Dope on dope on dope …

Tyler-hamilton-lance-armstrongCoincidentally, the reports that Lance Armstrong is
mulling a confession for a career-long and systematic doping regimen that
helped him win the Tour de France seven times as well as an Olympic medal and
plenty of other races, comes just as I finished reading teammate Tyler
Hamilton’s
book chronicling those years.

Obviously, Armstrong’s admission is too little, too late.
But, with anything involving Armstrong one has to look for a Machiavellian plan
at work. What is the endgame for a guy who spent two decades attempting to
destroy any one who told the truth? It can’t be that he simply wants to race
triathlons or marathons again, could it? He can do that any time or anywhere.

Does he really need attention that badly?

An admission is a bit surprising because there are so
many obstacles for Armstrong to leap over. For instance, if he admits to doping
all those years, he’s wide open to an array of lawsuits. Over the years
Armstrong successfully sued or received settlements from entities that claimed
he doped. If it comes out that he actually did everything as reported by the
likes of Hamilton and Floyd Landis, there’s going to be a long line of folks
trying to get some money.

Armstrong also would be open to federal perjury charges
in Landis’ whistle-blower suit against the US Postal racing team. In other
words, in order to admit to doping, Armstrong would have to be reassured that
he would not lose all of his money nor spend time in jail.

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Finally coming clean

Lance_floyd NEW YORK — Let’s just get it out of the way at the top… Lance Armstrong is going down and he is going down hard. It’s not unreasonable to believe that jail time could be involved for the seven-time Tour de France champion when the government concludes its investigation.

See, the United States federal government does not like it when a person lies to them. It is quirky that way.

But the thing the government dislikes the most is when it doesn’t get a cut of what it believes it has coming. You know, it wants to wet its beak with a tiny bit of the proceeds as tribute for signing off on that whole Bill of Rights thing. Freedom isn’t free, as they say. It costs a mandated percentage of your yearly income unless you make so much money that you can pay an accountant to talk them down.

Think about it… when Michael Vick went to jail for nearly two years it wasn’t so much as for the dog fighting ring he was operating as it was because he didn’t pay a royalty. He served 21 months in prison for felony conspiracy in interstate commerce, which is a fancy way of saying he didn’t cut the government a slice.

What does this have to do with Lance Armstrong? Well, everything, of course. If the guy was riding for a team sponsored by the United States Postal Service, a government agency, and used the equipment supplied to him to sell for performance-enhancing drugs, well, that’s trouble. In fact, it was alleged last year by his former wing man, Floyd Landis, that Team USPS funded its drug habit by selling its equipment. This was realized, according to the accusations, when Landis wanted a training bike and couldn’t get one.

That training bike was injected as EPO.

Regardless, that’s not what this is all about. When word came out that Armstrong’s closest teammates, George Hincappie and Tyler Hamilton, testified for the federal grand jury it was pretty damning. It meant that the United States feels it had been defrauded.

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Could Floyd Landis be the modern day Joe Jackson?

Landis_river Apparently, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, it does make a sound. It’s the same thing as in a bike race when a guy rides faster than everyone else only when he passes the finish line he gets a different type of award.

The difference is that it costs… everything.

So with that, Floyd Landis, one of the sports world’s greatest pariahs, ended his career as a professional bicycling racer. A native of the backwoods hinterlands of Lancaster County, approximately a hilly, 60 miles bike ride west of Philadelphia, Landis won the 2006 Tour de France only to be stripped of his title two days afterwards. Nearly five years after his greatest race, Landis was stripped of his title, his life savings, got a divorce, mourned the suicide of his father-in-law, lost teams, teammates and friends, and, on top of it all, had his career destroyed.

Landis’ victory lap turned into a book tour and benefit to raise cash for his legal defense of a failed doping test taken shortly after a seemingly heroic ride in Stage 17 of the Tour de France.

Yet after two years of racing sporadically for a handful of middling racing teams, Landis told ESPN’s Bonnie D. Ford that he had filed his papers with his former adversaries, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and no longer has to submit to further drug testing. In other words, Landis will be treated like a U.S. citizen for a change.

According to Ford, Landis grew increasingly frustrated with re-carving a niche in the sport in which he devoted his life. He spent 2009 riding for the U.S.-based United Healthcare team before he was released from his contract, stating that he wished to race in the longer, European stage races which suit his strengths. Landis latched on with Rock Racing only to see the team fail to gain a pro racing license, before finding a spot with the Bahati Foundation Cycling Team with the hope of racing the Tour of California.

However, when Landis decided to reveal his sordid history with doping, and revealed the alleged dopers in his sport—including Lance Armstrong—he was without a team again.

“I’ve spent five years trying to get back to a place that I can never really go back to, and it’s causing more stress than is worth it," Landis told Ford. “There must be more to life than this.”

But does that eliminate Landis from more witch hunts where he is both the hunted and the hunter? Far from it. Landis’ allegations against Armstrong, his inner circle, cycling officials and race directors of the alleged systematic, drug-aided run of Tour de France victories, were toxic enough to draw an investigation from federal prosecutors. A U.S. Justice Department-backed grand jury in Los Angeles has subpoenaed several of Landis’ and Armstrong’s teammates and fellow riders.

Just to prove he wasn’t kidding around, Landis filed a “whistle-blower” lawsuit last September and has met with federal investigators and doping officials.

In other words, Landis may not be riding his bike in races any more, but he won’t be far from the spotlight. Since the investigation into the doping allegations comes from Landis’ and Armstrong’s days of riding with the U.S. Postal Service team, a government agency whose funds are considered public, could be deemed as fraud or conspiracy against the United States. Undoubtedly, there are many folks—especially Armstrong—who are anxiously awaiting the results of the grand jury.

About the suit, a spokesman for Armstrong told The Wall Street Journal:

“By his own admission, he is a serial liar, an epic cheater, and a swindler who raised and took almost a million dollars from his loyal fans based on his lies. What remains a complete mystery is why the government would devote a penny of the taxpayer’s money to help Floyd Landis further his vile, cheating ambitions. And all aimed directly at Lance Armstrong, a man who earned every victory and passed every test while working for cancer survivors all over the world.”

No, Landis did not respond with, “Takes one to know one.”

Continue reading

Nothing has changed except for everything

Floyd_lance Nothing has changed. Up is not down, black is not white and there are no dogs sleeping with cats. The earth still spins on its axis and righteous indignation is still the rallying cry for losers.

The truth—a very mysterious and sordid concept these days—is still very plain. Today’s revelations notwithstanding, a cooked case is still crispy and charred just so.

But yes, I still believe that if Floyd Landis and his failed drug test from Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France were presented on the same standards of the rule of law, it would have been thrown out of court. I also believe that if Landis were a baseball player, a football player, a golfer or any other pro athlete outside of cycling, he would be on the field right now. Like anyone else in elite sports, Landis probably was not-guilty though he was never innocent.

Maybe this is where that righteous indignation line can be reinserted. After all, everybody gets screwed at one time or another. There’s no sense whining about it and I still do not care if Landis was cocktailing HgH with winstrol and deer urine all while freezing his rest-day blood in a hyperbaric chamber. The fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution still exists. We all own it, but not if you like to ride a bike, win races or have your blood tested at the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage in Châtenay-Malabry. 

Those guys…

Then again, a lot of us look pretty stupid right now.

The above section is what hasn’t changed. The part that has changed is everything else. One of the most incredible days of the Tour de France and exciting sports day I have ever seen is more than just a little tainted. Oh sure, Landis still says he did not use the synthetic testosterone he tested positive for (according to that French lab) during that fateful 17th Stage in 2006, but according to admissions published on ESPN.com by Bonnie Ford today, Landis used testosterone in previous editions of the Tour de France as well as HgH during the 2006 season.

In other words… never mind.

Oh, Landis came clean finally, unburdening himself in e-mails to cycling and doping officials and in an interview with Ford in which he claims to have started a systematic doping program in June of 2002 when he joined up with the U.S. Postal Service team. That team, of course, was the vestige of Lance Armstrong and his hand-picked manager, Johan Bruyneel, and it’s where Landis said he leaned all about the hows and whys of performance-enhancing drug use. It wasn’t just old fashioned steroids and syringes, either. Nope, Landis appeared to be more than just a dabbler.

He says he used EPO, a drug so effective it not only improves performance quickly, but it also has the potential to kill a guy if not used properly. He also admitted to using female hormones, diabetes medication and the tried-and-true blood doping, which is when a person removes some of his own blood and stashes it in a freezer only to re-inject it when seeking a boost. That’s some old-school stuff right there.

“I don't feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that's what we (cyclists) did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there; and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step,” Landis told Ford. “My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it and I tell people I just don't want to do that, and I decided to do it.”

Certainly that’s not a statement we hear too many athletes make, let alone one who spent three years and approximately $2 million of his own money attempting to appeal his doping ban. Making the admission even more compelling is the fact that Landis says Armstrong—and many other of the top U.S. riders—were complicit and drug users just like him.

The accusations, of course, are where people start to take notice. It’s one thing to admit that you have done something wrong, but to point out the failings of others is something significant. There’s a word for people who do those types of things and that word is, “rat.” We’ll get to the rat thing in a moment.

Nevertheless, one rider who Landis says was a doper was Dave Zabriskie, who is currently leading the Tour of California. Zabriskie was a roommate and training partner with Landis in Spain. It was in Girona, Spain, the training base for Armstrong and Landis, where it is said one of the world’s most famous athletes kept his blood in a freezer for doping. It’s also there where Bruyneel is said to have schooled Landis on the use of steroid patches, blood doping and human growth hormone.

Kind of like your readin', ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic of doping.

The bombshell is the stuff about Armstrong, but that goes without saying. Armstrong has long been accused and suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs in order to become the most decorated cyclist in the history of the sport, but he always fought back tenaciously pointing out that like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds, he never tested positive for drug use.

But no other rider has ever levied accusations against Armstrong, especially one as intimate to him as Landis. It’s one thing to hear whispers of Armstrong dumping Landis’ “rest-day blood” down a sink during the Tour de France to prove some sort of angry point, but it’s another completely to read the words of one of Armstrong’s closest teammates saying that he got drugs directly from him.

Landis told Ford that he gave Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong’s personal trainer, $10,000 in cash for a season’s worth of doping. Six years ago Ferrari was convicted of fraud and lost his medical license in Italy, and Landis says the doctor personally extracted and re-injected his blood for him. Landis also said he and Armstrong discussed the efficacy of the then-newly developed test for EPO in 2002.

Floydwheelie “I didn't wish to take the risks on my own and especially since it was fairly clear that his advice was endorsed by Lance himself,” Landis told Ford. “And therefore Johan and the other guys that knew of it and were involved—working with him, they'd understand the risks that I was taking as well and therefore trust me.”

Trust. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? Why, after all these years, does the guy talk about this now? After years of refusing to cooperate or name names—you know, steadfastly choosing not to be a rat—why is Landis ratting out the old gang? After all, before he had everything to lose and yet kept his mouth shut. At least we think he kept his mouth shut though Armstrong told reporters in California this morning that he had been receiving “harassing” messages from Landis for quite some time.

Still, this morning Armstrong never said, “Floyd is a liar.” He also did not say, “I didn’t do it.” Maybe that’s beside the point.

"It's our word against his word," Armstrong said instead. "I like our word. We like our credibility. Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago."

What about Armstrong or the cycling union? Do they have any credibility? Who believes any of them at this point anymore? Armstrong might like his credibility, but it's not like Landis is the only person saying the seven-time Tour champion is a doper.

That list is long and varied.

But really… why now? Landis says he doesn’t expect anyone to believe him and it’s almost impossible for him to become a bigger pariah than he already is. The money is gone, his wife left, and his book is nothing more than a bunch of paper with words on them that are meaningless. Worse, he had to call up his mom in Lancaster County and tell her the truth.

What good is that going to do now? No team is going to hire him, the money isn’t going to come back and divorce is like toothpaste already out of the tube. When Armstrong said this morning that Landis has no credibility, it’s difficult to counter. That’s especially true when Landis admits that he does even have concrete proof and there is no paper trail or smoking gun—just some names, dates and details.

Truth? Who knows?

“I want to clear my conscience,” Landis told Ford. “I don't want to be part of the problem anymore.

“With the benefit of hindsight and a somewhat different perspective, I made some misjudgments. And of course, I can sit here and say all day long, ‘If I could do it again I'd do something different,’ but I just don't have that choice.”

No, there’s always a choice. Just because the world is a rat race doesn’t mean a guy has to be a rat. Just because a guy likes to ride his bike and play sports doesn’t mean he has to prostitute himself. Life is full of choices and a man lucky enough to have the mind to make a conscious choice is hard to feel sorry for.

But that doesn’t answer the question…

Why? Why now?

No, nothing has changed, aside, of course, for everything.

Floyd and Lance… Together again?

When we last checked in with Floyd Landis, he was preparing for a three-point shootout with Utah Jazz guard, Deron Williams. Obviously, Williams won but that had less to do with the fact that he has shot better than 36 percent from long range during his NBA career and more to do with the fact that Floyd was a Mennonite from Lancaster County who wasn’t allowed to wear shorts when he was a kid.

