The Truth Shall Set You Free-A Spectator's Lance Armstrong Perspective
This week’s blog is not about hashing over the ongoing and disappointing Lance Armstrong scandal. I hesitated even addressing it in this forum since it’s being covered ad nauseum in the 24 hour media spin cycle known as the “news”. But, Spinning®’s roots are in road riding and the indoor and outdoor cycling world have always been inextricably linked. It’s also so personal for me that I wanted to put my thoughts into words.
Let me first make it clear that I no longer consider myself to be a Lance apologist, although I was formerly one of his greatest admirers and stubbornly clung to the glimmer of hope that there was a slim chance the truth wasn’t as bad as it is (this is the same mentality that leads me to buy a Powerball ticket whenever the jackpot is over $100 million, there’s always a chance!). I was the last of my friends to stop believing in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus in college my youth.
George Hincapie was my last straw in believing the myth, as it was for many of his fans hopeful to the bitter bitter end. Although those us who watched the Oprah interview last night knew ahead of time the gist of the I’ll say anything to save my ass confession it was another thing to actually see and hear the once mighty giant confronted with and (somewhat) admitting to his lies, bullying, cheating.
My story with Lance began in 2001. I’d been teaching Spinning for a few years by then but had very little interest or experience in riding outdoors. I was teaching ninth grade special education at a local high school and was recruited to join their fundraising ride team for the Tour de Cure (an annual charity ride for the American Diabetes Association). I rode the 110 miles route solo on a hybrid (with very little prior outdoor riding experience, thank you Spinning®). As a result, my classes started to change and I began to incorporate more outdoor terminology and terrain now that I had a better understanding of what riding a bike on the road actually felt like. More outdoor cyclists began taking my classes and I was invited to join a small group of local cyclists planning to attend the 2003 Tour de France (TDF) with their bicycles and ride several stages. I knew what the Tour de France was in general but I had never watched it on television and I barely knew who Lance Armstrong was, even though he’d already won 4 TDF’s by then. I took a deep breath, said yes to the trip. In July 2003 I found myself in the French Alps in the midst of screaming crowds, slowly slogging my way up mountain peaks that ended in the clouds, on a newly built Cannondale that cost more than I’d earned as a graduate student the previous fiscal year. I felt completely out of my league and terrified out of my mind. I was also having the time of my life. It was then that I got swept up in Lance fever. There were plenty of Americans at the TDF in 2003, but nowhere near the crowds of ’04 and ’05 (Lance’s final win #7). I returned to ride in the ’04 TDF and again in ’06, which was Floyd Landis’s thrilling victory year. I’ve since returned to see stages of le Tour in both 2011 and 2012, but it was a completely different experience as a spectator (more on that to come in future blogs).
It’s hard to describe in brevity what Lance fever meant to me. Those of you who have been afflicted with it (note past tense) perhaps can relate. His story transcended a biography of a great athlete and team leader with an epically triumphant comeback from the brink of death. It had all of the elements of a modern day fairy tale, with the European cycling conglomerate cast in the role of the antagonist.
I was never that much into sports as an enthusiast or participant before cycling, but I grew up with a diehard sports fan father. He’s been a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan since the 1960s. Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around the great fun of watching Dad watching a football game. He’d jump, scream, and flail around when any of the following events occurred: (1) a bad call was made, (2) a bad play occurred, (3) a good play occurred, or (4) points were scored--that would usually involve picking me up and joyously swinging me around the room (woo hoo!) From my Dad I learned about the concept of unflinching and longstanding loyalty to a team, whether they were winning or losing. For those of you who follow football, the Buffalo Bills are not an easy team to love, yet they have a passionate and dedicated fan base firmly entrenched in the culture of western New York. Fair weather fans are scoffed at & reviled as not being true fans (foreshadowing).
When I joined cycling culture in 2003 Lance was easy to admire, already an established champion. I had few illusions or doubts about his well-publicized arrogant & cocky attitude, but I felt that his professional achievements outweighed whatever personality flaws he had. I never particularly liked him as a person but I looked up to what I thought was the iconic hero and athlete.
