The Race 2 Disgrace – Rant

Apr 23 2006

So I was watching “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids” a few nights back (no, seriously…) and after a few minutes of pre-adolescant New Jersey-ites Twinkie, Coke and video-gaming away their afternoon, suddenly this commerical comes on with Lance Armstrong. Apparenlty, his other former teammates are so crappy when it comes to bike racing that Lance has found it necessary to hold an official race to find his successor as leader of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Let’s pretend for a second that the “Race2Replace” will actually be an open competition to let one fan race for Discovery Channel at the US national championships, and start with obvious issue that the race to choose this fan is slated to go down at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sure, Indy is one of those Cathedrals of Sport that’s inspiring just to think about competing in, but you don’t host Bar Mitzvahs in St. Peter’s or race Formula One through the Forest of Arenberg, so why on earth would you hold a bike race on a 2.5 race car track?

Even if the event uses the Brickyard’s 4.2 mile, 13 turn road course, I can’t imagine, with the relative width of the roadway and complete lack of elevation change, that the race would be in any way selective. Though the USA Cycling Championships web page is next to worthless (there’s no course information, the print is big and ugly, the 50k TT is described as “basically a sprint”, and the road national title event is apparently a “stage race”), I can’t imagine that such a high-profile event would be contested on a course as decidedly untaxing as that offered by the Brickyard.

Sure, the winner there will have proved himself either a strong sprinter or time-trialist, but suddenly faced with such obstacles as narrow roads, 90-degree turns, high-speed descents, and, oh yeah, going uphill, I see the “lucky winner” having a pretty short day in the saddle come September. And this is all assuming he actually gets to ride the National Championships in the first place; I don’t see USA Cycling (even run as it is by the Ochowitz/Weisel/Armstrong Axis of Evil) letting a non-professional start just for a chincy PR stunt.

However, far more troubling than these technical shortcomings (since I’m betting the Race 2 Replace winner won’t so much as smell the Nationals start line), are the contest’s implications to the American public about the sport of cycling. In case the poor condition of the National Championships webpage hadn’t tipped you off, even with the rampant success of the Tour of California, Americans are by and large ignorant of even the sport’s most basic principles.

As dime-a-dozen sportswriters have shown, Americans have no concept of how much hard work and athletic ability being a professional bike rider requires. Having a contest that pretends to operate under the assumption that an untrained diamond-in-the-rough can replace Lance Armstrong does nothing to squelch the misconception that any dumb jock can just hop up on a bike and win the Tour de France seven times.

But, no, to hear Lance Armstong say it, continued ignorance is a great way to promote cycling in America. Never mind that it puts forth the ludicrous suggestion that a cycling team has one leader throughout the season, rather than a different captain at each event – this sort of fallacy is “what’s necessary to keep cycling at the forefront of the American sports landscape”. Who cares about giving American audiences a clue about what’s actually going on when 200 thunder-thighed endoskeletons drag themselves up an 8,000 foot hunk of granite? An American successor is “the only way…[cycling] crosses over to the big-time press and the networks.”

Man, did I really just say it was a misconception that a dumb jock could win the Tour seven times? By this logic, Americans watch baseball just to see Americans hit home runs; a moronic sentiment, as anyone who’s tried to watched a game with a baseball novice can tell you. Viewers with no appreciation for intentional walks and sacrifice flies tune out long before Barry Bonds puts bat to cowskin. American sports fans only interested baseball for homers, just like American sports fans only interested in NASCAR for crashes, simply catch the highlights on the next morning’s SportsCenter.

Beyond the simple-mindedness that clings to this promotional campaign like tweak on a meth-head, what really gets to me is what a horrible waste of resources all this is. Discovery Channel has clearly put a chunk of change behind this promotion, and it would have been nice to see that cash actually go toward promoting the sport. There are plenty of actual pro riders out there looking for a few extra bucks, and having a basic cable channel televise a pro bike race once in a while (the Tour de Georgia, perhaps?) certainly wouldn’t hurt the sport’s standing. In then end, though, it’s Discovery Channel’s money, and they can burn it as they see fit; I just wish they didn’t feel compelled to undermine the sport of cycling in the process.

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