Friday, July 31, 2009
Adventures in Rumor-Mongering
Guess what? Francisco Mancebo apparently isn’t going to ride for Caisse d’Epargne. Peter Hymas, of Bobke Strut and (more currently and relevantly) of cyclingnews.com, wrote to reveal that the inclusion of Mancebo in the Caisse d’Epargne start list for the Clasica San Sebastian was an uploading error in the site’s content management system. It seems that, in its effort to hyperlink each rider’s name to their bio page, the database failed to recognize an exact match for Francisco Perez Sanchez’s name, panicked, and sucked both Perez's and Mancebo’s names into the initial start list.
I, obviously, am crushed by this development. Not because I care terribly about where Mancebo rides, but because it marks my early departure from the number one media sport of the post-Tour season: rumor-mongering. Even though I feel like the first guy out in a game of musical chairs (or maybe the second guy out), it was a good run and I can’t complain. I’ve learned a lot from the big cycling media guns over the years regarding this particular pursuit, and put all that knowledge to work in my Mancebo-rama over the last several days. I'm still falling a little short, but since I’m moving steadily towards my dotage, I feel the need to pass along what I’ve learned so that others might take my place in the game when I've shuffled off this mortal coil.
So, we bring you the Service Course’s Guide to Creating an Effective Cycling Rumor:
- Make it at least marginally of believable.
This step is the most important, because if it’s not somewhat believable, it’s not a rumor, it’s an Onion article – “Contador to Ride Next Tour as an Independent” simply won’t work. In our example, the parties involved made it pretty easy pickin's. Rock Racing tends to have a lot of strange and unscheduled turnover, as evidenced by Mario Cipollini’s arrival and departure, the departures of Chris Baldwin and Mike Creed after being involuntarily demoted to amateur status, and the recent re-arrival of Ivan Dominguez. So Mancebo's sudden departure wouldn't have been a stretch at all, and since Caisse d’Epargne has so much history with Mancebo, it was a perfect match. It isn’t always so easy to make your rumor believable, though – just look at all those folks trying to dream up legitimate reasons that Andy Schleck would want to go ride for Radio Shack.
- Find a catalyst that exists in the real world, outside of your own head.
In the Internet age, people are all high and mighty about demanding a “link” for whatever you’re claiming, so it’s far more difficult to pull off a good, old fashioned “we heard that…” rumor. In this case, the cyclingnews.com San Sebastian start list was a great springboard. Granted, it was a small hook and very short-lived, but bigger news has been presaged by less in the past. Yesterday, people were citing an Andy Schleck “tweet” mentioning Armstrong and presenting it as a sign that he was really going to go to Radio Shack, proving that, like some sort of digital MacGyver, you really can just use whatever’s handy. I originally looked at the start list to find out which members of different Astana camps would be riding together at San Sebastian and see what I might be able to make out of that, but then something better floated by.
- Present both sides, and try to sound rational.
If you want people to embrace your rumor, you can’t just go straight in, ranting and raving about how it's totally true, and just you wait, ‘cause it’s gonna happen. You have to show how and why it could have some validity, but you also have to mention how it could be complete bullshit. This is especially important if you’re a relatively major media outlet. In the Mancebo case, we provided the eventual undoing of the rumor right in the first post on the subject, and fleshed it out a bit more in yesterday’s post by noting again that Mancebo bears a name that’s fairly similar to someone already on Caisse d’Epargne’s roster for San Sebastian, which could easily cause a mixup on the start list. From there, though, it’s important to bury your caveat in all sorts of accepted facts that seem to reinforce your rumor, but really don’t have much to do with it at all. Sort of like how Contador proved it’s impossible to be a GC contender and ride on Armstrong’s team, but everyone still chatters on about how Andy Schleck could potentially learn from all of Armstrong’s experience if he went to Radio Shack. Seven Tours wins! And nine for Bruyneel! Improve your time trial! How could he say no?
- Never get into the details.
When is Mancebo’s contract with Rock Racing up? Does he have an out clause that would let him sign for a ProTour team should the opportunity arise? Since you can’t make a roster change on a continental team after June 29 without getting an individual review, could this whole mess even have been sorted out by San Sebastian? Could Caisse d’ Epargne even hire another rider, or are they already up to the UCI’s roster limit? Who cares? You can’t let yourself get bogged down in that stuff. Just push ahead, knowing that the sport’s rules are so poorly constructed and inconsistently applied that your rumor has the same veracity regardless of the answers to any of those questions. Besides, people on message boards love to look all that stuff up, so you might as well let them do the heavy lifting. You could cover yourself, if you’re so inclined, with something breezy like, “It might not be legal, but we haven't looked into that part.”
- Milk it.
If you’ve put in this much effort into developing a rumor, you need to get at least two articles out of it, preferably more, before someone who actually knows the truth steps in and puts things straight. If that means pounding away at it day after day until everyone involved has weighed in, so be it. Which brings us to…
- In the words of the great Hunter S. Thompson, “make the bastards deny it.”
When you first debut a good rumor, it’s essential to be able to say you’ve contacted some of the parties involved. Note that I did not say you had to have actually reached them or talked to them. That’s something else entirely, and in fact, actual contact is downright detrimental to the rumor process. In the Mancebo case, we contacted both Rock Racing and the press agent for Caisse d’Epargne. We still haven’t heard back from either of them, which for rumor-mongering purposes is absolutely perfect. Just look at how Andy and Frank Schleck’s father/agent went and ruined all the Radio Shack fun by simply stating that the brothers had another year on their Riis Cycling contracts that they were going to honor. For our rumor, we got a surprise third-party denial, which afforded our Mancebo rumor only a short, two-day lifespan. I have to admit, I did not see that coming. Well played, Hymas.
See, it’s simple. Next year, you won’t simply have to piggyback off the mainstream rumors developed by others – you have everything you need to construct your own. Or heck, have a go at it right now, there’s still a month left until September 1, when everyone’s allowed to go public with talk about transfers and ruin all the fun.
Seriously though, what’s so appealing about hammering away at the whispers and rumors every year after the Tour is over? Why do the big sites even bother, when they’re going to be wrong most of the time? Simple – it’s the perpetual pursuit of that one shining instance when you notice or overhear that little something, write about it, and then it turns out to be dead right. And you’re the first to be right about it. There’s nothing better.
So remember, if Mancebo does somehow end up at Caisse d’Epargne, you heard it here first.
So hey, did you hear that Johann Museeuw is pondering a comeback with Quickstep? I didn't hear that either but if you give me 15 minutes to type it out and hit 'publish' on my blog, you will have heard it, and I think you'll be safe to run with it.