If you saw my little write-up about my Mount Mitchell adventure, you can probably guess that I know my way around a bicycle. Cycling may not titilate the average American sports psyche, but I love it – and it’s a hard and demanding sport. So what has come to light about Lance Armstrong recently and the avalanche of testimony the USADA got from former teammates is really no surprise to me. At the risk of sounding smug, knowing the history of the Tour de France as I do, someone who comes out of no where and dominates the field for seven consecutive years is probably doing something illegal, but I was content to allow the governing agencies to catch him in the act. And now the wall has finally and officially come crashing down on Armstrong’s head as he has been stripped of his Tour titles.
My astonishment is in Armstrong not seeing how this Faustian bargain would play out. For as smart as Armstrong allegedly was in his ability to evade capture in his doping shenanigans, his success depended largely on the honor of thieves. Cycling is a big-money sport in Europe and the prime mover for these riders is money; eventually someone would rat him out if just to make a few more bucks on a book deal – Heaven forbid if someone actually held a grudge. Apparently Armstrong had the type-A personality that would piss people off. I had a very bad feeling about Armstrong’s stunt at his last Tour win when he spoke to the crowd and admonished the French press for not buying into the Armstrong propaganda circus. Karma is, indeed, a bitch and now the French press – those who were portrayed as having unreasonable hatred for the American rider – can feel vindicated. Too many other riders got caught; too many of the guilty watched as Armstrong skated on his undeserved good name. The cheaters helped build Armstrong up, they were the ones with the power to tear him down. My only real regret is that Frankie Andreu was the only one who told the truth long before the USADA got hold of this.
I appreciate what Armstrong did for cancer research, but people will always donate to worthy causes of that kind. My concern is for cycling. I had hoped after the Festina raid that cycling would finally get serious about ensuring riders were clean. Obviously this was no where near the case. This is doubly difficult in America, where cycling is more the object of scorn from self-important drivers who can’t wrap their heads around sharing road space, but also in who wants to follow a sport where the vast number of top contenders were breaking the rules? I will, of course, not mention other professional sports where the sheer size of some of its participants could only come from non-chemically-assisted means, right? They scrupulously drug test for HGH, don’t they?
And this comes down to the key factor in all of this: the goal of professional sports is to make money; I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. Part of making that money is reasonably ensuring to the sport’s enthusiasts that the competition is on the level, but also knowing when to look the other way if a compelling story garners sufficient interest. Armstrong’s story, if nothing else, was compelling. I just feel bad for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen for having to preside over the farce, because they are very excellent cycling commentators.