Sunday, December 19, 2010

For Cycling's Big Backers, Joy Ride Ends in Grief

They gathered outside an Arizona resort in skin-tight clothing and aerodynamic helmets, standing astride pro-quality racing bikes. They could have been mistaken for local cycling fanatics preparing for a Saturday spin.

[Backers_A1] Getty Images

Lance Armstrong with Thomas Weisel, left, after 2000 Tour de France victory.

What they were, however, was a cadre of elite businessmen who had supercharged American cycling with cash infusions, helping to turn Lance Armstrong and a handful of other American riders into stars. The February 2003 gathering was their chance to enjoy the dividends: to pound the pedals for 60 miles with Mr. Armstrong, the reigning Tour de France champion, and other U.S. Postal Service team members such as Floyd Landis and George Hincapie.

"There was a lot of macho that day," says one of the riders, Kenneth Barnett, chief executive of a Michigan marketing firm, of his fellow executives. "These fairly accomplished people were like little boys with big toys."

Over the course of a half-dozen years in the early 2000s, a small group of wealthy executives—including San Francisco investment banker Thomas Weisel and shopping-center magnate John Bucksbaum—turned their hobby into the ultimate fantasy camp. They helped put together one of the best pro cycling teams ever assembled and basked in the glow, going behind the ropes at the Tour de France and riding hard in amateur races on Postal team bikes.

After a record seven Tour wins, the joy ride turned bumpy. The investors never made back the money they put in. The Postal team they helped finance stands accused by one of its former riders, Mr. Landis, of systematic doping. And now, federal criminal investigators looking into the allegations want to know, among other things, whether any owners knew about doping on the team while team representatives were assuring sponsors that riders were clean, according to one person familiar with the matter. It isn't clear whom among the owners investigators are focusing on. more at the above link

Not surprising for a sport fraught will lies and deceit. Just ask most mountain bikers when you catch them on an illegal trail and ask if they saw the signs preventing them from riding there...duh....."what sign?'"

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