It is pretty amazing that during the nearly two years of this blog’s existence, I have not talked about Lance. There’s a reason for that — the same reason that I do not talk about politics or religion at work. For a long time within the cycling community, Lance was a divisive topic. I suppose he still is, but not nearly to the same degree. Before people either loved him and defended him with all their might (he has never failed a test!!), or wrote him off as a fake, a cheater, and a bully. Now the former camp is merely disappointed, while the latter is derisive.
I was not a Lance fan. He did not get me into cycling, at least not directly. Realistically, he probably got us all into cycling because he popularized the sport in America. I did not one day see him dominate the sport, and decide I wanted to do that. I developed my affinity by getting hurt, and running out of options. Lance was just there.
In three days, Lance is going to admin he did something bad to Oprah, which means this post will be outdated by next week.
The world will respond with a collective, sarcastic “Really?”
This is not a post about my patting myself on the back for getting it right. It is my fascination about the topic. I am interested in Lance as a student of history. I read just about all of the USADA documents, Tyler Hamilton’s book, and countless online articles. Regardless whether he doped, it was a pivotal period for the sport of cycling. It was a different era, unfortunately the heart of the doping era, but distinctive nonetheless.
I sort of understand, and that comes from Tyler’s book. I’m not making excuses for Lance, nor am I condemning him, but I get the drive that gives him that edge. Thankfully I don’t think I have that drive, but I know that it exists in competitive human beings. Just like with baseball in the 90s (and maybe now), people will do anything they can to get ahead. At some point it becomes not who has the best raw, natural talent, but who has that plus the savvy, ingenuity, and the drive to bolster that talent with artificiality. As Tyler says in his book, every rider had to make the choice whether to dope or give up on their dreams. You know, the ones they’ve been working toward all their lives. If everything that has been alleged was true, which I believe it is, then Lance was the best at doping by far, and also had a whole lot of talent and ability.
In fact, all the other stuff bothers me a whole lot more than the doping. It was how he treated the people close to him like the Andreus, Tyler, Floyd, WADA, and all of his doubters. He can explain and apologize the doping, but not all the years of lying, manipulation, aggression, and most of all, conceit.
That brings me to Thursday. He will confess something to Oprah and probably apologize. I don’t think he can say enough to counteract all that other stuff, but at least he can lessen the stigma toward doping as connected to cycling. As much as the sport of cycling has risen thanks to him, it has suffered nearly as much afterward. Pros now have fewer sponsors, smaller salaries, and not as much opportunity.
Lance can and probably will change that. He may do it for his own selfish reasons, and that’s fine, but I think we need him in our corner to bring back the sport. Regardless what he put in his body, he won 7 really big races, when there should have been an asterisk next to everyone in the field. He was the face and voice that inspired millions to exercise and get fit. Think what you want of him as a person, but that part is kind of awesome.
If there’s one thing Americans love more than piling on someone when they’re down, they love a redemption story. One day Lance will get his, whether he deserves it or not, and we’ll all be better off for it.