Even as the House of Lies began to collapse years ago I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I honestly believe in everyone’s right to claim innocence until guilt is proven, call me a gullible fool. I also felt the same way about Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis throughout their scandals, which made it hard for me to find credence in their Lance doping accusations after so vehemently declaring their own innocence of doping.
I watched last night’s interview with my older sister, and she asked me this morning what I thought of it. I said, “I don’t think he was contrite enough. He was arrogant without the necessary degree of groveling I expected would occur. He’s beyond excuses at this point.” Her take on it was very different from mine. She has no interest in outdoor cycling, has never watched the Tour de France, and has a passing interest in this saga from a current events perspective. She responded, ‘I don’t think he has it in him to be contrite. To me, hearing him speak for the first time, it seemed like he was just being himself, and I was OK with that.”
I can’t call myself a Lance Armstrong fan anymore. I feel a great deal of sympathy for his numerous victims and his children, all of whom will have to deal with the repercussions of his selfish actions for the rest of their lives. I don’t hate him, I’m disappointed but it’s not like it’s about the bike me. I know I don’t know the whole story of what occurred and I doubt very few people do. Vilifying Lance doesn’t do much for guaranteeing the seemingly widespread cycling doping culture that existed prior to 2009 won’t flourish again, especially with the ongoing development of new performance enhancements that current tests will have to catch up with (hello Information Age and nanotechnology).
I do find distasteful the individuals who seem to take great pleasure in having been “right all along”, as if they were riding shotgun on team busses as a front row spectator of group doping sessions and could verify firsthand the widespread doping that occurred for decades. I put these people in the same class of those who show up at public executions to watch the condemned get what they deserve—that’s not about justice, it’s about being the first person to be right, and making sure everyone else knows it. Unless you were once of Lance’s victims, why behave like there was a personal offense committed? I feel those individuals directly involved with the cycling teams, families, or LiveStrong have every right to be outraged and express it in which ever way they see fit. My recommendation to others is to engage in introspection about their own role in making the world a better place.
I was not personally impacted by his arrogant bullying and ruthless vendettas. My sense of justice is that individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty and I trusted in the system to catch cheaters. I fell for the myth, and that fairy tale has evaporated. What is not gone for me however, is how my life changed for the better as a result of what I must acknowledge Lance Armstrong as an icon represented to me (even if it was based on a lie). I credit him for helping me fall in love with road cycling and for being a catalyst for the changes I ultimately made that reinvented my life for the better. Cheating or no cheating, I owe you thanks jerk Lance, and I'm OK with that.
I don’t think most people are all good or all bad. He is obviously a deeply flawed individual and he should spend the rest of his life making amends for his actions (in a just world he will). I hope he’s able to channel his anger and regrets into more selflessly productive pursuits out of the public eye. Perhaps it's more likely to see him return to pop celebrity status as the VIP athlete of honor should the Kardashians ever decide to sponsor a marathon, or if Honey Boo Boo Trains for the Ironman with Mama June and Papa Lance gets picked up by TLC (currently in pre-conceptual development). Those $75 million in product endorsements he whined about noted losing in the 2 days after the kaka hit the fan will have to get replaced somehow, and I doubt Nike will come knocking on his door anytime soon. Let's see if he takes the smart/high road and puts his double (as opposed to triple) digit million dollar personal fortune to good charitable use to make amends and restore his tattered shattered reputation, not because it looks good, but because it's the right thing to do. If you're the son of a struggling single mother who can't manage as an adult to live on several millions of dollars (from an estimated personal worth of several tens of millions of dollars) in personal earnings & income, it is time to seriously re-evaluate your life.
Handlers: please add that note to Armstrong's ongoing self re-evaluation "to do" list & keep me posted.
I’m cautiously optimistic about his ability to truly change, but on rare occasion it does actually happen-winning Powerball ticket anyone?. Please Lance, surprise me. Be that one in one hundred seventy five million bet.