Team Discovery Channel, that is. I never was a fan of disco music and was glad to see it go. But I will sorely miss this cycling team.
Team Discovery Channel (or “Disco” in the shorthand vernacular of many cycling fans) makes its swan song tomorrow when they appear in the Tour of Missouri. Disco will field an internationally renowned, talent laden team. Its principle riders will be reigning Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, reigning U.S. and Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer (who finished third in this year’s Tour de France), former U.S. Champion and American racing icon George Hincapie, and the ever popular Ukrainian rider Yaroslav Popovych.
Those are but a few of the Discovery Team stars who were left without a home when their sponsor decided to withdraw from professional cycling and their owners abandoned the effort to find a replacement. What a sad commentary it is that Lance Armstrong and others will be DNF (”Did Not Finish”) when the world of pro tour cycling probably needed them most.
The fledgling cycling sport in America seemed just about to reach critical mass last year when the ravages of the performance enhancing drugs and vociferous doping scandals began to be leaked out at what almost had to be a controlled pace. U.S. race organizers were just beginning to spend substantial sums to sponsor and promote major events; and the public fan base was not far behind. Then the powers who want to protect the governing status quo decided to take aim at what truly might be the greatest athletic competition this world ever has known.
If Disco is dead, then I suppose I am one of its youngest orphan children. As an American who deems himself too old, fat and creaky to ride, my only exposure to the pro tour for years had been the Versus Channel’s (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) annual coverage of le Tour de France. Every day I would record the television broadcast while doing my best to follow the live tickers from my office at work. Neither my family nor my friends understood my fascination with the intricacies and the raw physical and mental demands of this sport. To this day few of them have learned to appreciate cycling. But I seem to grow more fascinated with each passing year.
Not too long ago I was told that races like the Tour are run almost year round and that they can be followed via the Internet. That was just about the end for me, and I jumped into fandom with both feet like a teenage boy.
My knowledge of and affection for the sport have only grown in the intervening months. I have become an avid fan of several riders and teams. But Team Discovery Channel and its predecessors (U.S. Postal and Seven-Eleven), together with riders Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, are primarily responsible for my ever having learned that professional cycling existed. As such they always maintained a special place in the heart of this fan.
Only after having expanded my knowledge base through my recent experiences have I begun to appreciate the accomplishments of Team Discovery Channel, both as a competing unit and as the de facto ambassadors and promoters of cycling in my native U.S. Its demise is shameful.
Leipheimer and Contador still had not signed with new teams as of the date this was typed. Levi certainly will land with a good team, though he likely will have to suffer a cut in pay after having enjoyed his best year ever on the pro tour. Alberto on the other hand is being treated as damaged goods because of his alleged linkage to last year’s Operation Puerto. How can a man go from the depths of the despair associated with his aneurism, to the thrill of achieving the greatest accomplishment his chosen field offers, back down to the repose of rejection in such a short time? I do not know, but I promise to buy and read Contador’s book whenever he chooses to write it.
So tomorrow we will watch Team Discovery Channel, the organization that proved that it was bigger than Lance Armstrong, take the field for its final race. I had hoped to be there but family obligations detained me. If anyone who reads this does attend the Missouri tour, please shout to the Discovery riders that “Ashton from Alabama” is rooting for them. I wish I could find some other way to show them my support.
Adios, Team Discovery. Or as Pete Townshend once wrote , “Goodbye, sister disco!” Unlike that awful excuse of a music genre, I shall truly miss the cycling team.
“So bye, bye, Miss American Pie.”