July 3, 2018 § 20 Comments
You could see the glimmer of hope, first when Hinault said that the riders should refuse to start with Froome on the line, and then, blossoming into a rather stronger beam, when the Turdy France organizers invoked Article 28 to ban Froome from the race.
Of course the glimmer was plunged into eternal night a few hours later when the UCI, taking a nod from WADA, threw the whole thing into the dumpster. As the protesters howled, WADA shrugged and said that it wasn’t practical to design a test to catch a guy who was doping, even though he’d already been caught, and even though past salbutamol cases had been easily, handily, and quickly processed.
As usual, the dead sport of cycling turned to doper, dope peddler, fraudster, and convicted felon Floyd Landis for insight, with suspected-but-unproven doper Chris Horner chiming in. This, then, is the state of things: The only people who have anything meaningful to say are people who have left the sport in disgrace, or under a dumping tropical storm of suspicion.
Trump and Froome
Everything, of course, comes back to Trump. Not because he is a cause, but because he is a symptom of the disease, just like the horrible tandem of Froome and Brailsford. Facts, truth, rules, and the moral spirit of fairness are completely dispensed with as the juggernaut of entertainment squashes everything in its path.
Politics, with its shouting, ignorant, unread participants on all sides, and cycling, with its shouting, less ignorant but still unread participants on all sides, have been co-opted by the corporatist state whose single-minded goal is returns to the shareholders no matter the social, environmental, or human costs. It isn’t capitalism run wild, it is human greed.
How did we get here?
The baby boom
The Greatest Generation in the U.S. was followed by the baby boom, which has now been followed by the baby bust. It is easy to see the boomers as the most despicable generation in the history of the species. They have taken everything, destroyed everything, given nothing. They have presided over the death of the environment, the veritable melting of the earth itself. And what have we given in return for all that we have taken? Trump, the last lobsterman.
I say lobsterman because many years ago, when the Maine fisheries were on the brink of collapse and regulators were trying to keep it alive, a reporter asked a crusty old lobsterman why he so bitterly opposed the fishing limits even though it would mean that in the long term his occupation would survive. “I’m a lobsterman,” he said. “And if the fishery is gonna die, I’m gonna catch the last damn one.”
That is Trump, that is Frooomesford, that is every local crit that keeps raping its dwindling loyal racers for a dollar a minute, or less, to ride around in circles. “The sport may die, but I’m gonna get the last fucking entry fee from the last damned rider.”
The boomers never seriously asked why the fishery has to die, or why the sport had to collapse. Why the hell is that?
The baby bust
The developed world is staring down the maw of its own cultural and human extinction. The replacement rate for a human population is 2.1 live births per woman. The most recent data for the U.S. pegged the 2017 fertility rate at 1.75, far below what is needed to maintain growth, joining Western Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and China as nations whose populations are swirling the drain.
Some people think that’s a bad thing because without a stable base of young people, there will be no one to do the work, pay the taxes, and be generally fucked around by the old folks. Other people think that a declining population, at least in the short term, is a good thing. Automation, robot dogs, algorithms that think for you, Viagra, and not having to pay for grandbaby college tuition is pretty much nirvana, they say.
Regardless of who’s right, the baby busters have some ugly facts in their corner. The first is that even countries like Finland, where maternity is supported at all levels by the state, have been no more successful in boosting fertility rates than places like Japan, where women are actively punished for making full natural use of their vaginas. Pregnant? You’re fired.
The numbers aren’t lying, and how could they? Childbearing sucks, even when you get a check from the government, generous maternity leave, free childcare, and you have a husband who really does share the housework.
You may be able to convince a few women to have a kid, a bunch less to have two kids, but it is a dead letter trying to get women to have three. They have birth control, thank you very much, and no matter how illegal you make abortion, the might and main of women on earth have figured out how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. People point to economic factors, social factors, and factor-factors, but I point to the obvious: Pregnancy and childbirth suck.
