss in the Tour DVD set for good measure. With all the science and the rhetoric and the legal tactics and the easy jokes at Floyd's expense, it seems many have lost sight of just what went on over there in France last July. And that is, Floyd took a dead hip and a less-than-ideal team and endured a grueling three weeks of racing in a steady, workman-like fashion with great skill and great humility. I don't know if that's panache, but I'd put him on my Wheaties box any day.

Random notes on reliving Le Tour: plenty of laughs, especially with the ever-dry duo of Gary Imlach and Chris Boardman hosting, but a few heartbreakers: Floyd in a "borrowed suit" for his hip press conference - those were the days! Axel Merckx working like a dog to attain his dream of helping a Tour winner; I hope he still considers that dream fulfilled. Floyd just so damn happy after the final TT. I hope he can still find that somewhere in the echoes of his mind.