Here’s the way I see it. There are seven yellow jerseys to give away. One for each year that Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France victories because of doping. Amazingly enough, the International Cycling Union has no one to step up on the podium and receive the seven jerseys in Armstrong’s place. Why? Speculation is that it was just too darn hard to figure out who was clean. The investigating agency said that nearly everyone was dirty for years. Really? Not exactly the role models we wanted for little Sarah and Jimmy as they bike on the Bill Riley Trail.
Okay, but did the International Cycling Union consider awarding the jerseys to someone who is a good role model? Listen, I’m willing to even rely for this selection process on the criteria that Armstrong wrote about in his book It’s Not About the Bike. He claimed one has to work hard to be a great cyclist; and that he worked harder than anyone else. Fine. If we take away the “it’s not about the bike, it’s all about me” portion of this, aren’t we left with the message of “hard work makes a winner”? But, if this is what it takes for the Cycling Union to award the jerseys, I think they might have missed Russell. You know, the guy at the Gateway Market Meat Department.
Russell works with meat. He started cutting meat when he was 14 or 15 years old for his mom and dad’s grocery store down across the Missouri border from Lineville, Iowa. He has been in training at various jobs for the past 40 years. Did you get that? Fourteen thousand six hundred days of training. Yup, count ‘em.
If you’re looking for him, he’s at work at 6:30 in the morning, laying out and cutting fresh meat and fish. He works nine to ten-hour days taking care of the meat counter, the fish counter, and the kitchen for the restaurant and deli. He’s also the manager of his team of five. This means on these holidays when you’re sitting around with your family, Russell is at work. Putting meat on your table.
Perhaps you question whether Russell has the chops to compete with the edginess of an Armstrong. Well, Russell told me with a deadpan delivery and a twinkle forming in the corner of his eyes: “I think I have the best-looking meat case in town.” My oh my — did Russell just talk smack? I think he did. Russell laughed at himself, leaned into me and said softly: “My mom and dad expected me to do it the right way — it’s what I do.”
Husband, and father of two grown children, he has provided for his family over all these years without a single allegation of doping. But, come on, working so hard, it has to be a drag on your soul, right? “I love what I do,” Russell said in that plain midwestern seriousness. “I really do.”
I’m thinking Russell would look good in a yellow jersey. One for each day of the week. And, by the way, if not the Champs-Élysées, maybe he should take a victory lap or two around the Gateway parking lot. I’d toss him a rose.