This blog is full of references about Lance Armstrong. One example is the post I wrote about the top six inspirational cycling videos and three of those videos were about Lance and one was from his coach Chris Carmichael.
That is a screen shot of this post:
However, I have never written anything about his fall from grace. I have had a lot of friends and cycling buddies ask me for my opinion but I have never expressed it publicly. People seem interested in my opinion for two reasons: they know I am a keen cyclist and they know I have a relationship with Lance’s coach when he won the Tour de France seven times, Chris Carmichael. Most of my readers and friends know that I have been coached by Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) for the last six years. CTS is an organization founded and run by Lance Armstrong’s coach Chris Carmichael. Over those six years Chris and I have become pretty good buddies.
So let’s deal with that part first. Although I was first attracted to CTS because of its relationship with Lance Armstrong, I quickly realized that if you want to become a good amateur cyclist, it requires a ton of work and any affiliation between your coach and Lance Armstrong (or an other pro) is meaningless. It’s all about having a good training program and sticking to it. A time crunched athlete becoming a good cyclist requires a mix of favorable genetics, dedication to training, quality of coaching and an understanding family. Over the years I have developed a great relationship with my CTS coach Jason Tullous and that has nothing to do with Lance Armstrong. You have read here about my commitment to training and the support I get from my family. These are the two main factors I can get on my bike and hang in front with the best of them.
I often get asked if I think Chris knew that Lance was doping and/or if he had anything to do with it. My standard answer is always the same: “I have my opinion on that subject and I have shared it with Chris and that is an issue for him and I to discuss.” What the Armstrong revelations mean to my relationship with Chris is also a private matter. So let’s leave it at that.
Back to Lance. I believe lying and cheating are sins. However, unlike most journalists and commentators (and most people I talk to about the whole Lance affair), I remain pretty dispassionate about it. Here’s why: I don’t know the guy and he didn’t do anything to me – on a micro level. I do have an opinion on a macro level however which opinion I will try to articulate further on in this post.
Most cyclists I have talked to feel a sense of betrayal and some of them somehow feel that Lance Armstrong owes them some kind of an apology. If you read cycling blogs, Facebook posts, VeloNews, Cycling News and the like it almost feels as if it is the cycling community that will get to decide if they will forgive him for “what he did to them“. I don’t get it, I don’t feel that way.
How Lance Armstrong deals with the fact that he lied and cheated is a matter between him and the people affected by it on a micro basis, on a one on one basis. Just like it wouldn’t be right for me to “feel betrayed” by someone I don’t know it is not my place to “forgive” that person I don’t know. I’ll admit that I am highly disappointed by Armstrong’s lies and that it makes it harder to be inspired by public figures. I guess Lance came clean when he reached the point that, as Hitchens wrote about Bill Clinton, there was no one left to lie to.
The whole issue of Forgiveness is between Lance and his Maker, and between him and the people he is asking forgiveness from. It requires a certain level of narcissism for someone who doesn’t know Lance Armstrong to “feel involved and/or violated” by his lies and deceit. Disappointed, sure, fine, but that’s nothing to write home about.
I don’t know the guy and I have only met him twice. Once riding in Vermont with him for an hour in 2010 and once at a charity event in Montreal in 2011 (picture above this post).
With that being said, there are three “Lance fall from grace” related issues (on a macro level) that I wish to address.
1 – I was inspired by Lance, so I do I feel now?
As I progressed as a cyclist I began to spend time on YouTube watching great cycling moments, a lot of them involving Lance Armstrong. I also spent an awful lot of time inside on the trainer watching DVDs of every Tour de France won by Lance. Those DVDs helped me get through the pain and boredom involved with riding inside in the winter. The net result is that the Lance DVDs and videos inspired me and helped me learn about cycling and racing. Am I better off for it? Yes.
Lance is a cheater and a liar, those are facts. But it is also a fact that he was a spectacular rider and a phenomenal athlete. That is what mainly inspired me then. Do I wish he would have been clean? Yes, of course. But how I feel about that pales in comparison to how the cancer survivor community must feel about it. The impact of Lance’s lies is greater on them than for an average amateur cyclist like me.
That being said, I guess it would be pretty awkward for me to now watch a video of Lance destroying the field on the way to Sestriere in 1999 in search of inspiration. I will have to find another source of inspiration to get through one more winter of riding inside and I trust I will find it. I am not a Lance Armstrong groupie and I have moved on. On that point – and many others in this post – my wife disagrees with me. Interesting.
There are some great videos and DVDs out there about racing in the 70s so maybe I should try that. Let’s go back to the Eddy Merckx years for inspiration. It must be safe as I have to assume they have not kept any urine samples from that era that can be re-tested.