Hope is the future, the future is hope
Every morning I listen to Falter Radio, a magnificent broadcast from Vienna that tackles all of the hard questions. Much of its analysis focuses on the upending of liberal social democracy in Europe, and tries to make sense out of why countries that have so profoundly benefited from it are now turning hard right and harvesting radical right wing racism in the process. The shuddering is at its most intense when they talk about America. If America is abandoning its democratic ideals, what hope is there for the rest of the world? China, where there’s a video surveillance camera every 200 feet, and where people are scored on a social reliability index that allows or prohibits access to things like buses and subways?
The folks at Falter can’t figure it out, but I can, and I have.
Our complete reversal away from fairness, law, democracy, and liberty is simply one — maybe the most important — manifestation of our collapsing birth rate. Every country in Europe that has turned hard right has a plunging fertility rate. Poland, 1.32%. Hungary, 1.44%. Austria, 1.47%. Germany, 1.50%. Italy, 1.37%.
World leaders with developed economies who are also in the throes of demographic collapse happen to correlate well with repressive, anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, corporatist states. China, 1.57%, South Korea, 1.24%, Japan, 1.45%, and Russia, 1.75%.
Why should this be, and what does it have to do with Froomesford?
Well, the simplest explanation is that developed countries with a lot of kids have historically found a lot of common ground on social, economic, and political issues because the polity understands the concept of future as something that extends beyond their own lives. When a society is awash in kids, most people take an active stake in the future for the purely selfish reason that they don’t want their children to live in misery.
Even my racist, alcoholic, mean-spirited, tax-hating Republican grandfather believed in public education and health care because he had a kid.
If you think about it, that belief in the future is a big leap. The future is an imaginary construct that never really comes, whereas the present and the past are demonstrable moments in time. When a society comes together to make policy about the future, it is making policy about an imaginary time, and how far out you imagine that point has everything to do with the policies you commit to. People talk about a divided America and about the collapse of dialogue, but that’s horseshit. My grandfather hated liberals in 1963 just as violently as the average white, 60-ish Texas voter does today. The difference is that my grandfather knew that without education and some basic access to rights, his daughter wasn’t going to have much of a life.
What’s changed isn’t the political divide, but the fact that there aren’t enough kids to force people to find common ground. If the only future timeline that matters is my own life, it makes sense to tighten things up and make sure that less wealth is distributed, less opportunities are provided to others, and that more resources and rights are devoted to fewer (and older) people. Fuck the youth, and especially the immigrant ones.
Nowhere is this forfeiture of the future more apparent than in school shootings. Here we have a wholly preventable social phenomenon that preys on children in the most violent way. But on a political level, who cares? Children are not the future, they are a vestigial reminder of our own past and a nagging critique of our impending mortality, but they are not a precious resource to be treasured, grown, loved, educated, valued. Another group of children got shot up in school? Well, I got my problems, too. And what has any kid ever done for me?
You see this phenomenon of hopelessness play out in cycling as well. Even lower than the national fertility rate, few cyclists have 1.75 children, and most have less. Every now and again some cycling nut dad will get his kid into the sport and make a big deal about how the sport is collapsing and about how we have to do more for juniors and where are all the junior races and blah blah blah, but nothing ever happens, and not only because the kid hits puberty and discovers that bike racing is not nearly as much fun as ________ (fill in the blank with pretty much anything).
The main reason that nothing ever happens is because cycling, like Trumpist America, is dominated by aging, greedy, white men who do not give two broken fucks about junior racing. What they want is a prize list, a 45-minute crit, and a safe, unchallenging race that ends in time for them to prop up and watch the Big Game. And they don’t even represent the majority: The sport as a whole doesn’t even want racing on that pitiful level, it wants no racing at all.
As a whole, cycling is comprised of old white men who don’t want to race, unless you consider the Donut Ride, Strava, grand fondues, and grumpy grinders “racing.”
