Don’t feed the animals

rubenREADING, Pa. – Sitting here in the main press box in First Energy Stadium for the latest addition of the Pedro Martinez comeback and I have a few notes to pass along. We have been informed via a note tacked on the wall that we are not allowed to approach any member of the Phillies front office staff here at the ballpark.

It says:

“Members of the Phillies front office will be in attendance. They are not to be approached for interviews at any time regardless if Martinez has come out of the game…”

Seriously, it says that. Charley Kerfeld and/or Ruben Amaro Jr. are off limits, which is fine since the first-year GM is about as obtuse as they come.

Here’s the thing – I think even Ruben would think the sign is funny. Especially because, you know, he runs a BASEBALL TEAM. I could see a sign that read, “Please don’t approach the President of the United States of America,” or, “Please don’t approach the Queen of England,” or, of course, “Please don’t approach the dancers…”

But “members of the Phillies’ front office?

All these years I totally underestimated the delicate genius that is Ruben Amaro Jr. My promise to you, dear reader, is that I will exercise more caution when I “approach” him in the future.

*

floydriverThe whole reason I wanted to write this little post is to relay a press release I got in the ol’ mail box this afternoon. In fact, the headline enough was all I needed, but when I continued to read, it just got better and better.

Anyway, the headline:

Floyd Landis set to take on Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams in a three-point shootout

Not making this up. Seriously. Floyd Landis, the (infamous) bicycle racer will be in a shoot off against Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz and the Olympic gold medal basketball team from the 2008 games in Beijing.

That’s enough right there. Just the thought of Floyd going up against Deron Williams is ridiculously funny. But funnier yet is the first paragraph of the release that reads:

According to Floyd Landis of the OUCH Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis, the last time he was even on a basketball court, let alone practicing three-pointers, “was probably when I was 15.”

So no, Floyd has no chance in hell. Considering that Williams made 70 three-pointers in the NBA last season, was second in the league with 10.8 assists and also got 19.4 points per game, Floyd really is in trouble.

“Trouble,” however, is Floyd’s middle name. In addition to the three-point shootout, which will take place before the Tour of Utah, Williams will race against Floyd in a time trial. That’s good for the pro cyclist, however, Floyd is clearly focused on shooting down the NBA star.

“Cyclists are usually really good basketball players, so I’m not concerned,” Floyd said.

So there’s that.

’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:

Shot from the hip

ans7_labrumBrett Myers joins teammate Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Alex Gordon and Carlos Delgado (amongst others) who have (or will) undergo surgery for a torn hip labrum. And that’s just in baseball. Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and Floyd Landis are two more notable athletes who had hip surgery recently.

That’s not all, either. Hip pain and injuries are the bane of distance runners and soccer players and it appears to have replaced the knee as the injury in baseball.

Of course shoulder injuries in pitchers are the biggest of the big, so the hip has a ways to go to catch up.

Nevertheless, with Myers acknowledging that he has to have hip surgery – whether it’s now or later is to be determined – the question has arisen about all the labral tears and hip surgeries.

What’s the deal with that? Is it something sinister or related to nefarious acts? Are these ballplayers built differently or doing something their predecessors did not?

Well, no.

Ballplayers in the old days had hip injuries and labral tears, too, only back then they called it a groin injury or some other catchall phrase. But with sports medicine and athletic training reaching new heights of insight and with technological advancements of the diagnostics, things like labrum tears and spurs are found much more easily.

Think about how many careers could have been saved if certain players were simply born in a different era. Or think about how much pain some players went through just to play their game. We know that tons of pitchers would have been able to have longer careers if Tommy John surgery had existed before 1975. That’s just one example – what was it like before arthroscopic procedures?

What if Mickey Mantle (for example) would have been able to have modern medical procedures instead of the slicing and dicing he underwent?

Anyway, Myers will need surgery and the consensus from a few medical folks who I described his situation to seem to think he will be best served to have the surgery now instead of later. Of course Myers is going to see Dr. Bryan Kelly, who just might be the Michael Jordan of hip ailments.[1] Clearly Dr. Kelly will steer Myers to the right path.

myersNevertheless, a few medical folks seem to think that Myers’ shoulder injury from 2007 might have led to his hip problems. The reason they think this is because of the significant drop in the velocity of his fastball seems to point to Myers pushing off harder with his right leg in order to throw pitches as hard as he did before the shoulder injury. By having the surgery as soon as possible – and hoping that the damage isn’t too bad – Myers could be recovered in time for the stretch run and should be throwing as hard as he once did.

