October 18, 2012

Lance and USADA - My Take

Yesterday afternoon I went out for a bike ride.  It wasn’t any different from any of the other hundreds of rides I have taken in the last 7 years.  I had been staring at a computer screen for 5 straight hours and simply needed a release.  The bike always gives me that release and so much more. Over the years, my bike has satisfied my need for exercise, quenched my thirst for adventure, fueled my lust for competition (mostly against myself), taken me places without having to turn an ignition and provided a great social outlet.  Most importantly, it has given me the means to annually raise a large amount of money for First Descents, a cancer foundation that is near and dear to me.

           As I was riding on this beautiful sunny fall afternoon, I started thinking about Lance Armstrong and the voluminous number of pages of damning materials that USADA published last week (a large portion of which I have read word-for-word) that appear to prove beyond a shadow of rational doubt that Lance was doping during his 7 Tour wins and beyond.  Subconsciously, I think I had already reconciled that Lance had been doping but justified it with the belief that he was playing on an even playing field as they were all probably doping.  Additionally, I was still holding out some wishful hope that there was truth to all of his strident and vehement denials.  I read both of his books.  One thing that always stuck with me is how he maintained in the books that after going through cancer, he would have to be crazy to take PEDs and other drugs.  Crazy indeed.

            I reached a hill about halfway through the ride and stood up on the pedals.  As the heartrate increased and the legs started burning, I thought about all the other hills I have furiously climbed over the past few years channeling my inner Lance Armstrong on the L’Alpe D'Huez circa 2001.  However, on this ride and on this climb and for no apparent physical reason, I started slowing down as I was overcome with a deep abiding sadness.  I was sad that a hero was knocked from his pulpit.  I was sad that a man I admired appears to be a hypocrite and liar of the highest order.  I was sad that the indelible memories of those 7 Tour victories which entertained me, amazed me, captivated me and inspired me are forever tarnished.  However, my sadness extended well beyond Lance.  It was much more fundamental and deep.  It was the stark realization that an entire group of athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors, masseurs, administrators, family members and even those associated with the governing bodies of professional bike racing collectively and nearly unanimously violated the sanctity of sport and the purity of competition.  Lance was just the poster-boy and is certainly an easy scapegoat.  Not only did they all dope, but they laughed about it, they discussed it openly, they were cavalier . . . hell, they practically flaunted it.

The affidavits provided by Hincapie, Landis, Andreu, Leipheimer, Danielson and Zabriskie are frightening in their clarity as they provide a sordid visualization of the doping culture that was prevalent for an entire era.  What was really disturbing was that the affidavits confirmed and conveyed the common acceptance among an entire generation of riders that the decision to dope was a necessary and mandatory evil of professional bike racing.  How could none of these guys stand up at the time and defend the ideals of honest and fair competition that we were all taught as children and that we teach our own children?  How could they just go along and keep silent for years and years?  This code of silence that they call omerta is cute and quaint in fraternity barrooms, Elk Lodges and Masonic temples, but not on the world stage.  The USADA report wasn’t just an indictment of Lance Armstrong.  It was an indictment of an entire sport and, worse, an indictment of us as human beings.  

As I reached these conclusions, my pedal stroke became even heavier as I began to feel a sense of violation and loss.  Sure, the UCI can take away all the titles and medals and awards that these riders won during the “doping years” and they can hand out some lame suspensions after-the-fact.  However, nothing can ever compensate me and all the other fans, casual riders, amateur racers, up-and-coming pros and interested observers for the ideals, memories, awe, innocence and trust that these dirty athletes took away from us.  Yes, I suspected that it was going on, but I didn't really get it until I read the USADA report.   The time has come for professional cycling to make a choice.  Either it accepts that doping is part of the sport and simply lets them all do it.  Or it makes a real effort to get rid of it.  To me, the only way for them to do that is to impose lifetime bans for doping offenses.  That would be the only true deterrent from such a travesty happening again.