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Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong began his comeback at the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race in Colorado in Sept. 2008. MIsport photo by Laurie Walsworth.

And, no, I wasn’t glued to the TV listening to Lance on Thursday night.

And, no, I haven’t read any of today’s columns or listened to all the endless debates on sports radio.

No, last night I drove 2 ½ hours to East Lansing and watched my favorite team play basketball – a scrappy group of underdogs who no one picked to contend for the Big Ten title or win even half their games at the start of the season.

And as the season began, I steeled myself for an even tougher year when season-ending injuries to three players forced the coach to reshuffle the roster, putting underclassmen in the lineup sooner than anticipated and moving veterans into less than perfect roles.

Now 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, the Michigan State women are not only in the thick of things, they even gained 12 votes in polling for the latest AP Top 25.

It is the oldest (and maybe best) sports story there is: Underdog overcomes adversity to triumph (I know, there’s a lot of season left, but, hey, I’m a fan, I’ll admit it).

Unlike real life, sports almost always produce a clear winner and definite loser. In real life there are no unambiguous victories (there’s always a cost, always some unanticipated and unfortunate consequence that comes with any victory).

It’s why Armstrong was so compelling, proof that, somehow, no matter how bad things get, plain old hard work can make things better. For Pete’s sake, CANCER then WINNING THE TOUR de FRANCE! SEVEN TIMES!

Best sports story ever. Almost too good to be true, it seemed, and so it was.

I’ve been closely watching Armstrong’s slow fall from grace for years now and was not the least bit interested in watching him hit the pavement last night on Opa. (Or bounce as he’s scheduled to tonight.)

Lance’s (and pro men’s cycling’s) problem was, of course, money. Millions and millions for not just the riders, by for everyone else involved – the international governing body, the bike makers and even, to some extent, of course, the sponsors, all of whom were loathe to kill the Lance than laid the golden egg and, to various degrees, simply looked the other way.

Grossly under funded and sadly unappreciated, women’s cycling has not yet been ravaged by the Greedheads. Retiring British women’s cycling superstar Nicole Cooke angrily put it best four days ago when she told CyclingNews.com , “When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward. Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour.”

The golden egg is gone now for everyone, especially the women – the sponsors that make the sport go are fleeing like bed bugs from a fumigated hotel room.

Women may or may not be more honest than men, but the simple truth is that there has likely been far less cheating in women’s cycling because the risk is far too great and the rewards were already nearly nonexistent.

The solution to cheating in every sport (and if you think the NFL isn’t dripping in PEDs, DUDE! WAKE UP!) is to simply take away the big money so only people who truly love the sport will play.

Which is why, instead of listening to Lance Livewrong confess his sins last night, I went to watch the Spartan women. (I know they’re being compensated with a free education, but other than that, they are unlikely to make any money from the sport which, right now, is a second full-time job in addition to their other full-time job of getting a college education. And most are going to need that education even if they’re one of about .00001 percent of Division I players who’ll reach the WNBA – where rookies make a whopping $35,000 and the top stars pull down a princely $100,000).

They play basketball because they love to play basketball, I think. For proof you need look no further than the Spartans’ bench and high-touted recruit Madison Williams who has, sadly, been a fixture there now for three seasons due to more ACL injuries than any team, let alone one person, should ever have to suffer. You could maybe understand if she looked a little discouraged, but you’ll never see her show it, ever, in public. She is on the floor for every warm-up, every shoot-around. She shoulders her way into the huddle for every timeout and listens intently to everything every coach says. She is the first one off the bench, cheering, every time a teammate makes a play.

There was a lot for Williams to celebrate in the Spartans’ gutty, gritty, come-from-behind win over Iowa Thursday night. If real life is fair (as it so often isn’t) Williams will have the greatest career ever by a Spartan, man or woman.

Whatever happens, she’ll always be one of my favorite athletes.

It’s why I drove to East Lansing Thursday night, rather that listen to Livewrong’s tardy, sad confession.

You go, girl!

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong  at the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race in Colorado in Sept. 2008. MIsport photo by Laurie Walsworth.

“I rode, and I rode, and I rode like I had never ridden, punishing my body up and down every hill I could find…I rode when no one else would ride.” Lance Armstrong

This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it. Study it. Tweak it. Listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?Lance Armstrong

FROM: TWISTING IN THE WIND PUBLIC RELATIONS

TO: LANCE LIVEWRONG

RE: ROPE-ADOPE-A-OPRAH INTERVIEW

Herr Livewrong,

To prevent your Jan. 17 interview from becoming a cynical, vapid and insulting exercise in self-justification, we suggest you revise your above statements as follows, then thank Opa, immediately walk out and permanently retire to Inuvik near the artic circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories:

“I doped, and I doped and I doped like I had never doped before, filling my body with every illegal substance I could find…I doped when no one else would dope.”