Of course Myers wants to pitch now. The best season of his career came when he pitched out of the bullpen when he pitched nearly every day in September of 2007. His durability was his strength and would have been attractive on the free-agent market this off-season.

The guy likes to pitch and even when he was in pain on Wednesday night, he didn’t want to come out of the game.

Certainly it makes the decision for Myers that much more difficult.

**

I watched Randy Wolf pitch for the Dodgers against the Cubs at Wrigley Field last night and it appears as if the ex-Phillie is finally 100 percent healthy. It was easy to think about Myers and the medical issues he faces when watching Wolf pitch. Several surgeries and lots of perseverance has Wolf looking like the strongest cog in the Dodgers’ rotation.

That 3-1 record and 2.84 ERA and .221 batting-average-against would look sharp for the Phillies these days.

Still, count on the Phillies being active on the rumor mill from here on out.

**

I missed this the other day, but last Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the greatest baseball game ever pitched. That’s when Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix, a Phillie for two seasons, threw 12 perfect innings in Milwaukee, gave up a hit in the 13th inning and lost, 1-0.

Boggles the mind.

Anyway, check out Albert Chen’s story on Haddix’s game in the recent SI. The amazing part was the Milwaukee Braves were stealing Pittsburgh’s signs with binoculars and still couldn’t get a hit.


[1] Hey Doctor Kelly… I’m a distance runner who can’t shake the hip tightness and pain. Am I ever going to be fast again? Damn hip!

Hitting The Wall

the-wallThe 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.

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 …

Comeback kids

cover_000Hey, whatever happened to pepper? Why aren’t the Phillies down in Clearwater honing their reflexes and fancy glove work with a little pepper? Sounds like a big story for some newshound of a reporter.

As regular readers of this little dog-and-pony show know, we love the bike racing here. Just love it. Actually, it’s all of the endurance sports – the tougher, the better. As such, if I worked for Versus I’d send me to France this summer to help with the coverage of Le Tour… hell, won’t cost them nothing. I’m already on the payroll.

Be that as it is, we watched last week’s Tour of California with great interest. Many reasons for this were obvious – most of the best riders in the world were there, it’s California and a punishing event, etc., etc.

But the biggest reason, of course, was the return of both Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis to the racing scene. Depending on how one looks at things, the final results were mixed. Lance played a pretty good supporting role for Astana teammate and race champ, Levi Leipheimer and finished sixth overall. Lance rode well, though not spectacularly. He may have been the third best rider for Astana (behind Leipheimer and Chris Horner), and maybe the fourth-best on the team right now.

Of course it’s still early and the big test – Le Tour de France – is five months away. That doesn’t change the fact that Astana, the best team in the world, has some figuring out to do. Is Leipheimer or 2007 Tour de France champ Alberto Contador the leader of the team? And if so, where does that leave Lance? Certainly he didn’t come out of retirement to be a domestique.

Regardless, where Lance really distinguished himself in the Tour of California (the most-viewed spectator event in state history… over 2 million people witnessed various stages of the race that started in Sacramento and finished near San Diego), was with a certain spectator.

Actually, the spectator was dressed in a bumble-bee type costume… with horns on his head… and a trident with syringes attached… oh yeah, and a cape – the dude was wearing a cape.

Nevertheless, when the guy got a little too close and a little too annoying, Lance gave the bumble-bee man with a needle a shove that sent him sprawling into the snow. Then he just rode off, since, you know, it was a race.

Take a look (photos from Drunk Cyclist):

Meanwhile, Lancaster County native Floyd Landis had an up-and-down Tour of California. In his first race since that now infamous 2006 Tour de France, Floyd finished 23rd. He struggled early, partially because of a fall during training on his surgically-repaired hip, caught a cold, got tangled up in a mid-race crash, yet hung in. By the end, Floyd finished strong and rode strong and tough during the race’s final stage.

Hell, by the end of the race the once loquacious-turned-silent Landis was even talking to the press again. Albeit it briefly and after a feature appeared in The New York Times.

Floyd also appeared on the cover of glossy/fancy cycling mag, Road, though the only cool part about the featured interview was the photos. The interview itself was pretty unrevealing and pedantic, but the pictures were cool.

The return of Lance and Landis

Yet another busy weekend around here with the official opening of spring training, coupled with a pair of Flyers’ games, the NBA All-Star weekend as well as the typical rumbling and grumblings on the Philly sports scene. Surely, the Phillies and the beginning of their title defense in Clearwater, Fla. is the biggest bit of news in these parts, but that doesn’t mean the world stops just for us.

