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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bicycling: Lance, Tyler, and me 

Lance Armstrong is retiring right after this year's Tour de France. Tyler Hamilton got a 2-year suspension for homologous blood transfusion, which, for a 34-year old pro cyclist, is the career death penalty.

Lance cited the usual reasons for retiring: more time with the kids, wanting to go out on top, etc. I think you can add one more to that list: he hates to lose. He has to know at his age that even this year's Tour will be a big stretch. As I have pointed out before, stage racers like Lance tend to stop winning right about the age he was last year. The killer is recovery: a rider over the age of 30 often still has virtually all of his power and performance for one day, but the grind of 3 weeks of racing doesn't allow his body to recover fast enough to keep up with younger legs.

Lance is better at preserving his body than most other great tour riders have been: he races much less than historic cyclists did (or even do; he may have the fewest scheduled race days of any ProTour rider right now), and he had a year off mid-career to, you know, fight off cancer.

The surprising part is highlighted in that article I linked above: what older riders can do just fine, in general, is win one-day races, and Lance has previously said he wanted to collect a few of the famous "classics," the very traditional one-day races that take place in the low countries and northern france. That Lance doesn't seem to have an hour record attempt planned is the most surprising part, since that is pretty much the queen of cycling achievements, and it's known that Trek even built a special track bike for an hour attempt earlier this year. Furthermore, the nature of an hour record attempt is such that he could easily train for it in the United States.

But I think hating to lose is a big part of this: pro athletes can draw on many motivations, but Lance's key motivator seems to be not losing. This would certainly explain why he might want to go out on top, and why he might not want to attempt all these big cycling challenges, which, as big as they are within the cycling world, would be meaningless to Lance's future marketability, which hinges entirely on his bout with cancer and his monumental Tour accomplishments (and full props to him about the cancer thing: it may be good PR, but he and Nike have used his name and his time to raise millions of dollars for the cause). And he's probably sincere about the time-with-kids excuse. It seems to have been a major motivator behind the rearrangement of his training schedule to include more US racing in the last few years.

My wish would be that Lance reneges and races the classics next year, or at least goes out and tries for an hour record, but I'll take what I can get. Maybe he's done the tests, and really can't hit the hour mark. But I'd be a bit surprised.

* * *

Which brings us to Tyler Hamilton, the cutest drug cheat you could ever meet. Hamilton is the other great American rider, a guy who has some world-class results, including the gold medal in the last Olympic time trial.

The case against him is also complicated. The thing he tested positive for is a homologous blood transfusion, which means he had blood from someone else flowing through his veins. You're not supposed to do that unless you have some legitimate need for a blood transfusion (like, say, losing a lot of blood), but that doesn't seem to be the case. But this is a brand new test, and Hamilton, perhaps unsurprisingly, is vehemently declaring his innocence.

I want to believe Tyler, and he seems to be raising some disturbing points about the test, and generally behaving like an innocent rider. But he has only one appeal left at this point, and it doesn't look good.

* * *

Back to everybody's favourite drug-free rider, me! On Monday I did a fun workout consisting of about an hour of repeatedly riding up a hill in the Westwood Plateau area. It hurt really good, and then afterward I ate a very large T-bone steak with my bare hands and a nice glass of red wine. It's all true.

Can you tell The Lovely One was working late?

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