Lance is a personal hero of mine. My father and brother have both been involved in the sport for 15 years now and I vividly remember watching Lance take it to Marco Pantani on Mount Ventoux in 2000 (before ostensibly letting the pesky Italian take the stage victory). I watched him toy with opponents before breaking them. I watched him dominate in a way that made an almost unwatchable sport enjoyable.
I watched as much as half of each of Lance’s tour victories and all of the important stages (TTs and mountains), often waking up before 7am on summer break to get in as much of the action as possible.
I love the sport and I love Lance for bringing me to it as a spectator.
I’m willing to give him a pass on the doping. Well before it was fashionable to say so, I admitted that Lance doped. But I didn’t care because literally (and not misusing the word there) every other rider was doping (apologies Fernando Escartin*) and Lance still dominated them. Seven. Straight. Times.
*Escartin was the third placed rider in Lance’s first victory in 1999 and the only podium finisher in Lance’s victories to not be implicated in or associated with doping (though he certainly deserves the Bagwell-Piazza Treatment as a member of the era).
I thought cycling missed a golden opportunity to decriminalize the doping and see how far man could push himself against the world’s most difficult elements. Cycling is a race, what matters is equivalence of opportunity and the ONLY way to ensure that, even to this day, is to deregulate the sport (while controlling for the health of the athlete). It isn’t like baseball with hallowed historical records or football with significant concerns for player safety.
Deregulated or not, cycling in the early 2000s was largely a level playing field. Any chemical advantage Lance had came through running a better organization than everyone else. He was a phenomenal manager and planner, all the more evidenced by his status as the last domino to fall in the anti-doping crusade.
But in the end, it all came crumbling down. There were too many witnesses. Too much testimony. Too many enemies.
In the end, Lance’s tyrannical behavior became his downfall and will present the greatest stain on his legacy. And that’s what Lance became, a tyrant. Tyrants maintain their power by justifying their behavior, their cruelty. They use phrases like “the ends justifying the means” and “for the greater good”. Lance became a tyrant in service of his legacy and, by extension, his cause.
He held nothing back in his quest to destroy the whistle-blowers. Betsy and Frankie Andreu. Emma O’Reilly. Tyler Hamilton. All while wrapping himself in the righteous yellow cloak of LIVESTRONG. The paucity of whistle-blowers and the duration of silence from even those that eventually testified against Armstrong in the USADA report are indicative of the lethality of his arsenal and the righteousness of his cause.
And therein lies the rub. Lance will forever be remembered for both his ruthlessness and righteousness. For the greatest comeback and the greatest fraud. For his heroism and disgrace. Lance’s legacy won’t be one thing OR the other. It will always be a case for an “AND”.Tweet