John D. Yoder
We finally can put to rest the idea that Lance Armstrong was just better, stronger and fitter than all those other riders in the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005.
I don’t think his revelations last week will have a negative impact on the sport of cycling or on the vast majority of recreational cyclists. I’m not riding today because of Armstrong, but because it is a great way to get the exercise I need to stay healthy. Rather, the fallout might be that we start questioning the ability of all elite athletes.
The professional cyclist who interested me in cycling was Greg LeMond. I started following bicycle races like the Tour de France when Greg LeMond won his first tour in 1986. What a joy to see an American win the Tour for the first time. Then in 2000 on a trip to France, I saw two stages of the Tour, an ending and a beginning. It was Armstrong’s second Tour, and I was thrilled to see the pageantry of the race and a fleeting glimpse of him defending his first title.
Then reports began to surface that Armstrong was suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Years passed with Armstrong always vehemently denying the accusations. But, several things made me suspicious:
First, when people asked Armstrong if he’d ever taken performance-enhancing drugs, he would never answer “No.” Instead he would say that he’d never failed a drug test, which is an answer to quite a different question, and it made me doubt that he was clean.
Second, when it became clear that most of the people Armstrong was beating in the Tour were doping, it was increasingly hard to believe that Armstrong was the only non-doper in the peloton. It’s just not possible for a non-doper to consistently beat the dopers. (Armstrong used the everyone-is-doping argument when he said he didn’t feel guilty for doping. If all are doping, then the playing field is level, in his logic.)
Third, the viciousness of his attacks on individuals, like Betsy Andreu, who said they knew he doped were the actions of an individual with something to hide. If he were innocent, there’s no need for him to ruin the lives of his accusers with lawsuits, threats and intimidation.
A glance around the Internet indicates that Armstrong’s interview with Oprah isn’t gaining him many supporters. The New York Times reported that Jeffrey M. Tillotson, a lawyer representing an insurance company that gave Armstrong $5 million, said: “It seemed to us that he was more sorry that he had been caught than for what he had done. . . . If he’s serious about rehabbing himself, he needs to start making amends to the people he bullied and vilified, and he needs to start paying money back.”
Phil Liggett, the voice of cycling who called all of Armstrong’s Tour de France victories, said of the second interview: “’This is Lance Armstrong being the Lance Armstrong he’s been throughout his life, which is arrogant, bully, brash, aggressive and win at all costs.” Liggett also faults Armstrong for not revealing the methods used in doping.
Some faulted Winfrey for not pushing him harder. The New York Times reporters Juliet Macur and Ian Austen wrote: “She did not press him on who helped him dope or cover up his drug use for more than a decade. Nor did she ask him why he chose to take banned performance-enhancing substances even after cancer had threatened his life.”
They also noted that she did not follow up about his 1996 comments in an Indianapolis hospital, reported by Betsy Andreu, that he had already doped or get him to answer questions about how he managed the elaborate cover up.
In the end, Armstrong joins a list of other fallen sports heroes from the last 25 years Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones all of whom were able to excel through doping. The sad truth is that because of them, when someone performs at a very high level today, we instinctively question whether it was a result of their skill or a choice injection.
John D. Yoder, before retiring, was a cycling commuter between Goshen and Elkhart and continues his interest in cycling as a recreational rider, teacher of cycling classes and president of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail Inc. Yoder’s Cycling Sense blog is published on www.goshencommons.org. This piece was published on Jan. 25, 2013.