Besides, everyone knows that Mennonite kids are like Hakeem Olajuwon in the low post. And this is just mean:

Of course Landis had to squeeze in the showdown against Williams between a full slate of races for the domestic bicycling racing squad, Team OUCH, in his first year back following serious hip surgery and his suspension during the 2006 Tour de France. Yet after just one season with OUCH (and a full year of serious training), Landis left OUCH for Rock Racing because he hoped to ride in more challenging races in Europe.

It was a bold move for a couple of reasons. One is that in eight races last year, Landis cracked the top 10 just twice and when racing against an international field in the Tour of California he finished a respectable 23rd.

Those results don’t exactly make the top teams clamor to sign him up, but it wasn’t horrible. Horrible, I imagine, is Floyd shooting three-pointers against an NBA All-Star.

Another reason the departure from OUCH was bold was because Rock Racing wasn’t exactly the most stable team around. Not only did it have a bit of an outlaw image with the black kits complete with the skull and bones insignia, but also because it ended up becoming a home for a few star-crossed riders like Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla.

In a sense Landis definitely fit in with Rock, but because the International Cycling Union denied the team’s request for a license to race in Europe in 2010 it appears as if he is in an all-too familiar position called limbo.

Still, even though he doesn’t seem to have many options for racing on the big races this summer, Landis put on a Rock Racing shirt and won the time trial at the Tour of the Bahamas in a record time. Better yet, he brought out the pre-suspension trash talk after the race that everyone always (not so) secretly loved.

According to the stellar site, Twisted Spoke, Floyd said: “I was on somebody else’s road bike with clinchers and no aero clothes. Take that [bleepers].”

So does the record ride and the salty talk mean he’s ready to take on Europe? Tough question. Cycling is not like American sports where athletes who serve drug-related suspensions are welcomed back after doing the time. The Europeans hold grudges not so much because of the actual deed, but mostly because someone had the audacity to be suspected of anything.

Due process? Nah, that’s for wimpy sports where there is an actual union protecting the athletes.

Floydwheelie No, Landis doesn’t have too many options, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation from making the rounds. He’s been mentioned as a good fit for American team BMC Racing, which projects to be a solid outfit for the Tour de France. However, the brass for BMC are the same guys (owner Andy Rihs and director John Lelangue) that ran Team Phonak the year Floyd simultaneously won and was forced to give up the victory in the Tour de France.

From Day 1, of course, Floyd has been linked as a possible grinder for his old pal Lance Armstrong and his brand new Team RadioShack. That might be nothing more than wild dreams from the press and/or fans of personalities that blend like car crashes, but after all the speculation runs its course, it always comes back to the same place…

Lance and Floyd together again?

It is almost too good to be true. Imagine if Lennon and McCartney decided to go back into the studio together after The Beatles broke up. That may be pushing it a bit, but Landis was Lance’s head hatchet man for three Tour victories. Moreover, Lance hasn’t ruled it out.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Armstrong said. “He’s a great rider, a tremendous story.”

That could be nothing more than a politically correct answer because there is no indication that the two camps have discussed anything. Still, for some reason it always comes back to those two riding together for one last go-around.

We’re getting the band back together!

Again, who knows if it’s possible? Who knows if it will happen? But just know that no one has ruled it out as ridiculous. After all, by all accounts Lance is a loyal guy who remembers every slight and good deed. When the doping agencies put the screws on Landis and asked him to give up Lance, Landis refused to be a rat or lie. Instead of selling out anyone Floyd took it and paid with much more than money.

Certainly acts like that are worth something… right?

Climbing the mountains

mont-ventouxCall this just a brief interlude from the All-Halladay-All-The-Time business. Later this afternoon we roll up to Reading, Pa. to take a gander at Kyle “The Deal Breaker” Drabek before wading into to the deep end of the rest of the deadline comings and goings.

So first this, then Reading, San Francisco and points Continental.

First of all, I don’t speak French. From the sounds of the language, it seems a little easier to follow than Spanish, which is something I can piece together as long as the speaker goes slowly and uses some words I can attach some sort of context to.

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it goes terribly, terribly wrong. For instance, one time I tried to say, in Spanish, that I was hungry and it came out as, “I want a man.” That wasn’t what I meant at all, but hombre and hambre are two similar sounding words that mean two completely different things.

Anyway, there was a French commentator on the radio the other day commentating on the big bicycle race. To be more precise, it was the penultimate stage of the Tour de France where the riders climbed the otherworldly-looking Mount Ventoux. Reports indicated that there were one million people lined along the switchbacks of the mountain that probably helped to freak out the riders even more. If it wasn’t a serious climb above the tree line over terrain that looked like the dark side of the moon, or the oxygen debt mixed with the lactic acid buildup, the fact that the riders had already completed approximately 2,000 miles of the trip from Monte Carlo through the Basque country, into the Alps and Provence before finishing at the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Helluva way to spend three weeks.

However, according to the translation of the French commentary, the word coming from Mount Ventoux was more awed than respect.

Lance Armstrong est courageux masculin.

Not sure if that’s correct vernacular, but that was the sentiment. The French were celebrating Lance Armstrong as if he were Charlie Lindbergh or Jerry Lewis and it was the strangest thing. After years of spitting at him as he rode by on his bike, and claiming that the chemotherapy treatments he had undergone when he nearly died from cancer was “performance-enhancing,” it appeared as if they finally warmed up to the 37-year-old Texan.

How could that be?

Maybe it was because Lance could be painted as a victim of sorts during the 2009 Tour de France. You know, because surviving cancer and rumors of doping wasn’t enough. This time, the seven-time winner of the biggest race in the world, overcame ambivalence from race directors eager to keep him in retirement and off the previously banned team Astana. Then there were the 11 doping tests during the 21 stages of the race that came after the charade of a claim that he attempted to dodge a drug-tester. That stuff was brie on a baguette compared to the surgery in which he had 12 screws fused into his collar bone after a wreck during a race in Northern Spain. That was the hardest part of the comeback.

“Lying in the ditch in that situation … You sort of ask yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” Armstrong told ESPN’s Bonnie Ford. “I don’t feel that way today, necessarily, although I’m still in a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was a shock.

“To go as long as I have without having anything like this happen is basically a miracle. … It was bound to happen. It’s not good timing, but it certainly could be worse. And I look at it from a different perspective, too, just from the curveballs my health has thrown me in the past. Laying in that ditch with a shattered collarbone is a lot better than other health scares I’ve had.”

Fair enough, but it seems that really turned around the French was the hard-nosed ride up Mount Ventoux last weekend. Lance didn’t win that stage, but that was beside the point. The French seem to favor guys who are valiant in defeat than guys with talent who win. Though to call the Mount Ventoux ride a defeat is not totally accurate. Lance finished fifth, but rode in support for eventual Tour victor Alberto Contador. When Contador needed a boost or a helping hand, Lance was there to carve out a path. When Contador needed someone to run interference, Lance was there.

Lance was the highest profile domestique in the history of the race. He did everything to ensure Contador’s second Tour victory except fetch water bottles.

Here’s the thing about that – he didn’t have to. If Lance wanted to win the race, he surely could have. With a team as strong a Astana, the ’27 Yankees of cycling, all Lance had to do was find a way to get Contador to fall into line and get after it. Even after Contador inexplicably surged ahead during the early stages of the race to put a time gap between himself and the rest of his team, Lance let it slide.

How come?

PodiumWell, as first reported by Bonnie Ford, Lance had a plan. Ever Machiavellian, Lance was busy breaking up the band in the middle of the concert. Next year the seven-time champ will likely be the main man on the newly formed Team Radio Shack. He’ll take team manager Johan Bruyneel with him and possibly even top American rider, Levi Leipheimer with him.

Contador? Well, he’s on his own. It appears as if the proclaimed top rider in the world will be the man on a new Spanish team. It’s not confirmed but since the cycling world leaks like a sieve it appears as if this is the way it’s shaping up.

Nevertheless, Lance will get to take on Contador mano-y-mano in 2010. Both men will be busy putting together the best teams (maybe Lance will get George Hincapie, the American who turned in the greatest 75th place finish in the history of team sports during the Tour), but don’t look for anything less than another great rivalry.

Maybe even some slippages in political correctness.

After the (spectacular) coverage on VERSUS was lauding Contador as the strongest rider in the world and a great champion of the race, ex-rider Frankie Andreu asked Lance if his soon-to-be former teammate had any weaknesses

“Yes,” Lance said. “He has some. But we’re not going to talk about them now.”

If only he would have fiendishly wrung his hands together, too.

Climbing the mountains

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Call this just a brief interlude from the All-Halladay-All-The-Time business. Later this afternoon we roll up to Reading, Pa. to take a gander at Kyle “The Deal Breaker” Drabek before wading into to the deep end of the rest of the deadline comings and goings.

So first this, then Reading, San Francisco and points Continental.

First of all, I don’t speak French. From the sounds of the language, it seems a little easier to follow than Spanish, which is something I can piece together as long as the speaker goes slowly and uses some words I can attach some sort of context to.

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it goes terribly, terribly wrong. For instance, one time I tried to say, in Spanish, that I was hungry and it came out as, “I want a man.” That wasn’t what I meant at all, but hombre and hambre are two similar sounding words that mean two completely different things.

Anyway, there was a French commentator on the radio the other day commentating on the big bicycle race. To be more precise, it was the penultimate stage of the Tour de France where the riders climbed the otherworldly-looking Mount Ventoux. Reports indicated that there were one million people lined along the switchbacks of the mountain that probably helped to freak out the riders even more. If it wasn’t a serious climb above the tree line over terrain that looked like the dark side of the moon, or the oxygen debt mixed with the lactic acid buildup, the fact that the riders had already completed approximately 2,000 miles of the trip from Monte Carlo through the Basque country, into the Alps and Provence before finishing at the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Helluva way to spend three weeks.

However, according to the translation of the French commentary, the word coming from Mount Ventoux was more awed than respect.

Lance Armstrong est courageux masculin.

Not sure if that’s correct vernacular, but that was the sentiment. The French were celebrating Lance Armstrong as if he were Charlie Lindbergh or Jerry Lewis and it was the strangest thing. After years of spitting at him as he rode by on his bike, and claiming that the chemotherapy treatments he had undergone when he nearly died from cancer was “performance-enhancing,” it appeared as if they finally warmed up to the 37-year-old Texan.

How could that be?

Maybe it was because Lance could be painted as a victim of sorts during the 2009 Tour de France. You know, because surviving cancer and rumors of doping wasn’t enough. This time, the seven-time winner of the biggest race in the world, overcame ambivalence from race directors eager to keep him in retirement and off the previously banned team Astana. Then there were the 11 doping tests during the 21 stages of the race that came after the charade of a claim that he attempted to dodge a drug-tester. That stuff was brie on a baguette compared to the surgery in which he had 12 screws fused into his collar bone after a wreck during a race in Northern Spain. That was the hardest part of the comeback.

“Lying in the ditch in that situation … You sort of ask yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” Armstrong told ESPN’s Bonnie Ford. “I don’t feel that way today, necessarily, although I’m still in a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was a shock.

“To go as long as I have without having anything like this happen is basically a miracle. … It was bound to happen. It’s not good timing, but it certainly could be worse. And I look at it from a different perspective, too, just from the curveballs my health has thrown me in the past. Laying in that ditch with a shattered collarbone is a lot better than other health scares I’ve had.”

Fair enough, but it seems that really turned around the French was the hard-nosed ride up Mount Ventoux last weekend. Lance didn’t win that stage, but that was beside the point. The French seem to favor guys who are valiant in defeat than guys with talent who win. Though to call the Mount Ventoux ride a defeat is not totally accurate. Lance finished fifth, but rode in support for eventual Tour victor Alberto Contador. When Contador needed a boost or a helping hand, Lance was there to carve out a path. When Contador needed someone to run interference, Lance was there.

Lance was the highest profile domestique in the history of the race. He did everything to ensure Contador’s second Tour victory except fetch water bottles.

Here’s the thing about that – he didn’t have to. If Lance wanted to win the race, he surely could have. With a team as strong a Astana, the ’27 Yankees of cycling, all Lance had to do was find a way to get Contador to fall into line and get after it. Even after Contador inexplicably surged ahead during the early stages of the race to put a time gap between himself and the rest of his team, Lance let it slide.

How come?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Well, as first reported by Bonnie Ford, Lance had a plan. Ever Machiavellian, Lance was busy breaking up the band in the middle of the concert. Next year the seven-time champ will likely be the main man on the newly formed Team Radio Shack. He’ll take team manager Johan Bruyneel with him and possibly even top American rider, Levi Leipheimer with him.

Contador? Well, he’s on his own. It appears as if the proclaimed top rider in the world will be the man on a new Spanish team. It’s not confirmed but since the cycling world leaks like a sieve it appears as if this is the way it’s shaping up.

