I really enjoyed the Tour of Utah. It was anything but formulaic. The Hincapie Devo team attack on the final stage was indicative of the willingness to challenge convention. It lead to a great event for a cycling fan to follow.
That move took Michael Matthews up to the break and into the sprinter’s jersey. It is exciting to see a cyclist measure his risk reward and then lay it all out on the table to make it happen. A move like that deserves respect (though it often earns derision when it fails).
On the penultimate stage we had the soap opera of Tom Danielson and Chris Horner. My personal guess is that Horner knew as he climbed Snowbird that he would lose the tour on Empire Pass. I’m thinking Danielson knew the same — and made it happen on the final climb.
Feel free to disagree. That is one of the things that make it fun. But it also got me thinking about something else from the Tour of Utah.
When you are following professional cycling, it is harder to stay attuned with the continental field. It is the European teams that receive the focus. We are trained to catch the names of certain professional cyclists and we grow comfortable following them as they compete.
So, there was an element of comfort when the showdown began between Chris Horner and Tom Danielson. Yes, these are American sons, but they are also recognized names in the larger international peloton. That fact brought a level of continuity to the race.
These guys have been around. We have a history of competition to draw from. While the young guns and lesser known riders who lit up the roads of Utah brought excitement, they are still finding a place in our narrative. Their stories are being told.
This was the Utah yin-yang. With Danielson and Horner there was the comfort of seeing a familiar form at the front of the general classification. Former teammates and riders that commentators can share interesting stories. However, in the midst of this was the contrary force of another history.
I felt pangs of guilt enjoying the last two days of the the Danielson vs. Horner battle. The problem is that those two riders also represented another history of duplicity and tarnished glory. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they currently race clean does not remove that history.
On the other hand, there were a good number of younger and lesser known riders showing their form in the race. Their exploits were none the less impressive as the final top two finishers. The racing was great. The contrary force in this case is the lack of a story.
Because of the suffering and the intimate exposure of the riders as they make themselves vulnerable, we want to have more than a tactical relationship with our racing. We want to not only know the technical details of the athlete — wattage, style and palmarès — we want to know how they interact with their fellow racers and their reputations in the peloton. It adds a more personal level to the experience.
We fans are in an interesting time. Over everything hangs the dark cloud of suspicion. We want desperately to see the sun shine.
Many of the riders we have followed have doped or been associated with those who have. These are the guys whose stories we know. When we see them battling it out on the final climb, we feel the pull of that old comfortable relationship against the pull of the bitterness of betrayal.
We see the young riders attack with an enthusiasm, but we don’t know their stories. We want to see them succeed and bring in a new guard with new stories. We don’t know if we want to trust again.
I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what the future holds. Will we find five years from now a new set of names battling it out on the Empire Pass? Will we get to enjoy the comfort of the back story of these athletes without feeling the bitterness of the past?
I do hope the day will come when these riders will close the book on their careers and step away from the peloton. Whether they are clean now or no, the stories have too many footnotes. I also hope that the new group of riders won’t merely rewrite the stories with more enhanced ways to dupe us. Here’s hoping for true, clean blank pages.
Then again, the only way not to be duped is not to trust. That is where doping has most damaged the sport. You want to trust. You want to be a fan. You don’t want to do so at the price of dignity.