Oh no. Not at all.

While the greatest basketball players on the planet have all converged in Phoenix, Ariz. for two days of parties and exhibitions, a little farther north a consortium of the greats in another sport will take over the great state of California for the next week.

And when we say the best in the sport, we mean many of the best over the past decade.

Yes, it’s the Tour of California, the biggest bike race in the United States which began with a prologue stage in Sacramento on Saturday and will end in Escondido, a town just north of San Diego, on Sunday. Along the way, spectators lining the course will see the best field ever assembled for a bike race in the U.S.

The best?

Absolutely. Look, the greatest-of-all-time hook is one that is thrown out far too much these days. As sports fans and Americans, we’re prone to hyperbole. However, it’s difficult to argue with the riders saddling it up this week in California. The only way it could get any better is if Miguel Indurain or the man himself, Eddy Merckx decided to make comebacks.

The talent includes three different Tour de France champs, 16 different Tour de France stage winners, 11 world champions, eight Olympic medalists, and every American champ going back to 2003 as well as every winner in the first three years of the event.

Star-studded to be sure. But frankly, the Tour of California is the first real test for a couple of riders making their returns to the sport. Yes, Carlos Sastre, the defending Tour de France champ is in the race. So too is 2008 Olympic gold medalist Fabian Cancellara, along with a veritable who’s who of cycling.

But the riders drawing the most attention in the Tour of California are a couple of guys who haven’t raced a full season since 2006, and that year didn’t really end too well.

Yes, Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis are back.

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.

Wow…

Sheesh… Based on a first (quick) read of the CAS harshly-worded decision against Floyd Landis, it appeared as if he never had a chance. Bob was right.

I’ll have more later tonight (or tomorrow morning), but in the meantime I am going to re-post what I wrote last September when the USADA ruling came down against Floyd because it still applies.

Here it is:

Cooked Case
September 20, 2007
floydWASHINGTON – Let’s just get it out of the way at the top…

I believe Floyd Landis got screwed. I believe that if his case were held to the same standards of the rule of law, Landis’s case would have never gone to trial. Hell, he would have never been indicted.

If Floyd Landis were a baseball player instead of a bike rider, he would still be out on the field without even the slightest threat of suspension.

But whatever. Righteous indignation is typically the rallying cry for losers. Everybody gets screwed at one time or another. However, the part in the case against Floyd that seems so… wrong is that it doesn’t seem as if he was given due process. That’s really the crux of my righteous indignation, aside from the notion that Floyd seems A LOT more believable than Dick Pound, Travis Tygart and the rest of those bureaucrats.

Look, I don’t care if Floyd was cocktailing HgH with winstrol and deer urine all while freezing his rest-day blood in a hyperbaric chamber. Due process is ESSENTIAL.

Wizened old sage Bob Ford, who has been around the loop at the Tour de France numerous times and could be the best cycling writer in the world, dropped me an e-mail minutes after I received one from Floyd’s PR representative, Pearl Piatt, to announce the arbitrator’s ruling. The subject line said it all:

“Cooked case.”

The rest of the email would have made a hell of a column, but it’s football and baseball season in Philadelphia so such things as a doping case involving a Mennonite bike rider from Lancaster County tend to get buried.

Except for here.

As Bob wrote last May:

Landis was caught by the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage in Châtenay-Malabry, a facility in a suburb just southwest of Paris. The methods and procedures at the lab are sloppy, and the results it issues are increasingly suspect. Recently, the International Tennis Federation announced that drug tests from the French Open – held in Paris, by the way – would be shipped to a lab in Montreal rather than shuttled to Châtenay-Malabry. The ITF said it was an economic decision, but what was it going to say?

The French lab has spit out approximately three times as many positive results as other labs sanctioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Those results, particularly the ones involving notable American cyclists, are also quickly leaked to L’Equipe, the French sports newspaper, which happens to be owned by the company that owns the Tour de France. So it’s quite a racket.

Does any of this mean Floyd Landis is innocent, set up by nefarious Frenchmen who twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight? No, it does not. He may well be guilty. It means only that you can’t trust the evidence.

This would be fine for Landis if his case was being heard in a court of law that adhered to innocent-until and the overriding escape hatch of reasonable doubt. Instead, his arbitration, which is being prosecuted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, will be judged by a three-man panel, and was probably decided before it began.

