I got to the finish line of Liege Bastogne Liege in 2012 with about a minute to spare, before Maxim Iglinsky won, and rode right by me with his arms still up in the air. I took a bad picture of that moment, with a guy that looked a good bit like Spinal Tap's manager Ian Faith (minus the eyes that are looking in eight different directions) in the background. There was an odd silence in the area where I was standing after Iglinsky's win. One photographer spoke up, "I wonder how much he paid for the win", a reference to to Astana's Alexander Vinokourov well-known shopping trip in Belgium just two years earlier.
Following the race, I walked around the team buses. Among other things, I saw a rider from Team Sky carefully put his bike into the nearly non-existent backseat of his Porsche, as two bikini-clad Kazakh fans looked for the Astana bus. Two kids tried to steal water bottles from bikes resting on the side of the Euskaltel bus, and were caught by team mechanics. But the one thing I remember most about that afternoon is the general sense of indignation among many people that I talked to after the race. People who work in cycling in one way or another shrugged their shoulders when discussing the race and its winner, and not because of Vinokourov's earlier purchase of it. Rather, it was Iglinsky winning that made many uncomfortable. And while I'm open to the fact that maybe I was projecting my own feelings onto others, the conversations I had that afternoon are memorable.
Now, I'm not going to stretch the truth here, and tell you that I was there for some significant moment, like the much-talked about instance at the Tour de France, when the entire press room laughed in disbelief at the sight of Armstrong motoring up Luz Ardiden. No. But I was amazed by the general mood that Iglinsky's victory caused, and about the stories that it prompted people to start telling. Mind you, these were mere rumors, but everyone I talked to had one more story, with varying degrees of detail about Iglinsky and the veracity of what we had just seen. Since then, I have heard similar stories, some with an astounding amount of detail, about different teams and riders, always from people who are very much involved in the sport, and often with first-hand knowledge.
But what value do these stories have? They are, after all, gossip. But see, I bring all of this up because I'm always amazed by the disbelief expressed by some members of the press when stories like the Iglinsky positives break. As I see it, I'm probably below the last rung of people involved with cycling. I don't merely say this for the sake of vain self deprecation, I assure you. I manage to make it to a race here and there, and see the seasoned veterans from the press, sponsors, and race organizations who are there day in and day out. Their world is different from mine. And so is the level and volume of information they hear. And while members of the press could never publish these rumors (of course), I find it hard to believe that if they've heard even a tenth of what I have (it's probably more likely that you should multiply the amount of stuff by ten, not divide it) that there would be any disbelief left in them for such matters as two positives within a team like Astana. Are they patronizingly putting on this act for the benefit of fans? Or are they really that surprised, despite the talk that surrounds them on a daily basis? Have they perhaps (unlike me) stopped listening to such talk altogether, as part of their sometimes-jaded look at the sport that they really are surprised? That could certainly be the case.
Then again, maybe some of them remain blind, ardent fans at heart. The kind that hopelessly fall in love every season, only to have their hearts broken just as often. It may seem unlikely, but why else would they keep coming back, and investing themselves in something so flawed, so imperfect, and so unpredictable, only to be "surprised"? Maybe they don't much care about such surprises, but just like fans, they shrug their shoulders and move on. After all, I guess that's how love works out for many people, isn't it?
I watched the Bpost Bank Trophy cyclocross race this weekend through a not-so-terrible internet feed. A few observations about the race and its broadcast, in no particular order.
1. Autumn feels like a reunion of sorts, where I get to spend time with Sporza broadcasters again for the first time since the spring. Part of this joy is relishing the moments where I can actually understand the broadcast (due in large part to context, of course), and picking up the English words and phrases that are used. "The Iceman" came up a few times, as did "cross fit". When in doubt, I build makeshift context around these words, and come up with my own interpretation.
For example: Zdeněk Štybar, due to his new goatee, has asked to now be referred to ask "The Iceman" by broadcasters. This, along with the fact that he took up cross-fit have led to his increase in form, which he hopes to take into the cross season.
I'm completely wrong about all of this, but my imagination can't help but go through these mental exercises to fill in the blanks.
2. Did anyone else notice how the kit for the Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace team features patches of golden colored lycra that are surprisingly similar to those worn by the Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar team, the ones that caused a huge international uproar? Considering that Golden Palace is the company who paid $75,000 for William Shatner's kidney stone (along with several other publicity stunts), I'm surprised that no one at their European headquarters has seized this opportunity, and redesigned the Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace kit accordingly. Can you imagine the amount of press the team could get for shots of their riders with mud all over their junk?
3. Growing up in Colombia, there was a kid named Alejandro who lived on our block. His dad owned a bike shop, and he'd always have a cool new pedal cart or bike to show off. And as much as he liked to show off his toys, he also suffered from a problem, namely that he loved to gorge on peanuts and yogurt, two things that when mixed together would—for whatever reason—give him severe intestinal issues, that would lead him to poop his pants. If/when this would happen, his mother would call out to him from their house. "Alejandro why won't you get off your cart and come into the house? It's dark out! Oh no, did you eat yogurt and peanuts again? Are you ashamed to get off your cart?"
Of course he was. He had just defecated on himself, and instead of being seen in that condition, he would just sit in his little pedal car, stewing in his own feces in the small driveway in front of his family home.
Once his mom would eventually lure him inside the house, he would sit by his bedroom window, too sick play outside. He would look longingly at all of us playing in the street. It was a sad look, one that reminded me of the poster for Woody Allen's movie Interiors. It's a look I had not seen in for many, many years, until cameras at the Bpost Bank Trophy kept cutting to Niels Albert this weekend. Unable to race, Albert looked on with a deep sadness in his face. Like he couldn't go out and play.
And all I could think about while watching him was, "Uh oh, maybe he just mixed yogurt and peanuts."