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What the ESPN Slipstream Feature Maybe Sorta Means

Drew posted above a link to Bonnie Ford's excellent profile of Slipstream and its focus on clean racing. Read the article for yourself and use Drew's post to bat it around. A less ponderous version of this post also can be found in Drew's efficient prose... but since I get paid by the word, here goes.

IMHO the existence and prominent placement of this story carries some real significance. Whatever you think of ESPN, it's a pretty good barometer of the mainstream American sports mood. This article is their way of starting the conversation with American sports fans about how Cycling is turning the corner.

Some background: America's nascent cycling fanbase is probably more in danger of being turned off by doping than, say, the more die-hard, established counterparts in Europe. But America's cycling fanbase also has more room to grow than most, and from all I saw before the Landis disaster it was growing steadily. Things have kind of been placed on hold since then.

While Bonnie Ford has generally tried to write about racing, ESPN otherwise did little to spare the rod when it came to bashing the dopes. Not that it was always unfair, given the depths of the problem, but when people who don't care about the Tour of Flanders start paying attention only when things go wrong, it comes off as gratuitous piling on. ESPN was as guilty as the rest of the American media in this regard.

Along comes baseball, long beset by steroids but just now starting the public conversation about its problems in any real way. Toss in Marion Jones and some other scandals and it starts to look like this is not a Cycling problem, or a pro wrestling problem, but a worldwide crisis in athletics and sports across the board. Fans are starting to get it, and baseball's problems have been instrumental in bringing it into mainstream focus.

As people here have speculated all along, Cycling is actually farther down the road in confronting PEDs use than the sports mainstream fans and Cycling-bashers love so much. If people only understood the problem of PEDs in other sports, they might see Cycling in a completely different light.

One article doesn't mean that Cycling's image has turned around in the US, but by itself this article is clear evidence of the opportunity Cycling has to make amends with American fans. Provided we finally hit bottom in 2006 or 2007, this year could be a watershed year where things really start to get better. I know, be patient, it's complicated, etc., but after two years of pure hell it would be nice to see the sport as getting back on the rails, and as starting to bond again with America.