Ceasing to Care (?) About Lance Armstrong

Where There’s Smoke, There’s …  Syringes?
Tyler’s, Floyd’s and now George’s? Is Lance Next?

And who in the world of cycling do these syringes belong to? I’ve done my best to ignore the latest doping scandal – or rather the latest episode in the ongoing scandal/soap opera that is professional drug use cycling; thank you 60 Minutes. In fact cycling was the last professional sport I actually followed to any degree or otherwise gave a damn about. But my love affair with the pro cycling tour and pro sports in general ended in 2007.

I don’t want entertainment. I want sport. Drugs and doping turn professional sports into a freakshow. I don’t want a superhuman circus. I want human athletes performing at the top of their game, not their drug dealer’s or doctor’s game. If you perform at a level you otherwise couldn’t perform by using performance enhancing drugs, well, that’s the drug, not you.

As for cycling, some people argue: why not let them all dope? Sanction it, institutionalize it and be done with it. If we’re going to go that route, maybe we should just pay chemists millions of dollars to see who can make the fastest, strongest lab rat, and call that professional sport. The pharmaceutical companies could even sponsor and field teams, and spectators could wager on the rats.

If you’re doping as a professional cyclist, what’s the difference between that and cheating by using a mechanized bicycle, for example? Either way your performance is artificially enhanced – it’s not you getting you up on the podium. I don’t want to watch the Wide World of Pharmaceuticals; I want to watch the Wide World of Sports. But if such a thing ever existed – and I’m not talking about the eponymous ABC Sports show – it is long gone.

Lance Armstrong in 2010 in Radioshack team kit. Photo courtesy Jan Jacob Mekes via Wikipedia.But What About Our Cycling Lord and Savior Lance Armstrong?

Consider that 41 out of 70 top-ten finishers in the record seven Tours de France that Lance Armstrong won have either been convicted of doping or otherwise confessed to it – more than half. If we look at those who placed second and third in each race for those years — the other podium finishers besides Lance — we see that all but one of them has been convicted or otherwise connected with doping. If we assume (and it is almost certainly true) that others doped and didn’t get caught … well, it makes the question of whether or not Armstrong doped seem academic, doesn’t it?

So I can’t get really worked up about it anymore; for me at this point it’s just mildly interesting interesting and entertaining as an  observer to watch how the story continues to unfold along with the public reactions. “Lance is a heroic saint who’s urine share’s the same chemical consistency of holy water. Of course he didn’t dope. A future saint would never dope.” verses “Lance is the spawn of Satan and a sign of the apocalypse and should be drawn and quartered at the top of L’Alpe de Huez by Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and the ghosts of Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi!

Of course Lance is like … oh, I don’t know, the Jesus of the cycling world. Okay, maybe not Jesus, but certainly a hero, or at least an American one. Beats cancer, raises money and awareness to continue to fight cancer, and accomplishes what no one else has done in the world of professional cycling – a sport dominated by Europeans. In fact before Armstrong came to the fore, the only bragging rights we had in cycling was Greg LeMond.

While Armstrong divides the cycling world, he is practically next to Jesus after all in the cancer funding world, and for good reason. Not only has he raised millions for cancer research, but he has inspired a lot of cancer patients and filled them with hope. That’s no small legacy; no one can deny that.

But about this latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga that is doping and pro cycling. I refer of course to Tyler Hamilton’s appearance on 60 Minutes. I didn’t even pay attention to this at first, but since then there have been several tidbits of information that have come out of that interview or afterward that seem pretty damning to Lance Armstrong, and it seems like few outlets in either the mainstream media or the cycling press have picked up on them – some, but not as many as one would think.

The first of these is the revelation that George Hincapie testified in the U.S. federal grand jury investigation of Lance. Per the 60 Minutes voice over:

But now we’re told that Hincapie, for the first time, has told federal investigators that he and Armstrong supplied each other with the blood booster EPO and discussed having used testosterone, another banned substance, during their preparation for races.

Through his attorney, Hincapie declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation.

George_Hincapie at the Tour Of California Prologue, 2008. Photo courtesy Thomas Fanghaenel via Wikipedia.Hincapie was Armstrong’s teammate and lieutenant for all of his Tour de France assaults. Armstrong has called him a brother. Hincapie has never been tainted by scandal before and is, by all accounts, one of the nice guys in the pro peloton. He really has nothing to gain and a lot to loose, if this is true.

Tellingly, perhaps, Tyler Hamilton used to be one of those nice guys that no one ever had anything bad to say about.