2 – About cycling in general
A lot is being said about the impact of Armstrong cheating has on cycling as a sport in general. I am suspicious as to why so many current riders are very quick to say “the sport has changed”, “that was a different era”. Last time I checked two of the greatest riders of our time – Alberto Contador and Frank Schleck – got caught with banned substances in their blood/urine. That is a real tragedy. There doesn’t seem to be a week when a professional cyclist doesn’t get caught doping. As far as I concerned the only thing that have changed since the “institutionalized, team supported doping approach” of the Armstrong era seems to be that some team managements have adopted zero-tolerance policies and others have gotten out of the “supporting doping” role (i.e. look the other way). What doesn’t seem to have changed is the individual rider mentality to push the envelop and hope they don’t get caught when they dope.
I have a hard time understanding why so many journalists, blog writers (and amateur cyclists) commenting on cycling seem fixated on the fact that Lance Armstrong holds the key to reforming cycling. Here’s an example of the over the top rhetoric from so-called experts:
“Armstrong leaves a sport in tatters. His doping legacy is doing to cycling what the Romans did to Carthage, plowing salt into the earth so that nothing grows for 1,000 years. Legions of cycling fans have forever turned off to one of the world’s most beautiful sports.”
You have to admit that there wasn’t a lot of serious thought put into that quote. Compare this to what Frankie Andreu (who’s opinion would matter to most people giving the relationship him and wife have had with Armstrong) had to say when he was asked by Velo News about his reaction to Armstrong’s confession on the Oprah show:
“I was shocked. It was a day I thought would never come. At the same time, extremely sad, you know, watching him. He admitted to cheating for all of his Tour victories and even before that. I’m not surprised at the doping — that was the culture. I was there; I knew how that was. But I was really surprised at the courage that it took for him to actually come out and just say, ‘Yes, I did this; yes, I did this,’ and took responsibility for it.”
The other thing I don’t get is the whole “We need Lance to come clean so we can turn the page” narrative. What does that mean? Would Contador and Schleck have decided to ride clean if Lance had admitted he doped earlier than January 2013? Do we need Lance to come clean so young riders today understand that cheating is wrong? Do we need Lance to tell the truth about doping for pro team management teams to get serious about doping?
I am not sure what Lance Armstrong can do to help cycling clean itself up today, other than to name people active in cycling today that were part of the doping culture of a few years ago. If Lance decides to name people and helps us find out who the other bad apples are then he should do it in a court of law or as part of some judicial process or investigation, not on a talk show. I get the part that the truth about what went on while Lance was riding needs to come out. It needs to come out so that those involved who are still part of cycling can be shown the door and sanctioned. The truth needs to come out so that we can do a better job catching cheaters. But I don’t believe Lance holds the key to this. As we are learning, it was a sport-wide practice. We need everyone involve in cycling to to get serious about sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
3 – The Oprah interview
“Disappointing“. “It was pretty much what I expected: a lot of nothing.” “It was interesting, but I’m really not taking anything away from it, I have to say. Pretty empty.”
Those are the most common terms used by so-called experts, commentators, Lance’s former friends and competitors to described his interview with Oprah. I watched it all and I can tell you that I just don’t understand what people mean. Lance admitted to doping in all of the seven Tours he “won”, he admitted lying under oath and was quite open discussing his significant character flaws. Once the guy has done that, what else was he supposed to do? I have addressed the part about naming people above so no need to revisit that.
Personally, I have turned the page, “case closed”. I have a lot to do: financings, acquisitions, cycling trips, power intervals pain induced training sessions, attending kids’ ski races, doing volunteer work, dinner with family and friends etc etc.
As a amateur cyclist my conclusion is quite simple: “Professional cycling seems to appeal to deeply flawed individuals”. But if you’re going to blame Lance Armstrong and hold him responsible for all of the sport’s problems isn’t that the same as saying that human beings are not responsible for their own actions but rather that their actions are a consequence of someone else’s actions? If so, maybe we should forgive all of the other cheaters of the last fifteen years: “Lance made me do it!” Alberto, Frank, are you listening? Was it Lance’s fault?
On a lighter note, I was recently riding my mountain bike in the national park close to my house. It was an opportunity for me to relax, get some fresh air and listen to the new Led Zeppelin live album Celebration Day. I am not sure why, but I thought about Lance and drew a parallel between Lance, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Lance wanted to be rich and famous and he decided to take drugs to achieve it. Hearing Led Zeppelin sound so great and be so popular after almost fifty years as a rock band, I concluded that maybe Lance should have chosen pot and rock & roll instead of EPO and cycling.