November 14, 2011, 3:06 PM — It's no secret that Americans have lost a lot of interest in professional cycling since Lance Armstrong retired.
The conviction in abstentia of one of the most inspiring, most unusual, least suspect riders among the U.S. riders competing at the very top of the sport in Europe is just the latest in a tawdry five-year saga of doping, accusation, lying, betrayal and computer hacking that has been one of the richest sources of bitterness and disillusionment that has put even many U.S.-based fans of cycling off the sport.
Armstrong's inimitable success drew many to cycling, and lost much of its audience when his career ended in 2005.
Even a brief, embarrassing comeback in 2010 didn't re-ignite interest in a sport that can usually be seen in the U.S. only on fringe sports channels, as interminable toddles through the French countryside.
On the main sports shows and networks, cycling exists only as a highlight reel filled with spectators in idiotic costumes, "attacks" that just look like a couple of guys biking along with their heads down and inevitable mass sprint, photo finish and cryptic commentary from presenters who only appear to be speaking English.
Even crashes that crumple dozens of $10,000 bikes and million-dollar legs aren't exciting compared to NASCAR's endless orbits.
At least at the Winston Cup when there's a big crash something explodes in flame. Despite their best efforts, even top European pro bike racers haven't managed to do that in a literal sense.
Most, of course, seem to have gone down in metaphorical flames as drug testers discovered the trainer with the syringe filled with GoFast visits top pros so often it's a wonder that when they drink from those tiny plastic bottles they don't fountain it back out in streams from all the little holes.
Drug charges – and often convictions as well as banishment from competition for a few seasons – have laid so many champions low that even many of those devoted to the sport have taken to avoiding any picture of a cyclist in the news for fear the story will have to do with pharmaceutical accomplishments, not physical ones.
One honest man: Lancelot of the Peloton
If there were one rider in the peloton (French for "big bunch of tiny guys who ride bikes uphill on purpose) who seemed as if he had to be clean, it was Floyd Landis.
Even if he weren't one of the top riders, Floyd would have stood out.
Credit: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini