A Lance Armstrong fan, I was absolutely blown away on Sunday when reading an extract from cycling star Tyler Hamilton’s upcoming book.
I was waiting in the longest line in Hungry Jack’s history to order my mum and I some lunch. (I’m not kidding! I returned to our table 20 minutes after leaving her. And yes I timed it!) So while I waited, I picked up a Herald Sun and devoured the excerpt.
Now, you might now know the Hamilton name, but it’s worthwhile reading on. In short, he was a gun cyclist who raced alongside Lance Armstrong in three of his Tour de France victories. He won Olympic gold medals but returned positive results on doping tests multiple times (the bad kind of ‘positive’) and retired from the sport as a result.
Blatant drug use
I was stunned at how explicitly he detailed his use of drugs and masking agents used to hide those illegal substances in tests. Obviously I was reading a portion from somewhere in the middle of his book, so it wasn’t the lack of contrition that was sobering. It was the incredible depth that cyclists went to in order to contravene the rules.
This was a far-reaching conspiracy that included an inordinate amount of riders, teams and doctors whose sole purpose was to beat the system. Forget the integrity of competition; find a way to not get caught.
At the heart of this piece was someone who for so long I believed and believed in. I read Lance Armstrong’s first autobiographical book in 2000, ‘It’s not about the bike’ and was immediately sold on the athlete and the man. There was one rider who made Le Tour what it is now – Lance. This cantankerous Texan shifted the appeal from a European-base and snapped it into a global phenomenon.
It didn’t bother me too much that he was known to be pretty much an a$$####. Most superduperstars are. Michael Jordan, Greg Norman, Jimmy Connors, Tiger Woods, Wayne Carey, Buddy Franklin (sorry, I had to) all have a bit of that gene in them. I don’t admire them for being good blokes; I’ve got plenty of great mates around for that. It’s their unbelievable skill, athleticism and drive that is so compelling.
And you also have to remember that I’ve supported the Lakers since I first saw an NBA game as a child. For the last 13 years, Kobe has been at the heart of the team. You know, Kobe ‘selfish, ball hogger, horrible teammate, alleged felon, maybe with Steph Rice maybe not’ Bryant, to name but a few?
By the way, the latest on Kobe is a classic. In this article, an ex-teammate with a shocking name – Smush Parker – detailed how he went to talk to Kobe about football and was told in no uncertain terms that until he had to get more accolades under his belt before he could have a conversation with him! I tried this out with a couple of friends over the weekend; didn’t go well. I kid I kid…
Lance won 7 Tours in a row. He was brash, dominant and uber-confident. Of course the cycling fraternity would be looking for reasons to justify his otherworldy performance standards.
I heard last week about the US Anti-Doping Agency’s 1,000 page report on Armstrong that contained ‘overwhelming evidence’ regarding his systematic doping. I knew they were ‘out to get him’ and had been for some time, so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
The pieces in the puzzle quickly began to fall, though.
- The suspicious response when Armstrong failed to challenge the findings, so he could ‘concentrate on other areas of my life’ when he previously been so bullish about upholding his reputation and his brand.
- The unbelievable amount of riders who had admitted their own drug-taking and directly implicated Lance – Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador, Frank Schleck and the entire Cofidis team in 2007 have all done the walk of shame.
- And then the ‘coincidentally-timed’ release of Tyler Hamilton’s book, containing first-hand recounts of conniving planning and enacting of ongoing drug abuse.
- A 1,000+ page report! Look, there’s a few people in this world I don’t really like, probably no one I’m ‘out to get’, but still, a 1,000+ page report!? Sorry, Serena Williams, I’m just not that into you.
It’s been a while since I read ‘It’s not about the bike’, so I’ll be paraphrasing here, but Lance convinced me, and millions of others, that he could not have taken performance-enhancing drugs because it would harm his body due to cancer.
So, not only did he garner global admiration for returning to cycling and winning the toughest bike race in the world within three years, but he leveraged cancer to add supporting evidence to the fact, sorry lie, that he could not have possibly been able to inject illegal drugs into his fragile system. In terms of low acts, I’d say the misuse of cancer would be pretty high on the scale, wouldn’t you?
What he stood for
Cycling has been tainted for too long with the drug-abuse brush. A myriad of big names of ex-winners have had their titles stripped from them, their careers ended after yet another run-in with anti-doping agencies.
Lance stood above them all; his aura, his success, his vehement and passionate pleadings of innocence.
But he has been shown to be a liar, a fraud, a thief and he has betrayed those of us who believed in him and what he stood for. Cancer recovery was used as a self-indulgent and self-promotional tool. He is selfish, egotistical, and as yet, unwilling to own up to his mistakes.
For seven consecutive years, clean rivals were robbed of a chance of victory. Now, it looks like no official winner will be declared from 1999 – 2005. Let’s not play the ‘Oh they were all using it back then’ card. Clean riders have been robbed, make no mistake about that.
Armstrong’s ‘Live Strong’ Foundation has been rocked and the yellow wrist bands may be being cut from thousands of wrists as we speak…
He gave cycling credibility and built an incredible fan base for the sport and for himself who otherwise would have been disinterested. How many of us were up late at night to watch a great ply his trade? What a waste of time.
Now? Now he’s just Ben Johnson.
Except this fraud took far longer than 9.79 seconds to play out…
Even today, the day after I drafted this post, there is an article in which Armstrong, under oath, categorically denied doping, claiming ‘the faith that people have put in me over the year … would be erased … losing the support of hundreds of millions of people.’
There’s still a part of me that wants this to play out as a giant jealousy-fuelled conspiracy against the greatest cyclist of all time and that he will be exonerated and an unthinkable governmental collusion will be exposed.
Of course that won’t happen. Our sports stars are sometimes elevated onto pedestals on which there is only one way to go. Down.
But this far down?
This one stings.