July 8, 2012
If you're not aware, the Lance Armstrong doping saga has gained new life. Several of his old teammates, including George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, will be coming forward after the Tour to point the finger at Armstrong and to acknowledge their own abuses, joining Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton in piling up the evidence against big Tex.
As I was watching the Tour tonight, I reflected on this and realized that I couldn't possibly care less of his guilt or innocence. Does it really matter at this point? He's retired.
Now let me go on record and say that I of course do not condone performance enhancing drugs among athletes. Except of course unless we're talking about Tom Boonen getting all coked up in a club and dancing his little Euro heart out, do your thing party boy. I'd also like to add that this anti performance enhancing thing is especially relevant as the human race gets closer to getting on some 5 Million Dollar Man shit.
Any sane person will tell you, athletes should compete natural.
Everyone acknowledges cycling's dirty past, from Tom Simpson dropping dead to a hundred other cases of heat exhaustion and bodily failure, it's historically a part of the sport. Few other athletic contests push the boundary of mind and body that is routine of professional riders. Cycling is insane, it wants to destroy you, it chews up and spits out all but the most dedicated, hard headed, and physically gifted. It's what makes the sport so compelling, so beautiful, so brutal. Riders have always been willing to do anything to survive and thrive in that cut throat world.
I also believe, perhaps naively, that we are much closer to having a clean peloton than ever before. Riders are now more specialized and see less action than their contemporaries 30 years ago. The need to survive has been diminished somewhat as new insights into training and physiology has bred modern riders who only focus on a few major goals every season and no longer race 200 days a year. Not to mention that more and more money has been put into developing tests and standards to catch cheats, the biological passport and all that.
As far as dragging up the past and bringing charges onto retired riders though, to me it seems a monumental waste of time.
I have no desire to see the race results of the 80's and 90's revised, hence I have no desire to see the results of the '00's contested. Who cares if the guy who won doped, he probably did. But you know what? The second place finisher was probably on the stuff too, as was the third, the fourth, etc.
Lance Armstrong was probably a cheat, as were all of the guys who are testifying against him. All the guys who rode on the other teams were probably doing it too. They were all dirty. I know that may come off as pessimistic, but I think of it as more a thought of pragmatism. Of course it's possible that some no name riders weren't, but any big name cyclist of the last 20 years was likely guilty as sin of stuffing themselves with anything that they thought was going to help them get over.
Deal with it. Move on.
Lance, like him or not, is the biggest personality in cycling of the last 30 years by a huge margin. He's on the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, level of being synonymous with their chosen sport. That's on a global scale, on a national scale cycling was not cool when I was growing up. The fact that some sophomore kid in high school is getting a handy because he rides a fixed gear has plenty to do with the fact that cycling is more popular now in America than it has been since the 70's. How did that happen? Well a big part of that was Armstrong's story which crossed over to the national conscience.
Does anyone really think that dirtying him up is going to be the statement piece that halts doping in the peloton? That it will show major sponsors, which the sport has been bleeding for years, that professional cycling is now clean and that it's safe to once more invest in it?
I certainly don't, cycling needs icons to survive, it needs people who can capture the minds of the general populace. We have that in Armstrong, it's fun to hate him, it's fun to love him. He rode during a time when most were likely guilty of doping. Thankfully that time is looking more and more like it's behind us.
Yes, he probably cheated, but he was never found guilty of it during his career. He is now a retired rider, a legend of his sport, champion of his times and the greatest ambassador that we have. He is the embodiment of the sport to much of the world, and much more valuable to us all if his massive shadow casts a positive light.
Let's concentrate on creating new icons, rather than smashing the old ones. Let's move on.