Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lance's true colors ...

Boston, bright and sunny.

People who know me know I have my reservations about Lance Armstrong. I've always acknowledged and admired him as a great winner, but not a great champion. The word "champion" carries far more weight and responsibility, and Lance has fallen far short of those standards. The man is absolutely ruthless, a cold-hearted killer who doesn't care who he tramples on in his quest for personal (and it is personal) glory. If you want proof of just how cut-throat Lance can be, all you need to do is look at the results from today's 14th stage of the Tour de France.

American George Hincapie is about as loyal a lieutenant and friend as any team leader could ask for. He worked his tail off for each of Armstrong's seven Tour victories, sacrificing personal accomplishments for the good of Lance and their dominating Postal Service/Discovery team. After Armstrong retired, following his 7th Tour crown, and Discovery opted to leave the sport, Hincapie shopped his services, and found a home with another American-based group, Team Columbia-High Road. At 36, Hincapie is racing in his 14th Tour de France, and is still an invaluable member of his team, even though he's only won a single stage in all those years. He is one of the most respected and admired riders in the pro peloton. None of this matters to Armstrong, apparently.

How does Lance repay Hincapie for all those years of loyal service? By ordering his Astana team to effectively reel in the breakaway that Hincapie was in today. For some four hours, Hincapie was the virtual leader of the Tour, on the road. He had to finish 5 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of the current race leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Team AG2R to don the famed Maillot Jaune. And Lance wasn't going to let that happen. Here's the important thing to remember: Neither Hincapie nor Italy's Nocentini are a threat to win the overall title. No matter who was wearing the yellow jersey tonight, they would undoubtedly relinquish it tomorrow during the first serious incline of the Alps stages.

Clearly, though, the thought of a day in yellow for Hincapie was too much for Armstrong to stomach. He decided that another American wasn't going to enjoy that moment, not even for 24 hours. Forget the years of tireless effort as a domestique, and the seven Tour crowns Hincapie helped Lance win. That's the past, and it counts for nothing. Instead, Armstrong ordered his powerhouse Astana to ride a strong tempo to keep the breakaway close. And make no mistake about it ... this was Armstrong's decision. He is the straw that stirs the Astana drink (good luck to Alberto Contador!). Armstrong wanted Nocentini in yellow, plain and simple, because then Lance doesn't need to share the limelight back home.

Here's an ironic twist. Armstrong wants Americans to be bigger fans of cycling. He wants cycling to be big in the United States (actually, HE wants to be big, and I suspect he resents, in Texas-size portions, any other USA rider who might challenge his supremacy in the American marketplace). But armed with better knowledge of the sport, well-versed American cycling fans are able to pierce that velvety, charismatic veneer that Armstrong wants to present publicly. They understand race tactics, and can see through Lance's sham. Armstrong's intentions today were clear and direct, and loathsome. This is the true measure of the man. Even more insulting, he tried to throw another American squad - Team Garmin - under the bus, saying he really did want Hincapie in yellow, and figured it was some personal feud between those two squads. I don't believe it. In Lance's world, there's only room in the American mindset for one American cyclist, and that rider is Armstrong. Every one else is cannon fodder. Had Armstrong not ordered the original Astana chase, Hincapie would be in yellow this evening.

Seems Lance's first book title was dead on. It's not about the bike. It's about Lance. Always. I wish George Hincapie well. He showed great restraint in his post-race interview, only saying how mystified he was by Astana's tactics. His disappointment was evident, and the sting of Armstrong's betrayal was palpable. Hincapie is the true class of the peloton. Sadly, the same can't be said for Armstrong. Even if Lance wins Title No. 8, it will always be tarnished, at least in my mind. Does Armstrong care? Not one bit. Because he knows Americans don't care either. They won't dig deep enough to see his true colors. But Hincapie (just like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis and Kevin Livingston and others before him) know better. And I'd much rather side with those guys.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Verizon charade ...

Boston. Indecisive.

Oh, I feel a good rant coming on! One of the many things that really frosts my butt is how big companies can make just about any outlandish claim they want, knowing full well that most folks don't have the time, inclination or financial wherewithal to challenge such bogus statements. At the top of my list is Verizon. I've been a Verizon customer for a long time now, and for the most part I've been pretty pleased with my FiOS bundle. But the ads for their cell service irritate me to no end. Here's why. We live on the North Shore of Boston. Not some remote outpost of the country, like the Badlands of North Dakota or some God-forsaken desert in the Southwest or murky swampland in the Southeast. We are smack dab on the northern tip of the greatest metropolitan belt known to man, from DC through the Big Apple to Beantown. If you check out those cool satellite photos of North America at night, the New York Metropolitan Belt is lit up like a Christmas tree, and Boston is the bright star at the top. But do you think I can get cell service in my house? Not a chance. My house happens to reside in one of those quaint Verizon "black holes," the same black holes that don't exist according to Verizon's latest ad campaigns.