Nevertheless, Lance will get to take on Contador mano-y-mano in 2010. Both men will be busy putting together the best teams (maybe Lance will get George Hincapie, the American who turned in the greatest 75th place finish in the history of team sports during the Tour), but don’t look for anything less than another great rivalry.

Maybe even some slippages in political correctness.

After the (spectacular) coverage on VERSUS was lauding Contador as the strongest rider in the world and a great champion of the race, ex-rider Frankie Andreu asked Lance if his soon-to-be former teammate had any weaknesses

“Yes,” Lance said. “He has some. But we’re not going to talk about them now.”

If only he would have fiendishly wrung his hands together, too.

’27 Yankees meet the ’09 Team Astana

LanceSo last night I was up living the life and decompressing after the trip home from Atlanta that took me through Charlotte to Baltimore before finding my car intact at the BWI Marriott, and just skipping through the channels on ol’ tee-vee. That’s what I do late at night when everyone else is in bed and I’m knee-deep in baseball hours and too tired to read or write.

Anyway, the Versus channel had a show on called, Lance Armstrong: The Look Back, but when glanced at quickly on the scroll all it said was, “The Look.” That alone made it sound like a pretty good show. After all, Lance was known for flashing that Look in the peloton during his seven victories in the Tour de France, and the lead-in to the program showed that moment when he was riding toward his sixth victory when he turned all the way around in the saddle, stared right into the face of Jan Ullrich to challenge him before he rode off.

Actually, Lance did a little more than simply challenge Ullrich in the race. He just might have challenged his manhood, too.

Either way, it’s pretty clear what Versus is banking its coverage of the 2009 Tour de France on. Lance, indeed, is back and the cycling fans watching in the U.S. will get all of the details.

There’s certainly no surprise there. After three years away from the race – three of the worst years ever at the TdF (and they can only blame themselves) – the grand champ is back. Since his last victory he ran three marathons, hung out with Matthew McConaughey and one of the Olsen Twins, became a father again, had his shoulder put back together with more screws found in a three-bedroom apartment and got back into shape for the three grueling weeks of the most famous bike race on earth.

In a sense Lance retired from his retirement because it was way too busy. Why not just race a bike a couple thousand miles through the French Alps?

Nevertheless, there are reports that Lance is, indeed, the most intimidating and formidable rider in the ’09 race. No argument here. There’s The Look, the seven titles, the ability to endure ridiculous levels of pain, plus the dude is fit. Even at 37 Lance reportedly has been turning in the same type of workouts he did during the apex of his title run. In fact, he could be one of the best riders in the race…

That is if he didn’t ride for Astana.

Armstrong opened the 2009 Tour de France with a time trial in Monte Carlo that put him in fourth place… on Team Astana.

That sounds about right, too. Astana is loaded like the ’27 Yankees or an All-Star team. One stage in and the team already has four riders in the Top 10 and likely will move all four of those riders up even higher in the overall standings. A Top 4 sweep wouldn’t be far-fetched.

But for as strong as Astana is with Armstrong and American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Kloden, they are all just there to carve a path for Alberto Contador.

It’s Contador’s race and everyone else is just riding in it.

Contador finished second in the first time trial and that discipline isn’t even his top strength. The 26-year-old Spaniard is a climber with one TdF title under his belt from 2007 when Michael Rasmussen was booted out just days away from winning. Regardless, if Contador doesn’t win then something extraordinary must have gone wrong.

If Contador doesn’t win, Levi Leipheimer will instead.

*

Back to the Versus show…

The episode of The Look I caught was the epic Stage 17 of the 2004 Tour de France. That was the one where Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong took on the world and won. It was where Lance stared down Ullrich, Floyd earned the nickname “Mofo of the Mountains,” and was famously had an in-race dialogue to go like this:

Lance: How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?

Floyd: Real bad.

Lance: How fast can you go downhill?

Floyd: I go downhill real fast. Can I do it?

Lance: Sure you can do it … ride like you stole something, Floyd.

In the end, Floyd couldn’t fend off the best riders in the world until Lance showed up with a mad sprint to the line to win the stage.

Take a look:

’27 Yankees meet the ’09 Team Astana

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So last night I was up living the life and decompressing after the trip home from Atlanta that took me through Charlotte to Baltimore before finding my car intact at the BWI Marriott, and just skipping through the channels on ol’ tee-vee. That’s what I do late at night when everyone else is in bed and I’m knee-deep in baseball hours and too tired to read or write.

Anyway, the Versus channel had a show on called, Lance Armstrong: The Look Back, but when glanced at quickly on the scroll all it said was, “The Look.” That alone made it sound like a pretty good show. After all, Lance was known for flashing that Look in the peloton during his seven victories in the Tour de France, and the lead-in to the program showed that moment when he was riding toward his sixth victory when he turned all the way around in the saddle, stared right into the face of Jan Ullrich to challenge him before he rode off.

Actually, Lance did a little more than simply challenge Ullrich in the race. He just might have challenged his manhood, too.

Either way, it’s pretty clear what Versus is banking its coverage of the 2009 Tour de France on. Lance, indeed, is back and the cycling fans watching in the U.S. will get all of the details.

There’s certainly no surprise there. After three years away from the race – three of the worst years ever at the TdF (and they can only blame themselves) – the grand champ is back. Since his last victory he ran three marathons, hung out with Matthew McConaughey and one of the Olsen Twins, became a father again, had his shoulder put back together with more screws found in a three-bedroom apartment and got back into shape for the three grueling weeks of the most famous bike race on earth.

In a sense Lance retired from his retirement because it was way too busy. Why not just race a bike a couple thousand miles through the French Alps?

Nevertheless, there are reports that Lance is, indeed, the most intimidating and formidable rider in the ’09 race. No argument here. There’s The Look, the seven titles, the ability to endure ridiculous levels of pain, plus the dude is fit. Even at 37 Lance reportedly has been turning in the same type of workouts he did during the apex of his title run. In fact, he could be one of the best riders in the race…

That is if he didn’t ride for Astana.

Armstrong opened the 2009 Tour de France with a time trial in Monte Carlo that put him in fourth place… on Team Astana.

That sounds about right, too. Astana is loaded like the ’27 Yankees or an All-Star team. One stage in and the team already has four riders in the Top 10 and likely will move all four of those riders up even higher in the overall standings. A Top 4 sweep wouldn’t be far-fetched.

But for as strong as Astana is with Armstrong and American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Kloden, they are all just there to carve a path for Alberto Contador.

It’s Contador’s race and everyone else is just riding in it.

Contador finished second in the first time trial and that discipline isn’t even his top strength. The 26-year-old Spaniard is a climber with one TdF title under his belt from 2007 when Michael Rasmussen was booted out just days away from winning. Regardless, if Contador doesn’t win then something extraordinary must have gone wrong.

If Contador doesn’t win, Levi Leipheimer will instead.

*
Back to the Versus show…

The episode of The Look I caught was the epic Stage 17 of the 2004 Tour de France. That was the one where Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong took on the world and won. It was where Lance stared down Ullrich, Floyd earned the nickname “Mofo of the Mountains,” and was famously had an in-race dialogue to go like this:

Lance: How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?

Floyd: Real bad.

Lance: How fast can you go downhill?

Floyd: I go downhill real fast. Can I do it?

Lance: Sure you can do it … ride like you stole something, Floyd.

In the end, Floyd couldn’t fend off the best riders in the world until Lance showed up with a mad sprint to the line to win the stage.

Take a look:

Hitting The Wall

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The Tour of California reported huge audiences both on television and along the course during its third annual race held last February. Part of that had to do with seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong riding with the big guns from Astana as well as a large contingent of the best riders in the world.

Levi Leipheimer won the race for the third year in a row and Floyd Landis made his return to sanctioned racing after his two-year ban. So needless to say, there was a lot to entice Californians to go out to watch as well as the rest of us to tune in.

Meanwhile, with Armstrong as the catalyst, cycling events in Europe (and the U.S.) have received heightened media exposure. That was especially the case when Armstrong wrecked and busted up his clavicle in a race in Spain. The pictures of the surgically repaired bone – complete with the screws holding it in place – were a hit on the Internets.

But the thing with cycling is that it ain't cheap. It costs a lot of money to get the equipment, and we aren't even talking about the bikes. Those helmets and riding kits can turn a great sport into a very expensive hobby.

Now imagine how much it costs to fund a team and put on races… that ain't cheap either. And despite a renewed interest in the sport and the fact that audiences are rolling in at greater numbers, things don't look so good for the domestic races.

That's especially the case here in Philadelphia, too. In fact, it seems very likely that an annual party along the Art Museum and Manayunk could be in jeopardy this June.

So much for Landis making his pro comeback to his home state?

According to reports, the annual TD Bank Philadelphia Cycling Championship, is on the verge of being cancelled for financial reasons. A story in The Inquirer reported that race organizers need to raise $500,000 by Monday or they will cancel the 2009 version of the race.

That could mean no party at the Manayunk Wall this June.

Actually, that's money used simply to put on the race. It does not include travel to Philadelphia, accommodations, prize fees, etc. Just like in baseball, football and every other team sport, cycling teams roll deep. In addition to the riders and the coaches, there are mechanics, drivers, doctors and a whole team infrastructure that will need to eat and sleep with the rest of the team.

Again, it ain't cheap.

As a result, the Pro Cycling Tour in the U.S. has canceled races in Allentown and Reading, which in past years served as the appetizer for the main course in Philly, which was (and is) the premier single-day race in the country and serves as the national championship.

In past years Lancaster also hosted a tour event, but passed up the event because (some) residents complained about the traffic the race caused, further exemplifying the residents' lameness.

Pretty much anyone who is anyone in top-level cycling – from Lance to Landis to Hincappie and beyond – has raced in Philly, Lancaster, Allentown or Reading. The best of the best of zoomed around our streets and now it might be coming to an end.

Here's the thing about the Philly race – it's a money maker. According to the Inquirer story, citing race organizers, the event brought an estimated $15 million to $20 million in revenue to the city. In tough economic times like these, that's nothing to sneeze at.

But because the city is so cash strapped, Mayor Michael Nutter has instituted a policy of charging events for cleanup, the police and other necessary elements of putting on a huge event. Plus, the race lost two big cycling sponsors (CSC and Rock Racing) that has put it in a position to find $500,000…

By Monday.

So it seems as if city businesses could lose a potential $15-20 million (probably less in these lean times) over $500,000… tough times indeed.

Send lawyers, guns and money

lanceHere we go again…

The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) claims Lance Armstrong violated their testing protocol by not remaining “… under (the) direct and permanent observation” of the tester, the AFLD said in a statement.

Lance’s statement, via Twitter, said it all:

“Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!?”

Apparently so.

Nevertheless, the Tour de France, the cycling union and the alphabet soup of drug-testing bureaucracies/agencies were lukewarm on their best days on the notion of a comeback by the seven-time winner of the Tour de France. If they had their druthers, it seems as if they would simply ignore the most-decorated cyclist ever simply because… well, that’s the good question.

What did Lance do to upset these folks?

How are these for guesses…

Was it because he survived cancer?

How about never testing positive for any drug test?

Being the focal point of tons of rumor and innuendo?

Dating celebrities?

Running the Boston Marathon?

Being from Texas?

I know – his presence makes folks pay attention to the Tour de France and if there is anything the folks who run the race do not want is attention. After all, with attention comes questions and if there is one thing those folks do not want is to be questioned on their shady ethics, faulty tests and obvious biases.

Oh yes, Lance making a comeback is a bad idea. There is no doubt those folks high-fived when Lance crashed and busted up his collarbone last month during a race in Spain. If they didn’t high-five, they did the French derivation of the high-five, which might be a smack on the rear or blowing smoke rings from a Gauloises.

So they look for loopholes. At least that’s the way it seems. They want blood, hair and urine, even while on the way back from a training ride around Beaulieu-sur-Mer last month.

Lance’s big wrongdoing was that he took a shower after that ride. Yes, imagine that – a French drug tester angry at an American for taking a shower.

Yes, we all know how the French feel about showering.

So yes, here we go again. Though AFLD president Pierre Bordry has not come out and said Lance is guilty of any type of infraction, the bureaucracy is considering whether or not to proceed with sanctions based on that shower.

Apparently the AFLD was unable to hire Norman Bates.

Send lawyers, guns and money

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Here we go again…

The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) claims Lance Armstrong violated their testing protocol by not remaining "… under (the) direct and permanent observation" of the tester, the AFLD said in a statement.

Lance's statement, via Twitter, said it all:

"Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!?"

Apparently so.

Nevertheless, the Tour de France, the cycling union and the alphabet soup of drug-testing bureaucracies/agencies were lukewarm on their best days on the notion of a comeback by the seven-time winner of the Tour de France. If they had their druthers, it seems as if they would simply ignore the most-decorated cyclist ever simply because… well, that's the good question.

What did Lance do to upset these folks?

How are these for guesses…

Was it because he survived cancer?

How about never testing positive for any drug test?

Being the focal point of tons of rumor and innuendo?

Dating celebrities?

Running the Boston Marathon?

Being from Texas?

