Lance

If there is anything or anyone that can polarize the opinions of cyclists it’s Lance Armstrong I’d like to know!

I’ll come out right away and say that I think he is a legend and without doubt one of the finest cyclists ever to get on a bike.

Lance_Armstrong_7

I was only dimly aware of cycling and the Tour de France during his reign.  It is only in retrospect that I have been able to enjoy his feats during his 7 victories.  I don’t really do hero-worship but after reading It’s Not About The Bike I found it impossible not to have respect, not just for his achievements, but for his mere survival.

You’d think that, given this struggle and his subsequent incredible achievements, he’d be revered much like (or much more than!) other sporting legends, for example Tiger Woods.  However, spend a few minutes on any cycling forum and you’ll get a good sense of the bitter hatred that many ‘cycling fans’ have for him.

There’s a good element of confirmation bias here I suspect.  Once the decision has been made to love or hate a sportsperson, all new information is evaluated and distorted to fit this prejudice.  For those that hate, every single utterance and action is twisted into a negative to reinforce the original views.  And if that person sets up a foundation to help and support cancer sufferers then there must be some despicable, disreputable, self-seeking ulterior motive.

I’d like to think that a more nuanced view is more appropriate.  There are very few people that are 100% good or 100% bad.  And sometimes the things that make the good possible are responsible for the bad too.

I’d like to deal with some of the criticisms that are often aimed at him

Doping

Ah.  If ever there was a sport that is ruined by the use of performance enhancing drugs then it is cycling.  At the end of the day the drugs do work.  And only too effectively in an endurance sport like cycling.  Once a pro rider has achieved a ‘basic’ level of fitness, drugs are worth more than any amount of genetics, equipment and skill.  Depending on who and what you read, EPO is worth a 8, 10 or 15, 20% performance benefit.  For already highly trained athletes it’s not possible to make up this shortfall.

Anyway, the biggest criticism against Armstrong would seem to be that he comes from an era tainted by doping and that he must have doped.  This is part-laughable – every era of cycling is tainted by doping and the same critics favourite riders have been caught or retrospectively have admitted doping.  Pantani, Ulrich, Virenque, Simpson, Fignon; the list goes on.

Anticipating audible groans – Armstrong has never been given a positive result in a properly conducted test.  In fact, maybe one of his biggest crimes is not having been caught!  Or maybe, he is innocent?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  My best guess is this; I suspect that Armstrong must have doped just to have been competitive with his contemporaries.  However I also believe his success was not down to doping – but merely this put him on a competitive level with those he was racing against.

Attitude

No doubt about it – Armstrong has attitude.  And there’s plenty not to like if he’s not your cup of tea.

It’s hard for ordinary people (and cyclists :-) ) to understand the mind-set of a human being that has the capability to win the toughest sporting event in the world 7 years in a row.  In fact, it’s even hard for pro cyclists to understand

“It is very hard for other cyclists to relate to Lance Armstrong. We respect him – there is no doubt about that – because of what he has achieved and how he races his bike. He is clearly one of the greatest bicycle racers in history. But outside of that, it is very hard for us to even fathom what he achieves. It is, even for us, his peers, unfathomable what he does.”

The words of David Millar.

I wonder if it is possible for someone with the incredible determination, focus and ruthlessness required to achieve such awesome feats to not have any corresponding negatives.  I do not think so.

More from David Millar

“But he is also complex and paradoxical. He can be very unforgiving, and yet at the same time he can be incredibly kind and empathetic. It’s an odd mix”

Winner

It’s interesting to me how some sports seem able to enjoy their most celebrated competitors during their reign.  The British, goaded by the media I’m sure, seem far more willing to love a plucky loser than a calculating winner.  I’m different; I support the best talent, the most dedicated, the guy that’s trained the hardest, prepared the best.

Michael Schumacher is a brilliant example.  Even Mercx was not feted during his time.  But Tiger Woods is.  I find this odd.

Cycling has moved on

Another often heard criticism is that cycling has moved on from the drug-fuelled era of the Armstrong years.  Also that there is a new generation of riders that are clean.

After last years Tour de France this does not stand up to scrutiny.  The likes of Kohl and Ricco were part of the supposedly ‘new clean generation’ and frankly took the piss.

If anyone is going to be clean in this year’s Tour surely it must be Armstrong?  Would he risk riding doped jeopardising his entire legacy?  Surely this is the year to prove that he can win clean, even after 3 years out and 18 months older than the previous oldest winner?

Overall

Whatever happens in the Tour this year, there’s no doubting that it’s going to be compelling viewing.  I would love to believe in the dream but this has to be tempered with realism.

If Armstrong won it would be a miracle I think.  I’m not an expert but it seems like too big an ask, even for a man of his incredible achievements.

My main hope is that he rides with brilliance and humility and wins over a few of those that are so critical of him.  Though I fear the latter might be harder than winning the Tour itself!

Either way, roll on Monaco…

No Comments on “Lance”

  1. 1 Reuben said at 9:53 pm on June 28th, 2009:

    I think you make a good point – if he wasnt doped then his wins were near mythical – if he was, well that just evened the playing field a bit and so his wins should still be commended.

    Unsure why some get caught and some don’t, if they’re all doping.

    I doubt he’ll win this year though a few stage victories may well be possible. Either way hats off to him for getting so many people involved in cycling, and the amount of work he does with Livestrong.

  2. 2 davem said at 7:05 am on June 30th, 2009:

    A point well made. I think it’s inconceivable he wasn’t doped to the nines but if you’re going to dislike him for that reason then how many riders from that era do you like? Certainly none of his challengers in any of his wins.

    My main issue with him is his frankly disgusting treatment of Bassons & Simeoni in enforcing the omerta that went beyond the pale for me. Also he appears to have a George Bush-esque your for me or against me attitude that really grates.

    But, the man is still a legend, he’s still one of the best athletes ever to have competed. Would he have won in a completely clean playing field if he was clean? Who knows but I wouldn’t bet against it