The Lance Armstrong story is tragic. If you had asked me four years ago what I remember of Armstrong, I would tell you of his unbelievable climb up the Alpe d’Huez in a time trial.
Then there were his epic duels with Jan Ullrich and his climb to Chamrousse in 2001 that arguably elevated him from champion to invincible.
Unfortunately, I now resign myself to the fact Armstrong was not invincible. He is not a champion and, no matter how much he does for his Livestrong charity, he will never be a champion.
Armstrong is a cold and calculating cheat. Nothing more. USADA exposed him in a manner as cold and as brutal as Armstrong was in dictating his shocking regime. There is some irony there.
His career, reputation, dignity and livelihood are in ruins. Armstrong faces the real chance of being tied up in civil cases for the rest of his life as companies and organisations demand he return his ill-gotten paychecks, with interest, and with him having to pay court costs to really rub it in. Livestrong may crumble.
Is this what he wanted? Losing everything simply to perpetuate a lie?
My memory bank now has a series of giant asterisks scattered throughout. I can’t forget those memories I have of Armstrong, but they are now forever tainted. It makes me bitter. And it makes me wonder whether he could have salvaged these memories somewhat.
Would my memories and the memories of many others (including, it must be said, Phil Liggett) of Armstrong be so tainted if he simply confessed years ago? Probably not.
But he perpetuated and exacerbated the lie for years. Upon the lie he squared the lie, then cubed it and so on and so on. His decision to do this was catastrophic.
Cycling fans, sporting fans and the general public are so horrified by his actions because they have been aired out in the open for us to read. Armstrong, quite simply, has no defence and nowhere to hide.
But if Armstrong had swallowed what must be a biblical amount of pride and confessed four or so years ago, would USADA have pursued the investigation to the same degree as we have seen? It’s a tricky one to answer, but I would tend to think that USADA would have let it go.
No one really wanted this and by confessing early, Armstrong could possibly have cut a deal with USADA and the UCI. He probably would have lost his yellow jerseys but he undoubtedly would have been spared his dignity and most of his reputation. He could have hidden and buried all of his shame behind a series of confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure statements.
The general public need not have known about his astounding cheating regime. Who knows, he may even have been able to somehow have his name on the all the record books, if only with a footnote like other sportsman occasionally have against their name.
But no, he threw his last chance card in the bin with his used syringes.
He could have spared his reputation as a charity crusader and against-all-odds cancer comeback star, something he cherished so dearly. Despite all his failings and cheatings, getting back on the bike after cancer takes more than doping, and for that – at one time in his life – he deserved applaud. But he’s now lost that too.
No one can possibly think of anything nice to say about him now. No one, including myself, will ever be able to think anything but anger that the once good memories put in our minds were created by a horribly corrupted individual.
I, and many others, would honestly have preferred to have thought of Lance Armstrong as an occasional doper who slipped every now and again, not the current (and sadly quite accurate) portrayal of a man who injected more than a prison junkie almost every time he went out to race.
I don’t want to feel angry. I would rather be left in the ignorant bliss of knowing that although he cheated, there was some good in him. Gone. He has moved into the ‘Ben Johnson’ hall of drug cheats now.
UCI President Pat McQuaid says Armstrong is a man who deserves to be forgotten. As true as this may sound, and as much as we would like to do so, the simple fact is Armstrong cannot be forgotten.
The races he ‘won’ were very real. The people he ‘beat’ were very real. The memories I have are very real.
If anything, because of the scale of his cheating, these memories may now stay in our minds longer than if he had somehow found a way to avoid being caught. Armstrong, sadly, can’t be forgotten.
But surely he knew this day would come? For outsiders like us, we can retrospectively say it was coming for years. But, as an insider, he must have known that one day he would arrive at the cross roads, where the only favourable outcome would be to lose his titles but save his dignity?
He was given his chances. He had the chance to, perhaps for the only time in his life, be noble and confess to his shame. He didn’t, he’s lost it all, and his reputation and dignity is now at the mercy of anyone but him.
To paraphrase an Indiana Jones movie: He chose poorly.