And Now For Something Completely Different

I haven't written about the Tour de France in a long time.

Long-term readers will remember that I am a huge professional cycling fan--it's really the only sport I follow. I just love those cyclists.  I think they are so valiant and I think their sport is INCREDIBLY punishing and yet they do it, day after day, largely because of their love for the sport. I guess I'm kind of a sucker for boys and their bikes.

We started following the Tour when I was pregnant with Jane (now 10) and we've watched it every year since. I've written about being a Cycling Widow. When my husband and I took our daughters to Germany to meet my extended family in 2009, we stole away for four days and drove to France and on those tortuous winding mountain roads (I did NOT throw up out of the window of our car, but dudes, it was close.) so that we could see THIS:

Lance Armstrong (and about half of my husband --in the blue shirt and black shorts.)

I've written about my faith in Lance Armstrong a LOT.

As I was trying to survive my own journey of Chronic Pain, I clung to the idea that he was one of the good guys.  That he was out there winning the greatest and toughest sports event in the world on nothing but his indefatigable spirit and targeted, savvy training.  I needed to believe in him.  I needed to feel that sometimes the good guys finish first--because I was slowly drowning in pain and I could see no way out.

Only, see, at some point, I just... kind of...lost that faith in Lance Armstrong.

I lost my faith that it was possible to compete at the top level in the sport of professional cycling without using performance enhancing drugs. And you know, even if the entire freaking sport has a systemic use of drugs, it's still cheating.

It's cheating. And it broke my dang heart.

I didn't write about it.  I just kind of accepted that my faith was gone and added that negative baggage to all the other negative baggage I was carrying at that time.

One by one, almost all the riders whom I idolized and defended confessed to doping and were sanctioned.

Except Lance. Lance has still never tested positive, not that we know of, anyway. I'm not slinging any accusations at him --there are plenty of those floating around already. I WANT him to be clean. I just don't believe he is. I have no proof; just a gut feeling that makes me slightly ill. I don't want to get into a protracted debate about this --believe what you want. In the end, the nitty gritty details of the cheating don't really even matter to me. When THIS article by Bill Strickland (if you click on only one link in this post, make it that one) came out, it summed up everything I'd been feeling. I don't want to take away from the accomplishments of Lance--he still did things no other bike rider has ever done. He changed the sport of cycling through his training techniques. He helped inspire an entire generation of people battling cancer to keep fighting-- he DID beat cancer and come back to ride the Tour de France a bazillion times. (Most of us can't do that even if we're totally healthy and still young.) It's worth something.

But I just don't want to watch a bunch of cheaters. That's no fun for me. And as I was looking for inspiration and motivation to help me survive some of the darkest days of my life, I couldn't find it in my beloved sport of cycling.

I was heartbroken.  Cynical and heartbroken and in a whole lot of excruciating pain. Those were some fun times.

So, then, oddly enough, on the very day I took that photograph of Lance, my husband and I stumbled into an AMAZING five-star restaurant in the tiny town in which we were staying.  (And "stumbled in" may be totally accurate since we'd been watching the Tour all day and that is some hard drinking right there.) As we were sitting, I noticed Jonathan Vaughters being seated at a nearby table.

It's true, I am a total geek: I knew who Jonathan was immediately. Jonathan is a former cyclist --he rode with Lance on the US Postal team in 1999 and you may remember that he was thCrédit Agricole rider in the 2001 Tour de France who was forced to abandon the race after he was stung by a wasp above his eye and the powers-that-be refused to let him use cortisone on the wound.  (If that doesn't just sum up the schizophrenic approach of professional cycling toward doping vs. MEDICINE, I don't know what does.) After his days as a rider were over, he started a professional cycling team and that's why he was in an obscure town in France at the same time we were. His team was riding.

Jonathan is just...well, one of the coolest personalities in the sport. He's a dapper and flamboyant dresser, a wine connoisseur and gourmand, and a highly, highly articulate, charming and intelligent man.

Despite my liquid courage, other than pointing out that "JONATHAN-FREAKING-VAUGHTERS IS SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO US," I was far too shy to actually say anything to him.  My husband, though, is made of sterner stuff, plus he's a cyclist so he understands that cyclists are usually more approachable than, say, rock stars. He approached Jonathan and asked if we could buy the man a drink. Or, if he wasn't too fried from the day's events, could we persuade him to join us for dinner?

