No figure divides fans of road cycling more than Lance Armstrong. Anytime, everytime his name is mentioned an often offensive battle of morals, opinion and factoids. All this fervour and hate directed between people who share a love of the thing the other side loves: Bike Racing. But I’d like to offer a third way.
This is the blog where I hide behind the sofa and wait for the onslaught!….
No figure divides fans of road cycling more than Lance Armstrong. Anytime, everytime his name is mentioned there ensues an often offensive battle of morals, opinion and factoids. Insults are thrown, accounts are blocked, followers unfollowed and resentments held. All this fervour and hate directed between us. We are people who share the same love: Bike Racing.
I’d like to offer a third way. A passionate compromise, thrown inbetween two raging battling sides. The Lying Scumbag Satan of Cyclings and the Hero Greatest Athlete Can Do No Wrongs.
The third way is that Armstrong is, and despite what he may have done to get there, will always be…An Extraordinary Human Being in the strictest sense.
He is jaw droppingly driven, tough, determined, intense and single-minded. He has achieved things that we can look on as fellow humans and create extraordinary passions within us. That is a gift.
Too much of life is about Public Relations Press Released Careful Diluted Same Old Same Old Averageness. (Now I know Armstrong is part of the PR world, but stick with me). We expect perfection from our heroes and in consequence create non-heroes. We are all flawed. Some superstars are VERY flawed.
Armstrong is absolutely not average in any way except height. For that reason he is extraordinary. Amazing. Incredible. Unreal. And yes, all those words can be read negatively and positively. He is an incredible character in the world of ironed-out non-speak and tactical boredom.
There is a picture of him in my bike room. I think its from the 2003 Tour De France. He is descending in The Alps. He is all sinew, road rash and eyes that burn with angry fervour. I love that picture because it shows a human being with utter determination and fight. No fellow pros ever had that determination in his era. Has any cyclist? Jan Ullrich was infamous for his mid-Winter binges. He is loved for his relative frailty. Lance is not frail. Or weak. No lapses of discipline. Nothing. He is not likeable as an underdog. I’m not sure I like him as a person. Hell, I don’t know him. But I love him as a racing cyclist. For the joy of watching him race.
Nothing about him is frail. He is hated and admired so fervently because of that. A man who will do everything to get what he wants. Everything?
And this is of course the problem. The huge, glaring, unavoidable issue. The seeming inevitablity (this isn’t a blog about evidence and timelines or he said she saids) of doping? How could he not? This is at a time when blood transfusions and drug use weren’t even just rife, they were part of the landscape. They just were.
…This is a man of absolute determination to win, who is presented with a choice. Be a Valiant Trier. Or win. Win after coming back from the brink. Or be an also ran. Lance was always going to choose winning. And now the legacy is created. It must be defended. Still winning. Never ever lose. But we aren’t watching him race anymore. And courtroom arguments and darkened cubicle conversations don’t inspire us, so he is losing us.
How must it feel, to fight back from death’s door, to succeed in returning to pro cycling and knowing, knowing that to prove the bastards wrong, to give two fingers to Cofidis, to the sponsors that walked away, the ones who wouldn’t look you in the eye as you died, you MUST jump in with the devil?
Personally I’d hope that I wouldn’t. But here is a man with a gift, and it will be denied if he doesn’t join. No way could LA allow himself to be wasted. I am not defending. I almost just see it as inevitable. He is an Absolute Winner, and I admire that as much as it scares me. Because I could never be that. Almost no human ever knows that determination to refuse the lung burning chemicals that will save your life, to see the light tunnel through to the next life, to give it the finger and still fight back from the chemical drip to OWN the Tour De France. I mean, just tear it apart.
Remember how it felt to watch him race back from crashing behind Ullrich? His first win against the odds in ’99. The cyclocross past Beloki. The shark fin helmet and knashing teeth of the long TTs. He made bike racing huge for us. It glowed. We were innocent then, but oh it was beautiful.
Armstrong has given us our greatest hero and anti-hero. Not only did he win seven Tours, but he did it with fire in his eyes and scream-at-the-TV attacking panache. While we believed in the dream, before the chinks appeared, we loved it all. Our lives were better for it. We had an amazing worldwide hero that transcended the sport, dragged into the limelight, especially in the English-speaking world. And then the cracks appeared.
Some of us hate him for it. Some of us refuse to believe that it is possible. I offer this:
Lance Armstrong is incredible. A flawed hero. A bastard. A scumbag. But what intensity! What an incredible fire rages inside that man. We will never know that determination. That pain. That will.
He has made the world a more fascinating place. God knows I have my issues with him. But I still love Lance The Racer.