Friday, January 18, 2013

I Know This Isn't Really Important...

...but I just want to get it off my chest.

Lance Armstrong, you are dead to me.

The time trial up L'Alpe d'Huez, 2004.  I was watching that day, and, basically every stage of every Tour de France that Lance rode in, if it was televised.  I had a US Postal Tee shirt, and sent money to Livestrong.  Sucker.  (I may have bought a Tee shirt, but I never went for the full "kit" - a USPS jersey and bike shorts - let alone the Trek USPS bike - I may be crazy but I'm not insane).

We bought into the hype and the story.  In 1997, the year after Armstrong's bout with cancer, Mrs. Graybeard was battling cancer.  We were dedicated cyclists; it seems inevitable and natural we follow Lance.  As someone had put it, Armstrong became an ambassador of hope.  Maybe he didn't even really intend to, but after "the book" he became the symbol of hope to millions of Americans going through cancer treatments.  People would hang their fears on his powerful, gaunt body and watch him scale mountains.  You'd see pictures like this one in oncologists' chemotherapy rooms all over America - probably all over the world.  We wanted to believe - and it was an easy story to fall for.  A guy stricken with the most feared disease, beats it, then goes on to win the most grueling event in sports, faster time trialing and better climbing than anyone alive.  If he was stronger than his rivals, like Jan Ullrich, and able to climb better, it was because he trained harder.  Having gone through the agonies of chemo and surgeries, it was easy to believe the perspective helped him to endure more pain.  While Jan could train hard, Lance could turn himself inside out with pain, and be just that much better.

What a pile of crap.

When Jan Ullrich was busted for doping, he said something to the effect that if Armstrong could beat him when he was doping, he knew Armstrong absolutely had to be doping.  We idiots said, "he's just a genetic freak - there has to be one on the planet who can do it".  Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach just said, "At that level, they're all genetic freaks".  The clues were all around.  But, still, he never failed a drug test.  Being a professional cyclist meant they'd come to his house on random mornings for screenings.  Being a stage leader in le Tour means you get tested every day, as well as the random testings. 

So it turns out, he was not only the biggest fraud in sports, but a terrible excuse for a man.  He not only lied about what he was doing, he viciously attacked other guys - former teammates and friends - who told the truth about him.  A despicable, pathetic man.  You know what the ironic part is?  I'll take odds the hormones and stuff he was taking either gave him the testicular cancer that made him famous, or made it much worse. 

You may have also noticed that although all seven Tour titles were stripped, not one of them has been re-awarded to the second place riders.  They have all been stripped for doping, too. 

Lance, you are dead to me.  And I think professional cycling is, too. 


5 comments:

Divemedic said...

Pretty much all of professional sports is like that. When there is that much money at stake, people will do anything.

Graybeard said...

Cycling has been especially bad. I know the NFL and MLB didn't even prohibit drugs until fairly recently. Around '97 or '98, the Festina Cycling team car was pulled over and had a trunk full of drugs.

Thing is, cyclists don't usually use steroids or testosterone, or if they do, it's not much. They don't want to build muscle mass because it carries a weight penalty and the strength to weight ratio on a mountain climb is absolutely critical; they want to maximize their endurance at the lowest weight possible. They use things to increase their blood oxygen capacity - EPO. The most common way used to be blood doping, removing blood, spinning down the red cells, pouring off some of the plasma, and re-injecting the red cells . Some of that can be obtained by living at high altitude and training there, as part of the adaptation.

How do you detect a person's own blood as a doping agent? It's genetically indistinguishable, there's no chemicals, it's just odd blood counts.

Anonymous said...

I think most of us that followed cycling are not at all surprised by the revelation. All of my friends were pretty sure he was doping - as well as everyone else in the sport. So, at least in my mind, none of this takes away from the memories of watching him push through pain and push his body well past the limits of the riders around him - most of whom were doping as much or more than he was. Even with the EPO, HGH, blood doping, and everything else that was flowing through their veins, these cyclists perform amazing feats. I've done a lot of road riding, but you will never see me accelerating to 30 mph uphill at the end of a 130 mile ride :)

Xenocles said...

There's a lot of truth to this. I don't even think you can call PED use cheating with respect to cycling. To me, cheating requires that you gain some unfair advantage over the field by breaking the rules. When the rulebreaking is so widespread that you gain not advantage but parity, it becomes something else - still problematic, but not cheating.

And I don't care what sort of drugs you're taking, you can't win a race like the Tour that many times without a high level or athletic talent and training. It's not like you just inject yourself and win; you still have to do all the work to benefit from the drugs.

At the end of the day I think we're mostly mad at him for carrying on the charade for so long. Cycling and the IOC both have huge moral beams in their eyes, so I'm a little deaf to their outrage over the PED use. The line between a PED and a medical treatment is very blurry, anyway - the same drug that might be banned in one situation is fine with a doctor's note. They can't say they're worried about the athletes hurting themselves, either - not when coaches encourage playing through injury (and play that causes injury) and not without strict controls on overtraining, which is likely far more problematic.

Graybeard said...

Both of those comments are very well said. Regardless of the amount of drugs you take, you don't just suddenly become a superstar and it still takes insane amounts of dedication and work, as well as pushing through inhuman amounts of pain. It was amazing to watch Lance do it.

I read an article in about '99 or 2000, by a guy who was a very good racer, but not pro, taking one of those "ride the tour" trips. He rode L'Alpe D'Huez the day before the race got there. He said he was able to make the climb, but said that butterflies could fly between his spokes and not get hurt. The next day, the peloton was accelerating uphill so hard that their tires were chirping and leaving rubber marks. After, as you say, about 100 miles on "flats".

If the sport is nothing but medically-enhanced, genetic freaks, Lance was the best medically-enhanced genetic freak there is. It was amazing to watch.

I suppose why this is an emotional thing is that I feel like I've been played. Which makes me mad at myself, not Lance, for falling for it.

Years ago (late '70s) when organized sports was starting to face their drug problems I read a survey. They asked aspiring Olympians if there was a drug they could take that would win them their gold medal but kill them in 10 years, if they'd take it. IIRC, about 80% said they'd take it

I think the NFL playoff thing with Robert Griffin III is a shining example. The buzz in sports is concussions and long term brain damage, not arthritic knees and joints so bad that old football players can barely get out of bed. RGIII went out there with a knee he knew had trouble. If he blew it out, lots of pain and suffering for a long time. If he could play on it, winning and the attendant glory. He thought he was superman and could play on that knee.