Without kids in the mix, there’s no reason to care about anything. That’s why even the angriest liberals look at what’s happening today and mostly shrug. By the time the true devastation of Trumpism blossoms, we will be dead or so close to it that it will have been worth it, or so we think. This is the only thing that explains the casual acceptance of the Froomesford scandal. Let ’em cheat. They’re only cheating themselves, I can choose not to watch it, and anyway, my kid’s not trying to make it in pro cycling, so what do I care?
I hate to break the news to you. You may not care. You may think that it’s okay to whore off the future to the slothful, insatiable, rapine greed of the present. But inside, the only thing that can ever make anyone feel good about life is the conviction that there is a future, and the knowledge that you’re doing something positive for it.
Froomesford is wrong. Trump is wrong. Xi is wrong. Kurz is wrong. Orban is wrong. Abe is wrong.
The little kids in the morgue are right.
April 14, 2015 § 18 Comments
Ah yes, the old pray-for-a-miracle or form-changing-in-the-middle-of-a-five-day-stage-race race plan: “If I got lucky and the form changed or something then maybe I’d win it.” Chris Horner on his strategy for winning the Redlands Classic. CyclingNews, April 13, 2015.
It’s true, there weren’t a lot of fans jumping up and down saying “18th! He did it!”: “Some detractors may say him finishing 18th is a little underwhelming.” David Brailsford, trying to make the best of Brad Wiggins’s disappointing, final road race at Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.
The question tormenting your team is “Why didn’t you win?”: “A question has been tormenting me since yesterday!!!” Luca Paolini, complaining about why riders were allowed to slip through the closed railway crossing during Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.
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July 10, 2014 § 25 Comments
After Wednesday’s stunning reversal of fortune that saw last year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome fall off his bicycle three separate times, the stem-gazing Man Of Something Not Quite As Hard As Steel announced that after falling and getting an “ouchie” he would not be starting Thursday’s stage. Cycling in the South Bay caught up with Chris and director David Brailsford aboard the team bus, now affectionately known as the “Froome Wagon.”
CitSB: So, what happened?
Froome: Aw, it was fuggin’ awful, mate, a bloody shit show. Rain, cobbles, traffic furniture, 190 idiots trying to squeeze onto a cow track, y’know?
CitSB: Cobbles got the best of you?
Froome: Well, it was the pre-cobbles.
Froome: Yar. I sort of hit some wanker’s wheel and fell off me bike.
CitSB: Did you break your wrist in your first pre-cobbles bike-falling-off incident, or the second?
Froome: The second. It’s not quite broken. But it’s very sore. Incredibly hurty sore. I couldn’t continue.
CitSB: What’s the current Dx?
Froome: Oh, it’s very painful and hurts. The riding and such and the rain and the other people trying to beat me and the stress made it very ouchy and hurty, eh? Tough day in the saddle for us hard men, that’s for sure.
CitSB: When did you know you wouldn’t be able to start Thursday’s stage?
Froome: Right away. I hit me hand and scratched it pretty bad like. The doctor put on three Band-Aids and a cold pack, y’know? It was super hurty ouchy. I can really relate to what Johnny Hoogerland and Tyler Hamilton went through. But it’s a tough sport and not to brag, but we’re tough guys. Hard men.
CitSB: What does this mean for the rest of your season?
Froome: It’s not too bad, actually. I plan on grabbing a couple of pints down at the pub tonight with Cav and Millar and maybe Wiggo. We’ve got a little support group going, eh. Rooney may show up, too. I get to rest all day today and all day Thursday, then I’ll pick up where I left off on Friday. It’s a stage that’s not too bad.
CitSB: Excuse me?
Froome: The Tour’s a three-week race, mate. What’s a day here or there? I’m surprised more guys don’t do it. Take a couple of days off and then come back sharper than a needle, if you know what I mean.
CitSB: So you’re going to just hop back in?
Froome: Yeah. Why wouldn’t I? I ain’t no quitter, mate.
CitSB: Have you discussed this with anyone?
