The simple solution
By Gary Boulanger, US editor | Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9.59pm
Belgian superstar Tom Boonen, warming up before the Tour of California prologue in Sacramento February 14, 2009. Gary Boulanger
In the movie Fever Pitch, Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) falls in love with Ben (Jimmy Fallon), only to leave him after she realizes his obsession with the Boston Red Sox has come between their budding relationship. A friend of his asks, “You love the Sox. But tell me, have they ever loved you back?” Ben takes the advice and wins back the girl, after getting his priorities straight.
I witnessed this firsthand while reporting on the recent Tour of California. Fans were screaming wildly for Lance Armstrong, Tom Boonen, Floyd Landis and Ivan Basso, among others. Many were wearing some form of team garb, and most were taking photos.
To me, professional sports cultivates hero worship, but most of our heros couldn't care less about us. They need to train and prepare to do their job, and making friends with anyone outside their family or teammate circle is the last thing on their minds.
But really, when you truly think about it, ask yourself: for all the attention lavished on professional cyclists, where does that leave you? You work hard, ride your bike often, are probably married with kids, have a demanding job, bills that are due each month, and at this point in our nation's history, carry around a bit of worry for the future. Putting out a superhuman effort on the bike apparently elevates others to a higher societal standing, it appears. Accepted, yes, but is this a healthy way to view others?
I also experienced preferential treatment firsthand during the recent Tour of California as well. It appears VIPs are held in higher regard than anyone, if the check is big enough. Access to the riders and management is carte blanche if you're wearing a VIP badge; pity the poor cycling journalist who's trying to do his jobs and get the news, quotes and photos for his readers.
It also appears, based on firsthand experience by me and my colleagues, that newspapers or magazines with a perceived higher circulation than BikeRadar.com or Cyclingnews.com don't have to abide by the rules. Several times our requests for post-race comments were swept aside by teams' PR handlers, only to watch as reporters from Sports Illustrated or the New York Times were given access.
I was taught by my parents that everyone is created equal, and should be treated as such. Our new president, Barack Obama, based his campaign on this topic, but the folks in Washington, DC aren't living it out. Giving financial handouts to companies and industries who've failed miserably is not the solution; banks, auto makers and mortgage companies are choking on the largesse of their own making, not mine, and now you and I will be paying the price.
When will the world stop elevating 'winners' to such celebrity heights with celebrity salaries? I enjoy watching guys like Dave Zabriskie crank out a fast time trial, but I don't think it warrants a six-figure salary. It's unlikely that the greatest cyclist of all time, Belgian Eddy Merckx, ever made more than $50,000 a year, but he raced hard and continues to promote bicycling 30-plus years after his retirement.
Do I have an honest-to-goodness solution to the woes of hero worship? I grew up in Packer-mad Green Bay, Wisconsin, where even the benchwarmers were perceived to walk on water, so I don't think I'm qualified. When life presses against me, and I'm feeling overwhelmed by the minutiae, my simple solution is to hug my family and enjoy a quiet ride.
You're welcome to join me anytime.
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