Jonathan ended up joining us for dinner and we closed the place down.
Yes, it's a giraffe.  I don't want to talk about why I thought that was a suitable fashion choice. Maybe I thought it would make me look THINNER.
It was one of the most amazing nights of my life--a chance connection with someone who is important in the sport we love, at a five-star restaurant with the most amazing wine I've ever consumed --lots of great conversation and this weird thing that happened when chance hedgehog came by.  (Seriously, a hedgehog.)

Here's the hedgehog, who hopefully had not consumed as much wine as I had.
But anyway, a little sprig of something started that night. A little bit of hope -- because in the course of our conversation with Jonathan, he explained that his team's dedication to a zero tolerance for doping wasn't just a publicity hook.  He spoke passionately about why he thought the doping culture was killing cycling and told us that his team had the most stringent anti-doping measures in place, that the riders themselves were all virulently committed to riding clean.

I believed him, I really did.

But honestly? I doubted that they would ever see huge success in a sport so riddled with cheaters. (I TOLD you I was cynical.)

Over the past few years, we've had the opportunity to meet Jonathan and his lovely girlfriend (you're not clicking on any of these links, are you? Well, click on that one because Ashley is a good writer and she writes about WINE.) a few times in New York City for meals.  One time we went and actually had drinks with some members of the team --David Millar and Tyler Farrar and a handful of others.  They are the NICEST guys. (Seriously, as we were saying goodbye, David Millar leaned over (he's tall) and gave me a hug and I was so taken aback that I blurted out, "Oh, my gosh!  You're so NICE!" because I am all socially adept in that way.)

So anyway, fast forward to this year.  As most of you know, this year is already one of the best years of my life. I ended my chronic pain odyssey through acupuncture, found yoga, lost 25 pounds, went off of my lobotomizing anti-depressants --I even quit drinking alcohol because once you've had to surrender a large chunk of your life to pain and despair, you don't want ANYTHING to take the edge off of your joy once you get it back. I'm happier, more balanced, more creative, more energetic than I have been at any other time since before I hit my 40's.

And it just so happens that this year? This is also the year that Jonathan's team, Garmin-Cervélo, earned the yellow jersey in the second stage of the Tour de France, and kept it (as of this writing) for more than a week. They WON the Team Time Trial stage, and Tyler won another stage, as well.  The team leader, Thor Hushovd, is the only rider in the Tour this year (as of this writing) who has finished every stage in the top ten --the magic of the yellow jersey is pretty astounding.

Basically, this is the year that Jonathan Vaughters showed the world that the nice, clean, PRINCIPLED guys sometimes finish first.

I'm not sure what will happen in this year's Tour, but honestly? It doesn't even matter to me.  In my heart and mind, they've already won it ALL.

(Actually?  I have, too.)


Sandra said…
I LOVED this post. I'm happy when people stand up for their values and come out on top, despite everyone's lack of faith.
Mrs. G. said…
I am going to bypass the crux of this post as I have issues with LA because I think he is a bit of a horn dog and I am out of touch with the sport of cycling.


I can't remember if you were one of the people who mocked my Siamese Cat but, Barb, that giraffe shirt gives it a run for it's money. Your caption brought forth heaps of laughter. I'm trying to figure out if I wore a giraffe printed on my pants would the giraffe's neck make my butt look smaller and my legs look longer. You slay me, woman!
Susan said…
So nice to have more background while watching the tour with my husband. Our dream trip is to follow the tour and spend time in Paris at the museums.

We have had long discussions on the doping, etc. I am going to have him read this post.

And the giraffe shirt? You were just ahead of the trend!
michiganme said…
So much to think about Barb - I don't follow cycling as much as baseball, but the issue of performance enhancing drugs is big in my mind and as a spectator, it takes a lot of the fun out of sports. The best thing about watching the Tour on TV, is the beautiful hi-def picture.

I think of all the stupid stuff I have worn---giraffes pale in comparison!
Mrs.Q said…
I clicked on most of the links. Just so you know! I love the giraffe. And also: HEDGEHOG! My sister just got one. I am quite covetous.
Lomagirl said…
That's really nice. It's good to have faith restored.
I watched a teeny bit the other day, and saw the idiot in the car sideswipe the guy on the bike and take out two riders, at least temporarily. Hope that wasn't someone from "your" team.
Bullwinkle said…
The geeky athlete in me was totally overtaken by HEDGEHOG!!

I think they are one of the coolest animals :)

Performance enhancing drugs and the drama associated with them? meh. Don't get me wrong - I love watching a fabulous performance, it's just so hard to tell which is enhanced and which is real.

p.s. Good on Coop for speaking up, what a great dinner - and story.