Each side in the case picks one arbitrator, and the third is supposed to be mutually agreed upon. That didn’t happen, and the compromise member of the panel is someone who almost always rules against athletes. The decision is cooked, in other words, and Landis is done.

Floyd won the 2006 Tour de France, fairly, I think. But even for as much as I’d like to say his incredible ride in Stage 17 is still one of the most exciting days in sports I have ever seen, I’d be lying if I said it’s not a little tainted now. Yes, Floyd will probably continue to race and could one even go back to ride in the Tour de France, but it will never be the same.

And that just sucks.

Decision day

Floyd Landis learns the result of two-years spent working on his defense against doping allegations at 11 a.m. today.

But will it ever really be over?

One would assume that the governing bodies would acknowledge the work of the Court for the Arbitration of Sport if it overturns the United States Anti-Doping Association’s decision against Landis and restore his victory in the 2006 Tour de France. After all, one would assume that the sport bureaucracies will be quick to pat themselves on the back for nailing a “proven” doper if the appeal comes back in its favor.

Nevertheless, nearly two years after he arrived at the Champs-Élysées in the Yellow Jersey, Floyd Landis finally arrives at the finish line on Monday at 11 a.m.

Phew! What a ride…

The wise Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer doesn’t give Floyd much of a chance in CAS’ verdict… I don’t know. Bob is much smarter than me (which isn’t saying much), but I give Floyd a 50-50 shot.

More later…

Full plate

So I went into Starbucks this morning and ordered the big, big Sidamo coffee. Of course I mispronounced it which drew a bunch of blank stares from the baristas, before they realized what I wanted and corrected me.

“Oh… you mean Sis-AH-mo.”

“Yeah. Coffee.”

The Sidamo brew was described on the board above the urn as “delicate yet complex.” OK. But when I quipped, “Delicate yet complex… sounds like me!” I got nothing.

Blank stares.

Anyway, there is a lot going on today. To start, the struggling Phillies offense takes its road show to Arlington, Texas this evening to play the Rangers. Actually, when I write struggling offense, I really meant all-or-nothing offense. That really seems to describe the Phillies’ hitters perfectly.

Need proof? Check out this stat I was e-mailed about the all-or-nothing Phillies:

The Phillies have scored 10 or more runs in eight games this season for 110 runs. In the other 72 games, the Phillies have scored 294 runs, or 4.08 runs per game.

When scoring 10 or more runs the Phillies are 8-0. In the other 72 games they are 35-37.

Feast or famine.

When was the last time a team with numbers so skewed won the World Series?

***
Meanwhile, the track portion of the Olympic Trials begins in earnest tonight in Eugene, Oregon at Hayward Field. For those who don’t follow the sport (and you know who you are), holding the track trials at Hayward Field is staging the World Series in Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium rolled into one.

Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s an even bigger deal when one considers that the Olympic Trials are about as dramatic as it gets in sports. Think about it — athletes get one chance once every four years to qualify for the Olympic team. If they don’t finish in the top three in their event, they have to wait another four years for the next chance.

Needless to say, they bring it at the Trials.

Tonight at 9:20 p.m. the women’s 10,000-meters team will be determined. But if Shalane Flanagan doesn’t run away with this one, something is up. I’m also predicting that Katie McGregor and Elva Dryer will take the other two spots on the Olympic team.

What about Kara Goucher? Come on, you can’t go with the chalk all the time.

***
Finally, the final appeal of the Floyd Landis case will be issued on Monday by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

At last.

***
There’s more coming later today. I went to see Ted Leo and Pearl Jam in Washington last Sunday so I figured I might as write about that, too.

***
Cryptic sentence of the day:

Clips are back.

(Not so) tough as nails

Lenny DykstraIt’s kind of fun to see Lenny Dykstra turning up everywhere as the veritable media dynamo that he has become. By now, most folks have caught the new Lenny on HBO’s Real Sports talking about his career as a day trader with Bernie Goldberg.

There Lenny was again in the pages of The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker), discussing his latest venture called The Players Club, which is a magazine aimed at professional athletes on how they can better invest their high incomes so that they don’t squander it all before their playing days end.

Dykstra says it will be “the world’s best magazine” and throws around such superlatives about nearly everything he has purchased as if he were out for revenge or if he had somehow been shortchanged somewhere along the line. His car, a German Maybach, is “the best car.” He bought a Gulfstream plane because, “it’s the best in the world and there isn’t even a close second.”

