04 August 2018

How Many Ways Can He Say, "Everybody Else Did it?"

It was like being ready for a knife fight, but everybody had guns.

I have to admit, it's a pretty good turn of phrase.  Still, the intent of the person who uttered it is suspect, at least in my mind.

Lance Armstrong (You just knew it was him, didn't you?) was talking about embarking on his career as a professional racing cyclist.  Now, if he'd been talking about how his competition was much better than he'd imagined--something many an athlete, or person in any number of areas of endeavor, experiences upon becoming a professional--I'd've enjoyed the description.

Instead, it was a rationale for why he took drugs and did all of the other unsavory things he did en route to seven Tour de France victories.  He says, in essence, that he didn't start out with the intention of doping but soon discovered that just about everyone else in the peloton was "juicing".

Stephen Dubner, who interviewed him for the National Public Radio program "Freakonomics" asked him whether he could have won those Tours without the wonders of modern pharmacology.  "Well, it depends on the other 199 (Tour de France riders) were doing."  When Dubner pressed him further, he confessed, "Zero percent chance."

Now, Dubner admitted to his sympathies, which came through in the interview:  He was willing to give Lance the benefit of the doubt until he finally confessed.  Even then, Dubner wasn't ready to villify Lance completely:  For one thing, even the most ardent cycling fans have acknowledged, for decades, that riders were taking one thing or another to shave of seconds on a mountain climb.  Also, Dubner seems willing to cut Lance a break or two for his efforts to "move ahead."

Hear the interview here.

That's more or less how I feel.  I, too, bought into the cancer-survivor-hero narrative, and one of the high points of a 2001 tour I took through the Alps (and in which I pedaled up l'Alpe d'Huez and other Tour climbs) was leaning over the police line and snapping a photo of Lance climbing during the time trial on Chamrousse. (One day, perhaps, I will digitize and post it.) Whatever he might have ingested with his breakfast that day, his ride was awe-inspiring.

I must say, though, that something still bothers me about Lance.  At no time during the interview--or in the more than five years since he "confessed" to Oprah--did he express any sort of contrition for the careers and lives he ruined, not only through his doping, but from his threats and intimidation--which were not limited only to his rivals and teammates, but extended to their spouses and other family members.


  1. Lance has shown through his inability or refusal to accept responsibility for his actions that he is truly a malignant narcissist. He is his own worst enemy, not unlike a certain reality TV personality-turned-politician we could name.

    i cannot feel any sympathy for him. He has done more to tarnish the image of professional racing than any number of cycling's other dopers combined.

  2. Mike--Probably Lance's most striking similarity with El Cheeto Grande is in his ability to make himself the victim, no matter how much he was in the wrong.

    For a fleeting moment, it seemed that bike racing just might become a major sport here in the US. Lance foreclosed that possibility at least for a generation.