Robot’s Useless Reviews – The Doper’s Canon

I was cleaning my basement, as I am wont to do. Imagine me there, wandering around with loud music in my ears and a deep desire for order where there is chaos. It’s a monthly ritual that mainly achieves the rearranging of possessions without any significant reduction in their volume. And speaking of volumes, one of my predictable weaknesses is a library of books that charts my random and quixotic curiosity, but has a few shelves dedicated to cycling in its various guises.

Now, if I was one of those people who put everything together by genre (I am), alphabetized (Nope), and then gathered sub-genre (no chance), then I might have a whole shelf dedicated to what I call The Doper’s Canon, a bunch of books akin to sci-fi/fantasy or true crime, a real mash-up category, and one unique, I think, to the blood doping era of the ’90s and ’00s. The Doper’s Canon includes investigative tomes like Matt Rendel’s “The Death of Marco Pantani” and “LA Confidential” by David Walsh. Of course, it also includes “memoirs” by confirmed dopers in which they rail against their accusers and proffer some really excellent explanations for their dominance of the sport during pro cycling’s WrestleMania Era.

With apologies to Rendel and Walsh, as well as Paul Kimmage and others, the real stars of this sub-sub-genre are the dopers themselves, a cabal of cartoon super-villains in lycra, who wrote about each other, sued each other, did tell-alls and ok-no-really-tell-alls, all of them Icarus with melting wings, plummeting toward the ocean, but signing publishing deals first.

One of the absolute gems of the Doper’s Canon is Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike,” which is true as labelled. Armstrong should have devoted himself to high-stakes poker as a career, because he bluffed his way through approximately one million interviews, never once blinking as journalists and interlocutors with winning hands folded their cards instead of dealing with Armstrong’s ire (or lawyers). I love “It’s Not About the Bike” because it’s really this audacious double bluff, in which the 7-time not winner of the Tour de France gaslights us all by saying not only is not about the thing you think it’s not about, it’s also not about the thing you didn’t think it was about anyway. He’s pulling both your legs, yanking your chain, and calling you an idiot to your face. Pure (evil) genius.

Another real stunner is Floyd Landis’ “Positively False,” which I own in hard cover. That’s quite a thing, eh? A whole book full of lies in a nice binding with a dust jacket? Too good. There’s bourbon and Metallica and some really sketchy science in this pants-on-fire classic. This one, to me, is like pro wrestling’s The Rock coming out with an autobiography in which he claims to be made of actual rock AND an accomplished cook, whose dinnertime creations would be well-worth smelling, if you understand what I’m saying.

It’s all Jumanji. It’s all the Pentagon Papers.

Having read it all, I feel satisfied that I got the whole blood-doping era experience, but what now? These are books that void themselves. What I mean is, now that we all know they are fanciful fantasies of frivolous fallacy, no one can gain anything from reading them again. They’re no good for trade-in at the used book store. I can’t recommend them to my cycling friends who didn’t read them back in the day. They are non-books, and that too is a sort of genius.

The thing about the blood-doping era (he says as if it’s definitively over) is that never has any group of athletes worked so hard for nothing at all. I can’t think of another period in sports history where an entire professional class devoted itself to the invalidation of what must be hundreds of thousands of hours of training and racing. The victories gained were something even more than pyrrhic, maybe apocalyptic, the whole rolling mass of the peloton like a death cult cranking watts into the void, just waiting for the moment Oprah would ask Lance what really happened back there.

It’s Game of Thrones and Mario Kart and a Pet Rock as a service animal.

So, all those books live in the basement. I have a few VHS tapes that, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to throw out. There’s a stack of CDs. I don’t own a CD player anymore. Oh, and there’s a telephone, like an honest-to-god, plug-it-in-the-wall telephone. None of these things has any use anymore.

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  1. bart says

    Now I want to go back and re-read those books. I remember “Its Not About the Bike” totally hooked me. I wonder how I would respond to reading it now. Most likely is that I’ll never find out.

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