If road race cycling were a necklace, it would have been returned, tarnished and lacking in lustre. Its great legacy slowly eradicated by an infestation of doping offences, the core values of the sport have largely been lost. The necklace had a saving grace, however. Amidst the tarnished gold façade, and rusting chain sat a gemstone, pure and unspoiled—the pinnacle of the chains excellence and its defining characteristic. Despite the corroded chain upon which it sat the gem provided an inspiration amidst the mire of inadequacy, a reminder of just what was possible.
Today the cycling community that he defined has turned on Lance Armstrong, the gemstone whose legacy was its salvation, and attempted to corrupt and defile the achievements of the greatest practitioner the sport of cycling has ever known.
This year's Tour de France, even as an English sports fan, was the least fulfilling in the recent era. Bradley Wiggins did incredibly well to win his country’s inaugural Tour crown, yet it was a race as defined by its absentees as it was its winner. The first and second finisher’s from the last tour, and almost certainly the biggest two names in the general classement still active, were absent.
Alberto Contador, the 2011 winner, had failed a drug test and was banished from the competitive circuit. The runner up, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, inexplicably pulled out citing injury. During the 2012 Tour itself Andy Schleck’s brother, Frank Schleck, a rider who had threatened the podium in previous years was caught out by a doping violation, and in doing so, cast light on the validity of his brothers injury claim.
Yet, it seems the sport of road race cycling is not sated. Its reputation defiled, face down in the proverbial mud, cycling is to go another round. So, the USADA, or United States Anti Doping Authority, took the only logical step in pursuit of complete farce and attacked its prodigal son, its gemstone. Lance Armstrong, two years retired, and despite never failing a drugs test in almost 20 years of competition, was found guilty. Makes sense.
It is not a new story. Throughout the cyclists career, Armstrong has been dogged by the insatiable rumour mongers, labelling him a cheat, a doper and attempting to sully his impeccable reputation. Yet Armstrong is the most tested cyclist of all time. Throughout his career, in and out of competition, the authorities tested and tested, desperate for justification to their outlandish assertions, and when none came they simply tested again.
There is only so much a man can take, and after a twenty-year struggle, the task of perpetually upholding his honour in a world where guilty despite proven innocent is the mantra, has run its course. Lance Armstrong, in a statement from the Associated Press, said he was “finished with this nonsense...If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and - once and for all - put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance.”
The statement continued: “But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Going forward I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year-old on the planet. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of circumstance."
Disillusioned with an adversary whose vendetta knows as few bounds as it holds substance, Lance Armstrong has simply stepped out of the arena. An innocent man, until proven otherwise, he understandably grows weary of an incessant battle. Such a decision is not an admission of guilt, simply a concerted effort to harness his energy in an avenue in which it will be of benefit. By focusing on his charity work, Lance’s efforts could reap that benefit.
The ‘basis’ of the USADA’s argument supposedly centres around the claims of a number of Armstrong’s former teammates who have ‘supposedly’ borne witness to the American doping and leading doping practices within his teams.
It is deja vu—former teammates have come forward before to accuse the great man. Floyd Landis for instance, who was later caught doping himself. Reliable sources? An argument constructed entirely on hearsay and a legend who has never failed a doping test—the facts remain.
Lance Armstrong should be remembered as he competed. A cancer survivor who rose from his death bed against seemingly insurmountable odds to become the greatest cyclist of his or any other generation. A charity activist whose work has raised $500 million in the battle against cancer. And a loving family man, whose legacy will be the inspiration for generations to come.
I believe him.