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Beyond the Peloton


July 23, 2010 10:04 AM

Why Jay Mariotti Is an Idiot

We're certain we're not breaking any new ground here. The Fanhouse vuvuzela has made a career out of making a derriere of himself and his detractors are legion. But if you think he knows next to nothing about baseball, he knows even less about cycling.

Jay Mariotti's latest gem is this hit piece on Lance Armstrong. In it, he utterly exposed himself as one of those sportswriting glitterati who couldn't tell a peloton from a papillion as we have alluded to in the past.

jay.jpgLet's set the record straight: We're not Armstrong cultists, far from it. Has Lance doped, ever, in his career? Perhaps. Cycling is a sport that's so thoroughly disgraced over the past two decades, it's hard to imagine any one individual has stayed clean while everyone else around him cheated. During Armstrong's seven Tour wins, seven of his eight podium mates were either banned for doping or have been accused of doping by authorities.

At the same time, though, we don't have a conviction, i.e. a positive test against Armstrong. Not yet anyway. Perhaps something will come of this probe by the feds. Perhaps not. And as we have stated previously, Armstrong will defend himself vigorously; and Jeff Novitzky, whose notoriety grew partly from his questionable methods, will have a fight on his hands.

Mariotti, whose grasp of the legal system is less firm than his on cycling (how low can you go?), declared that Armstrong is doomed merely because the feds have decided to start a probe. American jurisprudence functions exactly the opposite of hot-air public opinion (or sports columnists), where presumption of innocence puts the burden of proof on the prosecution. But we digress. Since this is a cycling blog, we'll just rip his declarations apart, spoke by spoke.

- "It's disturbing enough to see him crash his bike regularly, go limp on the mountain climbs that used to be his signature and fail to win even one stage of what he swears -- and we hope -- will be his final Tour."

Really, Jay? You know who else is having a terrible Tour because so far he's failed to win a single stage? Alberto Contador. Armstrong was beset by crashes and mechanical failures in this year's Tour, true, a combination of bad luck, old age and some rust. But is he a pathetic has-been? Hardly. Armstrong finished second in the Tour de Suisse, the last warm-up race before the Tour de France, with many of the same riders in the field. But wait, Mariotti probably didn't know there are other bike races since they're never on SportsCenter.

- "His Tour return was uplifting a year ago, but it fell flat when he fought with teammate Alberto Contador, then lost to him."

By consensus, most people who know cycling (that automatically excludes Mariotti) consider Armstrong's 2009 performance legendary. He was coming off a three-year absence. At the age of 37. On several occasions couldn't go full out because he was obligated to hold back when teammate Contador attacked. In one of the most savage races, with the penultimate stage held on dastardly Mont Ventoux. And he finished third, behind the two guys who are once again leading this year's Tour. But Mariotti doesn't appreciate context, just cheap, ignorant shots.

- "For the first time, Armstrong is acknowledging that some of his teammates might be culpable."

Again, did Jay just wake up this morning and realize there's doping in the peloton? Armstrong has had many teammates caught and banned from cycling throughout his career. Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Frankie Andreu, just to name three. This statement is so preposterous that we'll just let the ignorance stand on its own.

- "Suddenly, the fact he never has tested positive for PEDs doesn't seem to matter to some. Like so many baseball players, football players, track athletes and fellow cyclists, the instinct is to view him as guilty until proven innocent."

Exhibit A: Jay Mariotti.

- "It would be a wonderful story for humankind if, somehow, he turns out to be innocent and all of his anti-cancer work holds up in the wash. But I'm highly doubtful. And if you are a savvy American, your antenna are as high as mine today."

Please don't pat yourself on the back. Besides, Armstrong has been dogged by doping allegations throughout his entire career. Ever heard of L.A. Confidential? As much as his work with cancer research, this is what Armstrong has been doing in the past decade: defending his reputation. People who have always doubted Armstrong will continue to do so no matter what happens in court. Those who follow him with complete devotion, probably won't be swayed, either, one way or the other.

Do us a favor, Jay. Please go to the federal court house when the proceedings are going on and actually practice some journalism by talking to those involved. Novitzky, Landis, maybe even Armstrong himself. Yeah, we know, that's a radical concept. Ozzie Guillen is still waiting for you to show up in his clubhouse.

Stage 19 Preview (Bordeaux to Pauillac)

This is the only individual time trial in this year's Tour, and it will decide the winner and podium finishers. The 52 km course is long and flat, so it will give a huge edge to the riders who are already the strongest in this discipline.

Prediction: Alberto Contador. He has not won a stage this year and this will be his chance to break the ice. He won the second individual time trial last year, besting his chief rival Andy Schleck by 1 minute and 45 seconds in a 40.5 km course. He took 41 seconds from Schleck in last year's first time trial (39 km) and 42 seconds in this year's 8.9 km Prologue. If all goes according to form, Contador should gain at least one minute on Schleck, cushioning his now tenuous 8-second lead. The third-place battle will come down to the wire, as Sammy Sanchez, who won the Beijing Olympics road race, leads Denis Menchov by 21 seconds. The two finished in a dead heat in the Prologue.

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