It doesn’t stop with the big things, either. He raves about a door in his $17 million house purchased from Wayne Gretzky, as well as about the house itself and the weather in Southern California. It’s all the best and more than mirrors Dykstra’s style as a player that was, needless to say, all about him and “look at me.” Oh sure, Dykstra wanted to win and all of that. But given a choice between running into a fence and injuring himself or remaining healthy and on the field, Dykstra always went for the short-term glory.

But that theory flies in the face of the mission behind his The Players Club. As he said in The New Yorker:

“I’m forty-four, with a lot of mileage, dude. A lot of mileage.” The chaw is gone, and he hasn’t had a drink in years. “When the market opens at six o’clock in the morning out here, I mean, dude, you got to be up,” he says. “You get to a point in your life where, yeah, I loved baseball, but baseball’s a small part. I’m going to build something that can change the fucking outcome of people’s lives.”

Yes, because helping multi-millionaires from separating themselves from their money is soooooo altruistic.

Anyway, in addition to Real Sports and The New Yorker, Dykstra’s name has also appeared in a story in which an accounting firm is suing him for $110,000 for money owed for accounting and tax work.

Then Dykstra’s name showed up a handful of times in The Mitchell Report, which didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Yet, the Mitchell Report and Dykstra’s physical health is the one issue that seemed to be glossed over during the HBO profile and the magazine story. With Goldberg, Dykstra’s speech was somewhat slurred, a point exemplified in Ben McGrath’s story:

His hands tremble, his back hurts, and his speech, like that of an insomniac or a stroke victim, lags slightly behind his mind. He winks without obvious intent. In his playing days, he had a term for people like this: fossils. Nothing about his physical presence any longer suggests nails, and sometimes, as if in joking recognition of this softening, he answers the phone by saying, “Thumbtacks.”

But that’s it. Dykstra’s health, just like the depth and true worth of his financial portfolio are taken at face value. In fact, the only nuance presented in either story came from Dykstra’s personality. There, Dykstra appears to be in 1993 form.

***
Floyd LandisMeanwhile, the final stop on Floyd Landis’ appeal hearing has planted itself in New York City where the case enters its third day. Landis and the USADA will present cases today and tomorrow before wrapping it all up on Monday. Then they will wait for the panel of three arbitrators with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to make a decision, which will come sometime during the calendar year… probably.

Nevertheless, there has been very little in the way of rumblings from the USADA or Landis camps, which is quite the opposite from last May’s hearing. Plus, Floyd likes to talk and hasn’t said anything to anyone.

But for a preview of the proceedings in NYC, here’s a story from ESPN’s Bonnie D. Ford.

***
I don’t like to brag[1], but I went 14-for-16 in the first day of NCAA tournament selections. I tripped up on the UNLV-Kent State and West Virginia-Arizona games.

Still, it’s not too bad for someone convinced that the tournament is nothing more than a lot of hot air until the second weekend begins.

***
Ted LeoFinally, in an interesting development, arena rock stalwarts Pearl Jam announced that they will take Ted Leo and his Pharmacists out with them for the first part of their U.S. tour, which opens in Camden, N.J. on June 19. Certainly such a decision means that Pearl Jam aims to bust their collective asses during the six dates in which Teddy Rock Star opens up the shows. After all, if Eddie Vedder and the gang give just the slightest of inches, Ted + Rx will own them.

Fortunately for the Pearl Jammers, work ethic has never been an issue. That means it will be an action-packed six shows for all involved.

Jun 19 — Camden, N.J. — Susquehanna Bank Center
Jun 22 — Washington, D.C. — Verizon Center

Jun 24 — New York, N.Y. – Madison Square Garden
Jun 25 — New York, N.Y. – Madison Square Garden

Jun 27 — Hartford, Conn. — Dodge Amphitheater
Jun 30 — Mansfield, Mass. — Tweeter Center

The always interesting Kings of Leon will take over the opening duties after Ted Leo leaves the tour.

More: Ted Leo covers Rush on WFMU


[1] Uh, yeah I do.

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.

Paying attention is hard

FloydFor the past four weeks I think I’ve spent 24 hours in one place two times. If I wasn’t at the ballpark, I was in a plane, train or automobile that was taking me to the ballpark or some baseball-related event.

In those four weeks I’ve ingested enough coffee and diet coke to kill a Shetland pony. If the caffeine wouldn’t get him, the aspartame[1] likely would.

Needless to say, I have a newfound respect for the guys who travel around with the baseball team every day since the middle of February. Yeah, they get to go to the ballpark, but sometimes that’s no picnic either – work is work.

