I’ve had a stressful and heavy last few weeks, putting it mildly. Perhaps some of you have noticed. Although running any multi-national, multi-cultural organization is stressful, running a cycling team, in this day in age, and being its spokesperson, entitles you to the role of a human dart board for public criticism.
The majority of these criticisms center around doping, anti-doping, and all tangents thereof. While this certainly seems fair, given the upheavals cycling has had recently, I seem to take criticism a bit more personal than most in my position and analyse each critique a bit more than perhaps I should.
One particular train of thought that many hardcore cycling fans follow is what we call “connecting the dots.” The logic is that if a rider/director/manager/doctor had any sort of association with another rider/manager/director/doctor that has been accused or associated with doping in the past, then all parties are guilty.
The story goes that if one rider rode for a certain team that had a doping issue, then 3 years later rode for another team and was once seen being the roommate of another rider and that rider happened to ride exceptionally well….well, clearly, that performance was doped.
I’ve always been infuriated, saddened and hurt watching my friends, peers and myself get accused of everything short of murder on all that new media has to offer. Not by the journalists that have researched the story, no, rather the massacre occurs in the comments and forums that follow the story. The chattering, anonymous fans hurling comments and critiques are so hurtful. I can’t imagine saying such things to anyone, not even my worst enemy.
I try to argue my point, but of course any argument is vulnerable to misinterpretation and can easily be shot down by the hardened critic. And to be honest, who isn’t a hardened critic with cycling these days? It’s not a winnable battle. If you withhold information, you’re hiding something, if you make information public; it’s picked through and placed out of context unfairly by people who aren’t experts on the topic. At times I think it’s not only an unwinnable battle, but an unwinnable war. Twitter becomes my Waterloo.
“Unfair” “unjust” “unfounded” all seem to be at the tip of my thoughts every day. And “poor me” slowly leaks its way into my being. I was being picked on by gossip bullies! These evil purveyors of internet untruths are clearly not sentient beings, but indeed sub human, downright demonic rumor spreaders. I, instead, see myself separate as a knight armed with ethical objectivity and logical thought, who was being tarnished by such misguided vigil-antism. Clearly.
My perspective on all of this changed, radically, as of last Friday morning. While checking the news, I saw that Xavier Tondo had informed Catalan police of a doping ring in Spain. His brave action, not an easy thing to do with all the suspicions of pro cyclists today, helped prevent doping in a big way.
A big hats off to Xavier, but that’s not what changed my perspective. The back story I have with Xavier was suddenly put into sobering perspective for me. I suddenly found myself needing to apologize to him, even though I’ve never met him. I have never met Xavier, even though he lives near our team headquarters, rides the same routes we do, and knows many of our staff and riders. I’ve never met him because I’ve avoided him.
Well, Xavier has been trying to get a contract with our team for the better part of three years now. A nice kid, by most people’s accounts, an excellent stage racer, and not a high priced star either. An undervalued stage race talent, just like we seem to find every year at Garmin-Cervelo, right? Xavier wanted a shot with us, and he was ready to ride his heart out for us. However, I didn’t give him that shot. Instead, I played “connect the dots”.
Xavier was part of a Portuguese team whose doctor was found with doping products. I connected the dots and assumed Xavier was a part of this doctor’s nefarious activity. When some of his friends came to me and said that Xavier had nothing to do with this doctor, I did not believe it. Even if he had doped, Slipstream has always said “we cannot change the past, we can only change the present.”
So then, why did this not apply to Xavier? Because I was convinced there was no way he could perform at a high level without doping. I was right, I knew. And I judged. Why bother even testing his Vo2 and cross correlating it with hematology to find out if he’s talented? Maybe that’s what I did with other athletes, but I knew I was right with Xavier. My judgment was sound. I had already connected the dots. I knew he was just a donkey made to ride fast with extra blood. I never gave him a chance. I never gave him a second thought.
With his fifth place at the 2010 Vuelta, I only thought the worst of him. I just assumed. He had a past association that clearly destroyed any credibility of those results. Why was this guy being allowed to race, really? I was right.
No. I was wrong.
On Friday, with the news of his strong actions, I realised how stupid and sub-human my own prejudice had been with him. He showed that he is a courageous person and athlete – and one that I can only wish would be part of Slipstream Sports. He showed me that not only were his results real and his actions ethical, but that he is a truly courageous fighter of doping in a way few of us would be.
He showed me that I have been nothing more than another prejudiced, hardened critic, unfairly playing “connect the dots.” I broke my own rules. He taught me a very big lesson. He made me realise: Before I rant on in self pity of how I’ve been unfairly judged at times or other athletes have been unfairly judged, perhaps I should consider the objectivity of my own judgments.
Judge not, lest ye be judged - with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
I wish Xavier a successful 2011. I hope he shows me at every occasion he can how short-sighted and prejudiced I have been and what a great athlete he is. He deserves many race wins. Chapeau and Bonne Chance!