Thursday, 8 November 2012

the armstrong thing

if i have a guilty magazine pleasure then it's rouleur. from the moment it hits the mat i'm looking forward to settling down and opening it. the coffee will go on, i'll wait for a quiet moment and then out it will come. it's not so much what's in it but the instant hit of the smell of fresh print. then there's the mix of top quality images, articles so niche they're niche in themselves and a refreshing lack of ads. of course there are things i don't like. there can be no illusion that this is anything but a boy's club even if, and they've been better at this recently, the odd woman does crop up now and again. not so very long ago they had a brilliant article on women's racing, an article that reflected the very set of values that you'd expect rouleur readers to be into. indeed were it not for t's change of circumstance swiss lounge would've have been punting some sponsor money to a woman's team this year.

but cycling for rouleur will be a man's sport. you can hear this in their podcasts. this being rouleur, obviously they don't just talk about cycling. here, they hold forth about cartier-bresson, the social nature of velodrome racing and photography in general. not the stuff you get in your regular bike magazine! but, it being rouleur, the lance armstorng issue creeps in. and it's here that johhny green (whose column in rouleur is probably my least favourite - something that may well change with this podcast) steps up. going on from cartier-bresson the discussion comes around to the nature of memory. johnny green was, he says, at luz ardiden and no amount of revisionism can make him remember it differently. but armstrong they say. i don't care. says green. you can here the intake of breath.

armstrong is the bogey man of cycling at the moment, a cypher for all that 'went wrong'. except that in order for it to have 'gone wrong' one would have to ignore pretty much the whole history of professional cycling where 'preparation' has been in use since the first decade of the 20th century, manufacturer and sponsor manipulation (it's the kindest word) have been, if not the causative factor, then intrinsic to the races we so favour today. i got asked last night what i thought of it all. i love watching the bike racing i said, but i take it no more seriously than american wrestling. for me, as barthes far more eloquently put, it's a metaphor, not a race.

but what then of the doping? and what then of armstrong? armstrong i don't much care. i saw armstrong the other year (apparently, in some circles, this makes me an 'enabler'!) and i realised that i could never know what it was like to be him, to make the choices he's made. it was like being in a pressure cooker and i didn't like it. but the doping is a whole other thing. aside from the great mystery that it's cycling that is the 'dirty sport' (did no-one watch the olympics this year!) there are only two questions i would ask as a result of the whole shameful debacle.

firstly, where's all the money coming from? top cyclists earn but not that much, and their domestiques are just getting by. in which case all that needs be done is look for the money. but of course to do that would expose sponsors, for example, and they'd be off out of professional cycling like snow off a dyke. and then no more sport. a governing body of such a thing - where would that leave them?

and then there's the drugs. if, i used to ask, there are so many drugs in sport, where are they coming from? and, as if the cycling thing wasn't depressing enough the true horror that is big pharma seems apparent here. so they might be facing 780 million dollars in settlements. against what profits? and then you might think about these expensive drugs that have marginal effects that somehow keep cropping up in the media. do you honestly think that's a coincidence?

it may be yet that armstrong and possibly even others, have to pay back their prize money. but what about the people who made the drugs and by their practices allowed them to be used for these purposes. what about corrupt salesmen and medical professionals? will they ever be held to account? of course not. not in a society greased with money where all that's needed to market the latest snake oil is to hold up a picture of someone with cancer and put a headline of 'scandal' rather than look at the evidence.

maybe it's just easier to point the finger at armstrong. that we way we can 'believe' in the sport again rather than look at what lies behind it and the realisation that what we think doesn't actually matter at all.

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