14 July 2012
Most fans of professional cycling are aware of the continuing and growing pursuit of Lance Armstrong by the USADA, the American anti-doping agency. Bill Strickland, a journalist who followed Lance for years and became close to him during that time, wrote an article at Bicycling.com in which he implies that someone in the know (Lance? someone else?) has all but admitted that doping happened during his career.
I've been chewing over my own thoughts on the matter, hoping to collect them in a blog article. Commenter "BLeitch", however, left a comment on the above-mentioned article that pretty much summarizes my opinion (except the first paragraph, as I am a particular fan of Lance, and always will be.)
Here's a reprint of that comment:
I am not a particular fan or defender of Lance. I would rather see an old tape of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Rolf Sorenson battling Miguel and Claudio. But the situation is not nearly as wrenching or difficult as described in the article or commented upon above. Some simple facts:
Lance did something no one else has ever done in history. He won 7 tours.
Podium finishers have been doping since at least the sixties...probably earlier. All of his competitors on the podium were admitted or convicted dopers.
No competitor has called him a "cheater" in a competition. The concept of "cheating" requires "non-cheating" competing riders who might have won had you not "cheated." A doper is not a cheater when everyone in the top twenty in GC has doped. The second and third place guys do not think of themselves as losing cheaters—just as less successful than the guy who won.
Either he did something truly and completely unthinkable—won seven tours while all the competition was doping and he wasn't—or he did something almost as amazing, but more comprehensible—won seven tours in a row preparing in basically the same way everyone else prepares pharmaceutically, but with more focus and diligence in every other area. There is no conceivable argument that what he did in winning seven tours is not amazing, even if one assumes the doping. Nobody else in history could do it or has done it. Hundreds of guys, at least, have doped trying to do it.
The reason he won seven tours in a row is not that he may have been taking performance enhancing drugs—you could give the same drugs to most of the peloton without the same result ( and it is proven that many people did receive the same drugs and didn't get the same result)—the reason he got the results is that he was extraordinary and his team and preparation were extraordinary.
As extraordinary as Lance was, it is important to keep his success in context. He wasn't a great Classics winner or a winner of the Giro or the Vuelta. He is very impressive in the Tour, but there is a long list of guys from the past who were more impressive on an all-around basis, when you take into account the other grand tours and the Classics. As an all-around bicycle racer he is not in the same galaxy as Eddie.
Not any of those more impressive guys have begun to do as much as Lance has done outside of cycling. Whatever you think of his cycling accomplishments, his accomplishments in funding cancer research and awareness are truly extraordinary and his likely doping (as opposed to cheating) doesn't take away from that in any way. (If a guy funded as much cancer research and awareness based on counting cards in Vegas, would that detract from his greatness on matters relating to cancer?)
A true cycling fan will love Lance for what he has done and what he is still doing. What he has done and is doing is not subject to any further investigation or debate.
Celebrate and honor what Lance has done. You can dwell on the other stuff if you want to, or you can get the same feeling by reading the tabloid press about any celebrity (much of which is also true but does not detract from the amazing things done by some of its subjects).
Whether or not Lance ever once took performance enhancing drugs in his life has pretty much no bearing on any of the foregoing.