cycling matters

The VV View: Lance Armstrong’s Downfall – Good for Cycling or a Disaster?

Lance Armstrong's Downfall: King Pyrrhus of Epirus gained a victory over the Romans in 279 BC at the battle of Asculum in Apulia. The Epiriotic forces, although they won the battle, suffered severe losses to the elite of their army.

A Pyrrhic victory has come to be known as one which comes with a devastating cost.

Despite bowing out of the official process, Armstrong continues his fight in the court of public opinion.

Whether you love Lance Armstrong or hate him, have no doubt that if he is ultimately snared, brought down and skinned with his hide left out in the sun to cure then it will not be a triumph, it will be a disaster.

During the recent Olympic Games I chuckled to myself as tradesmen friends gave me in depth analysis of the GB team’s tactical failings in the road race.

It was great to have our sport treated seriously and given the scrutiny usually reserved in Scotland for soccer and rugby.

That joy within me has turned to dread;

"I see they’re all still at it."


"Why do you get so excited about cycling, they all take drugs."

If your argument is that ‘the guilty must be punished’ it would surely make sense to first conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in business speak; ‘a method of comparing the cost of a program with its expected benefits in dollars.’

But let’s substitute the image and wellbeing of our sport for dollars.

There are two benefits if Lance ‘goes down’ – the guilty have indeed been punished.

And there is proof positive that no one can expect to get away with drugs cheating on a grand scale – not even Lance.

But what of the cost?

The cult of ‘Lance Believers’ is much diminished; only the real fanatics continue to believe that he’s pure.

Most people of my acquaintance within the sport accept that the smoke clouds are too thick for there not to have been a big blaze somewhere back up in the woods.

But the fire of organised, systematic drugs cheating within cycling teams has been extinguished.

That’s not to say that individuals will not cheat – they’ve been doing that since Biblical times and will continue to do so.

But the Festina, Telekom and yes, US Postal horrors are behind us.

Everyone knows what went on in the 20 years from 1990 onwards; leave it under a rock, where it belongs.

There’s hardly a big name from that era who, given the scrutiny which Lance has been subjected too, wouldn’t be in the same mess.

To expose it to the sunlight benefits no one except the tabloid editors.

Leave the Believers with their dreams – and it must be remembered that we’re not just talking about those who’ll have to take their Lance posters down off the garage wall.

When my oldest friend was diagnosed with lung cancer – sadly, ultimately fatal – the first thing I said to him was; ‘look at Lance, he beat it.’

The man is a symbol of hope for cancer sufferers; to destroy that serves no purpose that I can see.

Livestrong was setup to help those affected by Cancer, but was it built on a fairytale?

And please remember that I’ve lived through ‘the cortisone came from saddle sore cream,’ L’Equipe joining up the dots on the early EPO ‘blind’ tests, the Frankie/JV instant message conversation, and all the rest – I’m not a Believer.

But perhaps since this is a cost-benefit analysis, let’s think about dollars just for a moment.

USADA, to my understanding, now has to present their evidence to the world to back up their actions against Lance.

Presumably this will involve their witnesses – who ‘cut deals’ with the authorities to avoid personal sanction – ‘spilling the beans.’

We don’t have positive ID’s on the witnesses, but perusal of the list of athletes who withdrew themselves from possible selection for a recent major event gives us some clues.

These will not be the testimonies of men like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis who lied for years about their own cheating and who’s testimony against Lance – however compelling – has to be ignored, but household names, squeaky clean ‘heroes.’

Not only will these testimonies shatter even more dreams, they’ll send a cold shiver up the back of marketing men trying to coax new sponsors into the sport; ‘Jeez! I didn’t realise it was that bad!

The Festina watch company remained in the sport in various ways after the team they sponsored was disgraced in 1998 - any publicity being good publicity perhaps.

But as the books on positive mental attitude would say; ‘it it is what it is’ and by failing to defend his position, Lance’s team now has no right to question witnesses or evidence in court.