I know – his presence makes folks pay attention to the Tour de France and if there is anything the folks who run the race do not want is attention. After all, with attention comes questions and if there is one thing those folks do not want is to be questioned on their shady ethics, faulty tests and obvious biases.

Oh yes, Lance making a comeback is a bad idea. There is no doubt those folks high-fived when Lance crashed and busted up his collarbone last month during a race in Spain. If they didn't high-five, they did the French derivation of the high-five, which might be a smack on the rear or blowing smoke rings from a Gauloises.

So they look for loopholes. At least that's the way it seems. They want blood, hair and urine, even while on the way back from a training ride around Beaulieu-sur-Mer last month.

Lance's big wrongdoing was that he took a shower after that ride. Yes, imagine that – a French drug tester angry at an American for taking a shower.

Yes, we all know how the French feel about showering.

So yes, here we go again. Though AFLD president Pierre Bordry has not come out and said Lance is guilty of any type of infraction, the bureaucracy is considering whether or not to proceed with sanctions based on that shower.

Apparently the AFLD was unable to hire Norman Bates.

Nothing different except for the 12 screws

Lance Armstrong According to the latest Twitter post from @lancearmstrong, seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong, had successful surgery to repair a broken clavicle.

Everything is all tied together for Lance… with a titanium plate and 12 screws, of course. Nevertheless, Armstrong is still looking at a return in time for Tour of Italy in early May, as well as the Tour de France, which starts July 4 in Monaco.

About that initial 4-to-6 week recovery diagnosis, well, Lance told Bonnie Ford it might be a little too long.

“We’ll know more in the next week,” he said. “The sooner I can get on the bike, the quicker we’ll know. … Even if I went into the Giro underprepared and was riding it as preparation for other events, I’d still do it. I’d still be excited to go and do that.”

In his first few months back in the saddle after a three-year retirement, Armstrong is catching up for lost time as far as injuries go. Through the first part of his career, Armstrong avoided major injuries, excluding, of course, cancer.

But Armstrong took a spill in the Tour of California last month and battled some pretty rough conditions in the early stages of that race. Then during Monday’s opening stage of the five-stage Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in Northern Spain, he busted up his clavicle so that the bone was displaced and splintered.

“Lying in the ditch in that situation [Monday] … You sort of ask yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?'” he told Ford. “I don’t feel that way today, necessarily, although I’m still in a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was a shock.

“To go as long as I have without having anything like this happen is basically a miracle. … It was bound to happen. It’s not good timing, but it certainly could be worse. And I look at it from a different perspective, too, just from the curveballs my health has thrown me in the past. Laying in that ditch with a shattered collarbone is a lot better than other health scares I’ve had.”

Putting it that way, a displaced and splintered collarbone really isn’t much an injury at all.

Just a slight delay for Lance

Lance Armstrong flew back to the United States on Tuesday morning. After a stopover in New York, the seven-time Tour de France champion made home to Austin, Tx. in time for an appointment with his doctor.

It was during that visit with his doctor that Armstrong learned his “clean” clavicle break wasn’t so clean after all. As of 8:20 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, the great bike rider was getting a CT scan after learning about the not-so clean break.

“Bummer,” he tweeted on his Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, while the health and pending comeback of Lance Armstrong was all being documented in real time via “new media” (and the death of the “old media” had a bit more dirt shoveled on it with each tweet), somewhere near Paris tired old men waited anxiously for the next update.

Yes, when Armstrong “tweets” folks take notice. And no, it’s not just the fans, either. Take those tired old men in France for instance. When they read that the collarbone might be a little more damaged than expected, those “nefarious Frenchmen” might just have been moved to “twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight,” as the great Bob Ford once wrote about Lance’s ex-teammate, Floyd Landis, a few years back.

Yes, the cycling bureaucrats are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. When Lance hopped on that plane to go home, it meant there was an entire ocean between him and the nexus of the cycling universe. CT scans and doctor’s visits that elicit tweets that read, “bummer” gets that twirling in full flight. The next one might even be enough to cause a World Series-style victory celebration full of champagne spray and maybe even some high-fives. Why not? They already made him cut his hair for DNA-style drug tests.

Only in this case it might be real champagne instead of the sparkling wine those gauche Americans like.

Sacrebleu!

Continue reading this story …

Just a slight delay for Lance

Lance Armstrong flew back to the United States on Tuesday morning. After a stopover in New York, the seven-time Tour de France champion made home to Austin, Tx. in time for an appointment with his doctor.

It was during that visit with his doctor that Armstrong learned his “clean” clavicle break wasn’t so clean after all. As of 8:20 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, the great bike rider was getting a CT scan after learning about the not-so clean break.

“Bummer,” he tweeted on his Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, while the health and pending comeback of Lance Armstrong was all being documented in real time via “new media” (and the death of the “old media” had a bit more dirt shoveled on it with each tweet), somewhere near Paris tired old men waited anxiously for the next update.

Yes, when Armstrong “tweets” folks take notice. And no, it’s not just the fans, either. Take those tired old men in France for instance. When they read that the collarbone might be a little more damaged than expected, those “nefarious Frenchmen” might just have been moved to “twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight,” as the great Bob Ford once wrote about Lance’s ex-teammate, Floyd Landis, a few years back.

Yes, the cycling bureaucrats are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. When Lance hopped on that plane to go home, it meant there was an entire ocean between him and the nexus of the cycling universe. CT scans and doctor’s visits that elicit tweets that read, “bummer” gets that twirling in full flight. The next one might even be enough to cause a World Series-style victory celebration full of champagne spray and maybe even some high-fives. Why not? They already made him cut his hair for DNA-style drug tests.

Only in this case it might be real champagne instead of the sparkling wine those gauche Americans like.

Sacrebleu!

Continue reading this story …

Lance and Landis: Together again?

It’s probably not a coincidence that the news about Floyd Landis’ possible return to cycling in 2009 came the same time as the sport was focused on the return of an even more well-known rider. The reports that Landis is negotiating a deal to ride with Health Net-Maxxis in ’09 kind of slips under the radar a bit when everyone starts talking about Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong, of course, announced that he was coming out retirement earlier this week with the goal to win his eighth Tour de France. However, most of the speculation wasn’t that Armstrong was returning to enhance his legacy or because the competitive juices still flowed. Instead, many speculated, Armstrong had grown tired hearing the doubts that he doped to win his seven yellow jerseys.

The doubts linger despite the fact that Armstrong never tested positive in any of the hundreds of drug tests he took. Of course that’s not the greatest defense considering Barry Bonds or Marion Jones never tested positive either even though the evidence appears to prove the contrary. Conversely, Landis did, indeed, test positive after the famous 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France, though the results leave plenty of doubt.

The doping issue isn’t going to go away no matter what. Not for Floyd, not for Lance, not for anyone. Actually, it doesn’t even matter that Armstrong says he is going to undergo the most rigorous drug-testing protocol ever devised and post the results on the web for all to deconstruct as they wish – the court of public opinion never allows an appeal.

Sigh!

Regardless, one might believe that it will be an interesting season in the peloton with Lance and Landis heading back in the saddle. However, don’t expect to see Landis racing in France – or even in the European races – next year. Health Net-Maxxis, owned by the Momentum Sports Group and set to change its title sponsor, is strictly a domestic team. That means it is likely Landis will race in events like the Tour of Georgia, as well as the three-race Commerce Bank series held in Allentown, Reading and Philadelphia.

Yes, there’s a very good chance we will see Landis take on The Manayunk Wall next summer.

But after riding for elite teams like Armstrong’s U.S. Postal squad and as the team leader for Phonak, a drop to a domestic team (even a top flight one like Health Net-Maxxis) might seem like some as a personification of Landis’ fall from grace. The speculation is the reasons for Landis likely joining Health Net-Maxxis isn’t as simple as rust, age and punishment from serving a two-year suspension. If Landis were to join an elite Europe-based team, it’s very likely that the Tour de France would not extend an invitation to that team just for spite. That’s just how they operate.

Besides, a year of good will on the U.S. circuit can go a long way. Landis can work himself back into elite-level racing shape without the rigors of international travel and scrutiny.

Plus, Landis can allow his old teammate Armstrong to blaze a trail for him. If all goes well in the comeback, old doors could re-open for a handful of American riders. In fact, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Armstrong will put the old gang back together to tear through France. Lance and Landis were a pretty formidable team not too long ago – neither man is too old for a ride down memory lane.

Of course Armstrong isn’t guaranteed a spot in the Tour next summer. It’s not crazy to think that Christian Prudhomme and his minions that head the Tour de France do not want Armstrong to race and save his sport. It wouldn’t seem as if Prudhomme could do something as dumb and arrogant as to keep Armstrong out of the race, but it wouldn’t be surprising either.

Nevertheless, published reports indicate that Armstrong will join the Astana squad – a team that did not compete in the 2008 Tour de France after top rider Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during the surreal ’07 race. These days, though, Team Astana has new personnel, like director Johan Brunyel, who was Armstrong’s hand-picked boss of the U.S. Postal and Discovery teams.

Interestingly, a rumor that has gained some strength (and makes sense) has Armstrong buying the Astana team franchise to turn it into his own juggernaut… as if Postal and Discovery weren’t his in the first place.

Certainly if Armstrong took control of Astana, it would be very easy for him to add the riders and components he wants. Maybe by then Landis will be ready to go back to France.

Armstrong gets back in the saddle

As always, Lance Armstrong was thorough in planning, researching and chronicling his return to professional cycling. Nothing, it seems, was left to chance. In figuring out his chances to win an unprecedented eighth Tour de France next year, Armstrong weighed his options, talked things over with his inner circle, gauged the reactions and tore through it all as if he were searching for a needle in a haystack with a fine-toothed comb.

Everything regarding the public announcement and the return was orchestrated. According to author Douglas Brinkley, the hand-picked scribe to compose the story for Vanity Fair, Armstrong hired a film crew to document the entire process. From the initial announcement, through the training in Colorado and California, to the buildup races in the U.S. and Europe, all the way to the starting line in Monte Carlo on July 4 to the finish at the Champs-Élysées, movie makers will record it all.

Certainly there is nothing like watching a solitary bike rider pedal up an abandoned mountain road. Talk about riveting…

Facetiousness aside, what is fascinating is the nod toward history and perhaps even the self-indulgence Armstrong has about his place in the lexicon of the world in and out of sports. That’s not to dismiss the man – that would be dumb. Armstrong is a force of nature and a celebrity amongst celebrities. Not only is Armstrong the most decorated cyclist ever, but also he is the greatest benefactor of cancer research in the world.

As such, Armstrong tabbed Brinkley, the prolific presidential historian and executor of the literary estate of Hunter S. Thompson, to write the first version of this new history. Clearly a mere sportswriter was not big enough for this type of work.

Nevertheless, Armstrong says the comeback is personal. It’s about cancer as well as the lingering doubts that he won his first seven Tour de France titles unscrupulously. It’s also about a 37-year-old man being inspired by other athletes in his demographic, like Dara Torres, and their ability to perform at elite levels regardless of age. To prove himself (and his sincerity) this time around, Armstrong says he will entertain all questions from all outposts of the mass media and, just for good measure, will undergo a vigorous drug-testing program. The results, he says, will be posted publically on the web for all to see.

Openness seems to be the theme for Armstrong. Though clearly calculated – and not as if he didn’t submit to hundreds of drug tests as well as personal public consumption in the past – Armstrong is letting it all hang out. Seemingly there will be no filter.

And seemingly, there could be another motive. Armstrong’s first book was called, “It’s Not About The Bike.” That’s a pretty catchy title to sum up a guy who has an inner drive that exceeds his freakishly off-the-charts VO2 reading, who also, by the way, survived advanced cancer at the age of 25 when he was given less than a 40 percent chance to survive.

But maybe this time it is about the bike just a little bit. Maybe in that sense Armstrong is a little like Michael Jordan or Brett Favre in that the sport is actually embedded deep into his core being. Maybe the guy just loves to train and compete and live that “monastatic” lifestyle that he once described that made him “super fit.”

Maybe he just likes to ride his bike and win races. Maybe he just likes to do that better than anyone else in the world.

When asked if he could reveal something about Armstrong that no one else would know, ex-teammate and star-crossed winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis, told me:

“I don’t think I know anything that anyone else knows,” Landis told me. “People have perceptions of him that might not be very accurate, but I don’t know any details that they wouldn’t know. The guy is obsessed. With whatever he does he is obsessed, and whatever he does he wants to be the best at it. 

“Ultimately, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of it and he winds up not being the nicest guy. But that doesn’t make him a doper. That doesn’t make him a cheater. It might make him someone you don’t want to be around, but that doesn’t mean he took advantage of anyone else or that he deserves the harassment some people are giving him.”

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, bike race or any other type of sporting/endurance event understands how it can turn folks in possessed creatures. The training gets into your blood and becomes an obsession like a drug or a disease. In the midst of all the training, with its loneliness, suffering, pain, sacrifice and forced asceticism, the athlete can’t wait for race to arrive. He just wants to be done with it and take a break – you know, maybe have a beer or a slice of pizza or something.

