Monday, January 14, 2013

1999: We cheered, we were inspired, and we rode

We now know Lance Armstrong doped. Big time. Using a sophisticated regimen designed to pass the drug testing system in place, while under the scrutiny afforded a winner. And in all likelihood, with the knowledge and support of a portion of the UCI and other authorities there to police it. That is what we know today.

My LiveStrong band, worn for almost 3 years.
In 1999, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, won the Tour De France, the first American to win the Tour since Greg Lemond in 1990. And we cheered. And he passed the drug tests, while dozens around him failed.

In 2000, Lance won again. Again we cheered. He passed the drug tests. We bought Bicycling and Outside magazine. And Trek bikes, Oakley glasses, and Nike clothing. And stamps.

He won again, and again, and again, and each time we cheered. We waved the flag. We were inspired. We rode more, we bought more gear. Lance became a celebrity. We talked about Cheryl Crow.

Our non-cycling friends talked about the Tour and about Lance. They bought bikes and gear, and then became our cycling friends. And we cheered them on.

We were jeered too: Lycra-clad-Lance-wannabes. A jeer that worked only because everyone knew Lance Armstrong. Nobody ever yelled "Indurain-wannabee".

In 2004, we bought LiveStrong bands. Lance won again. And he passed every drug test. And we bought more bikes, more gear, and rode more miles. We bought and read the magazines and books.

LiveStrong raised millions for cancer. Here too were skeptics, even has LiveStrong became something more, almost bigger than Lance. We bought the bands for our parents, our families, our friends, for total strangers.  We bought them and we wore them for months and years.

We had our suspicions. Racing in the Tour is a brutal sport, demanding feats of endurance that are difficult to comprehend. The only thing more brutal might well be surviving cancer. We knew the answer, “I never failed a drug test” was coy, and nuanced.

In 2005, Lance won Tour number seven. We cheered, we waved the flag, we bought more bikes and gear and magazines and books. Lance had passed every drug test. We were inspired, we rode more and trained more. Our friends rode more and more too. And Lance retired.

In 2007, It all began to unravel with Floyd Landis. He won the Tour, and we cheered. And then he failed a drug test. It would take years, but it was the start, the crack in the wall.

There is disappointment now, but somehow, not real surprise. There was always that sliver of doubt, created by that nuanced “I never failed a drug test”. But we knew, or should have known, about the terrible legacy that is the Tour. The culture of finding any edge. The Tour of “No Dope, No Hope”, the Tour that left Tommy Simpson on the slopes of Mt. Ventox in `67. The EPO deaths of the `80s. Of Festina in the `90s. That finding a winner for the 1999-2005 Tours would sometimes require going multiple places to find a “clean” rider.

The titles can be stripped, the records removed, confessions made, and millions refunded. Journalists will whine about the fraud, the deception and how their trust was broken, how they were deceived. Sponsors will walk away, remove the posters and logos, and editing their websites. Yet I doubt there will be many refunds for the bikes, the clothing, the gear and magazines and books they sold, that Lance sold.

The Lance Armstrong we see tomorrow will always be reduced, a shadow what we once saw. But shadows are only cast by something of substance. What ever disappointment we have today, whatever the aftertaste that is left, it can’t undo what saw, what we felt and what did because of it.

In 1999, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, won the Tour De France.

We cheered, we were inspired, and we rode.