Cycling needs to face its history and future -- honestly
PARIS -- The Spanish philosopher and poet George Santayana is credited with saying that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It would be interesting to hear what he'd have to say about what happens when you try to make history go away.
Every Tour de France stage begins at Kilometer Zero no matter what happened the day before. The race organizers would have preferred to start the 2007 Tour with a similarly blank slate. That wasn't to be. For every person excised from the books, there was another reminder that cycling's past is very much alive and present at K-Zero every morning.
Most conspicuous by his absence this year was Floyd Landis, the 2006 champion whose status remains on hold and his prize money in escrow exactly a year after news of his positive test for synthetic testosterone began to filter out.
Several of Landis' teammates, who lost their jobs when Phonak folded under the cumulative weight of scandal, latched on with other outfits and competed in this Tour. One of them is Axel Merckx, who will retire racing after a few exhibitions this summer.
Merckx, the son of five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx, said he is not bitter. He talks to Landis by telephone about once a month. "We had a great experience those three weeks, and a good group of riders who are still close," he said.
As for the continuing lack of resolution, "You learn to live with it," Merckx said.
You do. Cycling is wheeling into the future with lots of contradictions and ambiguities.
Fallen star Jan Ullrich, who still denies cheating despite a Category 1 pile of evidence against him, will probably never race again -- yet his old Telekom teammates Erik Zabel (a sprinter for the German Milram squad) and Rolf Aldag (T-Mobile sports director), who owned up to taking part in Telekom's systematic doping program back in the 1990s, are still on Tour.
Tour officials said they were glad Team CSC owner Bjarne Riis stayed home after his retroactive confession to doping in the 1990s, yet French star Richard Virenque, a central figure in the 1998 Festina scandal who took two years to admit to the obvious, is welcomed along the route as a Eurosport network commentator.
Those are only a couple of the many examples.
In an attempt to sort order from the current chaos, Tour officials have done some editing of race history. They altered the pages of the statistical book to note the circumstances around Landis' and Riis' titles. But when you paper over Riis' name, you default to the other two men on the podium, Ullrich and Virenque.
When the peloton climbed the Col de la Colombiere this year on its way to the Stage 7 finish at Le Grand Bornand in the Alps, the live race report scrolling below the video feed listed previous riders who reached the summit first. Landis' name carried an asterisk and a mention of his positive drug test. That punctuation only accentuated the standing irony that the previous two names on the list belong to Virenque and the late Marco Pantani.
In the year since Landis' win, cycling has become a more frank workplace, a free-for-all of confessions, accusations and open speculation about who is clean and who is not. It's uncomfortable, messy and probably a necessary phase after years of secrecy. Imagine how Landis' remarkable Stage 17 ride last year would have been received this summer.
One person who has chosen to stick around and face the discordant music is Versus network broadcaster Frankie Andreu, a longtime pro and former support rider for seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
Andreu has played his part in the current sport-wide purge. Compelled to give a deposition in a multimillion-dollar case Armstrong brought against a Dallas-based insurance company, Andreu testified to hearing a then-cancer-riddled Armstrong admit to past use of performance-enhancing drugs. (Armstrong continues to deny the allegations.)
Then, Andreu made his own admission, telling New York Times reporter Juliet Macur that he had used the blood booster EPO while training for the 1999 Tour, Armstrong's first victory.
Andreu said he keeps his distance from the Discovery Channel team (and vice versa) because of that backstory. Otherwise, he's able to do the same job he's been doing for the past six years, interviewing riders for quick impressions at the stage starts and finishes and narrating features. He said he hasn't had any problems.
"I wanted to come back," Andreu said. "I think it also makes a statement about not being embarrassed and not running away. Coming here and facing people and showing up, hopefully they have more respect for my admission. I'm not hiding from it. I'm here, and if anyone wants to confront me about it, I'll talk to them about it."
Andreu stuck to the script of silence for a long time, but now speaks with unusual candor about the inner workings of an athlete's mind.
"I realize totally what I did was wrong, and I shouldn't have done it," he said. "But at the same time, coming onto the Champs-Elysees at the end of the Tour de France, winning the Tour and Lance winning the Tour is one of the highlights of my career. I get tingles thinking about it. It was great. I regret that I had to take EPO to be able to get to that point, but I enjoyed being there.
"There were a lot of people doing wrong things, so in a way it was a level playing field. That's sad to say because I'm sure there were people in there who were clean. There were many times I got on the start line and I knew I was starting a mile behind everybody else. I just lived with that. It was just the way it was going to be. I knew I wasn't going to win. I was just going to do the best I could. So I've kind of been in both worlds."
Why come back to an industry that pushed him over an ethical line?
"I love cycling," Andreu said. "I can't give it up. In a way, my admission was to say, 'Look, man, things are so messed up right now, we can't keep going like this.'"
Having the perspective of an athlete who's been to hell and back in his own mind is a valuable addition to history. And any honest addition is better than a subtraction. If cycling wants to make progress, the sport would be well served to keep its narrative both complex and complete.
Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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