don't twist my armstrong

Thursday, August 25, 2005

As some of you might be aware of, Lance Armstrong has been accused by L'Equipe newspaper of being on EPO in 1999, the same year he won his first Tour de France. This is a very serious accusation that could bring the downfall of either parties and even the sport itself. While I have parleyed around the idea that Armstrong is far from a decent sportsmen, I find these accusations badly timed and in poor taste.

So what if he's drugged? Everyone else in professional cycling seems to be drugged.
Actually, quite a big deal. This is a man who has made his life out of a dramatic comeback story. Imagine, he's close to death, fights back on his own will, and wins seven Tour de France titles. On paper, it's sheer heroism. If any of this story was to be tarnished, it would be the equivalent of Shoeless Joe throwing the World Series. How can a hero be broken? By exposing that his superhuman power is in fact not only human, but exceptionally human: the baseness of trickery. Goodbye St. Lance. Hello, Armstrong the thug.

But there's never been any evidence before that Lance has been doped.
Correct. Lance has never had one single mark on his record. While lesser cyclists have been found with amphetamines, cocaine, EPO, all sorts of nonsense, Lance has always affirmed and so far proved he is clean. He does admit in his autobiography, "It's not about the bike," that he took EPO while in chemotherapy. He said "it's the only thing that kept me alive."

Ironic then, the magic elixir of life, so valued by our dear knight, could also be the one substance he is forbidden to take once healthy. One could imagine the EPO, sitting in its chalice, under a glass box with the words "Break in case of emergency." But, this is indulgent.

What is clear is that Armstrong went out of his way, in 2004, to terrorize Gilberto Simeoni, an otherwise unknown rider on the Tour. Simeoni had testified openly against Dr. Ferrari, the infamous Milanese doctor who introduced EPO into the sport. Simeoni further filed a complaint, after the stage, that threats to his personal safety were made by Armstrong. The case has still not been resolved. But making threats is not a declaration of guilt either.

The French have always had it out for Lance.
That's a generalisation that's not so far from the mark. The french who do care for cycling are divided on this subject. I know rabid Lance fans from frogland, and I know rabid anti-Lance fans from croissantland. The same thing, if you ask me. If there has been any dislike towards Lance it is because of the way he wins. He wins by dominating and there is hardly anything romantic or stylish in brute domination. He's a foxy devil, but his wins have always been punctuated by a distinctly american style of aggression. Sometimes this type of aggression and desire to win is rather funny and miraculous (as seen in the Superbowl, where legend is amplified to cartoonesque dimensions). Sometimes it's just offputting.

I think that yes, the french media in L'Equipe has been itching to find something to write about Lance. But, before all those Americans starting gnashing their teeth on their freedom fries, we should note that there are also a fair number of fans who openly congratulate Lance. Anyways, I hope this doesn't descend into some patriotic mud-slinging. That's just infantile.

What's with urine being kept so many years and why the results now?
The urine was kept frozen, along with samples from many other cyclists, as part of a research program into EPO testing. The lab's intentions was only to work on these methods, not to test cyclists officially. The urine kept is one of two samples given by Lance in 1999. The first sample was tested during the tour. As there were only two samples, the results of this second sample cannot be tested against. This means that legally the International Cycling Board cannot act on the allegations.

Furthermore, the results were leaked, not published. It is L'Equipe which has published these results, results which to all intents are purposes are meant to be kept anonymous. One can only assume that the results were only unearthed recently. Still, the timing is suspicious. Just after Lance's retirement? Bizarre.

I believe that regardless of whether or not Lance has taken drugs, he is the most dominant cyclist to emerge in our generation. He is tactically superior in every way to all the other teams, and responds to every challenge with the mark of a champion. However much I dislike his attitude, however much I doubt the honesty of his statements, he remains one of the most incredible athletes I've ever watched. I mean, if we found out that Michael Jordan was on cocaine the whole time he won those NBA titles, would it change what we think about his Royal Airness? I don't think so.

I'm no Lance-fan. Don't get me wrong. I'm a cycling fan. I love the sport and I can't imagine anything worse that having people doubt the incredible drama and passion possible because they think they are watching drug addicts. Cycling is a sport built on legend, not on mediocrity. In this aspect, I believe Lance is still the king of the slagheap.