Tag Archive: Cycling


At what price glory?

AMDG

 

English: Picture of Marco Pantani on the way t...

Marco Pantani –  Alpe d’Huez 1997 (Wikipedia)

 

The summer before I entered the Jesuit novitiate, I hired a van with a group of friends and we drove around France for two weeks following  the Tour de France through the Alps and the Pyrenees. It was a magical summer, we would arrive on these incredible mountain passes the night before the stage, just before they closed the roads off.  The night was spent partying with Spanish / French / Dutch etc cycling fans and then the next day the excitement would build as the race approached.  These men were the greatest athletes in my opinion, in the most gruelling sporting event on the planet.  The crowds on the big climbs would number in the hundreds of thousands, and because of the steep incline of the climbs, the exhausted cyclists, strung out in little groups – would pass by at a much slower pace than on the flat or downhill parts.  If I close my eyes the one image that sums up that summer was seeing Marco Pantani leading the peloton over Les Deux Alps.  One of the greatest climbers of all time – he would dance on his pedals and soar through the mountains like an angel.

 

Six years later he died of a cocaine overdose in a grotty hotel in Rimini, Italy.  I have just finished reading a gripping book about his life, called, ironically, ‘The Death of Marco Pantani‘ .  The life and death of Marco Pantini could be a parable for our times.  As modern sport has become more important politically and commercially the consequences of success and failure have been blown out of proportion. Cheating in sport has been around since ancient times, however it was in East Germany and its notorious Programme 1425 that lead to thousands of uniformed youngsters being given steroids, when cheating became systematic. In Finland they developed the technique of using blood transfusions in sport – which required access to labs, medical expertise and much larger budgets.  What is shocking is the risks these cyclists took, the strain of the heart pumping thickened blood, meant that many cyclists had to sleep with heart monitors which would set off an alarm when their heart beats dropped below safe levels. Following the Tour in 98 there were rumours of groups of cyclists jumping out of bed in the dead hours of the morning to leap on exercises bikes to get their hearts pumping again.  Tragically at  the end of the book, in the epilogue, there is a list of 8 cyclists who died of sudden heart attacks between 2003-5.  So the current insistence of Team Sky to be clean, and the scandal of Lance Armstrong’s cheating and bullying are so important.

Worryingly as sport becomes more important – maybe as a symptom of a society that is losing balance – Sports stars are prepared to risk everything for that moment of glory.  St Ignatius calls this lack of balance a ‘disordered attachment’.   Alarmingly, with the rise of Paralympics, the spectre has been raised of athletes deliberately dismembering themselves in order to compete.  Especially with the controversy around Oscar Pistorius and others ‘blades’, as technology continues to improve soon blades will be superior to the leg, at least on the 100m’s track. When a ‘disabled’ sprinter starts to break Usain Bolt’s World Records – then there will be irresistible pressure to lose your legs just to compete…..  No wonder the Spiritual Masters consistently warn us against disordered attachments to fame and glory.

 

Tale of Two Armstrongs

AMDG

English: One of the first steps taken on the M...

The second most exciting footstep (according to Neil Armstrong) –  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of travelling this weekend so I was able to immerse myself in news.  Two of the big stories – Neil Armstrong’s death and Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace –  touch two areas I am passionate about, cycling and space exploration.  And what a contrast.  Firstly Neil Armstrong – the quiet, modest, pilot and astronaut.  Much has been said about his technical genius in landing on the  moon with very little fuel left, his ability to calculate and improvise.  Not much has been written about the spiritual impact it had on the astronauts.  All highly trained technicians and scientists. When they gazed back at the earth in space it gave them a new sense of appreciation of how beautiful, wonderful  and delicate the Planet Earth is. They were to return as changed men, men of stronger faith.  Armstrong’s companion Buzz Aldrin shared communion with him discreetly after landing on the moon – click here.  There is also the beautiful story of how Armstrong, when he returned,  was taken on a tour of the old city of Jerusalem by Israeli archeologist Meir Ben-Dov. When they got to the Hulda Gate, which is at the top of the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere around there.“These are the steps that lead to the temple,” Ben-Dov told him, “so He must have walked here many times.” Armstrong then asked Ben-Dov if those were the original stairs and Ben-Dov confirmed that they were indeed. “So Jesus stepped right here,” Armstrong asked. “That’s right,” answered Ben-Dov. To which Armstrong replied, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these stones than when I was stepping on the moon.”

Cover of "It's Not About the Bike: My Jou...

Cover via Amazon

In contrast. Lance Armstrong, who achieved an unthinkable 7 Tour de France titles, has had them stripped this weekend.  Like many I was inspired by his comeback from cancer, his amazing book, ‘It’s not about the Bike’ and also his superb Live Strong foundation.  Of course you are disappointed when the extent of the use of banned drugs becomes evident, it is simply cheating.  But I would still have retained admiration for Armstrong. However what has come to light this weekend is the incredible control he exercised over a network of former team mates, assistants and reporters.  His tacit admission of guilt has freed many witnesses and journalists to be able to speak without fear of retribution. The extent of the legal bullying that went on, the career destroying, the defamation of any whistle blowers, the pressure put on so many to collude in the cheating is incredible.  This ruthlessness and the single-minded determination is not glorious it is shameful. And what a contrast to his quiet fellow countryman who had a lot more to shout about.

Downhill Cycling

AMDG

A wonderful cover on the Times of India newspaper today / yesterday (depending when you read this) – if you can’t make out the words then I have typed them below………………………..

Watching the sunrise from the top of a hill

Cycling down and enjoying the thrill

Stealing Mangoes from the tree

Taking a road-trip simply to break free

On a hot Sunday afternoon chasing a kite

Diving into a pool in the middle of the night

Dancing at a friends wedding

Proposing at sunset without a ring

Without a map driving off to explore

Life is all this and so much more

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marvelous!