“This is my body, and I can put whatever I want in it. I can use EPO, blood transfusions, and steroids. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on everything all day long.”

Saying anything more or anything less would be unnecessary and insulting.

Insincerely yours,

I.M. Aliar

President, Twisting in the Wind Public Relations

 

Check back for MI Sport Online’s coverage of the Stage 7 time trial at the USA Pro Challenge cycling race Sunday in Denver, Colo.

MI Sport Online will be talking to Grand Rapids-based pro Karl Menzies, a key cog in the United HealthCare blue train that helped pull the race back together for Friday’s sprint finish in Colorado Springs.

Menzies, a 35-year-old Australian lives in Grand Rapids with his wife (and two daughters. MI Sport Online will be running a long feature on Menzies soon.

“That’s racin’.”

It was the late Dan Cihak’s favorite catchphrase.

Whine about any of the thousand things that could cost you a race and the Godfather of West Michigan bike racing would tell you, with a wry smile and a puckish spark in his eyes, “That’s racin.”

One of the lucky few with the God-given talent to win, Dan knew better than most it’s damn hard to win a bike race, or a triathlon or a foot race. Sure, you’ve gotta be good and you’ve gotta take chances, but you also have to be smart and, maybe most important, you’ve gotta to be darn lucky.

Kill yourself in training, learn to read races, hone your tactics and, maybe, just maybe, on a good day, you can win.

No one was tougher in a race than Dan. He wanted to win and wanted to win bad. He’d beat you anyway he could.

But he also wanted his wins to mean something. He was never afraid to go head-to-head with the toughest rival he could find and, if he got beat, so be it. “You race who’s there,” was another favorite catchphrase.

As much as Dan liked to win and, believe me, he liked it a lot, he wasn’t big on cherry-picking or sandbagging like former pros showing up for what are, essentially, amateur events.

So, he’d more than likely have something pithy to say about, Susan Williams, bronze medalist from the 2004 Olympic games showing up for USA Triathlon’s Age Group Nationals in Burlington, Vermont last August.

Big surprise, Williams won the women’s overall Olympic-distance title by almost 3 minutes.

True, Williams was returning to the sport after a two-year layoff, but, really, how fair is it for the only American to ever win an Olympic medal to race against a field made up, mostly, of amateurs?

Age group nationals have traditionally been a place for dark horse Twenty-somethings to make a splash and get a shot at the big time, not a way for professional coaches to generate a little free publicity.

There was talk at the time Williams was using the race as a way to make her way back into the pro ranks. On the list of ways to qualify for pro events, winning age group nationals is pretty near the bottom. Further up is a top 10 finish at ITU Age Group Worlds. A few months before nationals last years, Williams won the women’s 40-44 title at the ITU Long Distance Age World Championships with a time which would’ve put her 15th overall in the elite women’s elite field.

As of this spring, she was still racing the age groupers, teaming up with another US Olympian, Barb Lindquist, on a relay at ITU San Diego.

Sort of like Barry Bonds showing up at your local beer league to play a little softball, or watching Tom Watson roll up to the first tee at the local Old Duffers’ Golf Tournament.

On a somewhat different level is Carol Gephart’s dominance in the Grand Haven Triathlon Sprint race for the last three years. The one-time pro is 56 now has a real job as a science teacher in Strafford, New Hampshire. “I’m just a summertime racer now,” she said on Sunday.

In her prime, Gephart more than held her own against triathlon’s legends, finishing ahead of Wendy “Wingnut” Ingraham and seventh overall behind third-place finisher Karen Smyers (the first woman named to the Triathlon Hall of Fame) at the 1993 National City Triathlon in Cleveland.

Gephart is still a force to be reckoned with, finishing 9th overall among a field over 180 men and women in Grand Haven.

A 2011 honorable mention behind USAT’s Women’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year Laura Sophiea of Bloomfield Hills, Gephart is the defending women’s 55-59 National Champion.

The last thing I want to do is take away from Gephart’s accomplishments. Heck, I get it. You do what you love and what you’re best as long as you can; however you can (this blog is proof of that).

But, at the same time, you have to feel for Spring Lake’s Amy Bross, 35, a local amateur who just took up the sport three years ago and, without Gephart in the race, would now have two sprint titles at the race on her resume.

Then again, Gephart is spotting Bross a 21-year age advantage.

I know part of the sport we all love is “Racin’ who’s there,” but with more and more insanely talented former pros re-entering the age group ranks, I think it’s time for USAT to consider something akin to the PGA’s Senior Tour: a way for the sport’s best to compete on a level playing field.

TO READ A SLOWTWITCH.COM FORUM ON SUSAN WILLIAMS AT AGE GROUP NATIONALS VISIT: Slowtwitch.com

 

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