Three things make my heart beat faster with anticipation: News from the cycling world, brilliantly useful critiques about higher education, and compositional artistry from scholars I respect. And leave it to the fabulous Kate Bowles to bring all three together for me after four days off the grid. My bloated inbox, job applications/inquiries, reports, and mounting list of reading all be damned! I must respond.
First of all, you need to read Service as Service, her post from August 2, 2015 since this post is the beginning of a longer response.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “abandoned” since I watched Fabian Cancellera and Tejay van Garderen “abandon” the tour. They are not the only riders who had to leave via the broom wagon, but they are the ones whose absence haunted me the most this year during Le Tour de France. Cancellera saddened me because he’s such a classy skilled rider and his 2010 wins of Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders were exciting and beautiful watch. I was especially impressed with how he handled accusations about his victories. Rumor had it that he had a special bike with a motor to increase his speed. It was the technology not his ability that got the rumor mill spinning. He tested negative for doping, so his bike must be dirty.
At the time, it seemed like a nice way to divert the negative press about doping. Allegations were rampant, denials were cocky, and everyone was suspicious of a rider who takes off at the front. In short, if you were winning, you must be cheating.
VeloNation Press in 2010 quotes Cancellera and gives some context to how he felt about the accusations:
The Swiss rider said that the story is laughable. Almost. “In fact, it’s pretty funny but it is such a big story that it’s no longer the case. It’s a sad story and really outrageous. Don’t worry, my accomplishments are the result of hard work,” said Cancellara.
Whether the motor was his legs or some ingenious hidden motor in his bike frame has been debated ad nauseum by fans and the press. Every bike mechanic I know laughed at the accusations and I agree with them. We need Fabian’s Magic Bike and we’ll win, we joked. But really, it’s his hard work that gives him the fitness and grace to ride a bike that way. He’s an interesting rider because he has not enjoyed the team support that some of his rivals have yet he’s incredibly popular with fans. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I started watching cycling news regularly, so I was devastated to see his name listed as an “abandoned rider.”
This also made me question why they use the word “abandoned” and I have not looked up the history of this term in cycling. If you know it, I’d love to learn. When I looked up the term abandoned, in the dictionary, they give us three definitions:
: to leave and never return to (someone who needs protection or help)
: to leave and never return to (something)
We need to recognise that service time that isn’t costed is human time that isn’t valued. So until we properly cost all the services that universities have committed us to delivering, we’re going to be sprinting over the mountains in a broken peloton, endlessly trying to prove ourselves against those nearest to us.
Let’s keep thinking together about what it will take to slow this down. Even professional cycling costs the labour of the domestique.
Yes, and I think that’s the honest truth of it. We’re a broken peloton.
Before I can take on adjunct labor, higher education’s broken peloton, and the wonderful reading that Kate and others have proposed, I have to write about Nicole Cooke. Of all the stories in cycling, Cooke’s story is inspiring and pretty awful. While reading Kate’s post, I thought of Cooke.
On the one hand, what is written about her attitude chaps me as sexism. (She’s a bossy competitive woman, and the like). While on the other hand, I find her rage quite productive and honest. Um, hello, you don’t win a gold medal and world championship by being soft and kinda whimpy.
Nicole Cooke’s “Great Haul of China” in 2008 with her gold medal in Beijing is not as impressive as her stance on doping. When she retired, she said some brilliant critiques about how some cheaters were now profiting off of their stories in the form of memoirs. Here’s what she said about Lance Armstrong:
And when Lance Armstrong ‘cries’ on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards – just shattered dreams,” she added. “Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.”
And this from the same link about Tyler Hamilton’s memoir:
Please don’t reward people like Hamilton with money. That is the last thing he needs. Donate his literary prize and earnings to charity. There are many places infinitely more deserving than the filthy hands of Hamilton.
Ouch, but double-damn, she’s spot on. In essence, the cheaters are winning again by selling their stories. Cooke is the only cyclist I’ve seen tell like it is from a woman’s perspective:
I have been robbed by drugs cheats, but am fortunate, I am here with more in my basket and more jerseys than I dreamed off as a 12-year-old girl. But for many people who do ride clean, some are going through horrific financial turmoil.
And there’s a connection here that I promise I will try to bring together about adjunct labor, to companies trying to profit off of students, and the maddening role that educational technology is playing in destroying anything that even looks like a peloton.
Here’s the thing. For now. Here’s the thing:
I thought about the word abandon in another context a bit last week as I finished applying for several jobs. I have one file marked “Snowball In Hell” (these are jobs I know I won’t get), one stack is “Morals Be Damned” (think money not happiness for at least three-five years), and the other file is “Beach Boys” (as in Wouldn’t It Be Nice). These file names make me feel better, but really all of it just made me so completely sick of writing about myself, my accomplishments, and all that jazz.
I shared my exhaustion-and-I’m -glad-I’m-not-an-adjunct sigh over dinner with my friends. I was asked, “Why don’t you abandon a career in higher education and do something else?”
You know, like it’s that easy. I honestly didn’t know what to say other than, “I can’t see myself anywhere else. I love teachers, students, and learning.”
Kate writes again about the peloton, and I’ve edited this section:
When work itself becomes scarce, when whole professions vanish into the sinkholes of technology and automation, then the power to limit expectations of service shift decisively…
…because there is no guiding intelligence holding back the whole academic peleton from hurtling forwards at a pace that only a very few can sustain.
And that section was an answer for me that I didn’t have over dinner. I suppose I don’t abandon a career in higher education because I’m concerned about those sinkholes, automation, labor, and the pace that Kate has brought to our attention. Cycling, after all is a tour and a destination, and the clock causes the wins and losses.
And maybe I am so naive and stupidly optimistic, but I think these three questions below help me see why I can’t abandon the peloton.
How can we make things better? Why does it have to be this way? What can I do to help?
So I’ll take these questions, do some reading, think a bit, and then I’ll write some more. And then I’m going to ride my bike and think. This is by no means a full fledged blog post with a main point. It’s just my way saying Chapeau to Kate. And others who write about this issue. Who care. Who care to see a different peloton where the GC is on par with the domestique. A different time.
For now, I’ll leave you with a favorite quote of mine from the great French cyclist, Jacques Anquetil, on his feelings about winning a race by twelve sections.
He replied: It was eleven more than necessary.