Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bicycling Magazine Trashes Joe D. - A Reaction

I've always sort of tolerated Bicycling Magazine.  It's a pandering glossy magazine that sticks to the dominant vibe of the times, a populist rag for the masses.  In it you'll find  Nü-Fred insights and sometimes decent long form articles.  The method is to skim the polite surface of the sport.  For instance, you'll read about Saul Raisin in a quick bicycle safety piece, but not about the darkness that continues to dog his life.  It's the Justin Bieber of bike media.

They tell you to ride hard to get fast in three simple workouts (DEVELOP YOUR CORE!!).  They have regular columns from "The Fit Chick" and Bill Strickland's maundering prose blog, "Sitting In."  Mostly harmless, if treacly.  They tell you that chains and cables need to be changed every X years or Y thousand miles.  Use lube!  They even co-opted the most respected snob in cycling into the fold, and Lance boasted on his Twitter feed, "Out for a ride in the city w/ Bike Snob NYC."

When it came to doping in the sport's insanely doped out era, Bicycling Magazine did what you expect it would do.  It made bank on it.  It defended Lance.  And, speaking of making bank, it employed Lance's coach, Chris Carmichael as a regular columnist to explain to us, every issue, how we could become slightly more like Lance.  The Lance got stories about Lance, Lance got the story told his way, and both made $.  The magazine made out.  It gained access to the biggest cash bonanza in cycling history, putting out Lance-themed books (Tour de Lance) and selling merchandise--not to mention magazine subscriptions.  During the Lance years, Google search volume for Bicycling Magazine (shown below) peaked every year around the Tour, and clearly the magazine benefited from Lance mania.


Searches:  Bicycling Magazine
Based on this search pattern (based on July in the Lance era), it's fair to speculate that Lance was the engine that drove the growth of Bicycling Magazine.  Interestingly, Lance's return to the sport didn't seem to spark much interest in Bicycling Magazine, but then, neither did it stir much interest even in Lance.   Consider the graph below, which maps searches for "Lance Armstrong":

Searches:  Lance Armstrong
Curiosity peaked in 2004; even in his record-setting seventh Tour win the following year, people just weren't as interested.  Lance's story, like all success stories, became less and less interesting over time.  We grew bored of him. While Lance remained a public figure, people did not search out his story--as they once did--in publications like Bicycling Magazine.  Running a feature on him was no longer the sure fire way to sell copy.

In 2010, Lance finished his last Tour, and he was out.  Forthwith, Bicycling Magazine, whether in the interest of profit or truth, finally threw Lance under the bus

Were they predicting the surge of interest that has happened now that USADA has stripped Lance of his titles?  Lance is getting more interest now than he has since 2005 (see graph, above).  And readers are looking to publications like Bicycling Magazine to explain it all.  How in the world did the most tested athlete in the history of the universe dope?

That readers will turn to Bicycling Magazine to explain the doping of Lance is insane, because this is the very publication that created the Lance myth in the first place.  At no time did it consider other possibilities, as NYVelocity did in its incredibly insightful interview with Dr. Michael Ashendon.  But this is what will happen--Freds will turn to Bicycling Magazine for answers because they don't know any better.

At least the editors of that publication have come around to admit the probability of Lance's guilt, you say.  True, but  Bicycling Magazine, like pro cycling itself, is a flawed format.  Take, for instance, its current cover article, Winners and Losers of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.  Among the winners are, predictably, individual stage winners (excluding TJ, who is branded a loser) and the GC winner, Christian Vande Velde.  Among the "losers" is Best Young Rider Joe Dombrowski.

Despite placing 7th overall on GC, Bicycling Magazine sees fit to place Joe in thh "losers" camp because hedropped three places as a result of his sub-par time trial.  Six stages of utter brilliance!  One stage of mediocrity.  Conclusion?  The kid's a loser.

This is exactly the kind of babble that fills the pages of this rag, blowing uninhibited through rhetorical flourishes like goons through stop signs.

This disgusts me.  How can Joe and his Bontrager team be seen as anything other than amazingly wonderful?  How can the word "loser" appear within three sentences of his name, at this point, having placed 7th in the race and attacked the bejesus out of the country's best climbers along the way?

We read about bike racing to be inspired.  We want to see the young guys come out of our clubs and neighborhoods and succeed at the top level.  As the numbers indicate, Lance's story got old.  And now, as Lance has been saying, we should close the book on it.  We need new stories, new riders and systems to believe in or question.  There will always be the believers and the doubters, and the responsibility of magazines is to shed the light on them both, to get at the deepest stories, not just the ones we tell ourselves to sell a few more issues in July.

1 comment:

Chuck Wagon said...

In all seriousness, your blog is the best thing on the internet lately. Thanks