Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The “Hey Lance!”
I’ve gotten it before, plenty of times, and more than likely, so have you. My most recent, on Saturday, was fairly stereotypical. It was shouted from a janky early 1990s Saturn that was dragging bumper under the weight of four gold-chained Philly gym rats out for a little flexing “down the shore.” It was the second incident I’d encountered since leaving a family beach house two minutes before -- the first was some chav-envious Jersey girl nearly flattening me at an intersection that, in addition to no other traffic, also featured about a mile of dead flat, dead straight visibility in all directions. To be fair, her hoop earrings were certainly large enough to have impaired her peripheral vision, but I think the sheer tension of the ponytail would have pulled her eyes open wide enough to more than make up the difference. So, compared to that, the subsequent “Hey Lance!” (HL) from my meatheaded friends seemed downright hospitable.
After mentally patting myself on the back for a mile or so for not responding vocally or digitally to either incident, I got to thinking about the broader implications of the HL phenomenon. Like wondering whether Armstrong himself ever gets an accidental, jeering HL when he rides around Austin, or Hollywood, or wherever he hangs out these days. And if he does get the HL, does he know it’s intended to be jeering, or does he just wave? Do cyclists in Kazakhstan get the “Hey Vino!”? And do women get the HL? Seems “Hey Jeannie!” would require a depth of knowledge beyond what can be gained on an ESPN ticker and the Tonight show. And, for a woman, would being faux mistaken for Longo be more or less offensive than being faux mistaken for a man?
Why do I say faux mistaken? At a towering 5’7”, wearing last year’s club kit, and riding a bike that predates Armstrong’s first Tour de France win, I hardly resemble the man himself to anyone who knows their ass from a hole in the ground. But that has nothing to do with anything. We all know it’s not actual misidentification that prompts the HL, but rather the intent to make a cyclist feel silly by calling him by a professional’s name when he or she presumably is not a professional, but would appear to be dressed as one to the casual observer. The goal is presumably to point out some sort of inherent poseurdom, an inappropriate vanity, which may or may not be valid.
Whether or not the HL really offends as many people as intended I can’t really say. For me, it’s really only offensive because I’m not an Armstrong fan ever since he blew off my question at a press conference somewhere around 2004, and I hold a mean grudge. Not that I was an admirer before that, but it didn’t help. Then again, I was asking a dope question after five other dope questions, and he was bound to pop sometime. But the snarky greeting on the road doesn’t really bother me. The HL, and all the other usual on-the-road insults tend to roll right off, since once you’ve survived 10th grade gym class as the guy with shaved legs, you’ve pretty much heard it all before, anyway.
But I do wonder how it affects others, and I have to wonder how often real-but-non-Armstrong pros in the United States get the HL when they’re out training. I’d imagine it has to strike them at roughly the same frequency as any recreational or amateur racing cyclist, so maybe, what, 2-3 times per year? Then again, they ride more miles than most of us, so maybe the number is somewhat greater due to their higher exposure. Regardless, it must be even more annoying for them than for the average weekend warrior, being legitimate professionals in their own right and all. Or, more likely, they’re secure enough in their own abilities that they don’t pay any attention at all. Still, try greeting your kid’s pediatrician with a mocking “Hey, Dr. Spock!” every time you see him and see what kind of service you get.
And how many times have Armstrong’s own teammates been mistaken for rabid Armstrong Superfans? They were pretty common back in the old U.S. Postal days, and it must have been hard for Tyler Hamilton, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, and Kevin Livingston to ride around the block in the United States without getting a round of the HLs, and that must have been damn irritating. What else could explain Livingston signing for the fly-by-night Linda McCartney team? And for godssake, look what it’s driven Hamilton to.
But maybe Armstrong got his own, primordial version of the HL in the years before his world championship, Fleche Wallonne, and Tour de France wins – the latter being the only one of those three career highlights that stands a chance of getting you into the collective conscious of the average American, for heckling purposes or otherwise. In fact, what Armstrong had shouted at him from various motorized conveyances may well have impacted cycling history to this very day. See, back when Armstrong was riding for the U.S. national team and Montgomery-Bell, Greg Lemond was busy working towards his second world championship and the last of his three Tour de France victories, enough to land him in the mainstream U.S. media, including winning Sports Illustrated’s man of the year and landing that sweet Taco Bell TV ad. (An appearance that came back to bite Lemond in the oversized arse when he turned up overweight at the start of the following season. Lemond taco-eating jokes were so en vogue there for awhile.) So while the number of “Hey Lemond!”s received by the cycling populace back then would have been far fewer than the sheer volume of HLs we see today, the “Hey Lemond!” still enjoyed a short but annoying existence – trust me on that.
Whether or not Armstrong ever got a “Hey Lemond!” while someone winged a half-full Taco Bell cup at his noggin, I can’t say. But if he did, I can’t imagine he appreciated it, and I’d imagine it would irritate him more than most. Armstrong’s never been a Lemond fan, ever since people started asking him at an early age whether he was the next Greg Lemond. For the famously self-absorbed Armstrong, that had to be tough to take. I believe his response back then was usually a pretty restrained, “I’m the first Lance Armstrong.” If you’re reading this site, you probably read enough others to know how the relationship between the two American cycling heavyweights has devolved in the years since Armstrong first fielded those grating questions, culminating with this year’s Trek-Lemond bicycle company divorce, with Trek serving as Armstrong’s proxy.
But too many words have been spent on the relationship between those two, who in retirement only compete with each other in unsavory media hits, be it in gossip columns, courtroom brawls, or the pages of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. And that’s not what we’re about here, so let’s close this one out.
Getting my first HL in awhile also brought up the memory of a near-HL style incident that is now infamous in certain very small circles. Back during my shop rat years, a guy came into the shop in full Motorola team kit, a fabulous ensemble topped off by a Dura-Ace equipped Eddy Merckx in team paint, and asked for recommendations for good places to ride in the area. I wasn’t there at the time, but apparently, the words “poser” and “fred” were being bandied about pretty freely in the back of the shop, though in hushed tones, as we were typically a polite bunch. After all, those were the mountain bike boom years, when Zapata Espinoza was keeping plenty busy writing about how elitist all “roadies” were, and everyone knew that the keys to mountain biking’s self-professed nonconformity lay in getting anodized wheel skewers, Onza bar ends, and a set of Answer Hyperlite handlebars, just like everyone else. Road racing was for unimaginative exercise junkies with mommy issues, and dressing yourself up like some Euro-pro was just plain ridiculous.
By now, you can see where this is headed. The goofball in the shop who drank the Motorola Kook-Aid was actually Andy Hampsten, who had, of course, won the Giro d’Italia several years before. Fortunately, the shop owner – a veteran road warrior and the son of European immigrants who hoped against hope that all this mountain biking garbage would blow over soon enough – started paying attention just in time to save face by recognizing Hampsten for who he was and giving him some potential routes to ride while he was in town on vacation. As a 16-year-old junior road racer in a largely mountain bike world, I was obviously pissed that nobody called me. In fact, I’m still not sure I’ve forgiven those guys.
Hampsten was fortunate enough to close out his career in the time before HL became all the rage, but he seems like a pretty calm guy, so I doubt it would have rattled him much even if he hadn’t. That the HL is still so common nearly three years after Armstrong’s retirement is a testament to his lasting impression on the American public, and though it gets a bit tiring after the 10th or 11th time you hear it, the fact that a cyclist has managed to leave that sort of impression on the average rube can’t be all bad. Nevertheless, I think we have maybe another year or two of the HL in store, maybe three for those hecklers who have long memories or read TMZ quite a bit.