Armstrong: The good, the bad and the ugly
This July 7, 2005 file photo shows Lance Armstrong of the US during the sixth stage of the 92nd Tour de France cycling race between Troyes and Nancy. AFP PHOTO / Files / JOEL SAGET
After interviewing Lance Armstrong about his return to the peloton in 2008 cycling writer Edward Pickering received a phone call:
“‘Hey Ed, it’s Lance Armstrong’,said the voice at the other end. ‘How’s your kid?’.
I fought the urge to go upstairs and check he was still asleep in his cot.”
Lance Armstrong was the greatest Tour de France cyclist and the creator of a foundation that had raised millions of dollars for cancer research and yet we could relate to him being comically compared to the child murderer of When a Stranger Calls. How did that happen?
I don’t think I was the only one who always hoped Armstrong would be defeated by Jan Ullrich, his greatest Tour rival.
The big German won the aesthetic battle hands down – powerful thighs pushing enormous gears – but was unable to win the war of attrition in the decisive mountain stages. He could never take the title from the vampiric high cadencing American.
It wasn’t a case of tall poppy syndrome, I hope, or a simply a matter of aesthetics, that explained my fervent preference for Ullrich over Armstrong. It was the difference in their natures.
For Armstrong the Tour de France was about winning (“The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins”) while for Ullrich it was something more: (“My motivation doesn’t come from rivals, but because I love cycling. That’s what motivates me”).
Well, it’s easy to dislike a man who claims to have had “a certain distrust of religion growing up” and goes and builds one around himself. His sacred text It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, recounts the story of the courageous and miraculous recovery from cancer but fails to mention the final ingredient in the messiah’s saga. As his former teammate and now turncoat Tyler Hamilton stated on 60 Minutes last year “Obviously there’s one more element: the doping part”.
It’s almost not about the doping anymore.
Many of Armstrong’s elite contemporaries including Ullrich have served or are serving suspensions for doping, admitting their complicity despite the absence of positive samples. Ivan Basso owned up to “attempted doping” and accepted a two-year ban.
Armstrong’s guilt for me was assured when a Dutch newspaper claimed that his close friend and teammate throughout all of his Tour victories George Hincapie would testify against him. I knew his time was definitely up when the US Postal team physicians Luis Garcia del Moral and Michele Ferrari accepted immediate life bans from the USADA after being presented with evidence of their possession , trafficking and administration of prohibited substances.
We can never know if Armstrong would have won seven titles without recourse to drugs. By refusing to go to arbitration he has avoided the humiliation of a public trial, but not the torture of never-ending persecution.
Hopefully his fellow accused and former directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel goes to arbitration and we find out how exactly Armstrong doped his way through seven Tour victories.
His laurels have now been pulled out from under him. Like roadkill, Lance Armstrong has only rough bitumen to rest upon.
However he still has time, before his carcass is picked bare, to add a final chapter to the autobiography that will tell the true and complete story of his life.
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