Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong

I've never had many heroes, plenty of people I admire but few I'd call heroes. Lance Armstrong was one, a man who beat cancer then went on to win the toughest sporting event in the world. To see him fall from grace makes me sad rather than angry. What makes me angry are the people jumping on the 'let's crucify Armstrong the drug cheat' bandwagon.

In recent years I've lost count of the number of cycling books I've read, especially books about Le Tour, I recommend some of those on the current bandwagon read a few before they continue pontificating. I suggest especially Tyler Hamilton's autobiography The Secret Race, David Millar's autobiography Racing Through the Dark and David Walsh's The Seven Deadly Sins. Walsh is the journalist who initially, way back when Armstrong won his first tour, tried to expose his cheating, Millar served a ban for drug use as did Hamilton, a long time colleague of Armstrong's.

Armstrong has now admitted doping and has stated that he will have to spend the rest of his life apologising. It seems that his confession, and in all likelihood having to return millions in prize money, sponsorship and money received from successful past libel victories, not least against The Times, is not enough for the mob. The mob seems to want blood and won't be happy until Armstrong is dangling from a tree in Texas.

Yes he has now admitted using performance enhancing drugs. But most of the peleton throughout the nineties and up until recently were using performance enhancing drugs. That doesn't make it right, but many riders, such as Millar and many others, were eventually seduced into using drugs as they knew they could not achieve what they were worthy of otherwise. They saw rider after rider with less talent leaving them behind because they were not using drugs. Eventually they gave into temptation and many cyclists have faced bans at best, death at worst from using illegal substances.

Armstrong, as in everything in his life, was just the most clever, maybe the most cunning at doing what was almost institutional in professional cycling. Yes he was a bully in attempting to cover his tracks and his treatment of Betsy Andreu, wife of former teammate Frankie, and others was unforgivable. But few sporting champions are known for being soft and cuddly. They are invariably single minded, ruthless and have one interest, winning. This often translates into arrogance, bullying and a lack of consideration for others.

Sadly numerous Tour winners have been stripped of their titles after failing drug tests, not just Armstrong. In most years a new winner could not have been handed the title as so many behind the winner were eventually found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs too. Many previous winners, not stripped of their titles, admitted in later years using banned substances. Armstrong wasn't the first and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Armstrong has finally admitted his offences and could now face financial ruin and possibly even prison for previously swearing under oath that he had never used performance enhancing drugs. He must now cooperate with the authorities, rather than the pathetic Oprah Winfrey, and finally spill the beans on everything, going back to his career before he had cancer.

We must also remember that except for the dogged determination of USADA Armstrong would never have been outed and lost his Tour and Olympic titles in the first place. If he'd been from a country other than the USA he would probably still be feted as one of the greatest athletes we've ever seen, a seven times Tour de France winner. The US authorities must be congratulated for that, just as the UCI role in doping, especially Armstrong's should be independently investigated.

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