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Maria Gutzeit: Cycling is not all about Lance

Posted: May 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Recently, people asked me with sincerity in their eyes if I am reconsidering my involvement in cycling because of the Lance Armstrong scandal. My response: Pftttt.

Lance wrote the book "It’s Not About the Bike." But most cyclists will tell you: "Cycling is soooo not about Lance."

It shows my age to say I was already into my 20-year stint of bike racing when Greg Lemond famously beat Laurent Fignon by eight seconds on the last day of the Tour De France.

Being a sprinter myself, I always admired the riders who could hit the miraculous turbo button and squeeze through a pack of exhausted, flailing arms, legs, lungs and bikes in excess of 30 mph, often around a turn or on cobbles, and win a sprint like all the rest weren’t even trying.

Marty Nothstein, Janie Eickoff, Tom Boonen, Erik Zabel. It sounds lovely to say bicycling is a team sport, but having that hair trigger, that careful and precise calculation of when to punch it or when to wait — that is all on the sprinters, and I save most of my awe for them.

(If you want a sense of it at the Amgen tour, don’t head for a hill, head for the finish line or one of the last turns prior to it.)

Like life, cycling often isn’t about winning, at least in retrospect. My most vivid memories are of the group adrenaline, the speed, and of the just-squeaking through a pileup without crashing.

In one of my last races, with one lap to go, a gal crashed a few cyclists in front of me. Her bike flew through the air, taking out another rider. She slid along the ground in the middle of the bunch.

Generally everyone got around her, though we were at top speed ramping up for the sprint.

I watched as if in slow motion as the chain ring of my bike that I was still pedaling cut across the top of her helmet, which was still buckled to her head.

My rear wheel missed her by a centimeter and we all raced on.

Bike racing teaches you a lot. Like most sports, you tend to lose more than you win.

Some people never seemed bothered. My husband remarked I often quit racing on Sunday but usually declared myself "unquit" by Wednesday.

Others were a phenomenal but short flash in the pan, dominating for a year or two, then we never saw them again.

In retrospect, it seems that the moderately good people with a fine character most influenced the sport. Not only were they placing well in races, but they took the time to do a little extra, like putting on clinics or advocating for safe cycling.

Sometimes the classiest riders would chit chat with the newbies, then go on to kill it in a race. Not so classy were those who acted like their win in the beginner category in an industrial park race also granted them the right to act like a prima donna.

Cycling is truly about finding your own way and celebrating others. Road riding. Velodrome riding. Cyclocross. Mountain bike. Fixies. Beach cruisers. Touring. Towing your kid in a trailer. So many options for every mood and every age.

Who makes a mark on this sport? The JPL scientist who pilots disabled athletes on a tandem bike in between a full-time job and his own races. The true gentleman who has traveled by bike across the world, including exotic places like South Africa.

The little kid who was so proud to tell me he rode his bike to school because "it would be stupid for my mom to drive me." The ladies in bikini tops and tennis shoes that somehow finished in front of me on the century ride, despite the fact their bikes probably weighed three times what mine does.

The recumbent rider who digs out the pricker bushes from the side of our bike trails so the rest of us don’t get flats. The cute teenagers riding their fixies so deftly.

The Girl Scout leaders taking a pack of girls on a mosquito-filled bike excursion around Lake Michigan, thinking nothing of the hills or a few thunderstorms. The family riding down the California coast, self propelled, hauling kids and stuff yet smiling over the hills in Big Sur.

Yes, there are racers who make it look magical, but cycling isn’t just about that.

And it’s sure not just about Lance.

The Amgen Tour of California rolls into the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday afternoon at the end of Stage 3.

Racers will stay overnight here and leave on Stage 4 Wednesday.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita resident, elected official, and business owner. She raced bikes all over the country starting in the 1980s.


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