But go to the finish line of a race and people can see some athletes stumbling around not in the stupor of physical exertion, but instead the lost feeling of not knowing what to do next.

When the training and the race ends, then what? Where do we go from here?

For Lance it is back on the saddle again, which is where he always wanted to be.

More: “Lance Armstrong Rides Again” – Douglas Brinkley for Vanity Fair

Is he coming back?

Updated at 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 8

It is quite reasonable that the 2009 Tour de France could feature that last two Americans to win the event… and no, we aren’t talking about Greg LeMond.

Word is tricking out after a story in VeloNews that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong will return to competitive cycling in 2009. According to the report, Armstrong will join Team Astana — once home to suspended/retired rider Alexandre Vinokourov — where he will accept no salary or bonuses and will post results of blood and urine doping tests online.

Armstrong will also reunite with former US Postal and Team Discovery director, Johan Bruyneel.

According to reports, the official return will be announced in a lengthy interview with Vanity Fair. Additionally, Armstrong will ride in four events in 2009 — the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Dauphine-Libere — before the Tour de France in July.

Sources close to Armstrong did not return e-mails or calls for comment.

Nevertheless, upon retiring from competitive riding, Armstrong worked exclusively for his cancer research group. He also ran three marathons (two NYC and Boston) and was slated to run the Chicago Marathon next month.

There was no real hint, at least publicly, that Armstrong was contemplating a comeback, a notion enhanced by comments during the U.S. television broadcast final stage of the 2007 Tour de France when the ex-champion claimed he did not miss the grind of racing. What he missed the most, he said, was being “super fit” and the training lifestyle, which he compared to being monastic in that all one did was ride, eat and sleep.

However, last month Armstrong raced in the Leadville 100, a particularly grueling mountain bike race, and finished second. Coincidentally, Armstrong’s former US Postal teammate Floyd Landis finished second in the Leadville 100 in 2007.

Could both riders be back in France in 2009?

Landis’ suspension from the contested doping test after winning the 2006 Tour de France will expire in early ’09. In the past Landis has expressed an interest in a return to competitive riding and there have been rumors about him joining the upstart team, Rock Racing.

Whether this means both men will be in France in 2009 remains to be seen.

Update: According to a report from The Associated Press, a spokesman from Team Astana claimed they did not “have plans for” Armstrong to join the team. Stay tuned.

Who doesn’t love those hacky ‘Where are they now’ pieces?

Ed. note: I forgot to add on the Lance Armstrong part on Friday night… it was added Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

SlashWith the news that ex-Phillie Jon Lieber signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Cubs in 2008, it seemed like it would be a fun exercise to see what a few other former Phillies were up to these days.

But in the way of saying adios, muchacho to big Jon, it might be fair to add that his monster truck will probably go over just as well in Chicago as it did in Philadelphia. It should also be mentioned that when Lieber ruptured a tendon in his ankle while jogging off the mound that day in Cleveland last season, gravy poured out and soaked into his sock.

I’m not saying anything, I’m just sayin’.

Nevertheless, all-time favorite Doug Glanville took a break from his real-estate development business near Chicago to write an op-ed piece for The New York Times about why some ballplayers decide to use performance-enhancing drugs. Glanville, obviously, was not a PED user so he can only guess as to why players do what they do. But as an involved member of the players’ union, Glanville didn’t offer much in the way for solutions to the problem. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thoughtful story by Glanville, it’s just that I think we’re way past wondering why players decide to cheat. Perhaps it’s time to accept the fact that with some guys if they are given an inch, they’ll take a yard.

Still, it’s a shame Doug isn’t around anymore. I figured him for a front-office type, but maybe he’s on to bigger work.

***
Elsewhere, Scott Rolen made his introductions to the Toronto baseball writers this week and from all the reports it sounded like it went over as well a Slappy White show – maybe even better than that.

According to reports Rolen joked, joshed and cajoled. Basically, he was the way he always was without the misunderstandings from certain media elements. Oh yeah, neither Larry Bowa nor Tony La Russa showed up, either. That means everyone was in a good mood.

“Hmmn, I didn’t think it was going to come up. That’s surprising,” Rolen answered when asked about his old manager.

Better yet, when given more openings to get in his digs at La Russa, who gave a rambling and bizarre soliloquy on the affair during the Winter Meetings in Nashville last month, Rolen again took the high road.

“I’m not sure if that’s healthy,” he said. “I want to go back to playing baseball, I want to focus all my attention and my competition on the field. Too many times the last year, year and a half, I think that some of the competition, some of the focus was off the field, not on the field where it should stay.”

Buzz & WoodyAside from that, Rolen explained how his three-year old daughter selected his uniform No. 33 for him. It’s kind of a cute story… on another note, my three-year old son has chosen a new name for me — from now on I’m Buzz Daddy Lightyear Finger. I’m going to the courthouse to have it changed next week.

***
How about this for the best story involving a former Phillie… Newly signed San Diego Padre Randy Wolf bought Slash’s house in the Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, that Slash.

From what I know about both guys, Randy’s parties might be a little wildier. During my days on the road with Slash all we ever did was visit the local libraries and modern museums of art — If you’ve seen one impressionist, you’ve seen them all.

Again, I’m not sayin’ anything, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, apparently the joint cost just under $6 million and is approximately 5,500-square feet. There is a pool, a gym, a chef’s kitchen and if I’m not mistaken by looking at the photos, there is a lot wood… Me? I’m an oak man myself.

***
Finally, speaking of guys who know how to party, Lancasterian turned San Diego suburbanite, Floyd Landis, has a full season of racing lined up regardless of the outcome of his appeal to the CAS. According to a published report, Landis will race in the eight-race National Ultra-Endurance Series. Locally, a race is scheduled for July in State College, Pa. in a series that is described as, “old-school mountain biking.”

Yeah.

Meanwhile, Floyd gave a rather revealing interview to the Velo News on Friday where the proverbial gloves came off. Then again, what else is new?

***
Lance & Matt Speaking of cyclists and racing, Lance Armstrong is supposedly running the Boston Marathon in April. Lance qualified with a 2:59 and 2:46 in the past two New York City Marathons, which would likely put him in the starting corral as me — not that Lance is going to have to get up super early to board a bus at the Boston Common for the long ride out to Hopkinton just so he can sit on the cold, wet grass in the Athlete’s Village. Or, Lance can join the multitudes in a long wait in line for one of the port-a-potties that turn the otherwise bucolic setting into into a veritable sea of domed-lidded huts of human waste… complete with that fresh, urinal cake scent.

I wonder if Lance will take a wide-mouthed Gatorade bottle to the starting corral with him, too… you know, just in case.

Yep, that’s marathoning — there are no façades in our sport.

Anyway, it’s cool that Lance is headed to Boston. Perhaps I’ll re-evaluate my spring racing plans and show up, too, if I can find a place to stay… seems as if all the inns and motels are sold out that weekend.

We’ll burn that bridge when we cross it

It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with their bench when Jayson Werth is ready to return. Interesting, I guess, in what it means for Chris Coste. Coste, of course, is owner of the best story going on in baseball and has contributed greatly not only to the Phillies’ playoff run last year, but also to this year’s charge as well.

Yet for whatever reason the Phillies’ brass – namely general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro – don’t seem to like Coste. Why? Good question. Maybe it’s because he sticks at it when everyone else would have quit a long time ago. Or maybe Amaro prefers players from big-time college programs that make it to the Majors on reputation and bounce around for nearly a decade and post less than mediocre numbers?

Whatever the reason, another trip back to the minors doesn’t seem fair for Coste. In his last four games last week Coste went 3-for-6 with a homer and seven RBIs. In July, Coste is hitting .343 in 13 games.

Conversely, Rod Barajas, the backup catcher who came in as a backstop to handle the bulk of the work for $3 million, hasn’t had a hit in more than two weeks and is 3-for-16 this month.

Sounds like manager Charlie Manuel has more confidence in a minor-league lifer making the league minimum as opposed to a guy making big, free-agent money. Worse, the Phillies have a .332 career hitter and they might not want him.

Either way it seems as if Coste is like ice cream and what weirdo doesn’t like ice cream?

***
With the non-waiver trading deadline set for tomorrow at 4 p.m., perhaps the Phillies will deal Coste for some pitching. At least then he would be going to a team that actually wants him. More importantly, the Phillies really, really need pitching with Ryan Madson headed for the disabled list and big holes in the starting rotation.

So far all we have are rumors – and it looks like I added to it by invoking Coste’s name – and nothing concrete. The rumor mill seems to be a cottage industry in the sports reporting business these days. Everyone loves reading about things that may or might not be happening or even true for some reason and there are a lot of people out there who have made careers about spreading disinformation.

It’s information, but it’s not really information. Like junk food… you know, what Ken Rosenthal does…

Wait, was that my out loud voice again?

Anyway, rumors bore me, especially when it’s so easy to find out facts and truth. But then again I’m a really bad sports fan so there you go.

I’ll give you this, though – call it a secret of the trade: if you read one of those rumors where it’s prefaced with the phrase, “sources say,” it’s a load of crap. The so-called “source” is probably a guy hanging around the press box or something.

Man, do those sources like to talk and boy or boy do they ever come in handy.

***
The Phillies head to Chicago for four days to face the surging Cubs at Wrigley Field tonight. The consensus around the press box is that Chicago is the favorite stop on the circuit and Wrigley, despite its not-so modern amenities, is everyone’s favorite ballpark.

Perhaps Chicago is best described as, “kind of like New York, but clean.”

I think of it like Japan where they take all of the good ideas from everyone else and make it look nicer. In Chicago they did it with pizza, too. New York pizza is far superior to the Chicago style, but they made it just a tad more interesting in The Windy City.

Either way, it will be a fun-filled four days for the scribes before heading off to Milwaukee for the weekend.

***
The Tour de France finally (and mercifully) came to a close yesterday with Alberto Contador called the winner and his Discovery Channel teammate and American Levi Leipheimer 31 seconds behind in third place.

(If anyone remembers — and who wouldn’t? — I predicted a Leipheimer victory in the Tour over Vinokourov and Sastre.)

Certainly it appears as if the real drama in cycling will occur between now and the next Tour de France as the cycling union, anti-doping agencies and Amaury Sports Organization (the company that owns both the Tour de France and the newspaper, L’Equipe) pick at the carcass of the sport to gain total control.

It’s not going to be pretty.

Either way, the telecast of the Tour ended in a rather apropos manner yesterday when Lance Armstrong, with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in Paris, departed the air and seemingly took the video along with him.

Yeah, that’s right, the last miles of the Tour were coming to a head and no one in the United States could see it.

Meanwhile it’s worth noting that Armstrong is in Paris celebrating with his Discovery Channel team and Floyd Landis is in Vail, Colo. preparing for the big race in the Leadville 100 on Aug. 11.

That race, friends, is going to be the highlight of cycling in 2007.

***
Needless to say, Armstrong’s appearance on the telecast of yesterday’s final day of the Tour was interesting. Perhaps the comment most intriguing (to me) was when Lance was asked what he missed the most about professional cycling. He told Liggett and Sherwen that he missed being “super fit” and the training lifestyle, which he compared to being monastic in that all one did was ride, eat and sleep. But he didn’t miss racing, which makes sense to me… training like hell is a blast, but the pressure of competing can be a drag sometimes. I imagine the pressure for Armstrong was pretty intense.

Filling in

When Tadahito Iguchi arrived in Philadelphia in time for Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies’ new second baseman brought with him a lot more than just a suitcase full of clothes and personal items and an equipment bag with his baseball gear.

Better yet, Iguchi brought with him an entire entourage.

Fresh from being traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Phillies on Friday afternoon, Iguchi pulled on his new red-and-white pinstriped uniform, exchanged greetings with Ryan Howard, a friend from last winter’s MLB All-Star tour of Japan, as well as Aaron Rowand, his teammate from the World Champion White Sox team during the 2005 season before taking in his new surroundings.

He even chatted with his manager Charlie Manuel, who like Iguchi was a star in Japan’s Pacific League. Manuel still speaks some Japanese, an ancillary benefit from his six years playing ball as a gai-jin in the Far East, which should help the Phillies’ first Japanese player make an easier transition to his new surroundings.

“He’s got me,” Manuel smiled. “I’ll be his interpreter. I can talk to him.”

First things first, though. Iguchi’s first order of business was to find the lineup card where he located his name in the No. 7 hole at second base, and then greeted the media horde that follows him wherever he goes. Though Iguchi isn’t a well known player to the casual American baseball fan, he was quite popular on the Southside of Chicago and remains one of dozen or so Japanese ballplayers to make the jump to the Major Leagues.

Because of that, Iguchi travels with a translator (David Yamamoto, who also wears a uniform because he sits in the dugout during the game) and does pre and post-game interviews with the Japanese media after every single game. It doesn’t matter if Iguchi goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, goes 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs, or simply sits on the bench without seeing a lick of action on the diamond. The 32-year old infielder discusses his day with the roughly half dozen or so media members that chronicle his every move.

