The other day after a grueling mountain bike ride on Government Trail, I was sitting triumphantly on a local bar stool after riding the daunting “root,” sweaty and muddy, watching the colorburst kinetic poetry of the Tour de France — the architecture, the countryside, the pageantry — unfurl on a flat screen in front of me. Road biking is like a confounding half brother to me; totally different personality, same mother.
Much to my amazement, who comes on live from little-old Aspen, but our very own lightning rod of controversy, second-homeowner and part-time Aspenite, Lance Armstrong. I may be the one guy in town who’s emotionally unattached — until he tries to steal my wife or my bike, I really don’t have a problem with him.
But more importantly, how in the world did a guy who was banned from the Tour de France — previously ghosted, stripped of his medals, hermetically scrubbed from any TV footage, pictures, statistics, his mere mention strictly verboten — become a commentator on NBC Sports, from Aspen no less? He’s finally caught back up with the forgiveness peloton of society after being brutally dropped, over and over again.
He has a successful live podcast — which incidentally it’s OK to like — that he does from Aspen every day that the Tour is on and it’s wildly successful. Maybe that has something to do with his expertise being valued by the network. That and the fact that he won the race, what, seven times? Like I said previously, road biking is a curious enigma to me, as are podcasts about road biking. The part that appeals to me most is the obnoxious matching clothing and shaving your legs.
Interesting road biking fact: Aspen is the home of the first American to ever win the Olympic gold medal for road cycling in 1984 — an Aspen High School dropout by the name of Alexi Grewal. That’s huge. There should be a statue of him here in town. Somebody get Torre on that.
When we were growing up, you never saw anyone out on the local roads on a road bike. Now, they are everywhere, like mosquitoes. People hate road bikers with a vengeance. Want to blame anyone? Blame Lance Armstrong. Pile on. He’s single-handedly responsible for the popularity of road biking if you ask me. The dude sold more road bikes than the Sears catalog sold Schwinn Stingrays back in the day. Go ahead and admit it — the Tour de France used to be way more exciting when he, an American, was racing and winning.
The funniest was when one day I was riding up Smuggler, enduring a particularly passionate anti-Lance Armstrong rant the whole way to the middle mine-dump section when who passes us like we’re standing still? Yup. Lance Armstrong himself. Absolutely flying by on a top-of-the-line Trek full suspension mountain bike. He was wearing his usual — a white Mellow Johnny’s jersey and shorts of course.
I did what any normal red-, white- and blue-blooded American mountain biker would do — I took off after him, as fast as I could! He stopped at the platform and I introduced myself and made some connections. It turns out he was riding with an old Aspen High friend from Denton, Texas. We rode Iowa Shaft to the bottom of Four Corners jeep road with him, and not slowly, when he decided he’d heard enough of my B.S. show and split — just hit it and disappeared instantly.
When Lance Armstrong got busted for doping I wasn’t surprised. There are more drugs in the Tour de France than in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. If you watched any of those brutal races where he was destroying guys like Jens Ulrich on the climbs, it looked so obvious. The scientifically engineered athletes component has this freaky macabre sci-fi component to it. That’s what fascinates me. If you trace the timeline, a lot of that doping quite possibly took place right here in Aspen. Good a place as any, huh?
What would I possibly know about performance-enhancing drugs? Other than doing them, nothing. One crisp fall day in Maine before a soccer game versus rival ruffians Hyde Academy, a buddy showed up in our dorm room with a Ziploc bag of speed. Robin’s Eggs and Black Beauties. I took two and laced up. My lasting memory of that game, which we lost, was taking a corner kick and kicking it effortlessly over everybody’s heads right to the other side of the field and out of bounds. The best athlete I’ve ever been. In retrospect I really wish I had that bag of goodies when I was doing all those Aspen Cycling Club road races.