My perspective on Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong finally admitted to what the world was sure of 6 months ago: he took performance-enhancing drugs while racing. I am a cycling fan and watched every Tour de France since 1994, including the ones he won 1999-2005. I (and Gay) even went to France to be there when he won his final Tour. If you listen to the media, I’m supposed to feel bad, angry, betrayed, etc. I don’t. Those were fantastic Tours to watch, doping or not, and watching sports is entertainment. I’ve never been more entertained watching sports than those Tours. Even watching James Harrison run an interception back 100 yards in the Super Bowl every play of every Super Bowl wouldn’t match it. I don’t care any more that they were all doping than I do that movies I watch are fiction.

It’s a great story with at least three great morales: 1) the truth always comes out, 2) the cover-up is worse than the sin, and 3) hubris ultimately causes your downfall.

I’m an optimist. I think this is ultimately good for cycling. It may even finally clean cycling up. That’d be wonderful. I wish other sports were trying to be as clean. Football and baseball couldn’t be more tolerant of doping. Cycling gets a bad rap because it’s shining a light on doping while the NFL and MLB work hard to keep those lights off. Doping is dangerous. How many kids are taking steroids or HGH hoping they can compete in the NFL or MLB? How many of those kids will die from it? I bet a lot more than will be tempted to dope to be a cyclist now!

Every single podium-finisher (1st, 2nd and 3rd-place finishers) has either admitted to doping or was caught or both. We know that now, we didn’t then. After the Festina scandal in 1998, the sport seemed to be relatively clean. In fact, that was one of the reasons I figured a (clean) American could finally win. Ok, so it wasn’t clean. It’s all relative, i.e., winning with everyone doping is the same as winning with no one doping. Granted, everyone doping is not the same as no one doping as, at least from what I’ve read, doping affects people differently. So it’s possible that Lance benefits more than others do, but I doubt that he’s that unique. He won the races, why didn’t all the other dopers win even once? Would the cyclists who weren’t doping have won if they doped? Unlikely. I’ll let others waste their time arguing about what would have happened if no one was doping. As far as I’m concerned, he won, just not entirely fair and square.

Getting into the Tour de France is extremely difficult, requires years of hard hard work, a lot of talent and an amazing amount of drive. Not many people can even get into the race. Finishing a Tour de France is one of the hardest things a human being has ever done. Not many people have done that over the last 100 years. Winning a stage in the Tour de France is reserved for all but the very best cyclists who have ever lived. Winning the entire race? Crikey, that’s even harder. Winning more than once seems impossible. Winning 3, as Greg Lemond did? Amazing. Winning 5, as Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain did? Astounding. Winning 7 in a row? Lance Armstrong is the best cyclist ever to race a bike, doping or not. Now… what about winning 7 in a row after recovering from cancer??? Not many Tour de France contenders ever come back from collarbone injuries.

People seem to think that he would have come in last place if he hadn’t doped. Or that he was a couch potato who took magic drugs during the race and flew by everyone else. He still worked hard all year-long. He trained. He ate right. He did it consistently, day in and day out. How many people can do that? Not many, in my experience. Doping helped him, definitely, but it only helped him edge people out, it didn’t do all the work. Doping helped him 1% or 3% or maybe even 10%, nowhere near 100%. Give him some credit for all the hard work.

He was smart. He picked a great team, he knew the course backwards and forwards, he studied his rivals, he knew when to attack and when not to. I’ve seen a lot of great cyclists, most of whom were also doping, who lost because they made tactical mistakes. Lance never did that — he was the smartest racer too. Doping didn’t make him smarter. If nothing else, the fact that all the others were caught doping proves he’s smarter than them. Being smart is good.

I haven’t yet heard anyone imply that he also lied about having cancer, but I’d be shocked if it’s never been said by quite a few people. He really did have cancer, life-threatening cancer, and he beat it. And he really did start a cancer foundation that helps people. His story inspired cancer victims to fight and beat cancer themselves. Who cares if his story isn’t 100% legit? Those people aren’t suddenly dead now that Lance admitted to doping. He helped save lives. How many people can say that?

Lance is an asshole. This was known long before he ever won a Tour de France. He never had a good reputation. This is what I dislike most about him and the only real criticism I have ever leveled against him. But what the hell do I know about competing at his level? Nothing. Part of the reason I could never compete like he can is because I don’t have that personality, good or bad (the other reason is that I’m lazy). He’s not perfect, who is? I defy anyone who calls him an asshole to claim they’ve never been called an asshole. I know I have. I don’t expect him to not be an asshole and I couldn’t care less if he was an asshole — I wasn’t friends with him and didn’t have to put up with it. Hell, Isaac Newton was a well-known asshole and I think he was one of the greatest humans ever. I certainly don’t hold Lance Armstrong to a higher standard than Isaac Newton.

Lance lied. He didn’t just lie, he was brutal to anyone who was suggesting the truth. That’s bad. As I said, he’s an asshole. But that goes beyond asshole-ness, it’s just downright cruel. He used his wealth to intimidate and harass innocent people. Anger at him for this is, in my opinion, the only justification for anger at him. Unfortunately, the anger I’ve seen in the media seems to not be for this at all. The anger seems to be all about the cheating or the lying. I hope he gets sued by all those he hurt and he has to pay out the majority of his wealth because of it.

The sad thing about this scandal to me is that it makes lazy, unsuccessful people who have zero ambition feel better about themselves. I imagine people saying stupid things like “Well, no wonder I’m not successful, I’m a good person!”. Bullshit. If doping gave him that extra 10%, he still had 90%. The people enjoying the scandal likely don’t have anywhere near 90%, or even 0.90%, of what makes someone like Lance Armstrong successful. In general, unsuccessful people are unsuccessful because of a flaw in themselves, not because of a flaw in others.

He’s an imperfect, but I think an admirable, person and he’s getting what he deserves for what he did wrong. I don’t feel sorry for Lance Armstrong. However, I do feel sorry for the people who gloat or who enjoy watching his downfall.

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