“They even have the cameras rolling on him when he walks through the parking lot to his car,” a media member and witness to the Japanese media’s insatiable thirst to cover their stars in the minutest detail.

In nearly three seasons in the Major Leagues, following eight seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, Iguchi has a .273 batting average, 39 homers and 169 RBIs in 363 games for the ChiSox. This season, he is hitting .251 with 17 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs in 90 games, and hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 138 games last season. During the White Sox championship run Iguchi had a .278 average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In the 2005 ALDS, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run in Game 2 against David Wells to turn the tables against the Boston Red Sox.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Iguchi was the team’s most valuable player during the World Series run.

“He had a lot to do with the rings that we have right now,” Guillen told Chicago’s Daily Southtown. “He was great for us every day.”

Someone who can attest to that is Rowand, who remembered bantering back and forth with Iguchi through an interpreter during the ’05 season. Rowand said Iguchi’s English improved as the year went on, but he was able to communicate and have fun with his teammates. Interestingly, Rowand pointed out that the team enjoyed talking about baseball with Iguchi.

“We’ve had some good times with the language barrier, but he’s one heck of a player,” Rowand pointed out. “He’s really smooth in the field. He’ll add to the team and make it a lot easier with Chase being out.”

Ah yes, the real reason why Iguchi has landed in Philadelphia. With Chase Utley likely out for the next month with a broken hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Washington Nationals. Though he had surgery to insert a pin into the damaged area on Friday and the team revealed that they did not think the injury was as bad as it could have been, Utley will likely miss a minimum of 20 games. With 60 games remaining in the season and the Phillies doing all they can to remain in the playoff chase despite a plethora of injuries, it appears as if Utley will miss a third of the remaining games.

Enter Iguchi.

“I was able to play with Mr. Utley in the Japan series after the season and I’m very, very aware of how great a player he is,” Iguchi said. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Utley and I just hope that I can fill in and [and contribute to the team] anywhere near Mr. Utley.”

The Phillies put the deal together with the White Sox rather quickly, announcing it just as they reported on Utley’s surgery.

“We wanted to do something and we wanted to move quickly,” assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. “Obviously, you don’t replace Chase Utley, but we wanted the guys in the clubhouse to understand that we wanted to step up and come up with a suitable replacement to help us stay competitive.”

For the short term Iguchi seems to be a good answer to a very difficult problem. The second baseman is signed for $3.25 million this season, and turned down a contract extension to stay with the White Sox during the winter despite saying he wanted to continue his career in Chicago.

“I’m very surprised by the trade,” Yamamoto said for Iguchi. “I was notified about it yesterday and I really didn’t have any notification, so yes, I was really surprised. But I’m really excited to join the Phillies and I’m starting to like my new, red uniform.”

However, Iguchi has a clause in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season if the ChiSox – now Phillies – don’t sign him to an extension by the end of the season.

With Utley expected to make a full recovery, it doesn’t seem as if Iguchi will figure into the Phillies’ plans beyond this season.

Unless he can play third base?

***
For a brief moment at the Tour de France, all of the events of last week were forgotten. The scandals, the doping and all of the bluster were replaced by an actual competition where there was a lot on the line.

Montanan Levi Leipheimer had the time trial of his life, squeezing to within 31 seconds of the leader and his Discovery Channel teammate, Alberto Contador. He did it with his teams’ part-owner Lance Armstrong trailing in the team car, shouting instruction and encouragement as he all but assured himself a spot on the podium in Paris.

With one more stage to go into Paris tomorrow, Leipheimer is eight seconds behind second place Cadel Evans in one of the closest finishes in Tour de France history.

And yet it still hard to think about what might have been…

Certainly it doesn’t seem as if ousted leader Michael Rasmussen would have been able to hang in Saturday’s time trial. Nor did it seem like Alexandre Vinokourov wold have been able to chip away enough to be a threat had he not been bounced from the race. Could Andreas Klöden been right there had his team not been thrown out?

How much fun would it have been to see all of those guys competing all the way through the Tour, especially in such a dramatic time trial?

But despite the good day of competition the newspapers and magazines are littered with stories about controversy, doping and lawyers.

* Is the 24-year old wunderkind Contador doping and is he really linked to Operacion Puerto?

* Vinokourov has hooked up with Floyd Landis’ legal team to fight his doping charges.

* The delusional and notorious windbag Greg LeMond is opening his big fat mouth… again. Does that guy ever shut up and why does he always come off like a bitter old fighter still hanging around the gym?

Here’s something I found interesting about today’s time trial: In praising Leipheimer’s speedy ride, announcer Phil Liggett compared the American to LeMond, noting that his ride to capture the victory in the stage was “almost as fast as Greg LeMond…”

Hmmmm… almost as fast as LeMond, huh? [Insert sarcasm font] Gee, I wonder what he was taking?

Here’s the thing that bothers me the most about Greg LeMond aside from his ego, his arrogance, his bitterness and his personality. LeMond (correct me if I’m wrong) is just like those old-time baseball players who missed out on the big paydays that today’s players get so they try to ciphen all they can from the sport by selling out anything they can. LeMond, it seems, still makes his money from cycling, but what does he really give back?

That’s why his bitterness toward Lance Armstrong seemed like nothing more than a small man with a big case of douchebaggery. LeMond won the Tour three times, had a horrible accident and then got old, yet seems to believe that something was taken from him. Conversely, Armstrong missed a couple of years from his career because he nearly died from cancer, yet rebounded to win the Tour de France seven years in a row.

That would be enough for most folks, but as Lance always noted, “It’s not about the bike.” With that he became the leading advocate for cancer research in the world. That was the primary goal and that’s what LeMond and the David Walsh types in the world don’t seem to understand.

So Le Mond can keep running his mouth, telling everyone how great he was and take, take taking from his sport… and he can continue to come off as a little bitch.

Again, if I’m wrong, correct me. I’m easy to find.

* Here’s what I do not like about the Tour (aside from the sideshow crap, of course): the race is practically over. Even though Evans trails Contador by 23 seconds and Leipheimer is in third at 31 seconds off, the American says Evans doesn’t have to worry about an attack in the final stage on Sunday. There is a gentleman’s agreement regarding such things, they say.

Lame.

There’s one day left and three riders are separated by 31 seconds — GO RACE!

The true sportsman that is Greg LeMond won the 1990 Tour de France on the final stage. It was a time trial, and his closest competitor had saddle sores so bad that he could barely ride his bike, but ol’ Greggy went after it. Usually the last day is largely a ceremonial ride, but 31 seconds is nothing. It should be every man for himself into the Champs-Élysées.

Anyway, sorry for coming out so strong on Le Mond, but I just don’t understand why he had to put himself in the middle of everything.

Adding on

Lots of stuff going on around here and none of it has to do with the Phillies or baseball. In fact, with a couple of days off and the regular holiday busyness going on around here, I think the last thing I saw from the Phillies was Pat Burrell smacking a home run.

How’s that for a lasting image of the 2007 Phillies?

Anyway, here’s a prediction kind of regarding the Phillies – if someone backs out of the All-Star Game for the National Leaguers, Ryan Howard will be selected as a replacement. Certainly his numbers aren’t stupendous, but Howard is fourth in the league in homers despite spending some time on the disabled list. Howard still projects to 43 homers and 133 RBIs, which is a decent season… think the Phillies are disappointed with that?

Nope, me either.

***
I’d like to leave homeboy Floyd alone for a little while, but it just seems so impossible…

Firstly, Lance Armstrong spoke to a group in Aspen, Colo. this week and told the audience that he thinks Floyd is innocent of the doping charges levied against him, but it appears unlikely that the steamroller of (un)justice that is USADA will not agree.

In fact, it seems as if Armstrong, I and other correct-thinking folks agree that the testing in cycling far exceeds the system in the American pro sports.

Quoth Armstrong: “If you went to Major League Baseball and said, ‘We’re going to have random, unannounced, out-of-competition controls,’ they would tell you, ‘You’re crazy. No way, we’re not playing another game.’ The NFL, they would never do that. NHL, no way. Golf, forget it. Tennis, forget it. Of course, cyclists get tested more than anything else, and perhaps that’s why they get caught more than anyone else.”

Interestingly, there is a report that Armstrong may race at Leadville with Floyd on Aug. 11. Perhaps if they can coax Jan Ullrich to join them the last nine surviving Tour de France champs could be doing a race at 11,000-feet in Leadville, Colo. instead of climbing the Alpe d’Huez.

How much fun would that be?

Speaking of fun, there is a report that a verdict from USADA on the Landis case could come as early as tomorrow.

Maybe that’s what has kept someone from USADA from returning my phone calls or e-mails.

***
Speaking of ignoring me, David Walsh’s publisher has not acknowledged my request for a copy of From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France.

Perhaps it’s the crazy holiday week? Or maybe they don’t want me to read what’s in that book? Who knows? All I know is that the so-called anti-doping groups seem to have a low level of credibility when it comes to answering calls or emails.

Also, the podcast from The Competitors radio show featuring a 60-minute interview with Walsh won’t load onto my iTunes. Don’t make me listen to the pudcast again!

***
I dropped my Pat Burrell/Saddam’s hanging line on Mike Gill of The Mike Gill Show this afternoon… I think it went over well.

Punching a dead horse in the mouth

Based on what’s shaking baseball-wise in the local papers, it seems as if the piling on Pat Burrell has begun in earnest. It’s either that, or there really isn’t any new news coming out of the Phillies’ clubhouse these days aside from Jon Lieber potentially heading for season-ending surgery.

The big news is still a couple days away when the New York Mets come to town for four games in three days.

It really is hard to believe that even though the Phillies’ pitching staff has been decimated and the bullpen sometimes works with smoke and mirrors, the team very well could alone in first place by the end of the weekend.

How does that happen?

Not to punch a dead horse in the mouth as Larry Bowa used to say, but the truly amazing part is that the Phillies are challenging for the lead in the NL East even though the team has just one right-handed hitting threat in Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell could be the worst player in the National League right now.

Anyway, here’s my little rip job on the much-maligned left fielder.

Certainly anything can happen between now and the end of the season, or even until the end of Burrell’s deal following the 2008 season, but as it stands now it’s fair to say that Burrell is nothing more than wasted talent.

He is wasted talent that isn’t in the lineup again tonight for the third game in a row.

***
Tonight’s starting pitcher Jamie Moyer is one of just seven 40-something pitchers taking the mound, which is the first time that has ever happened in baseball history. Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Woody Williams are the other 40-year old hurlers working tonight.

More impressively, Moyer was named the softest-throwing pitcher in the Majors in an anonymous poll conducted by Sports Illustrated.

The other soft-tossers? Try Maddux, Glavine, Rogers, etc.

Not bad company.

***
Speaking of Sports Illustrated, expect writer Austin Murphy to make a little bit of news with his latest story in which Lance Armstrong is, once again, implicated in doping news.

Here’s the thing about cycling that I don’t think many people understand… USADA, WADA, UCI and the brass of the Tour de France are just as corrupt and power hungry as any other group of bureaucrats or politicians.

Do you think there is a reason why the commissioners and union presidents of MLB, the NBA and the NFL don’t want those groups anywhere near their sports? Sure, the leagues all have their problems with performance-enhancing drugs, but to call in corrupt, money and power-hungry egomaniacs from the alphabet-soup groups of regulators isn’t going to help.

Still, it’s pretty explosive stuff from Austin Murphy and it will be interesting to see how Lance Armstrong snuffs out another fire. Plus, we never knew SI was in the business of hyping agenda-driven, insinuation-laden tawdry books that read like bad talk radio… good for them for branching out, I guess.

Excuse me while I go take a shower.

Check out the big head on Barry

The second (or third?) segment of drug war spurred by the BALCO findings has come into the forefront and this one is just as much a tangled web as a David Lynch film. This time, celebrities, athletes and team training staffs are in the mix. Included here is Gary Matthews Jr., who went from a player who was released five times and traded twice before landing on a $50 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

But everyone’s attention has been squarely focused on Barry Bonds, who apparently went through a middle-aged growth spurt according to the authors of the book Game of Shadows. In the new afterward of the newly-released paperback edition, authors Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada write that Bonds – upon joining the Giants from the Pirates – went from a size 42 to a size 52 jersey; from size 10½ to size 13 cleats; and from a size 7 1/8 to size 7 1/4 cap, even he shaved his head.

The authors write:

“The changes in his foot and head size were of special interest: medical experts said overuse of human growth hormone could cause an adult’s extremities to begin growing, aping the symptoms of the glandular disorder acromegaly.”

Yet as Tom Verducci points out on the Sports Illustrated web site, Bonds and his legal team have never, ever challenged the facts of Game of Shadows. In fact, all they have done is point out that the authors used leaked grand jury testimony and attempted to block the authors from accepting profit from the sales of the book.

But the content of the book? The facts? They didn’t touch it.

Contrast that with Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who has faced all sorts of drug doping allegations ever since he rode into the Champs-Élysées for the first time. When books, reports or even idle chatter popped up accusing Armstrong of using EPO, steroids, HGH or whatever, he sued. He went after the accusations the way he attacked the Alps in the Tour. Armstrong even went after World Anti-Doping Agency zealot Dick Pound, asking the International Olympic Committee that the WADA head be “suspended or expelled from the Olympic movement.”

