The days of yellow jerseys, roses on podiums and yellow wristbands are long gone. The fairy tale of a stage four Cancer survivor who beat the odds to win The Tour de France a record seven times, has rapidly dissipated. A yellow haze has descended upon the world of cycling.
13 years ago, 60 Minutes aired its first story on Lance Armstrong, dubbing him “The Miracle Man”. That story, among others were all part of an elaborate hoax, orchestrated by Armstrong himself. After 13 years in the driver’s seat of writing and controlling the narrative of his life story, the jig was finally up.
Today, the story of Lance Armstrong consists of courtrooms, lawsuits, angry fans, athletes and sponsors. Most recently, the saga unfolded into a tell-all interview that posed more questions than it answered. The highly anticipated and much overdue tell-all interview was supposed to answer all the lingering questions and finally but an end to this 13-year charade.
However, the United States Doping Agency (USADA) and Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA have different plans. Tygart and USADA have extended Armstrong’s original deadline of Feb. 6th to Febr 23rd to testify under oath if he truly wants his lifetime cycling ban to be rescinded. However, the fate of Armstrong and his “comeback” is not solely in the hands of USADA and Tygart as they would like to believe. The courtroom is not the only place where the Armstrong saga plays out. The court of public opinion has taken up the case and has been in session for 13 years and counting.
For two days in the middle of January, 3.2 million viewers watched the hardest, fasted fall from grace in the history of mankind. Millions watched a man who has never known defeat deal with it publicly. We watched a man grasp hopelessly in the dark for redemption, while trying to save face and a sliver of pride all at the same time. Armstrong’s half-truths kept my attention over the two day, two and a half hour interview. However, one particular moment stuck me more than the others. During the first half of the interview, Oprah read an email from a friend to Lance. It read:
“I’ve heard that he (Lance) is a real jerk. But I will always root for Lance. He gave me hope at a very dire time. My first-born son had just been diagnosed with leukemia two weeks before his first birthday. And I’m in intensive care barely able to breathe and my brother sends me Lance’s new book, It’s Not About the Bike, I read it cover to cover through the night, it showed me there was hope for my son to not only live but to thrive. I had a choice to make that night on how I’d respond to my son’s illness and teach him how to face the world. My prayer for Lance is that as he faces his demons he remembers it’s not about the bike.”
And with that, I decided to read “It’s Not About The Bike. My Journey Back To Life” by Lance Armstrong.
Unlike most people, I decided to read a book by Armstrong AFTER he admitted to doping in all seven of his Tour de France victories. Call it curiosity, call it boredom, call it whatever you want. But at that moment, I wanted to know more about the man behind the bicycle.
As I read his book, I read it from the POV of a man with cancer, who just so happened to be a cyclist. Not as a cyclist, who just happened to have cancer. It’s actually kind of interesting to read something knowing how it ends. I knew Armstrong would defeat cancer, yet I felt like I was right there with him in the hospital with every word. I knew he would win the Tour de France in 1999, yet I was still happy for him, even though I knew he would be stripped of his title and it vacated 13 years later. But I’d be living in a fantasy world if I said I took in every word whole-heartedly, without skepticism. At one point in the novel he states:
“Doping is an unfortunate fact of life in cycling. Inevitably, some teams and riders feel it’s like nuclear weapons-that they have to do it to stay competitive within the peloton. I never felt that way, and certainly after chemo the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive”.
I literally laughed out loud. Did he knowingly just tell a flat out lie or was he sincere for a brief moment, a brief moment before he began years of doping. In his tell-all interview, Armstrong said that he viewed the situation as “one big lie that he repeated a lot of times”. Had Lance told this lie for so long, that he began to believe it himself?
But living in a fantasy world built by your own denial does not give you a free pass. Athletes around the world are furious with him. Any athlete that has ever chosen to complete clean has every right to be furious. Cheating is a choice and it always will be. I in no way condone his cheating, doping or bullying. But he makes a valid point when he states:
“Too many athletes live as though problems of the world don’t concern them. We are isolated by our wealth and our narrow focus and our elitism.”
Granted, this statement was made in regards to Cancer and the numerous diseases that plague us “ordinary people” of the world. But it still has merit. He’s right, world class athletes are viewed as people of an elite class. Their instant fame and six figure plus salaries confirm it. But I had to ask myself if this assumed elitism is also another factor as to why Armstrong was so brazen and adamant of his innocence. Did he believe that his position as a world class athlete, world champion and Tour de France winner add to the idea that he could cheat and lie for so many years and get away with it unscaved?
On the bike Lance Armstrong was Superman. He battled Cancer and found his way back to competitive cycling. In an almost poetic twist of fate, the very drugs that gave him what he wanted ultimately became his kryptonite and now leave him with no means of future income for the foreseeable future. I hope now, Armstrong realizes that partial truths will only get you so far. They only make people want to expose you even more. Even after 13 years, the Lance Armstrong story is still a story of deception.
The Lance Armstrong that wrote “It’s Not About the Bike” was happy with the life that he had, simply because he had a life. I imagine that he still feels the same way today, despite his current situation. Coming clean is never easy, but I’m sure it’s much smaller of an obstacle than battling stage four testicular Cancer. At the end of the Oprah tell-all interview, he still had his life; sans a few shreds of dignity, but life nonetheless.
Even after all of the lies and deception, I still chose to root for Lance. Just days away from his deadline, all I can do today is offer Lance my understanding. For he is just a man; with flaws, troubles and weaknesses just the like the rest of us. My only hope for him is that he realizes now more than ever, that it’s not about the bike. The journey towards redemption is a foot path with no short cuts. I have no doubt that he will blaze that trail, as he has done so many times before.