Hincapie has been understandably tight-lipped since this came out. As he told the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday: “It’s just unfortunate that that’s all people want to talk about now. I’m not going to partake in any cycling-bashing. I have done everything to be the best I can be. … I want the focus on the future of the sport, what it’s done to clean itself up. I believe in cycling and want to support it.”

Then came a statement through Hincapie’s lawyer, also per the AP:

I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information. As I’ve said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future. As for the substance of anything in the 60 Minutes story, I cannot comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation.

Ouch. No denial of the substance or the facts regarding what 60 Minutes reported about him, merely that he didn’t talk to them himself. If it were completely false, he would have had no reason not to say otherwise, grand jury investigation or no.

As the 60 Minutes transcript states, “now we’re told” would imply a source who is obviously remaining anonymous; now we know that this wasn’t Hincapie itself. But Hincapie’s statement doesn’t give us any indication that it isn’t factually incorrect.

While this has been reported on considerably, where it’s been lacking has been in the analysis. If there was ever a time for an impassioned defense, this was it. Instead we have Hincapie hiding behind lawyerly skirts, and what he doesn’t say is truly damning; one can’t help but think that he got offered the same deal by federal prosecutors as that offered to Hamilton: agree to testify and get limited immunity from prosecution.

Of course Armstrong’s lawyers have tried to attack the credibility of 60 Minutes. “The only others with access to Hincapie’s testimony — government investigators and prosecutors — have likewise assured us that they are not the source of the information attributed by CBS to Hincapie,” Armstrong’s lawyer said in a prepared statement.

Here again, a lawyerly tactic: no one’s trying to actually deny the actual content of what 60 Minutes claims is Hincapie’s testimony to the federal grand jury, but rather cast doubt on the credibility of the reporting. It is perhaps telling, this.

And it’s a shame that nice-guy Hincapie is getting caught up in this, but then it may turn out to be a case of live by the syringe, die by the syringe. This can certainly be said of former nice-guy turned bad-guy Tyler Hamilton.

Speaking of (In) Credibility …

A notable and particularly damning fact that hasn’t been widely reported is that at one point Lance Armstrong’s lawyers approached Hamilton’s lawyer, Chris Manderson, about coordinating a mutual defense in the federal government’s ongoing investigation over doping and the federally funded U.S. Postal cycling team. As reported in VeloNews’ interveiw with Manderson today:

That spring, Manderson told VeloNews, he was approached by Armstrong’s legal team in an apparent effort to coordinate a response to the burgeoning investigation.

“Yes, I was contacted by attorneys representing Lance Armstrong,” Manderson said. “Keep in mind that everyone was being subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, and it was public information that I was Tyler Hamilton’s lawyer.”

Federal authorities had offered Hamilton limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, a deal that would be negated were he to be shown to have lied before the grand jury. Manderson said that at that point, there was little incentive to coordinate a defense with Armstrong’s legal team.

“Yes, they proposed a joint defense agreement, but I told them ‘I don’t think my client is going to be a defendant.'”

When contacted by VeloNews for a response to Manderson’s comments, Armstrong attorney and spokesman, Mark Fabiani, declined to comment.

Lance Armstrong lawyer and spokesman Mark FabianiThis is the same Fabiani that has derided Hamilton in the press since the 60 Minutes story broke, claiming that Hamilton isn’t credible. The Lance camp has even created a website, Facts4Lance.com, much of which is dedicated to discrediting Hamilton. But there is no new information here; nothing about Hamilton that erodes his credibility any further than it was back in 2009 when he got busted for doping a second time and handed an eight-year suspension from cycling.

So if Hamilton’s credibility was so awful, why approach him for a joint defense? It seems to me that someone with such injured credibility would be a liability to Lance’s defense, not an asset, if that were indeed the case.

Furthermore, Facts4Lance reads like it was written by an angry and indignant teenager. Rather than bring anything new to Lance’s defense, it just rehashes arguments that have been made before, in an angry, self indulgent tone. Even if Lance is completely innocent, this isn’t doing him any favors.

In fact, in the VeloNews article quoted above, Manderson refutes one claim cited on Facts4Lance regarding Hamilton’s credibility. As it states on Facts4Lance:

TYLER HAMILTON’S BACKROOM DEAL WITH THE GOVERNMENT

Despite his doping conviction, Hamilton retains his Olympic Gold Medal. We believe government investigators have promised Hamilton that he can keep his gold medal — even after he publicly admits to doping — as long as he implicates Lance Armstrong.