The IOC agreed and offered a stern rebuke.

Meanwhile, what did Bonds do when he tested positive for amphetamines? Yeah, that’s right, he blamed a teammate… then backed off… and now it’s something he doesn’t want to talk about because “it’s in the past.”

Why shouldn’t it be for him? After all, if Bonds is indicted and the Giants void his contract, the Major League Players Association will have his back…

Drug use in sports, however, is not in the past. It’s not going away – it’s sitting right there in your living room waiting for you and your sports-loving fans to determine if it’s up to them to make a decision.

Is this going to stand or not? The people have the power… right?

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
We would be remiss not to note the passing of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. For those with an interest in American history, Schlesinger undoubtedly has a section on your bookshelf.

Schlesinger’s The Age of Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 when he was just 27. His biography of Robert F. Kennedy that was especially memorable, especially the last three chapters.

Same old song

For as long as Ryan Howard has been a part of the Philadelphia sporting scene, which goes back to 2002, steroids never entered my mind. I never thought about anything regarding illegal drugs or performance enhancing substances when Howard was smashing all those homers.

From my vantage I saw a guy who really had an idea of how to hit. In the batters’ box he also seemed to be thinking even if he struck out, and even in the minor leagues he was always making adjustments. He was always one step ahead of the competition.

Last year, though, the steroid question popped up, which was equally rationale and infuriating. Because such sweeping ideas which are always lacking in depth and nuance come from the national media, it made sense. They don’t watch Ryan Howard play every day. They don’t appreciate the intricacies of his regime and day-to-day effort. All they see are the numbers.

Anyone who has been in the Phillies’ clubhouse knows that if Ryan Howard is taking steroids he’s taking the wrong ones.

Nevertheless, the steroid question sprung up again during Howard’s pre-Spring Training press conference in Clearwater yesterday.
A bunch of other questions came up, too, but since the national media was there, the steroid issue was out in front.
That’s fine and expected, but when is it going to end? Is it going to end? I doubt anyone really thinks Howard is cheating, but will there ever be a day when the questions about it ever stop?

It’s very doubtful.

Lance vs. Pound
One thing is for sure: Lance Armstrong will never escape the questions about performance-enhancing drugs, and Dick Pound will never stop talking about Armstrong.

In The New York Times, George Vecsey writes about how the pair are tied to each other – kind of like Magic and Bird.

Making the rounds
John Amaechi is not the first gay man to play in the NBA. He won’t be the last, either. He’s also not the first gay man to play professional sports to write a book, and it’s doubtful he will be the last.

In other words, there is nothing particularly interesting about his story. Amaechi is not a trailblazer, was barely a marginal player in the NBA and was an above average player for Penn State mostly because he was a center who could get up and down the court.

As far as being gay goes… whatever. The fact that something like that is still an issue in 2007 is sad. Just get in the pot already. It also reminds me of a quote from Gandhi when he was asked what he thought about American culture:

“It would be a good idea.”

Nevertheless, Amaechi was in Philadelphia doing the canned interviews with all of the outlets to sell more books – a fact that seemed to be lost on those doing the interviewing. Tim Hardaway, Shavlik Randolph and their unfathomable idiocy aside, the only reason Amaechi is even in the news is because ESPN published his book. His story really isn’t that extraordinary – in fact, it’s probably very normal.

Snow, snow, go away

As the snow falls over this corner of the Northeast, it’s fun to think about the warmer weather and the upcoming racing and training seasons ahead.

The World Cross Country Championships are in Kenya next month, followed by the Boston Marathon in mid April will star top American Deena Kastor, defending New York City champ Jelena Prokopcuka, and defending Boston champ Rita Jeptoo.

A week after Boston, the epically deep London Marathon field that will feature Americans Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi (2:09:53) and Khalid Khannouchi (2:05:38) will go after world-record holder Paul Tergat (2:04:55), and two-time Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie (2:05:56), as well as Felix Limo (2:06:14); Martin Lel (2:06:41); Hendrick Ramaala (2:06:55); Jaouad Gharib (2:07:02); defending Olympic champion Stefano Baldini (2:07:22); Benson Cherono (2:07:58); Hicham Chat (2:07:59); defending New York City champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos (2:08:48); and Briton Jon Brown (2:09:31).

Outside of the Olympics the London field could be the deepest ever assembled.

But more than the spring marathons and big track meets, the news on a snowy Tuesday focuses on the autumn, specifically the two big races in New York City on the first weekend in November.

That’s where Lance Armstrong will take another crack at the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. Last year, as was well documented, Armstrong completed the hilly NYC course in 2:59:36 thanks in part to being paced through by Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Joan Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj. Actually, Armstrong’s outing in New York was a big-time production magnified by a phalanx of security, famous Nike runners, and a pace car reporting his splits along with the equally ridiculous “Lance Cam.”

Meanwhile, Armstrong finished 856th.

Afterwards, Armstrong called marathoning much more difficult than cycling:

“I can tell you, 20 years of pro sports, endurance sports, from triathlons to cycling, all of the Tours – even the worst days on the Tours – nothing was as hard as that, and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now, in terms of just sheer fatigue and soreness.”

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Forget the snow, let’s look ahead

As the snow falls over this corner of the Northeast, it’s fun to think about the warmer weather and the upcoming racing and training seasons ahead.

The World Cross Country Championships are in Kenya next month, followed by the Boston Marathon in mid April will star top American Deena Kastor, defending New York City champ Jelena Prokopcuka, and defending Boston champ Rita Jeptoo.

A week after Boston, the epically deep London Marathon field that will feature Americans Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi (2:09:53) and Khalid Khannouchi (2:05:38) will go after world-record holder Paul Tergat (2:04:55), and two-time Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie (2:05:56), as well as Felix Limo (2:06:14); Martin Lel (2:06:41); Hendrick Ramaala (2:06:55); Jaouad Gharib (2:07:02); defending Olympic champion Stefano Baldini (2:07:22); Benson Cherono (2:07:58); Hicham Chat (2:07:59); defending New York City champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos (2:08:48); and Briton Jon Brown (2:09:31).

Outside of the Olympics the London field could be the deepest ever assembled.

But more than the spring marathons and big track meets, the news on a snowy Tuesday focuses on the autumn, specifically the two big races in New York City on the first weekend in November.

That’s where Lance Armstrong will take another crack at the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. Last year, as was well documented, Armstrong completed the hilly NYC course in 2:59:36 thanks in part to being paced through by Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Joan Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj. Actually, Armstrong’s outing in New York was a big-time production magnified by a phalanx of security, famous Nike runners, and a pace car reporting his splits along with the equally ridiculous “Lance Cam.”

Meanwhile, Armstrong finished 856th.

Afterwards, Armstrong called marathoning much more difficult than cycling:

“I can tell you, 20 years of pro sports, endurance sports, from triathlons to cycling, all of the Tours – even the worst days on the Tours – nothing was as hard as that, and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now, in terms of just sheer fatigue and soreness.”

Afterwards, Armstrong revealed that he did not train as hard as he had claimed even though he was diligent. The fact of the matter is that Armstrong worked out hard, but just not enough, which is understandable since he had just retired from hard training and competing.

But the marathon is humbling and there is no place to hide weaknesses. A runner has either done the work or he hasn’t – it’s that simple. In that regard, Armstrong got a taste of what it’s all about and it’s unlikely that he will leave New York feeling as banged up and bruised as he did last November.

I think there is something more to Armstrong choosing to run the marathon again and it’s more than an elite athlete being humbled in a new event. In fact, I’ll be willing to wager that Armstrong puts in a big-time training effort in attempt to be the top American in the race.

After all, there will be no elite-level Americans racing in the 2007 New York City Marathon. They will all be racing in the Olympic Trials the day before the annual marathon. With such a depleted field it’s reasonable that Armstrong can put in nine more months of training to lower his 2:59 considerably. After all, he has one of the highest VO2 marks ever registered. Though he’s a little older now, his body hasn’t taken the pounding typical of runners his age. Actually, the career on the bike might have provided a nice base to become an above-average runner.

It will be interesting to see what types of reports come out of Armstrong’s camp as the year passes.

Goucher to take a crack at the Trials?
While Armstrong’s entry into the 2007 New York City Marathon is as official as it can be nine months out, elite American Adam Goucher is contemplating his marathon debut in the Olympic Trials the day before Lance makes his second run in New York.

Fresh off his second-place finish in the USATF Cross Country Championships, Goucher announced that he – along with Jorge Torres and Abdi Abdirahman – was going to take a crack at Alberto Salazar’s 26-year old 8k American record (22:04) at the U.S. Championships next month in New York City. If he’s going to do it, Goucher will have a good reference point since his coach is the record holder.

But it’s the prospect of Goucher making his marathon debut at the Trials that has piqued the interest. A “B” standard qualifier with both a 27:59 10k and 13:15 5k under his belt in 2006, Goucher’s entry into the field automatically changes the tenor of the race. Already shaping up to be one of the deepest American marathon fields in a generation, the high-stakes competition and the criterion-style course through Central Park could suit Goucher’s style.

Plus, Goucher will get a first-hand look at portions of the course next month when he hits NYC for the 8k championships, and his well-documented training regime is, frankly, intimidating.

Yeah, Goucher is in.

Go Pound sand
Speaking of Armstrong, his arch nemesis and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound, was essentially censured by the International Olympic Committee for his comments directed at the cyclist. Not that anything such as a rebuke, humiliation or censure will quiet Pound.

The IOC claims that Pound “violated the Olympic charter, the rules of the IOC, and the rules of the Olympic movement,” when Pound criticized a Dutch report last year that cleared Armstrong from doping allegations. Pound, published reports indicate, said the report was prepared by a lawyer with no expertise in doping control and that WADA was considering legal action against him.

Though the IOC’s ethics panel found no “incriminating element” in Pound’s conduct, it did find that he refused to respond to Armstrong’s complaint against him for continuing to make claims without undisputed evidence.

Defiant as always, Pound told Armstrong the rebuke is meaningless.

“If Lance thinks this is going to make me go away he is sadly mistaken,” Pound told reporters.

That is, of course, Armstrong chooses to sue Pound and the WADA… don’t’ bet against it.

Out in front
The New York Times, seemingly the only American newspaper outside of the Bay Area covering doping issues these days, offered a story about an American cycling team performing its own drug tests ahead of the agencies. It’s very interesting to read how Floyd Landis’ positive test in last year’s Tour de France have affected many cycling teams.

Meanwhile, former marathoner turned physician, Bob Kempainen, reminisced with an Ivy League sporting web site. Kempainen, of course, was one of the toughest runners on the planet for a few years as evidenced in the 1996 Marathon Olympic Trials.

The Asics Marathon brought to you by Nike

There were a couple of things that stood out during Sunday’s New York City Marathon. Let’s start with Lance Armstrong first.

I was struck at the production surrounding Armstrong’s marathon debut that was magnified when the cameras panned back on the web cast and showed the famous cyclist and philanthropist running in a phalanx of security pals, famous Nike runners, a pace car and the “Lance Cam.”

In interviews Armstrong talked about how he was excited to be a mid-packer – which he kind of is with his 2:59:36 finishing time. But when was the last time a mid-packer had Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Joan Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj say anything other than, “you’re welcome for the autograph…” Forget about acting as a rabbit or handing over drinks or gels.

The absolute genius of Armstrong’s run in New York didn’t dawn on me until I was about 2 miles into today’s run (a 14-miler in 1:35:26). Asics, the sponsor of runners Deena Kastor and Stefano Baldini, was the “official” sponsor of the race. The shirts, jackets, caps, etc. that runners bought or were given at the expo were branded with the Asics logo. So too was the finish line area and mile markers. Asics clearly spent a lot of money to be the “official” sporting goods sponsor of the ING New York City Marathon.

But all anyone will talk about is the Nike guy and his Nike pals breaking 3-hours.

Nike knows marketing. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Nike suggested to Armstrong that he run the New York City Marathon. Why not? Nike already had all of the top runners, how about the 3-hour guys, too.

Shrewd. Very shrewd.

gomesReady, set… uh… go?
The other thing that struck me was how passive and tentative the top runners were. Chalk this up to the deep field where every runner knew each other’s credentials and chose to err on the side of caution. When eventual winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos made his move on First Avenue before crossing in to the South Bronx just shy of the 20th mile, the ever-dwindling main pack of runners just allowed him to waltz ahead. It seemed as if everyone in the pack was watching Paul Tergat. When Tergat didn’t break after the Brazilian, no else did either.

That is until it was too late.

Afterwards, according to the Chasing KIMBIA site, Tergat told second-place finisher Stephen Kiogora that “we let him get to far away.”

Well, yeah.

The same thing happened in the women’s race, too, only the star-studded women’s field allowed the defending NYC champ build a 20-second lead after one mile that quickly turned to a minute for most of the race. By the time Jelena Prokopcuka was blowing kisses to the crowd in Central Park while jogging in the final mile, her name had already been engraved on her trophy.

