Road

Magazine Excerpt: Shades of gray

Some who confessed to doping have been accepted back into the sport, others have not. What's the difference?

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the November 2014 issue of Velo magazine.

That guy’s a doper. A cheater. A liar. Can’t stand him.

That guy seems all right. Yeah, he used to dope, but so did everyone else.

The conventional definition of the word “perception” pertains to the inexact and shifting merger of action and reaction that is constantly calibrating itself, given the context. Perception is both impermeable and porous. Judgments are formed unconsciously. We like or loathe, often before we’ve had a chance to think why.

During July, millions of people heard Christian Vande Velde’s voice commentating on the Tour de France for NBC Sports. If confessing to past use of PEDs ever hurt the former rider, he was certainly able to recover.

Also during July, hardly anyone saw Dave Zabriskie or Levi Leipheimer. Perhaps the riders chose to keep it that way, or perhaps they didn’t have such an option as Vande Velde. It’s hard to know.

Zabriskie finished his term with Garmin-Sharp at the end of the 2013 season, and walked away from the sport quietly. At the close of the 2012 season, Leipheimer was sacked by Omega Pharma-Quick Step following his public admission to using PEDs; after several last-ditch efforts to join a team in 2013 came up empty, he has since faded away from the professional side. But he continues to race, and some riders and fans of the sport seethe when he wins a mass-participation event (as he did at the Crusher in the Tushar this July).

Doper.

More than 7,000 people ride Levi’s GranFondo in Santa Rosa, California. It fills up every year.

Good guy.

In August, George Hincapie signed autographs outside the Hincapie Sportswear team bus in Aspen, Colorado, at the start of the USA Pro Challenge. The next day, one of the team’s riders, Robin Carpenter, won the stage into Crested Butte; Hincapie’s name was, once again, thrust into the international spotlight. In addition to the apparel company, Hincapie has his name on a gran fondo, and owns a luxury hotel in the Blue Ridge Mountains that caters to cyclists. Business seems good, if exposure is any indicator.

Eh, everybody did it.

Tom Danielson sat out the Tour de France, won the Tour of Utah, and was lambasted by a fan in Colorado during the USA Pro Challenge, eventually flipping the man off as he pedaled his way through the Garden of the Gods on a hot August afternoon.

Doper.

A few days later in Boulder, more fans waited outside the Garmin bus to cheer for Danielson than for any other rider on the team. “He was the most popular rider to come out of the bus. I’m just pointing that out,” manager Jonathan Vaughters said. Danielson finished second overall in Colorado.

Good guy.

There is a select crop of riders who embody the binary of the sport; they are the past and present in the same person, as the sport carries its past with it up the long climb to redemption.

“I think there is a small group of people, mainly your cat. 3, cat. 2, maybe even cat. 1 type of riders that feel like they had something personally taken away from them as a result of the doping culture that existed in cycling,” Vaughters said. “And, you know, I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to say, or anything anyone else is going to say, that’s going to convince them differently on that. And they’re angry about that. And that’s unfortunate, but at the same point in time, they’re entitled to be angry.”

Meanwhile, amid the wreckage, Lance Armstrong continues his public relations journey, plodding through a perpetual legal snowstorm, and, generally, making his way back toward some form of acceptance.

A recent Esquire magazine cover line wondered how Armstrong was doing “in exile.”

Armstrong was nowhere to be seen in Aspen during the Pro Challenge, though he lives there, and though, in 2009 and 2010, he played a critical role in bringing the event into existence.

Meeting him in the exile of the Denver International Airport on a September day this fall, hat low, shades on, Armstrong seemed just fine. At this point in his story, which is bound to change yet again, he said cycling was still a positive for him.

“I’m in a comfortable position. I mean, I still have a few things to take care of, but I’m comfortable. I’m sitting here waiting for a connection and not flying on a f—king Gulfstream anymore, but that’s okay. Shit happens; it’s all good, man,” he said.

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