Anyway, because of the Phillies and their short run into the playoffs, I have been unable to follow too much else outside of that realm. Some of this is my fault because I’m not much a multi-tasker. And other parts are my fault because I don’t live closer to where I have to work…

Nobody forced me to move out to the sticks (well, not really forced, but really… who wants to live in Philadelphia if they have a choice?)

Part of what I missed and have not been able to get deeper into was the decision by the arbitration panel in the USADA’s case against Floyd Landis. When the decision came down I was in Washington for the four-game series at RFK Stadium against the Nationals. As I recall, that was a long day – I wrote about the decision, etc. and then took the Metro over to RFK just an hour before the first pitch (3½-to-4 hours before the first pitch is the customary time of arrival for baseball writers…) to write more about the Phillies’ push to the playoffs.

The plan, as I remember, was to ride the baseball stuff out until the end of the season and then revisit the Landis case. The trouble was the baseball season kept on going, which is a new phenomenon in Philadelphia. As a result, I fell out of touch a little bit. When people asked about the case/decision during the past few weeks, I couldn’t offer anything more eloquent than, “Huh? Who? Oh yeah… that guy. I pass his old house on my way to work. It’s quiet in that neck of the woods, and there are a lot of cornfields – apparently the corn crop has been really good this year…”

Plus, there have been a few new developments in the doping front.

Let’s get this out of the way again: Floyd Landis got screwed. I don’t know if he used PEDs and I guess I really don’t care (or maybe I do seeing as how much coffee I have been drinking lately – drugs are drugs). The point is the testing process, the screening and the entire circus that went on with the French lab, the UCI, WADA and USADA is borderline criminal and completely unethical. I know there are some good people who work at those places, but they need to reevaluate what’s going on.

Besides, if the tests are performed incorrectly, then the results are B.S.. Even the two arbitrators hand-picked by USADA to deliver the desired result by the government-funded agency alluded to this in the decision.

In fact, in a strong rebuke, the two arbitrators who ruled against Landis wrote that more sloppy work by the French lab could lead to a dismissal of a case in the future.

Shudder the thought.

Dave Zabriske, Landis’ former teammate and current pro rider, summed it up perfectly.

“That’s kind of strange to me,” Zabriske told WSCN.com. “Why could it be grounds for dismissal in the future and not now?”

However, Landis’ attorney, Maurice Suh, says it wasn’t a matter of a lab doing incompetent work, though that didn’t help matters. Instead, Suh told the Associated Press that the tests did not show that Landis tested positive.

“This wasn’t a technical defense,” Suh said. “It wasn’t: ‘You didn’t do this right. You didn’t put the beaker in the right case.’ This was a case that showed that they came to the wrong result.”

Travis Tygart, the new head of the USADA, stands by the result and says it will hold up on appeal.

“This is another sad example of the crisis of character plaguing some of today’s athletes, which undermines the honest accomplishments of the overwhelming majority of athletes who compete with integrity,” he said.

Yeah, but what about the testers, the arbitrators and the alphabet soup organizations that base their funding on how many pelts they can nail to the wall?

So, after much consternation, Landis – like any stubborn dude from Lancaster County – decided to appeal the decision to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. A final, binding decision is expected in February.

“I hope that the arbitrators of the case will fairly address the facts showing that the French laboratory made mistakes, which resulted in a false positive. Although the process of proving my innocence has been difficult for me and my family, I will not stop trying to prove my innocence.”

It seems as if Landis’ appeal is as much about proving his innocence as it is proving that the anti-doping system is “cynical and corrupt.”

Certainly, if anyone has paying attention to the case, it’s pretty clear that Floyd has already shown the flaws in the system. Corrupt is a good place to start. But if Floyd wants the UCI, WADA, USADA, etc. to operate within a framework of the highest standards and ethics, forget it. He’s going to lose.

He’s dealing with career bureaucrats, you know, as in: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”

Suh told WCSN.com that Floyd understands it.

“We had always embarked on this trial with the understanding that ultimately victory would be difficult,” Suh told WCSN.com. “There are so many arbitrators in the system that are against the athletes that it doesn’t provide you with many options. It leaves the athletes in a difficult spot because of the small number of fair-minded arbitrators that are objective. Partisanship on part of the arbiters is a terrible thing. It doesn’t give you confidence in the outcome. One of Floyd’s primary goals was to expose flaws in the system and make known what some of the issues were. And we were prepared to deal with the fact that we wouldn’t win.”

