I have the good fortune of being married to a woman who wanted an iPod for Christmas, and, being the dutiful husband, she received a Nano. I promptly commandeered it for my hospital stay, loading it up on PodCasts.

I’ve long been a headphones wearer. This goes back to when I lived in the City in the 80s. Back then I started with the clunky headphones that were a radio. Over recent years I’ve been using MP3 players. But I discovered the ease of using the iTunes store for Podcasts with this new iPod.

So I loaded up (although I almost ran out because my stay was considerably longer than expected). As mentioned earlier, Pigtails Flying directed me to Dump Runners Club. But the most interesting site I found was The Competitors, a weekly radio show from California. These guys know their stuff and interview major folks in the running, biking, and triathlon worlds.

Among the interviews with runners is a great one with my favorite, Ryan Hall. Well worth a listen, as are all the other running ones.

More interesting, however, were the interviews with cyclists. I have been a licensed rider and rode a few races back in the 80s. I came of age in the Greg Lemond era, following (as well as one could at the time) the 1985 Tour between the English-speakers and the French-speakers on the La Vie Claire team (won by Bernard Hinault over Lemond) and relishing in Lemond’s first victory in 1986. There was a weekly highlight show on CBS back then.

Then he got shot in 1987 and had the classic showdown (below) with Laurent Fignon in 1989, ending with the final-day time trial down the Champs Elysses, won by Lemond by 58 seconds, giving him an 8-second victory in the race. (Although Lemond used the aerobars, he was not alone; the entire 7-Eleven team did as well. As noted in the interview, Fignon tried them, but rejected them, VeloNews noting at the time that he was seen throwing them into a team car in disgust.)

(I remember that broadcast, with Phil Liggett and Sam Posey.)

That gets us to the interview with Lemond. He has interesting things to say about training. But the most explosive things concern how he was overwhelmed in 1991, when he was a 2-time defending champ, and he found he could not keep up. I remember seeing him in that Tour and the first time he ever broke on a mountain. That ended his race. His question: How could I, in the best shape of my life, get blown away like that? The answer, to him, was drugs. Drugs that allowed riders to train hard and recover quickly, allowing them to generate more power than he ever had. All of a sudden, you had a second-tier rider (Miguel Indurain) dominating the race for a stretch of five years.

Then there was an interview the Irish journalist David Walsh, author of From Lance to Landis. (Part 2.) This was fascinating. He speaks of things with which runners are unfamiliar but cyclists are not, chiefly power-outputs. He poses the ultimate question (as does Lemond): how can men suddenly generate massively more power without help? The help, of course, was performance-enhancing drugs.

Walsh speaks of Tyler Hamilton, who won an 2004 Olympic gold medal and then then left the Vuelta before he was thrown out, suffering a two-year suspension for blood-doping. Walsh describes Hamilton as someone who was not made for a stage race, whose performance would drop day to day, but who suddenly was a good stage rider, including a second in the 2002 Giro.

Walsh, of course, is even more scathing of Lance Armstrong. He notes that in each of his three pre-cancer Tours, Armstrong finished 6 minutes behind the winner of the long time trials, Indurain. A good time trialler and more of a classics rider, winner of the 1993 World Champs. But then he becomes the best stage-racer in the world. Is such a transformation believable?

I’ve not read the book although it’s on order. But Walsh was earlier black-listed by the Armstrong camp after an earlier book, “LA Confidential,” which alleged that Armstrong used PEDs. I found Walsh’s references to the thug-like behavior (albeit not literal) of the Armstrong group troubling. (Bonus great line: Sean Kelly had a broken shoulder and couldn’t go on. If Kelly (one of the greats) couldn’t no way Hamilton could.)

Armstrong, of course, denies all of this. He claims never to have tested positive for drugs (with one exception a while back, for which he produced a doctor’s note), but then neither did Marion Jones.

I got into more than I planned here. Because what struck me is that when they’re interviewing the guys claiming that pro cycling has long been drug-infested, they seem in complete agreement. Then when they interview those allegedly involved, such as Hamilton and Johan Bruyneel, they let these things pass, speaking to Hamilton only about his failed drug test and with Bruyneel not at all on the topic.

I’m not the only one to notice, as a look at the comments on the Hamilton and Bruyneel interviews shows. They responded as to the latter:

Guys. appreciate the comments, but being a little hard, no?

This interview was being done at a store, in front of a decent size crowd. Do you think that we would have gotten an hour of his time if we had started hammering him on the hard questions? What do you think he was going to do? Roll over and say, “you know what, guys, you got me, Lance is dirty, I helped orchestrate it, and I have the proof of it all”.

Since you have listened to the other interviews we’ve had, you know that we are not the hard-hitting jou[r]nalistic news site.

We NEVER nail someone in these interviews, rather we give them a forum to discuss their side of the story, and let the AUDIENCE decide what they want to believe. As you listed off, we’ve had people from every side of the scene on the show to talk about what they know or don’t know. Do you think if we had a reputation for being in-your-face confrontational, we would have had 1/3 of these folks on?

If you’re looking for hard hitting, in your face journalism, then, sorry to say, this is not the site for you. I think CNN has some good stuff you can check out.

Having listened to these interviews, I supplement it with my knowledge as an athlete. I have limits to how fast I can become. Once I reached the point of being trained as a runner, there was only so much more improvement I could experience. Hours and hours of extra work for a second here or a second there. An alternative training approach might yield me a bit more, and indeed my age-graded performance has improved about 3 percentage points since I’ve been training smarter and more consistently. But I’m not going to pop a sub-34 10K.

Until listening to this stuff, I was unaware of the data that are available in cycling, that allow (as “times” allow in running) an era-to-era comparison. The peleton is getting faster and faster. Riders, leaders and domestiques alike, and full teams are busted for drug use. I understand that Armstrong (and Bruyneel) are part of a uber-drug testing program now. As is Jonathan Vaughters, director of Garmin Slipstream (another good interview, who speaks of drug use in the Tour). I find the types of improvement seen unlikely as naturally achieved.