Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Last Word

It isn't really possible to have a bike related blog and not weigh in on Lance Armstrong.  The problem is that the best response to the USADA report is to look over the top of your beer to a long-time cycling buddy and say, "Oh. . . yeah."  And just to be clear, that isn't "yay", that is "yeah", probably said with a tone of weary exhaustion.

If you came into this sport "because" of Lance (whether you want to admit it or not), then you may feel differently.  If you got into cycling because you have a friend or family member that was impacted by cancer, then you certainly have the right to feel differently, even if you want to ignore Lance's doping or pretend it didn't happen.

But for me, there have been a couple of truths about Lance Armstrong that I have known for a long, long time.  First, that LA is a cold-blooded killing machine.  That is exactly what made him the cyclist he was (which includes both doping and winning).  I have expressed this opinion for many years and am always surprised when fans or other cyclists want to believe that Lance is a big sweetheart.  I guess it is part of our American shared beliefs that our heroes are also "nice", but I don't think very many people hit the pinnacle of sports by being nice. At some level, there has to be a competitive nature that at a minimum matches the rest of the opponents.

And the second thing I knew about Lance is that he was regularly and decisively beating dopers.  That became clearer and clearer as the years passed and the truth came out.  And the thing you have to know about blood doping products is how incredibly effective they are.  There is a saying that you can't turn a donkey into a racehorse, but that is misleading.  There aren't any donkeys that make it up through the junior, neo-pro and then pro ranks.  There are different qualities of racehorses, to continue the analogy, but they are all good.  The differences between riders of a certain type, sprinters/climbers/overall, are very small among the leaders.  I recall reading the difference between winning a Tour de France and placing 40th was about 3%.  So if you can take a a combination of drugs and and blood transfusions to increase your ability to train, your ability to recover and your ability to race, by even just 3%, then there just isn't any doubt that in a multi-day race that you will beat the people not taking those drugs and transfusions.  Let me repeat that - there isn't any doubt.

So, for me, it isn't a revelation that Armstrong and his team were taking drugs during his stretch of apparent victories.  I assumed that the climbers were taking drugs and there didn't have to be a trash can of needles to prove it.  There were just too many of them on one team and going too fast for there to be any other truth.  It's like racing cars when there is a limit on engine size and one team manages to sneak in more cc's in direct contravention of the rules.  It makes an difference.  It is cheating.  And sadly, it means that the race is meaningless. 

And now, that's why I have weary exhaustion about the whole thing.  I am a fan.  Or at least I was.  I enjoy reading about the teams, the preparation, the course, the tactics - all of it.  I enjoy watching the whole thing unfold, day by day and mountain pass by mountain pass.  But when you find out that some of the racers were cheating, and cheating in a big and effective way, to well and truly place themselves above those were weren't cheating, then the whole race is pointless.  There is no way to know who would have done what, how race tactics would have changed or how the thousand variables that make up a grand tour would have unfolded.  As a result, it is problematic to simply move everyone up a place when you take out the dopers.  It isn't that simple.  And because of that, the whole thing is a fraud.  The whole purpose of watching the sport is destroyed.

And thusly Lance, and a lot of others, have stolen those days from me, stolen that joy from me and left me sad about a sport that I have loved.  And that, unfortunately my friends, is the last word from me on this subject - Sad.