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By Patrick O’Grady
“I think we’re just gonna bank on a horrible day that makes everybodywant to quit, go home and cry.”
Saturn’s Tim Johnson, discussing this weekend’s Saturn Cycling Classic during an interview with VeloNews senior writer Bryan Jew
In the wake of public outrage over revelations that steroids are ascommon in pro baseball as televised cup adjustments, the players’ unionhas finally proposed submitting to a regimen of unannounced dope testingthat at first glance seems every bit as rigorous as the accounting oversightat WorldCom.
This should be entertaining. Judging from the tone of the ongoing labornegotiations and that howler of an All-Star Game, it seems certain thatballplayers will be no smarter about cheating than cyclists. Thus, soonwe will see wives throughout the National and American leagues going toprison over carloads of drugs intended for their mothers while their husbandsshake their heads sadly from another jurisdiction and send money for cigarettes.
If I were a pro ballplayer, I’d take dope, too. Dexedrine, I think,so I could stay awake out there in left field, chewing my cud, countingmy money and wondering if the old lady looked hot in an orange jumpsuitand manacles.
Alas, I was never in danger of becoming a ballplayer of any sort. Myfather played semipro baseball before his game was called on account ofWorld War II, but all attempts to pass his skills down to me, a clumsy,skinny kid, proved futile. Never a team player, with a crippling allergicreaction to all forms of constituted authority, I was only suited for weirdosports that rewarded the anarchy of individual effort, like swimming andcycling.
Come to think of it, if I had to race the Saturn Classic this weekend,I’d be taking dope, and plenty of it. Wash down a fistful of Seconal witha bottle of Romilar and go back to bed is what I’d do, bright and earlyon Saturday morning, right after calling my directeur sportif andmaking barf noises between gasped excuses like “food poisoning … West Nilevirus … gunshot wound.”
Have you seen this race? I have, from the comfort and safetyof a media SUV two years ago, chatting amiably with cycling luminarieslike Michael Aisner and Fred Matheny. And I would sooner be hanging bymy heels in a French prison, waiting for Raimondas Rumsas to show up witha bail bondsman and a full confession, than spend a Saturday free-fallingdown Oh My God Road on a two-wheeler that didn’t sport a BMW logo and afinely tuned Bavarian engine.
This is no parking-lot crit we’re talking about here. We’re talking140 miles of mountain madness, with 14,000 feet of vertical in seven ratedclimbs, on bone-jarring dirt and gravelly chip-seal, from the People’sRepublic of Boulder to the industrial tourism of Breckenridge. The courseis basically Thor’s personal free-fire zone, where anything with a pulseis a target of opportunity, especially if it happens to be grunting througha summer thunderstorm at 11,000 feet atop a baroque two-wheeled lightningrod fashioned of titanium, aluminum and stainless steel.
You want to talk about drug testing athletes? Somebody should make allthese guys pee in beakers before the start, and anyone who isn’t dopedto the eyelids should be force-fed something apropos, like horse tranquilizers,lithium or fresh fish, which I’m told augments brain power.
Brain power is a good thing. And if defending champ Jonathan Vaughters,2000 winner Scott Moninger and anyone else hoping to make the cut on HoosierPass had more of it, they’d be playing pro baseball, where a benchwarmerearns more than the president of the United States, a union decides whetheryou have to pee in a beaker, and “ump” is not the sound you make afterdoing a header over the handlebars into an aspen on the downside of GuanellaPass.
Still, I’m glad they’re doing what they do, and doing it in such spectacularfashion — especially after watching last weekend’s much-ballyhooed NewYork City Cycling Championship, which proved to be only one more bit ofbad news from Wall Street. It should have been relocated to Broadway andretitled “Much Ado About Nothing.”
If that’s what big-time American bike racing is supposed to look like, all I can say is, “Play ball.” Or better yet, “Get your ass up the pass.” It’s not as easy for a spectator, and it’s sure as hell a lot harder for the competitors, but that’s as it should be.
Because the Saturn Classic is a whole other ball game.