For the last few months I have been absolutely fascinated by cyclist Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. I am a keen cyclist and in this country one automatically assumes that you’re into road cycle racing as well. One assumes that I’m glued to the screen when the Tour (de France), the Giro (d’Italia) or the Vuelta (a España) is on. I’m not. I don’t get cycling as a spectator sport. So I am not too surprised that not more people have taken up cycling after the Olympic Games and a Brit winning the Tour de France. Bicycle racing with the lycra is a completely different matter then using one’s bike to get from A to B, but I have faith, the nation will get it some day.
Despite not being into cycling as a sport, as said, I am totally into the Armstrong saga, as that is about so much more than cycling. In some twisted way the misfortunes of the rich, famous and talented are often a form of great entertainment for lesser mortals as they are a soothing reminder that the high and mighty are not necessarily that different from Jane average in the street.
Lance Armstrong was considered a hero to many on so many different levels. As a cancer survivor he ‘won’ the Tour de France seven consecutive times, something no one has done before him. As he is American his ‘victories’ brought competitive road cycling to the attention of the American public turning the sport from a predominately European affair to a global phenomenon. He set up an influential foundation to support, encourage and inspire cancer sufferers and survivors and their families. Lance was the dogs bollocks. Lance was a winner and a philanthropist. Lance made cycling sexy.
There had always been rumours that Armstrong used banned substances to improve his performance, rumours he categorically and vehemently denied. The shit was about to hit the fan when he was investigated by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The Agency accused Armstrong of dodgy practices using blood samples and testimonials from witnesses including eleven of his former team mates as evidence to come to its conclusion and imposed a life ban. Based on USADA’s verdict the International Cycling Union, UCI, stripped the man of all his Tour de France titles. Armstrong didn’t appeal the verdict and remained silent while all his sponsors abandoned him. Then he was to be interviewed by the world’s agony aunt Oprah Winfrey. It was to be the first time he was to speak on the record after the USADA verdict. Few expected any jaw-dropping revelations, but he made them anyway. He answered yes to the questions whether he had used banned substances like EPO, tesosterone and growth hormones and whether he used these substances when he ‘won’ his Tour titles. So there you got it.
Armstrong’s interview with Oprah made great telly. The man seemed remorseful, but how do we know if the man who has lied for so many years isn’t still lying? To what extent is his interview just a PR exercise? Why go to Oprah if he could testify at the Agency under oath?
Some who consider Armstrong no more than a lying control freak and a über bully might take some satisfaction from his fall from grace. Others might be upset. I personally am quite disappointed. It is disappointing to find out that a hero is not hero. It’s the grown-up version of finding out that Santa doesn’t exist. Armstrong is not even a mere mortal, he has proved himself to be less than that. He has created this fabulous, terribly inspiring story, which was built on cheat and lies. Armstrong wanted to hold on to the fairytale no matter the costs. Those who refused to buy into it, those who knew the story was a pipe dream were bullied, intimidated and hunted down. And now the pipe dream has gone up in smoke.
As humans we are all able to achieve great things and at the same time we are all flawed one way or another. We need heroes and heroines to inspire us to do great things and some are very keen to take on that role. When it becomes apparent these people actually don’t qualify all that remains is great deception. Armstrong might be biting the dust, but it’s just not good enough. It’s too little way too late.