Manderson tells VeloNews this wasn’t the case, that in fact Hamilton had relinquished the medal last week.

Manderson said that no such deal existed, nor could it exist, since the federal government lacks any authority to take away an Olympic medal or to allow an athlete to keep it. Hamilton, said Manderson, had already decided to give up the medal before going public with his allegations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and USADA both confirmed last week that Hamilton had given the medal to a USADA official.

So this particular accusation is clearly silly, and in fact only serves to question the credibility of Lance Armstrong’s position, rather than further erode Hamilton’s. One can’t help but wonder what other facts on Facts4Lance are incorrect.

So who is lying? Which side is telling the truth? Who knows? I sure don’t. I’d like to believe Lance Armstrong. I also wanted to believe Tyler Hamilton. And Floyd Landis. And all the rest.

And What Was That about the $100,000 Donation?

And if we’re going to talk about credibility, doesn’t it seem rather astoundingly incredulous that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of professional cycling, would accept a $100,000 donation from Lance Armstrong? It gets better: this donation was ostensibly for a drug testing machine, to help keep the sport clean.

This news actually broke a year ago but it seems relevant still – particularly since Armstrong’s camp wants to question everyone else’s credibility. Here is the professional body that oversees athletic competition and the people who tests its athletes, the body that is responsible for disciplining said athletes who get caught doping – here is the same professional body receiving a whopping huge donation from one of the athletes it is responsible for overseeing.

If that’s not outright illegal somehow, it is at the least a huge conflict of interest. It’s like a lobbyist making a campaign contribution to a politician. Even if it was all on the up and up – Lance is on the podium with Jesus and the Dalai Lama, after all – I find it hard to believe that neither side thought that others might find it the least bit suspicious, that no one could see the exchange of money as a conflict of interest – and yet this is exactly what UCI says. Here’s what UCI president Pat McQuaid told The (London) Telegraph newspaper last year:

“… there is no way that the UCI or its former president Hein Verbruggen could have accepted a bribe. It’s just not possible.”

“To the best of my knowledge,” continued McQuaid, “the UCI has not accepted other donations and I’d just like to clarify that there was only one donation from Lance Armstrong not two or three.

“You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They’ve all came up since then. We accepted the donation to help develop the sport. We didn’t think there’s a conflict of interest. It’s easy to say in hindsight what could or would have been done. You have to put yourself in the situation at the time.”

McQuaid has repeated this statement in the wake of Hamilton’s allegations. I must confess I can’t believe this for a second. I’m willing to concede that it’s entirely possible (although seemingly unlikely at this point) that the donation was made in good faith. But that it never occurred to either side, especially the UCI, that it could be viewed as a conflict of interest? I have to cry bullshit on that.

What makes it looks worse? This occurred not long after the 2001 Tour de Suisse in which Armstrong allegedly tested positive but then covered it up with the UCI’s help.

On the other hand, if the allegations that Armstrong tested positive are true and that a coverup ensued, I find it hard to believe that both sides would be dumb enough to pursue a $100,000 bribe as a “donation” to be used for drug testing equipment. No could be that dumb, surely? Regardless of whether or not Armstrong doped or even tested positive, people in the UCI and Armstrong camps were clearly naive and gullible at best and downright stupid at worst.

I Never Tested Positive: the Equivalent of Not Inhaling?

Tyler Hamilton on 60 Minutes. Photo copyright Associated Press/CBS News.Speaking of naiveté and gullibility (something I’m guilty of, for ever having believed Tyler Hamilton’s vanishing twin defense), another thing that has always troubled me about Lance Armstrong is his statement – more of a mantra, at this point – that he is the most tested athlete in the world, and that he’s never tested positive. Even if we take that at face value, at best it’s still not a denial of doping but merely a statement that no one has ever caught him. We’re supposed to then infer on our own that he doesn’t, in point of fact, dope.

Isn’t this what politicians do? This almost seems akin to Clinton saying he never inhaled when asked if he ever smoked marijuana; we’re supposed to infer then that he did not; that this doesn’t, in fact, count as smoking. Or better yet: when he said he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky, because oral sex doesn’t count as sex sex, does it?

Right. Just like no one could ever possibly conceive that this might be perceived as a conflict of interest: the most tested athlete in the world giving the professional body that oversees his drug tests $100,000.

Maybe Lance has stated on the record unequivocally that he never has doped, but if he has, I missed it, and can’t find that statement now. It’s always the “I’ve never tested positive” refrain. I’d like to see that unequivocal public statement if it’s out there.

