The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I didn't blog about it when the allegations came out last summer, but they've been at the back of my mind since then. Today, however, the International Cycling Union officially exonerated Lance Armstrong from the doping accustaions made in L'Equipe last August. Lance, of course, denied it all along, and this was, in some sense, just the latest in an endless series of doping claims against him in the European press. Americans make up only a dozen out of over 500 riders on the European tour (even fewer when Lance won his first Tour), so it was galling that Lance should dominate the marquee event in the unprecedented way that he did.

As I said, I didn't blog it, but I did write about it at the time. When the news broke, a friend of ours who teaches in Paris wrote with concern:
Okay, so please send me the insider's (insiders') version of the fresh-off-the-press revelations about Lance and drugs. I'd cut the Discovery Channel's full-paged ads congratulating him out of my dad's newspapers, to paste on my classroom walls. Is this now politically incorrect?
I responded:
I'm not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, the story seems very thorough, and the evidence seems clear, if far from definitive (only one sample, 6 years old, frozen...); on the other, L'Equipe has been against Lance from Day One. It's hard not to view this in the context of the 6 year vendetta the French press has had against him.

The final point is that this regards his first win. He's had 6 since then, with the substance in question (EPO) being thoroughly tested all those years. The cynical view is that he's simply stayed one step ahead of the testing. But if he has, it seems certain that others have as well, and that means that he, on doping, is better than the others on doping.

I do wish it could be definitive - break my heart or let me have my hero, but don't string me along. Alas, in this day and age, it's no longer a choice. But, EPO or no, Lance is a hero. Put up those pages with pride. Il est le mieux.
Of course this issue has been on my mind of late because of the Bonds controversy. Although I've commented a few places about it, I haven't pulled together a post here because I had to deal with my very different responses to Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds.

As I wrote to my friend, I was doubtful about the allegations, and was unwilling to dismiss Lance's accomplishments even in the event that they proved true. In contrast, I view Bonds as nothing more than a fraud, and consider his 715 HRs a sad joke. Why the contrast?

The simple, cynical answer is that I'm a Lance fan and not a Bonds fan. Furthermore, there's the race issue (although anyone who knows me could tell you that I'm a lot more likely to prejudge a Texan-American than an African-American). And to be honest, I didn't have a firm alternative to those explanations. Except:

First off, Lance & Bonds both transformed themselves, mid-career, from great to the best. But of course the reasons for the transformations differed: where Bonds turned into a suspiciously thick-necked behemoth for no apparent reason, Lance nearly died from cancer, then came back leaner than ever (mass is the cyclist's foe, especially on climbs), and put in staggering work to recover.

Bringing us to the next difference. Simply put, no cyclist has ever had the work ethic of Armstrong. His early spring training rides are the stuff of legend: his support car tells him the pass ahead is impassable with snow. He challenges the report, and rides up anyway. Sure enough, a meter of snow. C'mon, Lance, get in the car. No, I'll ride back down. His greatest rival, Jan Ullrich, could barely be bothered to go home from the clubs at a reasonable hour, and all the while Lance was working, working. In contrast, while people used to talk about Barry's training - they had to find some reason for his sudden power - it was really not extraordinary in this day and age. Yet the results were so extraordinary. Hmmm....

Finally, and this brings us back to the reason for this post, the attitude of the press towards the two is so different. While Bonds and his supporters paint him as a press martyr, the reality is that, the year he hit 73, no one in the mainstream sporting press so much as whispered - hinted even - steroids. Sure, they portrayed him as a prick - I've never heard anyone honestly claim he isn't one - but a hard-working, honestly talented prick. But the European press has always hated Lance, and every Tour was accompanied by competing accusations and slanders, including the execrable book L.A. Confidential. And despite all that - in particular, despite being drug tested almost literally every day of competition - no one ever laid a finger on Lance. And as the news today tells us, they still haven't.

Vive le Lance. LiveStrong.



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