That’s fine, but I doubt this is a completely altruistic move – I don’t think Floyd wants to take one for the team. My guess is he wants to win.

***
Meanwhile, the new, popular argument is that Marion Jones’ admission to doping before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney also casts Landis in a bad light…

What does one case have to do with the other? Marion Jones was a notorious doper who left a trail of concrete evidence behind her. In fact, the book Game of Shadows is more damning to Jones than it is to Barry Bonds – and it nails Bonds pretty good with documentation and leaked grand jury testimony. What does Marion Jones and Barry Bonds have to do with Floyd Landis?

Are people’s attention spans that short? Is it really that difficult to pay attention?

Yes. Apparently it is.


[1] I’m going to name my lesion, “Donald.”

Positively False review

As promised, here is the first of two reviews of Floyd Landis’, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France. This review was written by my wife, Ellen Finger, who hijacked the book when it arrived fresh from the publicity staff at Simon & Schuster. Another review, by me, will follow though it’s clear that I have my work cut out for me trying to keep up with my wife.

Additionally, I’m still awaiting word from the Landis camp on his availability for an interview when he comes to Lancaster next week. Hopefully things can be worked out so that more dispatches about this interesting case can be written.

Anyway, here is the first of a series of who-knows-how-many stories from the Finger Family on Landis Avenue in Lancaster, Pa.

Review: Positively False
by Ellen Finger

Positively FalseAbout 10 years ago my future husband took me to downtown Lancaster to watch a professional bike race. I had never enjoyed riding my bicycle as a child. In fact, the first time my dad insisted I try to ride my pink, banana-seat bike without the training wheels I rode right into the back of a parked pick-up truck. Thus started my distaste for cycling. So when John insisted we watch the pros ride through our little city, I reluctantly agreed.

Watching the race from near the top of the Brunswick building on the corner of Queen and Chestnut streets, I got a taste of what attracts athletes to pro cycling – fearlessness, speed, risk, and a fierce competitive spirit. Although I don’t participate in activities unless I’ve made sure to control variables that pose risk, and have never enjoyed or succeeded at endeavors involving speed, I can relate to the competitive nature that bike jockeys need to possess to win. I like to win – or more accurately, I hate losing.

Which might explain why I was drawn to the copy of Floyd Landis’ book Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France that my husband received in the mail from the publisher a few days before its release date. All I knew about the man from Lancaster County (my home, too) was that he won the Tour de France last year after an amazing comeback, and then was accused of doping during the Tour. From the pictures of the back and front covers I could see that this man with the intense eyes and triumphant scowl hated losing, too.

Three days ago I sat down to thumb through the 306-page memoir and look at the pictures of Floyd’s childhood. Though I grew up only about ten miles from the Landis family, my suburban sprawl neighborhood close to the Park City mall was really a world away from Floyd’s conservative Mennonite home in Farmersville. Heck, I had never even heard of Farmersville until the summer of 2006.

What started out as a casual glance at his book became an almost obsessive need to read and learn more about the man and his mission. Between diaper changes, yardwork, grocery shopping, and other responsibilities of a wife and mother, I did nothing but read Floyd’s book. Obviously it’s not because of an interest in cycling, but I do enjoy sports and nonfiction books. I initially was curious to find connections between my life and upbringing in Lancaster and Floyd’s. Eventually, though, I realized I was reading to find the truth. I, like many people, assumed that someone whose urine test reveals a level of testosterone that is significantly elevated is definitely a cheater. I follow rules, always have. Cheaters and liars, especially ones who get paid a lot of money for playing sports, make me sick. But something about this man, this brash, outspoken man who still looks like most of the Mennonite and Amish boys I see occasionally when I drive through eastern Lancaster County, made me want to look beyond the seemingly logical conclusion (his miraculous performance in Stage 17 of the Tour had to have been due to performance-enhancing drugs, right?) to see if there was more to the story.

Before I could really delve into the myriad of scientific detail, political absurdity, and tales of athletic glory, I had to admit something to myself. One thing that has always bothered me about men who spend their lives playing games is that it ultimately seems like an incredibly selfish pursuit. The older I get the more I feel like my life is not my own. I am constantly thinking about working a full-time job for someone, taking care of someone, cleaning up after someone, or saving money to buy food, clothes, or diapers for someone else. Floyd even admits in his book that he “put training first, even before (his) family. When you want to win, you eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling.” Well, I want to win when I play, too, but who has time for games? I know, I know, professional cycling isn’t just a sport, it’s a job. And it’s a well-paying one for athletes like Landis, at least after many years of toiling as an amateur and then an underpaid professional domestique (servant to a cycling champion like Lance Armstrong). But, I just can’t understand the need of some men to spend months away from loved ones and pass their time alternating between grueling training and zombie-like resting. Maybe I’m jealous of their apparent luxuries, maybe I will never realize my full potential as in individual, or maybe I’m just a grown-up.

