Cycling needs for Lance to have been clean
Lance Armstrong needs to be innocent. The sport of cycling may not recover if he is proven to have been a drug cheat.
No man is bigger than any sport but if the US Anti-Doping Agency (USASDA) can prove their allegation that Armstrong doped, arguably the most important era of cycling’s development as a global sport will be undone.
Lance Armstrong won seven Tours de France in consecutive years from 1999 to 2005. That would be amazing enough were it not for the fact Armstrong’s back story was so saccharine, Hollywood could never have come up with it.
In 1996 Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The disease spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain and, since he was between teams at the time, he had no insurance to pay his medical bills, which ran into five figures.
Of course he survived the ordeal and went on to become not just a great champion of cycling, but also a great champion for cancer survivors and sufferers.
And who doesn’t know a cancer survivor or sufferer? These days it’s quite likely plenty of people reading this don’t just know one, they are one.
That was why Lance’s story touched so many people. He was a source of inspiration for not just cancer patients but also their families and friends. No one could hear Armstrong’s story and not feel good about it.
It put cycling on the front page in countries where previously it was lucky to make the Sunday sports section. Certainly in Australia, though Cadel Evans is the man primarily responsible for pedalling cycling in to the mainstream consciousness, Armstrong was the man who forced people to acknowledge its existence.
More importantly than Australia, Armstrong got Americans talking about cycling again. The USA had had a Tour winner before in the great Greg LeMond, who in 1986 became the first non-European to win the Tour. However LeMond’s final jaunt in yellow down the Champs-Elysees was in 1990.
Almost ten years later, Armstrong’s US Postal Service team made sure cycling was once again getting a slice of the world’s biggest economy. Say what you will about America but every sport on the planet wants a piece of that pie and Armstrong almost single-handedly delivered cycling theirs once more.
So what would be the implications if it turns out it was all a lie? If Armstrong, as the USADA allege, “used EPO blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period 1998-2005 and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and HGH [human growth hormone] through 1996.”
It’s hard to see how cycling could maintain any degree of integrity, particularly in countries where the century-old sport is still considered new.
Because it’s not an allegation that Armstrong cheated – cycling could survive that. Alberto Contador cheated and was stripped of his 2010 Tour victory but the sport continues and Contador will be welcomed back for a crack at the 2013 Tour.
No, the allegation is not that Armstrong did the wrong thing once and should pay the price, but that much of his entire career was a falsehood.
We’re not talking about a single name on a trophy being changed, Armstrong’s guilt would mean seven Tours would need to be re-written in the history books; eight if you count his third place at the 2009 Tour and ten if you want to strip him of his two stage wins prior to 1996.
Ten Tours dating back to 1993 which would need to be re-written. When you add Floyd Landis being stripped of the 2006 Tour and the aforementioned Contador stripping, you’re looking at 12 tours in 20 years.
For plenty of cycling’s new fans in countries such as America and Australia, that would be all too much. How could they possibly continue to follow a sport in which the greatest race of all has a 60% chance of its winners being drug cheats?
More troublingly, for the millions affected by cancer around the world, Lance Armstrong will cease to be an inspiration and instead become a pariah. The fraud who filled people with false hope by filling himself with EPO.
That this falsehood was achieved on the back of a bike won’t go unnoticed. The sport itself will be seen as the vehicle by which Armstrong drove his deception and thus equally culpable in having deceived the public.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joebfrost
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