Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Lance Armstrong Reality Distortion Field

It seems like just about every bicycle-related blog and media outlet are a-buzz with the news of Lance Armstrong's return to competition. And how he's racing for "free" with the primary aim of raising awareness of cancer prevention and treatment.

I've never even sipped the Lance flavor-aid. Sure he won Le Tour a record 7 times in a row. But that's all he did. In that respect he was a bit of a one-trick-pony. I don't deny that his return from his fight with cancer was nothing short of miraculous. It was spectacular. Inspiring. A "booyah!" to nay-sayers everywhere.

Even so-- lauding his accomplishments as a competitive cyclist seems to ignore everything accomplished by others in his sport. Men AND women.

I've harped on this before. Maybe it's because my cycling personality was cast during the early years of the mountain bike "boom". I grew up reading about Jacquie Phelan, Ned Overend, Greg Herbold, John Tomac, Cindy Whitehead. And Jeannie Longo (now Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli).

Lance has his foundation, but its finances sound a little too sketchy to me to really get behind and become a cheerleader-- the LAF CEO gets over US$300,000 a year? Good grief! It's great that he's really ringing the cowbell for cancer awareness-- research, prevention, a cure. It's a scary horrible disease that frankly gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it, but his foundation could do a little better with the money it raises.

However, other pro cyclists have done significant things for the world of cycling. Things that are, I think, just as important as what Lance is "doing".

For instance, Jeannie is a more enduring hero. She's still racing and a fierce competitor. She's kicking ass and a living legend. When she came here to Portland, Oregon, to race in the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, her presence was largely overlooked. A damned shame, in my book. Want a role-model for getting more women involved? Look no further. But she seems to be the legend that no one's ever heard of. Maybe it's because she's not a man? I don't really know. She could be a recluse, mean, terse. Maybe it's because she's French.

How about Jacquie Phelan? Awesome. She was kicking guys asses back in the early days of MTB races before there were separate men's and women's categories. (Probably because the guys were tired of having their asses kicked.) Know what else she did? have you ever heard of "Safe Routes to School" Well Jacquie developed and taught teachers the skills course for the first "Safe Routes" program. She was instrumental in bringing more women into the sport. She was a co-founder of NORBA. I'll leave it at that-- just Google her name. You can read a bit more at the Mountain bike Hall of Fame site.

Saul Raisin suffered a horrific crash in a race that left him in a coma and significant brain damage. He beat the odds and made a tremendous comeback. His foundation is similar to Lance's but it focuses on brain injury-- recovery, research, and support.

Christine Culver, once a pro mountain bike racer in the 1980's, is now the Exec Director of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, an organization advocating for cyclists on the road and improved infrastructure.

There's plenty of examples and my fingers are getting tired of typing-- not to mention that I've got work to do. My point is this-- it's good for bicycling business (getting folks on bikes, getting kids inspired, bike sales) that lance is coming back from retirement, but there are lots of other stories out there that are just as deserving of attention. It's just unfortunate that one has to dig so deep to find them.

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