Well, I’ve seen so much twittering, read so many articles, read the USADA report and the witness statements so I thought it was about time to put my views down on paper. They are by no means the views of an expert, just someone who was in equal parts inspired, motivated, in awe of and ultimately let down by a certain Lance Armstrong.
It may simply be a seriously hardcore version of the concept that you should ‘never meet your heroes’, in a round about sort of fashion, but it feels so much more complicated than that at the same time.
In my own small way, I previously liked to think of myself as somewhat of a kindred spirit to Mr.Armstrong. We both had and fought off cancer in our 20’s and we’d both made a come-back (admittedly of significantly different proportions) to be able to regenerate our broken bodies in order to compete at the sport that we love.
Like a side order of Onion-Rings to a particularly tasty burger, there was one thing that came with this shared past which raised my opinion of Armstrong yet further and made my faith in him perhaps a little blind. In my mind, knowing what he had been through, reading the books and knowing that we had each sat in a similar chair, being pumped with many identical drugs, meant that I thought that he would be of the same opinion as me and that the thought of VOLUNTARILY putting anything else inside us would make the vomit rise in our throats sooner than you could say “lumbar puncture”. This was the thing that kept a spark of hope alive in the face of so many friends and colleagues being as it turned out more objective about things and telling me things I didn’t want to hear.
There you go, I said it. I didn’t want to believe the rumours because it meant to much to me to cling on to an idol that I could speak of proudly and find some self confidence in the fact that I shared some common ground with him, however dark those shared experiences were. Someone tweeted the other day, and I suppose it should make me feel better that “actually, I have just realised a life long dream, and have now won as many Tours de France as Lance Armstrong”…it’s true I guess, I just wish it wasn’t.
There are people that say to me that I shouldn’t feel that I’ve been let down and that Armstrong’s achievements can’t be belittled and he won in an era where everyone was doping, so it was still an incredible achievement. I am not denying that, and I am not denying the positive effects that his influence has had on the sport. I know cycling wouldn’t be where it is now on the world stage if it wasn’t for the Lance-Effect of years gone by, and that’s the rub. How do we equate the fact that so much good has come out of something that was initially based on a lie?
Unfortunately, there is also now a lot of other things which I was blind to before but which now I think about and wonder how much more my opinion of someone I once held so high will continue to be eroded. Reading an article about how a lot of people paid a lot of money to ‘ride with Lance’ only to find themselves chasing a dot on the horizon who then refused to come out of a coach for a photo-opportunity, makes me plain sad. The fact that there are statements that these people paid a large sum, and only recieved a tax reciept for a portion of the price (the implication that the difference went as a ‘tip’ to Armstrong) makes me a little bit happy that I never got the opportunity to meet him properly and only watch him race.
I don’t know what to think, there is a large part of me, which to coin a phrase thinks it’s Not About The Drugs any more. It has become something more fundamental than that. There are others in the cycling world who were part of the doping culture but who are now trying to help others not go down the same roads that they did. And that is my overriding feeling. The behaviour that Armstrong has demonstrated since the evidence started to come out has really damaged my opinion of him (I’m sure he doesn’t give a monkeys about my opinion, but I don’t think I’m alone). As far as I’m concerned, as long as you are not part of the solution, you are still part of the problem. Armstrong has had a number of opportunities to sit down with USADA, with WADA, with the UCI and to try and start to re-build something of a reputation for himself within cycling. The UCI has stated that the only reason they pursued overriding the 8-year statute of limitations in taking all of Armstrongs 7 victories from him was because of the riders behaviour and refusal to make any admission and enter into dialogue to help get everything out in the open.
I realise that it may seem like telling the truth opportunities may have been and gone, but in my humble opinion, that is the only way that Armstrong can begin to redeem himself in front of the millions of people who have looked up to and been inspired as I have. It is the only way to be able to move past all the deceit and use his unique position to help a sport that he says he loves more than anything, and I don’t doubt that in his mind that is true. But continuing to maintain a stance of “it’s not my fault, everyone’s out to get me” is not going to have anything but the opposite effect.
There are other aspects of Armstrong’s behaviour such as the accounts of bullying etc that I could ramble on for hours about how they have changed my opinion of the man, but I think I am going to keep them to myself as I have no personal experience with the man and it wouldn’t help the discussion much anyway. Needless to say, my own personal opinion of him is something that I have had to re-assess and will always be waiting in case I ever get to meet him to either change my opinion back a little and restore some faith, or simply justify my beginning to look elsewhere for inspiration.
And so it is, that I do find inspiration from others. People that I know personally and people that are equally inspirational and motivational. Mike at Cyclists Fighting Cancer is one such person. A friend and an inspiration. He works tirelessly to bring the joy of riding a bike to as many children who are suffering from the effects of chemotherapy or recovering from their cancer treatment as he possibly can. I am not sure about the statistics, but I don’t think there have been many families who have asked for help with a bike who the charity have not been able to provide for. I am truly blessed to be able to help mike as often as I can in his mission and do my bit to be the butter knife to spread some of this joy.
And then there’s the inspiration from the young people you come in contact with whilst wielding said butter knife. We (my wife to be and I – who incidentally is another of my inspirations!) went to Sheffield last weekend to a festival of sport specifically aimed at allowing children with cancer to try out different sports, see if they can get involved, and generally have a whale of a time. We took a couple of CFC bikes to the festival and had a great time letting the kids whizz around our corner of the indoor athletics track.
One of the bikes we had there was actually earmarked to be given to one of the young chaps attending that day. Billy had a go on what he thought was a ‘demo-bike’ a really cool KMX kart….. and then we told him it was actually his if he wanted to take it home. Needless to say, he was a little excited! Billy has been through so much and is still battling his way through serious illness, but the first thing he said to me when we gave him his bike was “I want to do a sponsored ride for the charity”. Wow, that is truly inspirational. This wasn’t an act that he felt he ought to make or that he thought it ‘might be fun’, it was simply the first thing he thought of that he could use his new bike to raise some more money so more children like him can be helped in the same way. I didn’t know what to say.
So watch this space folks, Billy will be riding as a bona-fide team member of the Cancer Fighting Cyclists race team when he tackles his sponsored ride!
So there you have it, fallen idols are replaced with truly worthy ones. I have no doubt that the Armstrong era has done a lot for cycling and I know that I might not have the business I have today if it wasn’t for that, but we are where we are and the only way is forward. Either Lance can be part of the future or he will be left in the past, the choice is his.