August 16, 2005: Bush keeps on spinning
It's not that Bush is a lousy rider. He's not. Over the last year, Bush has shown decent strength on the bike and a true commitment to riding. Logic alone dictates that anybody who rides two hours a day, six days a week is going to get better.
No, the issue here is the needless spin and image management surrounding his mountain biking. Total image management is an obsession with this Administration and the Bush cycling image is a microcosm the larger Bush neurosis. Whatever it is -- the War in Iraq, Social Security, Senate confirmations, mountain biking -- Bush and his people are insistent that Bush come out looking like King Shit, every time.
The PR machine was in full swing last weekend as Bush led a cadre of privileged guests on a mountain bike ride (Tour de Crawford) around his Crawford Ranch. As usual, the Bush team worked hard to stack the deck in Dubya's favor, and as usual, the conspiracy to deceive was evident to anyone who dared look behind the curtain.
For example, a Google search for Main Stream Media (MSM) articles about saturday's ride returns hundreds of hits, but closer inspection reveals that there are really only two original stories, both written by reporters who went on the ride. All other articles about the ride are taken from these two source articles. The situation was much the same when Bush crashed last month at Gleneagles resort in Scotland. Because there were no neutral eyewitnesses, the Bush team was able to force-feed its unilateral account to the MSM and Bush came out of it looking like a wheelèd Braveheart. By limiting the flow of information, the Administration more easily influences its content.
Then there's the question of exactly who got invited along on this ride, and why. It is a very rare and important privilege to have this kind of special access to the President. The POTUS takes a mountain bike just about every day, why is this particular ride the only one that makes front page news? Things don't just happen with this Administration, everything is done for a reason. Was it to distract away from the Cindy Sheehan situation? Was it to show confidence and carefreeity in the face of Iraq's faltering fate? Was it to try to stop the slide in the polls by flashing a little Schwarzenegger manly-man appeal? Whatever the reason, and you know there was one, the guest list was cooked.
Not one single account of the ride listed the names of all the hand-picked domestiques that accompanied Bush. Was it a bike ride with journalists or a meeting of Cheney's Energy Task Force? With this administration you always need to know who the players are so that you can then understand what their purpose is. And there are no coincidences, everybody has a purpose.
A partial peloton roster (culled from the only two primary sources available) included USA Today reporter Sal Ruibal (a 51-year-old veteran sportswriter who has covered the Tour de France, ridden most of the Tour's mountain passes, and finished fifth in the Masters category at the 2002 World Championships of 24-Hour Solo Mountain Biking), St. Petersburg Times Washington bureau chief Bill Adair, Reuters photographer Jason Reed, four other unidentified journalists, an unidentified woman from the State Department and her as-yet-to-be-outed-by-Bob "Bullshit" Novak husband, two unidentified Secret Service agents, and a Washington D.C. bike messenger that Bush referred to as "Mailman."
The list is curious. Who were the other four journalists and why were their names not quite worth mentioning? Who was the State Department official? Hey, she's a public servant, why not tell us her name? It's not like she's a CIA field operative or anything. And where the hell did the Mailman come from? There's a story behind that one. Some D.C. bike messenger gets randomly selected to ride bikes with the POTUS? Could he be the next Jeff Gannon?
So they've got the stage set perfectly -- the right setting , the right exposure, and the right guest list. Now all that's left is to trundle out Trigger and let the fawning begin.The POTUS must now ride the ride.
As I've mentioned, Bush is a decent rider, but the truth is not enough for the Administration. BUSH . . . MUST . . . DOMINATE . . ALL. So instead of letting Bush's above-average and steadily improving abilities speak for themselves, they fudge, and hype, and bend the truth until the facade starts fraying at the edges.
One of the points the Administration makes sure gets stressed in every biking article about Bush is that nobody can keep up with him. He drops fellow riders, Secret Service agents, everybody.
Much like the corner Bush painted himself into with Intelligent Design, this is not a tenable claim. Forget anything you've read, just think about it. He's 59. Yeah, he might in great shape -- the top one percent of men 55 to 59, according to Ruibal -- but there are still certain physical limitations that people that age face. One of them is that no matter how hard they train, they cannot keep pace with people 15, 20, 25 years younger who also work out. Alas, logic has no place in the Bush bubble.
But Ruibal forgets to zip the Administration's fly right out of the gate with his headline, "One rule for Peloton One: Don't pass the president". Oops. This craps all over the Administration's carefully manicured image of the POTUS and seemingly contradicts the second sentence of Ruibal's story, which notes how Bush was "beating . . . his fellow riders -- with aplomb." Further down, Ruibal relates how "Bush humbled every rider in Peloton One," while in the very next sentence quoting Bush as insisting that "this is not a race." Adair confirmed this insistence was one of the "rules for people who go mountain biking with him (Bush)." How can he Bush be "beating" and "humbling" his fellow riders if there is standing rule not to pass the him? How would anybody ever know whether or not somebody was capable of passing him?
