I don’t have a stake in whether or not Lance Armstrong doped to win his seven Tours. I didn’t watch his seven Tours. Frankly, I think he and his directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel, are self-righteous jackasses, but sometimes you have to be to win the big races.
Since he first won the Tour de France, in 1999, Lance Armstrong has been the most scrutinized cyclist in the history of the sport. He’s a cancer survivor, he’s a seven-time, in a row!, winner, and, oh yeah, he’s American. I would guess that nobody has been subjected to more drug tests than he has. He never tested positive. I may not like the guy as a guy, but he knows how to ride.
I say I don’t have a stake, but I kind of do. I don’t like doping in sport. In any sport. Perhaps I was spoiled, growing up a hockey fan. Wikipedia lists a total of three cases of doping in ice hockey. The first player to test positive for steroids was Bryan Berard, and that didn’t happen until 2006. The first NHL suspension wasn’t handed down until 2007.
Road racing hasn’t been so easy to watch. In my career as a cycling fan, I’ve seen cyclists win, get caught, serve their ban, then come back, and win again. It definitely doesn’t feel long enough. Armstrong retired after his seventh win in 2005. He’s been retired long enough that he’s already made his ill-advised comeback and retired again. He’s racing triathlons now, though not right now, not since the United States Anti-Doping Agency laid out their formal charges.
Those charges, by the way, say the USADA “collected blood samples from him in 2009 and 2010 that were ‘fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.’” That doesn’t sound like a confirmed positive result. Coming now, long after the tests, longer after Armstrong’s last big win, it doesn’t sound like the USADA is worried about what’s happening in cycling right now. It sounds like spite, holding on too long to past grudges, instead of working to clean up the future of the sport.
When people discover you’re a cycling fan, they’ll eventually ask what you think of Lance Armstrong. He is too big in a sport too small for this to be the entirety of the case against him. Armstrong’s strongest defence has always been his cancer. It’s a good case. After suffering chemotherapy, why would he ever willingly put poison in his body again? But, of course, that’s not what the USADA charges allege. Blood doping isn’t steroids; it’s just blood, injected to stimulate oxygen and red cell production.
My case has always been to ask how. If Armstrong did dope, if Bruyneel did cover it up, I don’t know how they did it, how they shut up the American media machine that surrounded Lance Armstrong for more than a decade. That’s where it all falls down for me. I don’t believe they are above reproach. I won’t be surprised if this is all true, which saddens me, but I’m getting used to it. But the very next thing I will want to hear, after an apology, is the story of how.
This all feels more like a fight between the USADA and Lance Armstrong. In a statement posted on his website, Armstrong proves my point. We won’t see a win come out of this. Maybe a version of the truth. That’s why I’m not rooting for either side.
I’m rooting for cycling.