By Tick of
What does being a fan mean? Specifically, being a fan of a cyclist -- not a
team, but of just that one rider. Does it mean rooting for him in all his races,
cheering when he does well and sympathizing when he doesn't, applauding his good
decisions and wishing he could have re-thought the bad ones? Or does it mean "my
hero, right or wrong", that anyone who beats him obviously cheats in some way
and is a bad person anyway, as is anyone wrong-headed enough to be a fan of that
For me, as an American living in Germany, the "fan duel" Armstrong-Ullrich is
fascinating to observe. First of all, I must say that my remarks apply only to
those fanatics who have given the word "fan" its name -- both German and
American. And neither nationality has the franchise on such rabid behavior --
there are proportionally just as many rational Germans as there are rational
Americans (and you can interpret that any way you please....)
But back to the question at hand. The German fanatics hate Armstrong. Why?
Because he is cold, unsympathetic, has divorced his wife, is dating a
rock-and-roll star, didn't thank Ullrich for waiting, didn't wait for Beloki (or
for Zülle in '99), trains in the US because there are no doping controls there,
is cold, unfeeling and a control freak, is a dictator on his team and treats his
helpers like slaves, is a "typical American" (whatever that is!), is bent on
professional success at any price, wins only because he uses drugs ... in other
words, because he has won the Tour de France 5 times, beating Ullrich three of
And Ullrich? He's a poor loser, a convicted drug user, an East German robot,
a crybaby, a weakling who can't even commit himself to marry his live-in
girlfriend of long standing, a lazy fatboy with no willpower who would rather
eat what he wants than commit himself to training, a puppet controlled by Rudy
Pevenage, someone who requires personal trainers and personal physiotherapists
and personal sports directors to babysit him ... in other words, because he is
the biggest threat to beat Armstrong in the Tour!
The most outrageous theory I have heard is that "as we all know", Armstrong
has only won the Tour five times because he uses drugs. And therefore Our Ulle is
the moral winner and has actually won the Tour five times himself! Three times
when the "doped-up" Armstrong so unfairly finished ahead of him; in 1997, when
he actually did win all by himself; and in '98, when Pantani beat him (and "as
we all know," Pantani is a big doper, too....)
And oh yes, let's make that six times, because he could have won over
teammate Bjarne Riis in '96, if he had wanted too... (and wasn't Bjarne known as
"Mr. Sixty Percent"?) What makes this theory so appealing to my sense of the
ridiculous is the assumption that Everyone Else Obviously Dopes -- but not
Ullrich! There's no other way they could possibly have beaten Ullrich -- the
sweet, innocent oh-so-talented Ullrich who would never touch illegal drugs....
But poor Jan doesn't have only that nasty old American to worry about, he has
enemies on his own team! Yes! Can you believe it -- Erik Zabel claims a place on
the T-Mobile Tour team, a place that obviously belongs to an Ullrich helper! And
he might even want to take someone with him to help him with the sprints!
Another place gone, which by all rights belongs to an Ullrich helper! How dare
this Zabel do anything that could jeoparize Jan's chances? Who is he, anyway?
What has he ever accomplished? Has he ever won the Tour? Well, then.....
What does all of this have to do with being a fan? Not much, as far as I'm
concerned. Isn't it possible to support one rider without hating another? To
realize that fans of the other riders love their idols, too, and are not horrid
people because of that? When a fan says a word in praise of his or her favorite,
must an "opposing" fan immediately damn not only that rider, but the fan, too?
No, that's not what being a fan is about!