Thoughts on Lance or Why I Don't Really Care If He Doped

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last May (2010) a firestorm erupted when Floyd Landis admitted to doping to win the 2006 Tour de France. He’d tested positive, been to trial to clear his name and failed. Most cycling fans believed him guilty and a few held out hope that perhaps he was the victim of poor science. All that came to an abrupt conclusion when he admitted his guilt.

However, the story did not end there, since then he has made allegations concerning Lance Armstrong and several former members of the USPS cycling team. Tyler Hamilton also has made allegations, but he too like Floyd is a disgraced former rider. I applaud both of them for coming clean, but to me it seems a bit like sour grapes and or a publicity stunt.

Those that know me well enough to know that cycling is a big passion of mine have asked me over the course of the last year what I think of this story. Specifically do I think Lance cheated? As someone who discovered the sport of cycling through him, his exploits have always had a special place for me and his battle to return to a sport where no one wanted him inspired me in a situation I went through in grad school.

I discovered the sport of cycling through him; prior to 2004 I had heard of Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France and Greg LeMond but never took an interest. In fact, I had thought that because he rode for the US Postal Service Team, that he was a mailman who competed in the Tour like other people compete in the Olympics! I didn’t realize cycling was a sport of professional athletes. It had been close to ten years since I had regularly ridden a mountain bike. Then one July day I saw the finish of stage 17 where Lance came from several hundred meters back and beat Andreas Kloden (Team T-Mobile) to the line. From that moment I was hooked. I’d played little league (not very well) and followed the Red Sox, but I knew I could ride a bike, but I didn’t know they could be ridden like that. I got It’s Not About The Bike and became a fan and lucky for me an uncle owns a bike shop so I was able to get into the sport at a cost that was a bit less than it would have been for someone else.

So by now you might be asking yourself, okay so what is the point of this? Well I’ve noticed that there are two Lance camps divided between those who dislike and believe he doped and those who go beyond the fanboy mentality. I would fall into the grey area somewhere in between. As someone who grew to love the sport beyond just one rider I’d categorize myself as being on the fence. Now I’ve seen all the pro Lance material and read the books. I’ve also read the Ashenden Interview and read what Betsy Andreu has stated. I’d like to think that I’ve been presented with as much evidence as is possible and because as an archaeologist I was trained to look at the facts and from there come to a conclusion that I would be able to. However I still can’t decide, maybe part of me doesn’t want to come to a decision.

And in reading the Ashenden interview on NYVelocity I got to wondering was there ever any background on why Damien Ressiot from L’Equipe was doing the article in 2005 and needed Lance’s dope control test results? I guess for me I’d like to know what came first the tests or the original article. What was the intent of the article as originally intended? And maybe this will never be known now. The point I’ve read both here and I believe in the Ashenden Interview being that the lab didn’t know whose urine they were testing, but if the reporter got the test results back first he could have passed that information along.

And of course there is the argument that if everyone else was doing it, was it cheating. This point I know has been brought up as well as the argument that EPO wasn't banned back then. This is similar to the arguments for & against both Barry Bonds & Mark McGwire in relation to the home run record and Major League Baseball's abysmal stance on doping and PEDs.

I basically reduce my feelings on the subject matter to this. The Tour has to some extent always been dirty. Regardless of what Henri Desgrange intended, in fact one could argue it was his puritanical and almost sadomasochistic rules that forced the riders to cheat. Go back and look at early Tours, the riders were hard men that had to do whatever they could to survive. Long before Floyd Landis was stripped of his crown Maurice Garin was stripped of his tour victory for cheating – he took rides on trains. During the Golden Age of cycling, post WWII, Gino Bartali would send riders to inspect the hotel room of his great rival Fausto Coppi, to see what sort of medicinal aids were in the trash. I believe it was Jacques Anquetil, first five time winner of the Tour that said, the Tour cannot be won on water. Doping has always been a part of cycling and only in the last 13 years or so has it become something that is discussed in the open and treated harshly.

Lance from an early age was a gifted athlete, of that there is no doubt, just research his triathlon career. The cancer changed his body mass. Look at early pictures of him from his Motorola days and compare those pictures to his USPS period and you’ll notice a heavier rider early on. The guy had an engine and a massive chip on his shoulder, which allowed him to win. Did he seek out other ways to ensure victory, maybe, but so did others and in the end he still beat them.

When I got into the sport of cycling in 2005, for me it was all about Lance. I got a Trek because Lance rode Trek. I got a Giro helmet because of how they supported him during his cancer treatment. I got other gear all because Lance used it and then when he retired I looked for other cycling stars to follow and that is when I really fell in love with the sport. At the same time and over subsequent years I found that it was his engine and determination more so than the gear that mattered. In cycling, high end gear differences really come down to the riders engine. Case in point, Fabian Cancellara, 4x World Time Trial Champion, Swiss TT Champion and Olympic TT Champion, has ridden several different brands of bicycles to his aforementioned victories. And so I became less of a fanboy and a more balanced fan of cycling, I fell in love and delved into the history of the sport and the athletes that make it up – past & present.

So honestly, I don’t care one way or the other if he doped. He was still the better athlete and put on a great show. Lest we forget professional sports is entertainment, no matter what we’d like to think. And part of me thinks this investigation is based on sour grapes. With all the food recalls we hear about, shouldn’t the FDA be worried about that and not a guy that brought hope to millions of people and provided an entertaining spectacle? During the seven year period that he ruled over the Tour, he only had one instance of bad luck (2003 on the climb to Luz Ardiden), which in itself is a record. Thus even if he doped I don’t care, because he wasn’t the first and he wasn’t the last. He put 110% into the Tour and winning it and did just that and in the process brought hope to millions of people, not just cancer patients/ survivors but to anyone that has ever been laid low by something and told you can’t.

He said I can and he did.
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