Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anger in Rebellin and Armstrong

So Davide Rebellin is back in racing. Rebellin won the other day sporting Miche's mustard yellow and black kit and a helmet bereft of air holes, a la 1992. It is fitting to see Rebellin in such bygone garb, since Rebellin is 40, one of the few cyclists still around who is old enough to have race not only in, but before the BE era; that is, the era Before EPO.

Unfortunately, Rebellin not only lived through the EPO era, he also used it. In 2004 he became the first rider (Gilbert repeated the feat this year) to win all three Ardennes classics--winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche-Wallone and the Amstel Gold races back-to-back.

He won silver at the 2008 Olympics, but that's also where he was busted for dope. His silver was stripped when Rebellin's blood showed he'd used CERA--the same drug that brought down Ricco and Piepoli, as well as Rebellin's Gerolsteiner teammates Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl.

Apparently Rebellin is also one of several Italian cyclists currently under investigation for tax evasion.

As a result of Rebellin's positive test from the Olympic road race (which wasn't announced until almost a year after the event) Fabian Cancellara was granted silver and Alexander Kolobnov--the same Kolobnov thrown out of this year's Tour for using a masking agent--was given bronze.

Miche, Rebellin's current team, functions as a "haven for riders convicted of doping." Its riders have included Stefan Schumacher and Michael "the Chicken" Rasmussen--until Christana Watches made him an offer and customized an extra, extra small wristband just for him.

Rebellin said Monday that when he crossed the finish line in triumph at Tre Valle Varesine, it was in a fit of "anger."

I suppose Rebellin would say the only thing he's "on" is anger these days, just as Lance once famously responded to the rhetorical question "What are you on?" by answer, "My bike. Six hours a day."

What does anger do for you? Well, according to Dutch psychologist Henk Aarts, a lot. On Armstrong, Aarts states, "There's a picture of this guy near the finish line and you see anger in his face but you can also see this determination. What's interesting is the facial expression of anger almost completely overlaps with the facial expression of determination." And as Leonard Berkowitz of the University of Wisconsin states, anger "can be linked to an hurge to hurt, and at times, even to destroy the target object."

No shit?

In any case, maybe there's something to the old expression about "turning a pedal in anger."

There's actually an entire webpage called "Lance Armstrong in Relationships" devoted to understanding Lance's anger. A sample:

Sometimes Lance feels out of sorts and hostile for no apparent reason, and this is usually due to unexpressed, unresolved anger from the past...Lance Armstrong has a rich, colorful, dreamy imagination and a refined sense of beauty. Involvement in the arts, or with artistic, sensitive, or spiritually inclined people is very satisfying to him.

Another fellow motivated by anger is, believe it or not, gentle Andy Schleck. After the chaingate affair at least year's Tour, where Contador attacked him after he'd thrown his chain (let's be honest--it was pure opportunism), Schleck said the following: "my stomach is full of anger."

It's hard to deny the effectiveness of Lance's anger on the bike and in his dealings with the press and the public it sometimes is persuasive, as it was here:

Lance used his angry "hating me means loving cancer" defense to good use; Schleck went on to stew for another year, a brooding that would only end with Tour victory, except that he didn't win. His anger has only carried him back to where he was, no further.

But maybe that's OK, when you consider where the anger of Armstrong and Rebellin has taken them. It's probable that cyclists cannot blood dope as they did during Lance and Rebellin's prime--for proof, take a look at the slowing average speeds of the peleton and stage winners. But we still face a legacy of doping and of a sport in which our best were our most daring--not only on the bike, but in the intravenous.

A bystander at the Tour de Pont almost two decades ago snapped this picture of Lance in yellow, alone on a climb in Virginia. It could be a James Wilson or Linc Brooks snap of Brown, of DJ, or any of us in any one of our races. It has the same feel--of a young, fit guy riding without a lot of scrutiny.

Who knows if Lance was already doping? If we are to judge him circumstantially, by the winners of his time, we'd be inclined to say he was.

I'm not sure what to make of the difference I see in Rebellin at 40, full of rage--at a system that in his view has done him wrong--and Lance at 22, about to win one million dollars for sweeping three American races, his future unknown: testicular cancer, seven Tour victories, two divorces and a Federal investigation.

There's the kid about to make mistakes in a corrupt and destructive system. Then there's the old guy who's already made his mistakes. The kid is just angry at his dad whose name he abandoned, at his childhood, at God and who knows what? He's full of youthful anger you don't have reason to doubt. The old guy seems to use his anger as a weapon. It's no longer a soul aflame, but a face to put on for the cameras.

And that's the unfortunate effect a lifetime in which anger works. Eventually, you lose your anger itself and you use it as a tool and in so doing, you become a tool.

Words of wisdom, there.


Max Rockatansky said...

I lost my anger and subsequently, my will to race.

But then not racing made me angry, so I got back on the bike again.

It comes full circle.

Stephen Mull said...

Again, you are one hell of a writer. And in more than a "I know grammar good" sort of way...

Cliff said...

I enjoy your writing too!

Sadness, fear, joy- these too are emotions. Anger is so poorly understood and handled that it seems to be something other than just an emotion. It is not; further, some people call it a secondary emotion in that it is a consequence of first feeling an offense or feeling hurt. Also, whether or not one considers it an ordinary emotion or something greater it still, IMHO, remains unable to drive behavior- we need beliefs or other mental events to do so.
There is more to say but that is the idea behind cognitive theory of emotional disorders.

Matias said...

Great read