22 seconds with Neal

Doping in cycling has always bothered me, in the sense that there are lots of really talented riders out there who never got a chance to prove themselves because they were, well, clean.

I’ve pretty much stopped watching racing, something I used to really enjoy. Back in the LeMond era, we at the bike shop used to listen to daily live reports of the Tour de France transmitted through the shop speaker phone. It was a pay-per-minute deal and as you might guess, pretty hard to hear what with all the ambient noise of the shop in the summer. Nevertheless, we poor bicycle monks would pool our money and listen, taking in the flavor of racing a half world away.

The thing was, we knew who to root for. Nowadays, I’m at a loss. So many times I’ve picked a new favorite rider, only to discover that I was pinning my hopes, which were often childlike in their innocence, on a doper. Eventually I gave up, as it became too demoralizing. Even I learn from my mistakes.

…And that’s how I ended up on Talk of the Nation yesterday. The young Callahans and I were in the car running errands, and as usual, we had NPR on. The topic was doping in sports, brought on by the Barry Bonds trial. I have my opinion about Bonds, but I was content to listen (I have a fear of talking on the radio, or more precisely, of sounding stupid on a national radio show).

That is, until cycling came into the equation. I listened to callers, some of who railed on doping, while others defended riders like Lance Armstrong. Something popped. Arriving back at the house, I was in the bedroom and on the phone before I could talk myself out of it.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to Neal Conan, being utterly flustered at finding myself actually on air. I do know that generally, it felt good and I’m glad I got to say it out loud, for others to hear. Making my nominal case over the airwaves has served as a small brand of tonic, as well. I doubt I’ll be hanging my hopes on any rider in the upcoming cycling season, but who knows, maybe some day it will change: Cycling could change. Maybe someday, I’ll find myself actually sitting down to watch a race with the boys. …And as some young rider breaks off the front of the pack on a monumental climb, I’ll be able to look at both of them and say “You watch him, boys. He’s the real thing.”

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