(Lance Armstrong in Clonmel during the 2009 Tour of Ireland)
Everywhere you look cycling is making headlines at present, and the racing season in Europe hasn’t even begun yet. But of course it’s not the racing thats grabbing headlines, it’s Lance Armstrong and his recent ride up the Col de public opinion on Oprahs wheel.
Everywhere I go people say ‘What do you make of Armstrong?’. Not just cycling people but many who wouldn’t know a Dura Ace Di2 lever if it jumped up and lodged itself in their right nostril.
My stock answer is ‘I think it’s a tactical play on his part, he didn’t go on Oprah for the good of mankind, just the good of one man in particular, himself. In cycling terms he has been dropped from the bunch but is trying to get back into the cars !’ This usually satisfies their desire for an answer and confuses them enough to nip a big discussion in the bud.
Why am I trying to avoid the big discussion ?
Because I’m confused within myself and don’t really know what to think and what to feel.
A guy who enjoys paying to see a singer perform on stage drunk and high as a kite, who watches WWF wrestling with his 7 year old son and who has a Real Madrid soccer jersey on his back tells me he is totally disgusted with the carry on of those druggy cyclists ! What can I say to change his opinion of what I consider to be the most beautiful sport in the World ?
Many cyclists are enraged about Armstrong and his cohorts and proclaiming their anger to all and sundry.
I want to feel angry but can’t get rid of a niggle in the back of my mind.
If I take on board the idea that Armstrong cheated me out of my enjoyment of cycling does that mean that the memories that I have of standing on the side of French roads, in front of Podiums and inside railings next to the US Postal team car with a tingle down my spine from the whole spectacle and the electric atmosphere should be wiped from my memory ?
Was the thunderous roar of the crowd something false that is not worth remembering ?
Those few days that stand out in memory as times when I felt so alive and so far removed from ordinary day to day living, are they now something to be ashamed of ?
I honestly don’t know how I should feel.
Is Armstrong a nice guy ? Obviously not to 90% of people who had dealings with him. He has serious personality flaws and is probably missing the empathy gene. But does that mean that I should not for one second wonder what it is like to be in his shoes at present ? Would that not make me the same as him ?
From what I can see the big difference between Armstrong and his peers like Ulrich etc. was the way he treated people. It is right that there should be no place for someone like that in cycling. They were all doped but is going after all these other retired guys now and their predecessors really going to help cycling ?
Or will it’s only achievement be the contamination of beautiful memories that cycling fans have of moments in time that are frozen within their minds and that bring a smile to their faces when thought about on a cold wet November morning ?
When a bike comes in for repair with a problem, the first thing I do when I put it up on the workstand is pinpoint what the problem is. Then I quickly figure out what caused it and then work out how I can fix it. A lot more time is spent on figuring out how to fix the problem and then fixing it than time spent on the cause. Cycling at present is all about the cause and what caused that and what other problems can we find too than about how to fix the problem and then getting on with the job.
I saw a cycling journalist on Twitter recently getting stuck in to how bad cycling is and how there is no hope for it. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture one might say that negative storeys and headlines sell at present but they have the knock on effect of discouraging supporters and sponsors. This leads to less races and teams which leads to less for the cycling journalist to write about and less advertising in their magazine which leads eventually to them being out of a job. But if they don’t write the story then they are part of the ‘Omerta’
The cyclists themselves see this big picture all the time. There is a survival instinct that is deeply ingrained in all who have had to fight to get onto that wheel in the gutter, in a crosswind with the rain lashing down whilst knowing that if they let go of the wheel there will not be enough money to eat that leaves its mark. It’s the reason Kimmage, Lemond, Vaughters and many more never spoke out whilst they were still racing.
Cycling is now the cleanest sport for a teenager to get involved in. A man bigger than cycling itself has been taken down so no young cyclist can feel that they will get away with doping. Cycling is the only sport at present that can realistically say that if you dope you will be caught at some stage.
Moving forward I would love to see a test that proves a rider is clean being created. Drug tests to catch cheats are a good deterrent. But they are worthless in proving to Joe Public that Bradley Wiggins or Cadel Evans are clean. Saying that they never tested positive only generates the response that ‘Armstrong was tested over 500 times and never tested positive either’. Surely there must be some scientist out there some where who could devise a way to prove an athlete is 100% clean and natural. Perhaps it could be as simple as every pro cyclist who wants to prove that they are clean taking an advanced lie detector type of test two or three time a year.
Innocent until proven guilty is all well and good but in the publics eyes at present all professional cyclists are guilty first. Wouldn’t it be great if cycling could lead the way into a 100% clean and fair sporting era.
I’m still confused about how I should feel about some of my cycling memories but the one thing I’m not confused about is how much I enjoy getting out on the bike myself and that’s one thing that’s never going to change !