But I’m not sure that it would make any difference. Hincapie’s reported testimony is pretty damning if it’s true – and he’s not given us any reason to believe that it isn’t, at this point. Coupled with the fact that Lance Armstrong’s lawyers only recourse seems to be to get angry and try and destroy the credibility of everyone else … well, like stereotypes, clichés often have a grain of truth to them. And this whole situation suggests that where there is this much smoke (and possibly mirrors), there must be fire.

Sigh. For someone that doesn’t give a damn about cycling anymore, I still managed to write nearly 3,000 words. Screw it. I’m going to go ride my bike now.

Postcript: Incidentally, Mark Fabiani defended the Clintons during the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s. More recently he worked with Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs when the investment firm got put through the congressional ringer over the sub prime loan debacle and subsequent financial meltdown.

Saddle Up, Effendi. We Ride!

Giant Bowery 72So rather than cave in and learn to ride a motorbike, I decided to stick with what I know (and wanted): the trusty bicycle. I think I probably could learn to ride, with little trouble, a xe may with an automatic transmission. But I just don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of it – plus, the air pollution is bad enough here.; I’ll take one for Mother Earth’s team. Of course life here may still eventually require the purchase of said motorbike, but for now, I’ll stick with this purchase (which cost as much if not more than a motorbike, thanks to the fact that it is imported, and Viet Nam apparently taxes the hell out of imports).

A foolish purchase, perhaps, in many people’s eyes. But as I bombed around Biên Hòa
today for the first time on it, I think it was an excellent purchase. It feels good to ride (regardless of the bike); I haven’t done so in a long time. The nice thing is, this bike is nimble enough and fast enough that it feels like what I’m used to – not like the horrible clunker of an indigenous mountain bike I rode when I first got to Viet Nam last January, and not the terrible piece-of-shite department-store-type bike I tried to ride in Suphanburi, Thailand (geez, that is an episode I need to write about sometime – that shop owner racked up some bad karma).

Anyway, bike nerd stuff is below. But first, some photography stuff. Look at the two photos just below the cut:  same, but different. The first is a photo from my Nokia 5800 phone; it has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and a Carl Zeiss lens. As I’ve noted before, I love this phone, but either the image sensor or the processing software is crap, compared to some other camera phones. Even with the flash as fill light, yuck. Of course there is no comparison between any camera phone and a good DSLR. The second picture is taken with my trusty Canon, with the flash bounced off the ceiling. Not even close, which is what I knew and expected – but I’ve been wanting to make a side-by-side comparison for awhile now, and this was an opportunity.

My New Ride

My New Ride, Non Craptacular

Now for the bike nerd stuff:

Anyway, a brief review of the Giant Bowery based on my first impression. In terms of street cred back home in the States this bike is a total poseur machine, to be sure. A single speed (with a fixie flip-flop hub should one desire) on a compact-geometry road frame (although it does have track dropouts) with, er, wannabe-track-bike bars on it – blasphemy in some cycling circles. I don’t think you’d ever see a messenger tooling around the Bowery in New York City on such a bike, unless perhaps he or she was trying for über irony. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been a slave to fashion or style. This is a man who used to ride with his roadie friends for hours on his Bianchi ‘cross bike (with road slicks) and his – gasp! Horror of horrors! – Camelbak (this is also a man who always had to stop in the middle of every long ride so his roady friends could fill up their damn water bottles). So yeah, I guess I’ve always been a heretic. You can take the boy off the mountain bike, but you can’t take the mountain biker out of the boy, or something like that.

Besides, the cycling culture here is virtually nonexistent, although I have occasionally seen a few Vietnamese guys riding around on expensive carbon fiber and wearing pro-team kits, both here and down in Sai Gon. Usually that would mean the worst sort of bike snob back home – beware the wannabe with too much money (I used to love dropping guys like that, back when I was in some sort of shape) – but team kits and expensive frames may not translate into the same thing here. Perhaps we’ll see one day when I’m out riding. If it does, I look forward to annoying them with the Giant Bowery; if it doesn’t, I welcome international bonding with my fellow bike nerds.

One snobbish thing in this bike’s favor, though – it’s probably the only one in Vietnam, perhaps all of Southeast Asia. The shop I bought it from imported it for someone who changed their mind.