As I read I realized that I believe Floyd Landis. Not only has the man spent almost all of his money trying to mount a defense against doping charges and has made his fight very public, as opposed to those swollen (by that I’m referring to their synthetically-enhanced muscles AND egos) arrogant baseball players testifying before Congress with apparent memory problems, but also he has brought to light the extremely screwed-up anti-doping agencies that exist here in the U.S. and around the world. I’m not sure how much of our taxpayers’ money and legislators’ time should be spent revamping an obviously corrupt system, but something needs to be done. If our government funds the USADA (America’s relatively young sports anti-doping agency) it does so without really having any idea how the organization operates.

And if they do, Congress is guilty, too. But I suspect that the same kinds of minds that wrote and sold the brilliantly-titled law No Child Left Behind (which might be leading to better performance on hardly standardized tests while dampening a desire for real learning and teaching in our increasingly stressed out schools) also championed the anti-drug movement that supposedly is trying to clean up sports. The problem is that most senators and representatives never have time to really read about or follow up on the intricacies of the legislation they pass. They hear convincing sound bites (who wouldn’t want to rid professional sports of cheaters and druggies and who WOULD want to leave a child behind?) and hope for the best. But Landis reveals in great detail how duped – not doped – we all are about the injustices these government-sponsored agencies have quietly inflicted on athletes, particularly in cycling. I was shocked and appalled to learn that the people who test the urine of pro athletes, the people who bring doping charges against athletes, the people who prosecute accused athletes, and the people who judge the fates of these same athletes – they all work for the same agencies. How un-American is that? Even my fourth graders know that there must be a system of checks and balances to ensure that justice prevails.

So there it is. I really don’t care about cycling. The ridiculous dichotomy of rigorous training coupled with slovenly relaxation, as well as the complicated team dynamics of cycling, and the unwritten rules of the peloton that result in good athletes having to sacrifice their own efforts to protect the diva-like team leader are foreign concepts to me.

But I desire for truth and for justice. Good people should win. Hard work should be rewarded. Incompetence (as so obviously displayed by French drug labs) and corruption (the USADA and WADA come to mind) and selfishness (UCI is guilty here) should have no place in our society, but they do. Floyd Landis won the Tour de France. I hope he can race again. But mostly I hope finds some satisfaction knowing that his most important and biggest uphill climb will be to bring awareness and hopefully, change, to one kind of injustice plaguing America today. Despite what his parents thought, and may still think, about the perils of a life spent outside of their pious community, I hope they know that their boy still knows right from wrong.

Nevermind…

Remember all that stuff I wrote about believing Floyd Landis and about how a good Mennonite boy from Lancaster County would never, ever do something as silly as dope in the Tour de France when he had already been drug tested 20 times?

Remember?

Well, if his T/E ratio was really 11 to 1 as been reported, and if there was really a synthetic found in the test after that amazing Stage 17, well…

Nevermind.

If all of that is the case, then it seems as if dopers can come from anywhere — even old order Mennonites from Lancaster County.

Either way, the news of that long-awaited “B” sample should be revealed tomorrow at 5 a.m.. What that will solve is anyone’s guess. What happens if the next sample comes back under 4 to 1?

Nevertheless, I am correct about one thing — the issue of drugs and steroids in sports in the most important story of this generation. It supercedes everything.

In the meantime, here are a collection of stories about the on-going Landis case:

  • Inaccurate synthetic test?
  • Lancaster Newspapers collection of Landis stories
  • Michael Johnson on Justin Gatlin (and Landis)
  • Floyd Landis’s Alcohol DefenseThe Wall Street Journal
  • Masseur Rejects Charge by Gatlin’s CoachThe New York Times
    This story includes a claim that the masseur was beaten up at this year’s national championships in Indianapolis.
  • Doping Scandal Could Hurt Track and Field on Financial SideSuper Athletics
    To which I say, good. Perhaps with less interference and money from corporations only interested in their own gain (cough, cough… Nike, cough), maybe the sport will be more pure.
  • Floyd Landis Re-ConsideredAmby Burfoot
  • The Hall of Shame Gets BiggerAmby Burfoot