Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Stab of the Lance

This story has a long set-up that might bore some people who are not fans of pro cycling.. It is necessary to help stress my later points about cheating and the duality of a said individual.

When I was younger, I was a cycling enthusiast. I used to bike 20 miles a day. This was not due to any particular affinity for any pro cyclist, but for liking the challenge of beating childhood rivals who bested me in other pursuits.

I did follow pro cyclists of that time. 

The best of that era, the late 70's to early 80's, and arguably,  of all time, was Bernard Hinault, of France. He is a five time Tour de France winner, the most prestigious championship in world cycling.  Le Blaireau, or The Badger, had a personality that matched his riding style. He was outspoken, easily offended,  and quick with a witty retort.  They were many people who disliked this man personally, but many of those same people will say he is the greatest athletes of all time. He retired after placing second in the 1986 Tour de France behind the winner, Greg LeMond. He was 31 years old.

During the early 80's, and the emergence of  LeMond,  changed the way the world viewed American cyclists.  He was the world champion in "83. In 1986, he became the first American to win the Tour de France. He missed the next two tours because of a hunting accident that nearly killed him. He came back in '89 and won by a mere 8 seconds.. He defended his title in 1990 and in doing so, became only one of six riders at the time to win three of more titles of the Tour de France. I personally think if he competed in '87 and '88, he would of won those as well.

LeMond, then 30, tried to become the first rider since Hinault to win three consecutive Tours. He did well early in the '91 Tour, but I think age and injuries took its toll. He lost the yellow jersey after Stage 12, and he never did catch up with eventual winner Miguel Indurian. He never was same rider again and retired after dropping out in the '94 Tour de France.  He was 33 years old.

I am going on record to say that the Spaniard Miguel Indurain is the best cyclist I have ever watched compete. He is also a pretty humble and unassuming guy. He had physical disadvantages,being 6' 2" with long legs, many experts said would hurt him on the hills. However, his circulatory system was superior to even those of elite riders.  Oxygen got to his heart faster which put less strain on it. That explained why he so much better in the mountainous stages where the air was thinner. He won the '91 to '95 Tours de France, becoming the fourth rider to accomplish this feat, and the first  to win them consecutively. He retired after the "96 Tour de France after placing 11th. He was 32 years old.

The '96 Tour had a young Texan rider by the name of Lance Armstrong, who dropped out after feeling ill. It was only a couple of months later where his legacy began.

 On October 2, 1996, 25 year old Armstrong was diagnosed with Stage 3 Embryonal Carcinoma, or advanced testicular cancer.  The cancer had metastasized to his lungs and brain. After his diseased testicle was removed,  he was giving only a 2 in 5 chance to survive. He received chemotherapy for 2 and half months, and tumors were removed from his brain.

In February 1997, doctors declared him cancer free. Not long after this, he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now known as the Livestrong Foundation. It's purpose is to give support and practical information to cancer patients and their families. It has raised nearly a half of billion dollars since it's inception.

July 1999. After a long and furious comeback, Armstrong wins the '99 Tour de France by over 7 minutes. Even though two of the best riders, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantini did not compete, it was still a great achievement.  He was 27 years, 10 months old.

The 2000 Tour had Armstrong winning by 6 minutes over second place Ullrich.

2001 Tour,  The Texan won again over Ullrich by nearly 7 minutes.

2002, Ullrich was suspended and did not race. Armstrong again won by 7 minutes.

2003, It was much closer than the previous Tours, Armstrong won by only 61 seconds to become only the fifth rider to win 5 Tours de France, and the second to do it consecutively. He was 31 years, 10 months old.

2004, Armstrong  won by 6:19. Ullrich was fourth.  Armstrong wins 6th consecutive Tour de France.

Tyler Hamilton won the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics for cycling time trial.  Hamilton, a teammate of Armstrong's from 99-2001, was later stripped of his medal for doping.

2005, Armstrong wins 7th in a row by 4:40. Ullrich was third.  Armstrong retires from competitive cycling at the age of 33 years and 10 months.

You noticed that I mention Jan Ulrich quite often. He was the first German to win the Tour de France in '97. He placed second in '98, to the Italian Marco Pantani. I mention his other finishes earlier.

The 2006 Tour de France was the first without Armstrong. It was won by American Floyd Landis, a teammate of Armstrong's. Oscar Pereiro was second.  Ullrich was banned from competing for a earlier doping violation.

Landis was stripped on his title when he failed his test at Stage 17.  Cyclists submit two samples, called A and B, and must fail both, which Landis did. He appealed, but the ban was upheld.  Pereiro was declared the winner, despite the fact he also failed a doping test for a prescribed drug that was legal, and though he got this waiver retroactively, his title remained intact.