But it also gives him sort of way out; ‘I wasn’t part of their circus,’ etc. etc.

The Texan’s position is that only the UCI have jurisdiction in the case; to which USADA respond that the sport’s governing body was involved in covering up a failed test result from him, conducted during the Tour of Switzerland.

And there’s also the matter of controversial payments made by Lance to the UCI to consider – as USADA say of letting the UCI run the investigation; ‘the fox guarding the henhouse.’

Lance hasn’t made too many mistakes during his career but the roots of his current woes can be traced back to two errors of judgment.

He shouldn’t have come back; seven Tours is enough for any one man.

And he should have thrown a floundering Floyd Landis a lifeline with a ride in his team, had Lance said to the world; ‘Floyd messed up, we’re giving him a second chance,’ no one would have batted an eyelid.

Instead, he told Landis to, ‘do his worst’ – and he’s certainly obliged.

Travis Tygart, head of USADA.

But a question which no one seems to have answered is; ‘why are USADA so determined to take him down?

There’s little doubt that they must have considered the arguments I’ve made above for ‘laissez faire’ but have still gone ahead.

There are three possible reasons:

  1. Someone at the head of USADA ‘has it in for’ Lance and there is a ‘witch hunt.’
  2. There’s a political motivation.
    The wisdom at the time concerning Lance’s come back to the Tour was that it was a platform to get his name back into the public consciousness in anticipation of a move into politics.
    Lance and George Bush are ‘good old boys’ from Texas and there’s nothing voters in the US like more than a ‘can do’ attitude.
    If there was a political motive – then his detractors have done a damn good job.
  3. There are men of principle within USADA for whom the ‘truth must out.’

I just hope it’s the last of those three options.


4 Responses »

  1. The reason you left "the truth" out of your cost benefit analysis is because it has no monetary value.

    Unfortunately the truth is merely it's own reward. Morality is it's own reward, too. All truth does is make you feel warm, fuzzy and satisfied inside; it doesn't pay the bills, in fact in this case (as you have clearly calculated for us) it will do the opposite in the medium term at least. Even if cycling never recovers we should be proud that this happened, whatever the motives for doing so.

    It would be nice if we could all believe (or pretend to believe) in the unadulterated purity of the Lance myth again. We'd all be richer, cycling would be wealthier, heroes would be real and whatever I asked from Santa Claus would turn up on Christmas morning.

    I for one am glad that no one will be allowed to polish the Lance turd again for their own gain, I don't care what it cost, I'll manage.

  2. Whilst I concur that it's likely that some potential sponsors may want to stay away from cycling at this moment in time, I think that in one or two generations of pros' time (ie. 10 or 20 years), the sport's reputation will be light years from where it is now, and sponsors will be falling over each other to be involved.

    Young riders about to turn pro now will see the biggest name in cycling of all being caught and stripped of major wins, and they'll know that whoever you are, and whatever the tests now can uncover, there's no guarantee that if you cheat you'll not be caught.

    That has to be the best possible reason for USADA using the evidence they have to take the case to it's conclusion.

  3. I don't buy the witchhunt argument at all - for more than a decade rumours have been persistent but thanks to an amazing teflon coat nothing stuck? Why? Pat and his pals at the UCI might know why.

    Unethical journalists need to be careful now not to be too quick admitting that they knew why.

    And a millionaire athlete with more money than several entire pro teams certainly knows why.

    The sport is more important than any lost revenue with nervous corporations. As cycling fans we should now be hounding the door of Chateau Aigle and crying revolution.

  4. I'm with Paul Kimmage on this.

    It's been the sweeping under the carpet, the "let sleeping dogs lie", the reticence to turn over and look under the rocks for fear of what might be found, in cycling that has led the sport to this mess.

    The answer isn't more of that, more of letting the doping problem continue to fester under the surface.

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