Anyway, I wanted a single speed, because the roads here are flat, but I knew I wanted a western-style road bike in terms of the frame – the local brands of bikes all tend to be mountain bikes (sport bikes, as they are called here) and cruiser-type bikes. Not that I have anything against the cruiser bikes, but the ones here seem to be a bit flimsy for my big ass. Plus, when I stand on the pedals, I want things to happen – as in quick, responsive forward motion, and not bending the pedals and/or crank arms. Cruisers are also just too pokey, especially here. But having said that, I still need something beefy enough to handle my weight and the roads here.

Giant Bowery geometryThus, the 2010 Giant Bowery 72 comes to the rescue. I like the geometry of this bike, as it fits my odd torso. At 5’10” most bike fitters initially try and put me on bikes that are too large, say a 55 cm frame; apparently I have a long torso compared to my arm and leg length. So yeah, compact geometry works for me. The frame is actually a size small; check out the actual geometry measurements to the right (click it to big it) – yes, I’m actually comfortable riding around on this teeny bike! I probably would have been fine on a medium, too – but once I bumped up the seat a bit, this bike felt like home.

It’s not as aggressive as a track bike or a dedicated road-racing bike, of course, but that’s fine – this bike is for bombing around town and the odd fitness ride here and there. I’ve got the handlebar raised to a less aggressive position too; baby steps – as I get into better shape and my abs come around, then I’ll lower it back down.

Some reviewers have said it handles like a tank; I wouldn’t go that far. Yes, it’s not as nimble as a track bike or a racing rig, and for what I’m using it for, I wouldn’t want it to be. But it’s nimble enough to get around in traffic here; I found it plenty responsive enough for me. It’s at least as responsive as my Bianchi Axis crossbike I used to ride all over Hell’s half acre (as my dear old Dad used to say), so I’ve got no complaints. I didn’t notice any problems as far as ride feel either, but then again, I’m used to riding around on beefy aluminum. The tubes aren’t butted (which would be nice), but as far as I can tell, the welds and build quality are fine.

I imagine I might have to replace the rear rim at some point; we’ll see if Giant holds up where previous Taiwanese rims have failed – and this is back when I weighed under 180 lbs. I don’t think that saddle will be around too long, either, although it’s fine for now – nothing wrong with it, per se, for a stock saddle. The brakes and brake levers are adequate – like the saddle, fine for now. If I have this bike a long time, I may replace them at some point, but there is no hurry. The pedals are definitely short timers – as soon as I can lay my hands on some Time/ATAC cleats and pedals. This is the one thing I would have changed immediately, if I could have.

Not sure about those Kenda tires; there is all sorts of shite on the roads here. Of course if I flat a lot, they will have to go. Also not sure about the nuts on the axles. I’ve read that there is no reason not to use quick-release skewers, as long as they are not cheap and flimsy – that nuts on track bikes are just tradition. The Bowery has axle nuts and then some other kind of nut and bolt rig anchoring the hub in each track mount – I’m wondering if I could keep those and use a quick-release skewer in place of the axle nuts. On the other hand, if I can get some beefy tires – next mission: find a shop in Asia that carries Specialized Armadillos (and Time/ATACs) – and keep from flatting often, I’ll stick with the nuts.

Would I be nuts not too? Sorry, but you knew that was coming, didn’t you? I’m sure some friends were wondering why it took me so long to make that painfully obvious pun.

One more thing. I don’t know how much it weighs, but it’s relatively light, for as beefy as it is. I didn’t think to get it weighed in the shop – I thought about it while I was test riding it, then forgot when I got back. It feels a bit lighter than my Bianchi Axis was, even after I had slimmed it down with after-market parts. It doesn’t matter anyway; I’ve never been a weight weenie. According to the U.K. version of Giant’s web site, the Bowery 72 weighs 20.11 pounds, which feels about right – about a pound less than my Axis.

Here’s some more nerdery on the Bowery:

Frame: ALUXX-Grade Aluminum

Fork: CroMo, Alloy Steerer

Handlebar: Alloy Drop, Track Style 26.0

Stem: Alloy

Seatpost: Alloy, 27.2mm

Saddle: GIANT Racing

Pedals: Caged w/ Clips

Brakes: Alloy Dual Pivot

Brake Levers: Alloy Road

Cassette: 17T Fixed or Freewheel

Chain: KMC Z410A 1/2 x 1/8

Crankset: LASCO Track, 48T

Bottom Bracket Cartridge

Rims: GIANT Alloy, Double Wall

Hubs: Alloy High-Flange Track Style w/ Flip-Flop Rear Hub, Nutted 32h

Spokes: Stainless Steel

Tires KENDA Kriterium, 700×25