The Lance doping scandal is making quite a few headlines, and yes, I suppose I’m falling in line. But, I’m here to try and ground the subject a bit.
It is no mystery that Lance is a hero of mine and that I look up to and admire the guy for all of his achievements. But, unfortunately, it seems that the doping dialog is currently overwhelming everything else he had to overcome. It would seem that blood doping and steroid use is on the forefront of every one’s consciousness and our immediate reaction is to think less of the person who subscribes to that activity. The USADA is on a persistent hunt to eliminate doping from pro races and will go so far as to try and strip titles and awards of those athletes who have some affiliation with banned performance enhancing drugs. But here’s the problem.
Removing drugs from professional sports will never happen. In order to get to the level that these guys are at, performance enhancing drugs had been implemented by athletes from the very start. It’s not like pro cyclists are saying, “wow! I’m in the Tour de France, I better start doping to keep up!” No, it begins in the amateur races. It begins in the development teams and the local cat 3 and cat 4 races. It’s the guys that are trying to move up in the rankings, the ones who are trying to establish themselves as MVP teammates. If you want to stop doping in the sport of cycling, it must to begin in the non-pro races and the non-elite riders. The up-n-comers. If you can clean up the sport at the bottom tiers, it will eventually trickle up especially when the amateur rider is beginning to realize that he / she doesn’t need to dope to move up.
But, here’s the next problem. People are mesmerized by professional athletes who are super humans. We need super heroes and we want them and we don’t really care how or what makes a super hero. Stan Lee knows this well. A super hero can be created by any artificial means, be it, money, spider bites, alien DNA or genetic mutations and we will flock to and spend lots of money to watch super beings perform their craft whether they are catching balls, tackling, and running, pedaling 1000 of miles and averaging 35 mph during an individual TT, lifting weights and building bodies to grotesque proportions, or swinging through the city on ropes of web. So, if we remove performance enhancing drugs from cycling, we risk removing our fascination with the sport. Spectatorship declines, advertising declines, sponsors pull out and the sport gradually fades into the background to sports like volleyball and professional paddle sports (canoeing). So, we need to really ask ourselves what is the political / financial rationale for prosecuting cyclists to the extent that this sport has?
Lastly, let’s look at what Lance has done to contribute to the sport of cycling. I began riding actively and competitively in 1985. The sport was developing quickly under the influence of Greg LeMonde, team 7-11, Davis Phinney, Connie Carpenter, Alexi Greywall, Eric Heiden, Ron Kiefel and other prominent USA cycling superstars. Then, these guys faded out and cycling became reduced to a few weekend warriors. The roads were almost devoid of cyclists. Living in California in 1987, I was an anomaly, some lone guy with a bike with skinny tires and shaved legs wearing spandex. I rode until 1992 pretty much alone. The roads were covered with cars. What was a bike lane?
Then, in 1999, Lance won his 3rd TDF. Cycling began to emerge. In 2002, Lance’s 5th win, where were you? What was your involvement with the sport. I suspect that many of you started riding. Started identifying yourself with the impossible. You too could be a Lance Armstrong, right? How many of you were motivated to ride? The streets slowly filled with bikes. Groups developed, bike clubs gained members by the dozens, by the hundreds! Bike lanes were being built, bike paths being constructed, 2 lane roads were being reduced to single lanes with a bike lane, share the road signs popped up, critical masses sprung up, bike technology blossomed with carbon fiber materials, ultra light frames, 9 speed cassettes. New companies sprung up, FSA, SRAM, Crank Brothers, to name a few to compete with Campy and Shimano. Wearing Lycra and a colorful jersey became accepted attire on the roads regardless of how silly you looked. Huge cycling events emerged with 1000’s of cyclists turning out to participate in century rides, The Elephant Rock, Chico Wildflower, Triple Bypass, Death Ride, Five Boro Bike Tour. And now we have in the USA 4 big cycling races, Tour of CA, USA Pro, Tour of Utah and Tour de Georgia and more on the way to becoming huge. Spectatorship and support of the sport has grown exponentially in just the last 10 years. What was the trigger to all of this? Lance?
So, before we judge, let’s give credit where credit is due. How many people has he influenced throughout his career. How many lives have improved to increased health and fitness by getting on a bike? How many roads have changes to improve safety and how many laws are in place now that were not in place prior to 2002 to protect a cyclist. How has your life changed over the last 10 years? Discuss…