Pantini died in 2004 of a cocaine overdose. Though he never tested positive, there were allegations of doping, and he sat out the '99 Tour de France. The shadows of these accusations contributed to his depression, creating the drug habits that caused his death. 

It's 2007, and with the above information, combined with his health background, no one can reasonably conclude that Lance Armstrong did not cheat to win any, if not all, his Tours de France.

It's 2010, and Floyd Landis stopped fighting his allegations. He came clean and admitted to doping. He also said that others on his team were doing it also, including Armstrong.

I also believe that Pantini, Ullrich, Pereiro, and even the great Indurain cheated.

I also really don't care because the International Cycling Union (UCI) knew about doping for years. It only does something when someone else brings it to them. That's what a good union does: protects it's members.

The U.S. Postal Cycling Team had the most sophisticated doping program around. They would of gotten away with it, but because Landis caught got and couldn't beat it, he brought the rest of the team down with him.

Now, I am not condoning cheating. I am also not condemning those who did.

Frankly, anyone who competes in anyway, be it in sports, business, love, or life, cheats in some form.

That's right. I said it. We are all cheaters. Some of us worse than others. Some of us have to cheat to compete.  It is only our moral compass that keeps us from crossing over that arbitrary line. This line is never the same from person to person.

I will say most of us will confess if we're caught.

Immorality has always had a transitory understanding.

Lance Armstrong in not a evil guy.  He has complex duality like the rest of us.  He survived cancer when the odds were against him.  He was lucky to be alive, for sure. He created one of the best cancer support network ever.

But as an athlete,  that life is different. It's about competing, being the best. Honestly, he had no business even being on the same elite level as the rest of his cycling peers. I was shocked when he won in '99.  I never thought of how he did that, just was happy that a guy who beat cancer did something extraordinary.

He got a pass. It never crossed anyone's mind that he might of cheated, and if it did, no one said anything publicly.

Greg LeMond knew.  A Three time winner himself, he knew that Lance was to good to be true.

LeMond is a huge anti-doping advocate. He knew the sport was dirty even when he competed.  There were whispers about LeMond when he won.  It is often unfair to assume that all winners cheat, but it was there.

LeMond knew tendencies, knew strategy, knew about the physics and physiology. 

More importantly, he knew about the doctors known for doping.

He knew Armstrong cheated.  He didn't come right out and say it.  He didn't throw Lance to the wolves.  When the evidence came out slowly, he just said he was disappointed.

Now,  though I said Lance is not a evil guy, he is definitely not a good guy. 

A good guy still makes mistakes, and eventually comes clean because his conscience gets the better of him.

For Armstrong, this is not the case. He only did it because he was cornered. Oprah is a PR move.

Here is a guy who to protect his huge empire, repeatedly intimidated fellow teammate, Frankie Andreu, and his wife Betsy.  Andreu was the guy that allowed Armstrong to win the first 2 of his Tours by being the road captain.

Andreu, by his own admission, doped. He did it '98 and '99. He said he stopped in 2000.

That was his mistake, the doping program was like the Mafia. No leaves voluntarily.  Placing 111th in 2000, the U.S. team gave him a ridiculously low offer.  He quit. He other offers from teams, but they
mysteriously vanished.

Then Armstrong had the ball (yeah, that's right, I wrote that!) to pay someone to bear false witness against LeMond for doping. That is scary. What is scarier is that Trek Bicycle, maker of LeMond bikes since the '90's, issued an apology on the behalf of LeMond solely because they also sponsored a much lucrative name - Armstrong.  LeMond never gave permission for that release and sued them.

 I understand that no one wanted to talk. There was a lots of money and power connected to Lance Armstrong.  However, what bothers me is why no one came out to defend LeMond, a guy who never doped, against a guy who, I believe, would give up his mother than admit anything.

That's the line for me.  I don't feel sorry for Andreu, Hamilton, Landis or the others who knew what could happen.  If you doped, you have no business to give up the others.

LeMond, on the other hand, I do.  He will forever be lumped together with them all. He said he never cheated, and I believe that.  There were many who knew the truth and did not defend him. There will be many who won't still believe him.

As for Armstrong, he used his medical background and foundation as a character cover to be able to cheat. Unfortunately for him, this circle of lies contained to many people who knew the truth.  You can't crush all of them.

The interview with Oprah airs tonight. I am not watching.

He might come clean, but I know he is going to still lie about it in some way. His pathology makes his do it.

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