Adventures in life and photography out West

Heroes Fall

Okay, so I was wrong. We do, in fact, get to see the evidence against US cycling legend Lance Armstrong. It looks really bad.
The US Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA, released their 1,000-pages “Reasonable Decision” in the case against the former seven-time Tour de France champion and leader of the US Postal Service, Discovery Channel and Radio Shack teams. It’s one thing when nemesis Filippo Simeoni is sited, after all, Simeoni sued Armstrong for defamation in 2003. It’s a whole other matter when faithful lieutenant and friend George Hincapie testifies. In cycling circle, “Big” George is beyond reproach.

The paper sites the testimony of Hincapie, Simeoni, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Jon Vaughters and Dave Zabriskie against, not only Armstrong, but Johan Bruyneel, the infamous Dr. Michele Ferrari, team doctors and trainers, as well. Nine different cyclists who were questioned in the affair were also patients of Dr. Ferrari, and many were teammates of Armstrong’s over the years.

I wrote a while back that I agreed with another writer that we need one standard in doping cases and that it really needs to be physical evidence. After looking at USADA’s document, it’s hard to imagine a defense that would exonerate the one-time Boss.

The charges are: use or attempted use of a known banned substance; possession; trafficking; administration or attempted administration; assisting, encouraging aiding, abetting, covering up of the violations and witness intimidation and retaliation against witnesses.

All of this was dug up without the help of the federal case against Armstrong that was dropped. The prosecutor did not respond to requests by USADA for the files they had collected. The sheer amount of evidence against the Texan is overwhelming. USADA considered all of this so damning that they waived the usual eight-year statute of limitations.

I suppose Lance fought so hard all of these years because he had a lot to lose. He’s not just an athlete. He was a hero. He was the man who faced down poverty, raised by his single mother, was the youngest world champion in a generation, and, lest we forget, faced down a death sentence from cancer. He is the voice and face of survivors. He was the public face of the US Postal Service, Trek bicycles, Oakley sunglasses, Nike and his own Lance Armstrong Foundation. He was the face that launched 100-million rubber bracelets. He gave hope. He gave inspiration. Now what?

The real trickiness may lie in how the International Cyclists Union handles the affair. As the report notes, 20 of the 21 podium finishers of the TdFs that Lance won were also linked to doping and a mind-boggling 36 of 40 podium finishers were implicated from 1996 to 2010. While ‘everybody’s doing it’ is not a defense, it kind of puts Lances wins in perspective.

I will still buy all seven videos of the Tours that Lance won. It’s pretty clear that in a sick way, he was competing on a level plain. The drugs Armstrong is accused of using were available to everyone. So, when I watch the dual between Lance and the late Marco Pantani in the 2000 Tour, it’s not some Texas bully and some poor Italian has-been, it’s the Pirate and the Boss, one on one. It was the greatest climbers dual of the generation. Similarly, in 2003 when Lance barely beat Jan Ulrich, it was the Boss and the Kaiser: the best rivalry of the time.

My lovely wife has chosen to take her yellow bracelet off. That may have more to do with how Armstrong conducts his personal life and his politics. I will continue to sport my yellow bracelet, not for Lance or his foundation, but for the hope that it represents. I won’t boycott the USA Pro Challenge just because Lance made it possible. I will be grateful that someone could bring pro cycling of this caliber back to Colorado.

I get it. In all reasonable likelihood, he cheated. I understand that. Today, I own a road bike. I imagine myself climbing the Alps and the Pyrenees. I fantasize giving a rival “The Look”. I even imagine storming down the Champs-Elysees, the cobbles of Northern France and Belgium and the last sprint in Milan due to Armstrong. If not for Lance, I might not have this path. I have to acknowledge the bad, but I won’t let it spoil the good. Shame on you, Lance. But at the same time, thanks.

Have fun, be safe. I’m still going riding.

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