As with anyone who contradicts the Bush Administration, Rule One is quickly marginalized by Ruibal who explains that the rule is really a quaint vestigium (much like the Geneva Convention) because "keeping up with Bush . . . was as difficult as any race I've entered." Let's hope that race wasn't the 12 Hours of Lodi Farms (Bib #5, Solo M category). Ruibal recounts how Bush dropped him by accelerating the pace to more than 20 MPH in "a very strong headwind." I don't care if it's on asphalt or not, making 20+ MPH in a very strong headwind on a mountain bike is very, very difficult. The account is careful not to mention how long Bush kept up this pace, but if it happened at all, I'm guessing it didn't last long. Living and riding in a very windy area as I do, I find this tale to be Texas-sized tall.
Then there's the riding partners. Ruibal's got some bike cred, but he's 51 and apparently his job requires a little more of his time than the POTUS's. Adair is clearly not in the best shape of his life (see photograph, blue jersey, far right). Who knows about the other journalists, if that's in fact what they were. And for laughs, let's just say the State Department official and her husband were total duffers. That still leaves a bicycle messenger and two SS agents. Now come on. A bike messenger is going to get humbled? Those cats are built for speed and endurance, it's how they make a living. They ride all day, every day. And what's the point of SS agents if they can't keep up? They're not going to offer much protection from 100 meters back. Of course they can keep up.
Again, image and reality just don't match up. This is reconfirmed by two of the only three pictures of this ride that have been made public. Both pictures prominently display Bush in front, but they also show him very closely followed by some strong-looking riders who don't appear to be suffering (and Adair, who is definitely suffering in both pictures).
Tucked into the end of Adair's story, far beyond the average reader's attention span, is the faint glint of truth. Adair writes, "Bush says he likes to ride at the front because he can set the pace. Besides, he's never been much of a follower." (Hasn't really been much of a leader either.)
And there you have it, if you're paying attention. The truth is not that Bush physically outperforms everybody that he rides with, it's that Bush the insecure, childish, control freak, won't allow anybody else to lead. Who's gonna argue with the POTUS? After all, as Bush himself noted earlier this month, "Power is being president."
Adair, who apparently got the "make Bush look like the latter-day, smoke-free, bicycle-riding Marlboro Man" straw to Ruibal's "make Bush look like Lance Armstrong with suspension" straw, peppered his account with Bush machismo. Words and phrases like "dangerous," "ripping," "a little bloody and a lot muddy," "lightning-fast," "nasty," and "tearing through the water like a kid on a Schwinn," help fuel the Bush cycling apotheosis.
Neither reporter offers much in the way of a description of Bush's technical skills. OK, the guy can hammer away on his pedals in a straight line, but there's more to mountain biking than just riding flat gravel roads as fast as you can. Ruibal hedges that "the president does prefer the speed zones to the technically difficult traverses up and over loose limestone and mud," but vaguely glosses this over by noting that "his abilities in that area are increasing rapidly." Yeah, well, that's like Bush insisting that the economy is getting better and we're meeting our training goals for Iraqi security forces -- let's have some concrete examples.
Adair accidentally provides some insight, but only for those who know what to look for. Trying to show Bush's bottomless soul, Adair tells how "about halfway into the ride, he (Bush) hops off his bike and leads the group over a footbridge and up a rocky path to a waterfall . . ." Let me stop you right there. Any mountain biker worth their salt right now is asking, "if he's such a hard-core mountain biker, why didn't he ride his bike up the rocky path to the waterfall?" because that type of riding is the true soul of mountain biking. As I've said before, Bush is a solid rider, but he's not as good as the Administration would have you believe.
The irony is that they don't even need to lie or exaggerate about his biking. Bush is a very solid rider. But Bush's handlers have had the hyperbole turned up to 11 since the first day Bush hopped on a bike, and now they've got nowhere left to go but Superhuman status. To achieve this, they cue up a ride with Lance Armstrong (brilliance by association) and make sure that both Adair and Ruibal leave nothing to inference.
Adair notes in his account of the ride, Bush's "resting heart rate is a Lance-like 47 beats per minute (BPM)." However, he should have checked with his peloton mate Ruibal, because ole Ruby blew the whole Bush-is-just-like-Lance comparison right out of the water by noting in his article that Armstrong's resting heart rate is 32 BPM. Hmm, 47 minus 32 equals 15 BPM difference. Ruibal further notes that the average adult male has a resting heart rate of 68 BPM. OK, 68 minus 47 equals 21 BPM difference. So I would have conceded this point if Adair had said that Bush's standing heart rate was closer to Lance's than to the average adult male, but to call a difference of 15 BPM "Lance-like" is being disingenous. I'm not saying Adair is a stooge for the Administration, but I'm sure influence was exerted on him in some way to make the connection to Lance.
This Administration has proven time and time again that it's word cannot be taken at face value, and the image they've crafted for Bush the Cyclist is just another example of this. As both a devout empiricist and a lifelong cynic, I will believe only what I see it with my own eyes when it comes to Bush's true cycling ability.
Invite me along for a ride Bike Guy, and I promise to offer the world an impartial, objective analysis of your mountain biking skills. I am man enough to admit when I am wrong, and I'm also secure enough in who I am to accept humility. Are you? Come on, it's a win-win for you. If you kick my ass out there, you'll cement your legacy as The Mountain Biker President, and if you don't quite match up to the hype, well you'll probably earn the respect of at least a few Democrats just for having the guts to give reality a chance for once.
|Mileage: 27.8||Time: 2:47:32||Avg: 9.9||Max: 29.3||Weight: 164.0|
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