Froome: Oh, sure. Brailsford’s on board with it. Right, Dave?
Brailsford: Absolutely. He’s prepared all year for this. A lot of guys would quit with a big nasty ouchie like that, but Chris is no quitter; he’s more like a pauser. He lives for the Tour. And for stems. And as he says, by Friday he’ll have recovered enough to have another go. We don’t expect him to pull on the yellow jersey until the mountains, though.
CitSB: Uh … don’t you guys know that, uh … never mind. So, have you had any second thoughts about Wiggo?
Froome: (laughs) Yeah. Our first thought was that he’s an arse. And our second thought is that he’s a hole. (guffaws)
CitSB: I mean, does your accident make you regret having left him off the team?
Froome: Not at all. Why would it?
CitSB: Well, if Wiggins had been selected he’d be able to lead the team now.
Froome: (suspiciously) What’s that supposed to mean? I told you I’m comin’ back on Friday, didn’t I? I’m the leader of this team, that’s sorted. And if I’d had me way I wouldn’t of rode today anyway. Stupid stage, like I said. I’m a bike racer, not a rock climber. I think next year we’ll do a bit more stage recon and skip the ones that ain’t a good fit.
Brailsford: We’re still planning on using Wiggins, actually.
CitSB: You are?
Brailsford: Yes. We’re saving him for a couple of key mountain stages. When everyone else is tired he’ll be fresh as a new blood bag. We’ll send him in to set pace for Chris. We figure that’s the best way to burn up Contador. Then we’ll rest him for a couple of stages and send him in again.
CitSB: Kind of like a pinch hitter in American baseball?
Froome: Yeah, exactly, without all the chewing tobacco.
CitSB: Any thoughts on the withdrawals of Andy Schleck and Mark Cavendish? They both went down in crashes, too.
Froome: (laughing) Them wankers ought to learn how to ride a bike!
April 8, 2014 § 18 Comments
Cycling in the South Bay was privileged to interview several top professionals after Fabian Cancellara split the lead group and won out of a four-up breakaway.
CitSB: How did the race unfold?
Sep Vanmarcke: I was with Cancellara over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, but in the end he destroyed the field and made us look like children. Belgian children. Stupid Belgian children.
CitSB: Any conclusions about the race?
Greg van Avermaet: All in all it was a more tactical race than the last two years, since changing the finish from Meerbeke to Oudenarde. I am very pleased with second place but it was very difficult to beat Cancellara due to him crushing us all like a bunch of bugs on the windscreen of a jet.
CitSB: You must be disappointed with seventh place?
Tom Boonen: Yes, of course, I was just two percent or so off. I believe I had a chance to beat Cancellara, but that was only in the warm-up around the bus.
CitSB: How would you evaluate the race?
Peter Sagan: Evaluate it? I got my ass whipped. You know how they say it in Slovakian? “Your eleventh finger is in the meat grinder.”
CitSB: What was going through your head as you approached the line in a 4-up breakaway with Cancellara?
Stijn Vandenbergh: “I’m totally screwed.” Something like that.
CitSB: You must have felt good about your early breakaway, taking the pressure off Greg for most of the race?
Taylor Phinney: If you think it feels good to have Cancellara annihilate an entire field when you’re one of the riders in the field, you’re a complete fool.
CitSB: What is Team Sky planning to improve on its top Ronde placing of 65th?
David Brailsford: We’ll do some more marginal gains away from the testers next year, that’s for sure. And wait for Cancellara to retire.
CitSB: It’s been 2008 since Italy won a monument. Why do you guys suck so bad?
Filippo Pozzato: I would like to point out that Cancellara comes from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.
CitSB: How does a guy with no teammates beat an entire field of 200 riders, including 30 riders from Omega-Pharma-Quickdope riding on their home turf?
Patrick Lefevere: Heads will roll, trust me. We do not race for second place. In fact lately we haven’t even been racing for tenth. Firings and public humiliation will continue until morale improves.