Jelena ProkopcukaLike Tergat, women’s favorite Kastor said the women’s race was too tactical.

“I think we were being a little tentative, and by the time it was ready to roll it was too late,” she told reporters. “I think out of respect to the other women. I think we were all tentative in seeing what the others wanted to do.”

Those tactics by some of the best runners in the world are baffling. After months of training, planning and hype, when it came time to get dirty and be aggressive, only two runners went after it.

“To win a marathon you have to have courage,” dos Santos said.

Americans?
The 2006 New York City Marathon turned out to be just a typical outing for American runners. On the women’s side, Kastor finished sixth in 2:27. She chalked her disappointing finish up to just one of those days.

Meanwhile, stomach trouble ruined Alan Culpepper and Meb Keflezighi’s day. Culpepper dropped out in the Bronx after 20 miles, while Meb, who finished in second and third in the past two years, limped home in 2:22:02. According to The New York Times, Keflezighi got food poisoning in New York on Thursday and drank Pepto-Bismal before the race on Sunday morning.

It didn’t help.

Californian Peter Gilmore, who is not sponsored by Nike, adidas or Asics, was the top American in 2:13:13. That’s Gilmore’s second-best time ever, and a good encore for his seventh-place finish in 2:12:45 in Boston last April.

Wonder boy Dathan Ritzenhein ran 2:14:01 in his highly anticipated marathon debut. Ritzenhein ran a 61-minute half marathon in his tune up before New York, which made him a pre-race top 10 pick, but as veteran marathoners know, the race is fickle and tricky. If you have a weakness, the marathon will expose it.

That fact is the only guarantee about marathon running.

Put that down

I ran with my iPod today, which can count as weight training for me. Though the little computer weighs just a few ounces, it’s the most amount of weight I’ve carried around aside from lugging a 2½-year-old boy.

Weight training and I just don’t mix. Oh, I used to do it quite a bit back in the old days when I was younger and faster. Even this year I did pushups pretty religiously as part of my “jail house” workout. The way I figured it, my arms were moving just as much as my legs – I ought to make them strong, too.

Right?

Not anymore.

My new reluctance to lift weights and do pushups didn’t come because of some scientific evidence I read in a medical journal or something found in one of the ubiquitous Runner’s World stories about being fit that seem to be recycled from month to month. The reason is because of an interview I read a few months ago with Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong, as most people know, is a bit of a runner these days. He should be in the final days of his taper before Sunday’s New York City Marathon, but had a little bit of success as a cyclist for a few years before retiring from the sport after the 2005 Tour de France.

So what did Armstrong reveal in the interview that made me turn my dumbbells into some odd-looking furniture?

He said he didn’t lift weights.

Of course that might have changed these days. Armstrong looks pretty fit and strong on the cover of a few magazines from the past couple of months. But when he was winning the seven Tour de France races in a row, Armstrong said he never touched a weight or even thought about doing a pushup. Pushups equal muscle and muscle equals weight and weight equals slow.

Slow is no good.

Here’s the quote from the November 2006 issue of Runner’s World… wait didn’t I just make fun of that magazine? Well… never mind. Here’s Lance:

“When I rode I couldn’t do a pushup, because immediately I would have put on muscle. But I decided I don’t want to do that anymore. I’d rather have a full-body workout. So I’ve definitely put on weight, a lot of upper-body muscle weight.”

In the same interview, Armstrong reveals his taste for beer, wine and margaritas (Hey! Me too!) as well as a competitive cyclist’s penchant for big eating and for starving themselves.

“It sucks,” he said.

So that’s why I stopped lifting weights. Honestly, I can’t tell a difference between now and then in terms of my fitness although these days I don’t have pipes for arms. I have pipe cleaners.

As far as cross-training goes, I try to walk places instead of driving. When I was younger and poorer I walked and rode my bike everywhere. Something as simple as that definitely made a difference in my training and fitness. I also do sit-ups like crazy and have noticed a big difference since I started doing my sit-ups and crunches on a big fitness ball I bought in the summer.

My stretching is still sporadic and not very intense, though I think I make up for that with the weekly ART sessions. I kind of enjoy doing a basic yoga routine when I can – I have my own mat and strap and everything — but lately I have been inconsistent with that, too.

Now that I’m starting the taper, I suppose I’ll be more consistent with the yoga.

Did I mention the taper? Yeah, I started it today. After beating myself up on Monday and running hard for too long on Tuesday, I ran just 10 miles in 64:30 on Wednesday. I did the entire run on the grass at Baker Field, which is where I plan on doing all of my runs for the next 10 days to lessen the pounding and wear and tear on my legs. I also didn’t think I was going as fast as the time indicates, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

Either I’m faster or the loops are shorter.

Shoe geek
On CNN this week, I saw photos of Castro wearing Adidas gear. Nike may have some questionable labor issues in third-world countries, but at least a brutal dictator isn’t strolling around wearing Air Jordans.

Right?

Running nugget
Stefano Baldini is the defending Olympic and World Championship champ and is running the New York City Marathon this Sunday. Here’s an interview with Baldini on the Men’s Racing site where he discusses his training with Exton, Pa’s Duncan Larkin.

Play list
Here are the songs that made it from beginning to end on my iPod during today’s easy 10-miler:

Please – U2
Touch the Sky – Kanye West
3 MC’s & 1 DJ (Live video version) – Beastie Boys
Starve – Rollins Band
Piss-Bottle Man – Mike Watt
The Wait – Metallica
Loretta’s Scars – Pavement
Debaser – Pixies
I Got You – Split Enz
Jerry Was a Race Car Driver – Primus
What’s My Name – DMX
Pretty in Pink – Social Distortion
Numb/Encore – Jay-Z/Linkin Park
You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar… – Queens of the Stoneage
One-Armed Scissor – At the Drive-In
Androgynous Mind – Sonic Youth

More hours in the day, please…

People who can juggle kids, jobs and running with calculated efficiency, always amaze me. Those folks who can get up at 5 a.m. in order to get a run in at 6 so they can be finished in time to get the kids out the door by 8 are Supermen and women.

(right: The Breakfast of Champions.)

Even better, some of them even add a second run at the end of the day or during a lunch break. It really is very amazing.

I can’t do it. Even when I didn’t have a real job, a mortgage, bills, kid, etc., I was never one who got up early. Before I actually began writing about baseball and sports I kept “baseball hours.” That means if I get to bed before 2 a.m. I must be sick or really tired or something.

Because of this schedule and lifestyle, racing is often difficult since they are usually held early in the morning. In order to race, I have to make a real commitment to a particular event and then make sure I’m in bed or horizontal very, very early – for me. Nevertheless, the day before a marathon I make sure I’m finished walking for the day at 5 p.m. and in bed at 8.

The rest is just that important. I never realized that until I went to race a couple of months ago and just couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get loose or run the way I had been in workouts. When I expressed this to my wife she smartly told me why I was slow on that particular day.

“You got up in the middle of the night to run. You’re usually asleep at the time the race started so you intentionally got yourself up in the middle of your natural sleep time to run. You were tired.”

She’s very smart.

Fortunately, I have the luxury working out when I am well rested. My wife is to thank for that. While I keep my baseball hours, she keeps her schoolteacher hours. That means she is up by 6 a.m. even on days when she can sleep in. But she’s always been that way, I’m told. So while she tends to our son and gets him ready for school, I ease into the morning. I can get all the sleep I need, wash up, get my coffee, do a few hours of work and then start my workout. Afterwards, I pick up the boy and we wait for her to get home.

It definitely works out well for me.

But today’s schedule had a bit of a monkey wrench throw into it. There was no school for the boy, which meant an extra-early wake up call for me. Usually this means I have to start my run when my wife gets home around 4 p.m., but with an ART appointment as well as the threat of 24-hours of downpour looming, I was left scrambling for a mid-day sitter, which isn’t exactly the easiest thing to find in the world.

But my mom came to the rescue by taking an extended lunch break. I guess 30-plus years of service at her job has its benefits… for me, too.

Thanks to my mom I was able to squeeze in a quick 13-miler, which I completed in 1:27:10. That’s not so bad when the fact that I did it on five hours sleep a days after doubling up for 21.5 miles. It took some extra effort to keep the pace in the early going, and loosening up wasn’t fun, but it’s definitely one I’ll take.

I just wish I could have gone longer. This is “Blast Week” after all. Perhaps if the rain holds off until the boy goes to bed and I’m not too tired after the ART, I’ll double-up again.

Stats: 13 miles in 1:27:10. The first nine went in 60:01. Not bad for a sleep-deprived dad.

On another note, my boy Michael and I had a lovely breakfast at Starbucks this morning. He had one of their apple streusels and organic chocolate milk and I had a venti Colombian with a Clif Bar. He enjoyed the overstuffed chairs and the broad windows. I enjoyed the company. If mornings like that is the reason to put off workouts, I’ll have no qualms about becoming a slouch.

A tremendous slouch.

Running nugget
Runnersworld.com reported that Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion, would get some help in his marathon debut on Nov. 5 in New York City.

According to the brief, Armstrong’s sponsor Nike is putting together a pace team that could include 1984 Olympic gold medal marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, and 2004 Olympic 1500 and 5000-meter gold medalist Hicham El Guerrouj.

So a guy hoping to run 2:45 or so gets a team of rabbits? Wow. If Nike wants to send someone to Harrisburg on Nov. 12 to help me snap 2:40, I’m ready.

Tobacco? In baseball?

Lance Armstrong is preparing to run the NYC Marathon (more on that at a later date) so it only makes sense that the seven-time Tour de France champ sits down with an interviewer from Runner’s World, right? In a Q&A posted on the Runner’s World web site, Armstrong discussed his training (or lack thereof) and the differences between cycling and running (one uses a bike) during the short interview.

But particularly interesting and funny was the answer to the requiste drug/doping question. It seems as if Armstrong wonders why ballplayers need to take performance-enhancing drugs when there’s all that spitting going on. Here’s the question and the answer:

Runner’s World: What are your thoughts about Barry Bonds?
Lance Armstrong: I have to say I understand what he’s going through. I think there’s probably more of an association just because of the BALCO stuff and the grand jury testimony. Barry is more – it seems from the outside – he’s a tough character. He’s not gone out of his way to try to fix the situation or make friends there. But I don’t really follow baseball. Mostly because I don’t understand it. If you can do tobacco and play the sport, then it’s technically probably not a sport.

To read the full interview, click here.

As an aside, I don’t believe for a minute that Armstrong is merely running and trying to finish the Nov. 5 race “within an hour of the winner.” I think he’s understating his training in these interviews and is training his rear off.

I’m not basing this on anything, and I certainly could be wrong. All I know is that people like Armstrong like to win.

Uh-oh Part II

It was as inevitable as the change of seasons that when the story in which two former teammates of Lance Armstrong admitted to past EPO use that the “is Lance dirty” chatter would grow louder.

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion whether or not Armstrong doped his way to the seven straight Tour de France victories. That’s especially true in the climate in which athletes have to prove that they are not taking drugs. In regards to Armstrong, like every other professional athlete, there seems to be very little grey area

Forget the fact that Armstrong’s VO2 reading (his ability to use oxygen) is one of the highest ever recorded, or that he has threatened to sue over accusations tying him with doping. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds or any other high-profile athlete tied to sports’ drug scandals haven’t spoken as strongly as Armstrong has — not that this is an absolution.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Armstrong quickly fired back, calling the story in The New York Times, a “hatchet job.”

Meanwhile, top cyclist Jan Ullrich’s house in Switzerland was raided by authorities as part of the investigation regarding a Spanish doping case.

Before anyone gets on their sports hih horse and says, “who cares, it’s just cycling,” or, “who cares, it’s just track,” think about this:

What if they tried to keep baseball, football, basketball and hockey as clean as they do in those sports. How different would the games be?

Obviously, this (or anything like it) is never going to occur until an independent agency takes over as the drug authority. The league and player’s unions will never let that happen.

On another Armstrong note, he is still slated to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. He has already admitted that marathoning is more difficult than cycling (he’s right), but based on Armstrong’s VO2, he should be able to run a 2:08. That won’t happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he runs better than 2:30.

Uh-oh

Here’s something that’s interesting: two members of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France team in 1999 have admitted to using EPO, according to Juliet Macur’s story in The New York Times. Interestingly, one of the riders, Frankie Andreu, was a domestique for Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team just like Floyd Landis was to be a few years later.

Even more interestingly, Andreu’s admission came on the same day that Landis’ lawyer asked that the doping charges against the reigning Tour champ be dismissed. According to the Associated Press story, Landis’ lawyer hinted, “for the first time at the Tour de France winner’s official defense: that his positive testosterone tests were flawed and did not meet World Anti-Doping Agency standards.”

More: 2 Ex-Teammates of Cycling Star Admit Drug Use
More: Landis’ Attorney Wants Charges Dismissed

Meanwhile, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal had a bit of a scoop with an exclusive interview with Landis. Kudos to them. Kudos.