ANDERSON: Why the Lance-era wasn’t good for cycling
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
With the Olympics a distant memory, the Vuelta turning out to be the race of the year, and the World champs happening at the moment, I have decided, post Tour de France, to get back on my soap box.
The reason, of course, is Lance.
This is a story that has been building ever since Lance climbed back on his bike post-cancer in 1998.
I was as shocked as the rest of the universe to see the former world-champ return to the professional ranks.
In 1997, at a stage start in Pau, I bumped into a barely recognizable Lance. My old Motorola team-mate had just finished a course of chemo and had no hair.
Thinly disguised in a baseball hat, I hailed him down.
In an earlier life we had been room-mates. I, the senior member on the team, and Lance, the young prodigy.
Lance’s cancer was a shock and we chatted a little about how he was fairing. I asked Lance if he missed the sport, he said no, and in fact, he didn’t care if he ever rode again, saying he only wanted to beat the disease.
With that in mind I was curious as to his presence at Le Tour.
Illness, Lance said, had given him the time to reflect on his career and realize he had been a right prick to many people along the way.
He was back to make amends.
At that stage, I knew Lance was in litigation with the French Cofidis team who had cut his contract, but he sounded sincere.
He was on a journey to heal some broken relationships.
Twelve months later, Lance was back on the circuit and performing better than he had pre-cancer. By the Vuelta of that year, the Texan was featuring like a man possessed, placing 4th on GC.
If the Spanish result didn’t have the skeptics fired up, winning the 1999 TdF certainly did.
From the moment Lance looked like winning his first TdF, he has been under suspicion. He had not only survived cancer, he was now a better rider.
How was this possible?
Lance was a prodigious talent, so it was not unreasonable in my mind that he could indeed return to not only cycling but to this very elite level.
Pre-cancer, we were very close and I’m sure he wasn’t indulging in illicit products. But, remember, he had already won a world championship, his talent not in question.
It is difficult to imagine that as team-mates and room-mates I was not aware that he was cheating.
Post cancer, I had lost contact with Lance and I, like most, didn’t want to believe the rumors were true. But, like most, I am being forced to reconsider.
Lance has had a massive impact on the sport of cycling.
For me, it has not been just about the drugs. He has changed the sport, and perhaps not for the best.
Like this year’s Tour de France, it was a great race for Wiggins but not so exciting for the rest of us. During the Lance era it was much the same: Lance really only appeared for Le Tour, his racing was predictable, and it could be said the racing was boring despite his achievements.
During this era, the UCI protected its asset and Lance became godlike, infallible.
He pushed the boundaries to suit himself and the powers that be, it would appear, were complicit.
There is talk now of an amnesty, but really, why? The suggestion is that the authorities were involved.
We all want to know the truth one way or another, and as occurred during his cycling career, Lance is pushing the boundaries to suit himself yet again.
He may indeed wish to get on with his life, but if that is the case, why continue to present himself as a 7 times winner of Le Tour.
Perhaps the UCI should not consider an amnesty at all but take a long hard look at their own role, even in current events.
Surely Alberto Contador should have been pulled abruptly from the 2010 tour. Instead, the story was leaked months later.
Who is the UCI protecting: the riders or their own career structure?
The Lance case is setting a new precedent in that all riders with exceptional results are under suspicion. The cycling public believe that it is only a matter of time as to who is next and the real interest lies in the associations and the method.
If a rider can’t be nailed through conventional anti-doping methods, then the ex-parte evidence that has fueled the Lance fire and the protocols around the giving of this evidence will make life for a pro-rider murky and the witch hunts of darker days come to mind.
The Lance issue is sad for cycling regardless of which side of the fence you sit on.
It is sad because he was a great athlete and the ongoing saga has sapped the life blood from a great and passionate sport.
Lance will get on with his life, he has an astounding number of supporters, his cancer cause is great. But his impact on cycling is now more than ever questionable.
I have read all the stories, the allegations, and note that not unlike his pre-cancer days, Lance is the same guy and he rubbed many people the wrong way.
The story will possibly continue unabated because Lance hasn’t changed at all.
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