We assume Lance Armstrong will confess tonight to some part of a years-long juicing conspiracy while head of the U.S. Postal Service bicycle racing team, so we can anticipate at least a few more days of intense conversation about Armstrong. But what about bicycle racing?
What is its future? The trajectory of the sport right now is unmistakable and ineluctable. On its current course bicycle racing 50 years from now is slated to become a bunch of monstrous steroidal muscle-balls pedaling 4-ounce space-age contraptions as fast as they can while whacked on dope.
Will we still be watching? Of course we will. When did we ever stop watching anything because it was gross?
In fact cycling can only get more gross. The inevitable competition to top Lance Armstrong's grossness as a media star will turn all of them into professional wrestling cartoon characters with names like Abdullah the Butcher, Angel of Death and Andre the Giant.
Tell me. Do you think I'm wrong? Do you see cycling headed in some other direction, more like dressage or yacht racing? Explain to me how that happens.
A couple months ago The New York Times published a devastating graphic showing that since 1998 more than a third of top finishers of the Tour de France have either tested positive, admitted to doping or been sanctioned by an official cycling or anti-doping agency. And, sure, you could tell me that shows the agencies are really on the prowl, fighting hard to keep the sport clean. But how's that working for them?
Seems to me we could change the name of that particular race to the Tour Toxique. The competition could be to see how much of the pharmacy you can shoot into a guy's veins and then have him peddle real fast uphill without croaking. In fact, isn't that pretty much what it is today?
Bicycle racing has always occupied a sort of iffy niche in the world of true sport. Early champions in the 19th century, guys like Louis Chevrolet and Albert Champion, moved from Paris to Detroit at the beginning of the 20th century when Detroit was still called "The Capital of Speed" and the nascent automobile industry was covered by the press only on the sports pages.
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Chevrolet and Champion both ditched bikes as soon as they saw cars, because it was all about going fast more than being an athlete. Ever since then cycling has been a sort of illegitimate child of mechanics and athleticism. And what the hell. So is yachting. People can do whatever they want with their time when they don't have to work for a living, right?
But the fact remains that some sports are just uglier and stupider than others, and what conclusion can be drawn from tonight's bathetic explosion of disgrace except that cycling is and apparently will continue to be one of the worst, one of the ugliest, only getting more grotesque as every new day unwinds?
Remember this. Lance Armstrong is only confessing because he intends to get back into it. Apparently he has struck some kind of grisly plea bargain agreement by which he will get time knocked off his so-called lifetime suspension by ratting out even more people in even higher positions in the sport. So what I'm asking is this: When this is over, is it even possible for the sport to sink any lower or get any worse?
You know the answer, of course. Yes. Where human failing is concerned, there is no bottom. And maybe ultimately that's a good thing. In fact maybe that's the metaphysical purpose of it all. A half century from now when the oceans are simmering, even cats and dogs are extinct and we all have cancer, we can watch bicycle races and think, "Well, at least we're not that bad."