And we're not the only ones. If I'm driving through the toney suburbs of Topsfield, Boxford, North Andover, there's no guarantee that whatever signal I might have will disappear at a moment's notice cutting off any conversation I might be having in mid-sentence. Now, I understand the limitations of cell phones. I have no problem with those. It's when the company - in this case Verizon - pretends there are no limitations that I get my dander up.

If you temporarily lost your mind and actually believed the far-fetched ads that Verizon foists on us nowadays, you'd think that there are absolutely no "dead zones." None. Nada. Summiting Mount Everest? Share the experience with everyone on your Friends and Family plan. I love the seedy motel ad, when some Norman Bates lookalike threatens some poor, unsuspecting businessman with tales of his last room, a "dead zone." The businessman points to his accompanying Verizon armada, and says "but I've got the network." And the lunatic clerk quickly capitulates. Ah, if only it were like that in real life!

Lauri and I have often joked that if we ever met up with the obnoxious, geeky Verizon guy (you know, the "Can you hear me now?" clown), we'd pummel him on the spot. Clearly, we're not the only ones ... Check out this hilarious news story spoof on the Verizon guy getting his just desserts! But Verizon can easily brush aside these vents because they have gobs of money and, well, that pretty much gives them license to say and do anything they want. You want "truth in advertising?" Look elsewhere. But for corporate arrogance, you can't do mush better. You might be able to hear what the Verizon talking heads are saying, but I wouldn't believe a word of it.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Coming to the mountain ...

Boston, simply beautiful.

This has been a good news/bad news day. The good news? It's a stunner of a day, and I'm planning to take some time early afternoon to grab a quick spin on the road bike. The bad news is that a quick spin is about all I can manage these days. I've had an old mountain biking injury come back to haunt me, and it's been a long while since I've been able to ride pain free. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

It was an incredibly clear, sunny day (much like today) just about two years ago when two buddies and I went out for a fat-tire spin through the sinewy singletrack of Bradley Palmer State Park. Since Lauri and the girls were visiting Grandmom and Granddad in Kansas (well, Lauri was actually in the air, but more on that later), I had a nice chunk of the afternoon to myself. So when Norbert and Mark came calling to saddle up the mountain bikes, I was more than game. Given the bright sun, I opted for dark sunglasses, which would prove to be a mistake. About 90 minutes into our spin, I realized I needed to get home quick, in order to run into Boston to pick up my bride at the airport. In our haste to get back, the Nobernator suggested a "short cut." And that's where my sunglasses led to my undoing.

I was racing along on Norbert's back wheel. We dipped into a shaded chute, maintaining pretty good speed. The problem (for me) was that I didn't know the trail, and my dark sunglasses hampered my vision. When Norbert swerved quickly to avoid a wash-out section, I wasn't able to react quick enough. My front wheel buried into the soft sand, sending me flying over the handlebars. I remember hearing an audible "Snap!" when I hit the ground, and was convinced I'd broken my collarbone. The pain was excruciating. I was lying flat on my back, looking up through the canopy of trees, trying to breathe and trying not to move. There's an old adage in mountain biking that you don't have to worry about a post-crash rider if his or her first words are: "How's my bike?" I didn't ask about my bike.

No one had cell phones, but fortunately a passing walker did. We called Mark's wife (who was only eight months pregnant at the time), and she drove down to the park's back entrance to pick me up. Norbert pedaled home, and called Lauri, leaving her a message that he would pick her up at the airport (I'm sure that didn't worry her too much!). Mark, after switching cars, drove me to the ER for X-rays. The good news was I didn't fracture my collarbone. The bad news was that I had a serious shoulder sprain, which effectively knocked me out of the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb, a week later.

Mother Nature, however, decided to keep everyone off The Rockpile that Saturday in August, 2007. I was still there, riding support for a couple of buddies also doing the race. But freezing rains and insane winds forced organizers to cancel the event. In an odd way, I felt I'd dodged a bullet. Not that 2008 provided any relief. Lower back spasms resulted in my worst finish in three tries on Mount Washington, and I vowed I'd give it one more go in 2009. And that's when the shoulder injury returned with a vengeance. Whether its old age, or my own propensity for ignoring injuries, the condition of my right shoulder only got worse and worse during the spring. Every time I tried to ride, the muscles in my shoulder, below the shoulder blade, would knot in pain, and my right arm would go numb. Last fall, I had gone to see a couple of specialists, and had an MRI done of my neck. Nothing conclusive came from it. So this spring, with my shoulder deteriorating, Lauri convinced me to see my favorite orthopedic doc (after my brother Sean). Dr. John Boyle recommended physical therapy, and it was another good news/bad news scenario.

I went to see the therapist for an evaluation this week. The good news? The shoulder, while a mess, appears to be a worthwhile reclamation project. Surgery doesn't appear necessary, at least not yet. The bad news? Mount Washington will have to wait another year. Given my current state of fitness, maybe that's not such bad news after all.