As a lifelong touring cyclist, I wasn’t shocked or dismayed at the disgracing of Tour de France winner Floyd Landis for an apparent doping violation. Anyone who knows the history of the sport knows that performance-enhancing substances of some sort — cocaine in the 19th century, testosterone in the 21st — have been coursing through pro cyclists’ veins since the beginning. I think this tradition owes to another dirty little secret of professional bicycling that no one wants to admit: The sport is just too damn hard.
I learned this decades ago when I entered my one and only time trial back in my North Carolina homeland. Not the sporting type myself, this bright idea owed to my pal Jack. Since we had met a couple years before in high school, Jack had been my bicycling mentor, inspiring me to graduate from a trusty but lumbering Raleigh three-speed to a lighter and more temperamental ten-speed Gitane. We had taken a number of rides together, during which I was always left in the red-clay dust by Jack’s superior pedaling power. The legs on his six-foot-plus frame nearly equaled my total height -- or so it seemed as I typically watched him receding in the distance ahead of me, his ponytail fluttering in the wind and his skinny rump elevated skyward by the extra-long seatpost he had devised for the largest bicycle frame he could find.
The truth is that we were both too big for bicycle racing; the sport favored those with jockey builds and competitive dispositions. The race that Jack suckered me into was not competitive in the usual sense, being a struggle against the clock over twenty miles or so in which each cyclist left the starting line separately, about two minutes apart. Rankings would be determined by comparing racers’ total times on the course. The staggered starts meant that the cyclist ahead of me would be out of sight by the time I lurched forth, which would prove to be the decisive factor in my sole time trial experience.