So it finally happened. USADA’s baffling witch hunt finally got its man. It’s a sad day for professional bike racing and an even sadder day to me for cycling in general. Worse than stripping 7 of the most exciting Tour de France victories of recent memory, worse than any lifetime bans and worse than essentially nullifying an entire decade of cycling sport has been the reaction I’ve seen from cycling “fans”.
The celebratory tweets and smug self assuredness brazenly gracing the cork board walls of the internet has left a far more bitter taste in my mouth than the Lance decision ever could. There seems to be this idea that now cycling can finally move forward, we can start to heal. Heal from what? Move forward from what? A era that took professional cycling from the European doldrums of sporting exposure and thrust it to the front pages of magazines and newspapers that are generally only reserved for yards rushed and ERA’s? For any fan of cycling to say that the period of time between 1999 – 2005 didn’t either introduce them to the sport in general or reignite a dormant flame deep inside is to listen to a liar. And even worse, a liar clad head to toe in spandex. And God help us if that liar isn’t wearing Sidi’s too.
Did Lance dope? According to USADA yes. According to the “secret” eye witnesses yes. According to every amateur cyclist who has ever ridden 150km two days in a row and thinks “Look man I’ve done a couple long days back to back and there’s NO WAY these dudes aren’t riding juiced. I was exhausted. And I could have gone pro in ’92 if it weren’t for all those Brett Easton Ellis books I read.”. Anyone who follows the sport and realizes that Phil and Paul have been replaced with an online Phil and Paul soundboard operated by a NBC intern knows that doping was RAMPANT in the 90′s and 2000′s. It wasn’t just a practice reserved strictly for the richest, highest profile stars. If you wanted to compete, actually if you wanted to finish professional bike races during that period of time you were taking something. Most of you already know that nearly everyone that was on the podium in Paris at that time has in one way or another been connected to doping. It was as much part of the sport as a teary Richard Virenque. Oh and remember what he was up to then?
Doping will undoubtedly make you a faster cyclist, no argument there. What doping won’t do though is make you win the Tour de France 7 times in a row. A higher hematocrit doesn’t instill in someone a maniacal drive to not just succeed but dominate. HGH doesn’t help you climb back from the edge of near certain death and come back to the sport you love to not just compete but win. Corticosteroids don’t lift you off the tarmac on Luz Ardiden and propel you to victory. All those things will make you faster, they don’t make you win. Cycling is not some magical sport where as soon as a red blood cell agitating needle touches your vein you’re vaulted into the ranks of legends. Cycling is like every other sport in existence, there are amateurs and professionals. The professionals are so much better than the amateurs that it is literally impossible for us to understand the scope of their competitive level. All of the pharmaceuticals in the world aren’t going to turn me into a professional bike racer let alone a multiple Tour champion. There is a reason there are so few dominant athletes across the sporting spectrum. They all share a insatiable ferocity that equates losing with failure. It is not enough to just win, they must destroy. Jordan, Federer, Woods, Schumacher and Merckx (who tested positive let’s remember) all athletes who relished the opportunity to exhibit the superiority of their talent. The list of sporting legends is short because becoming one is so damn impossible. Doping doesn’t make champions otherwise I would have been on the cover of Wheaties boxes years ago.
Lance not only did something which has never been done in cycling but he also was the reason so many of you probably even know what the sport is right now. And rather than fading into mild obscurity only to emerge selling half decent bikes with his name emblazoned across the down tube like so many other past champions he funneled his fame and efforts into a cause that affects nearly each and every one of us at some level. Does doping change the fact that he beat cancer? Does doping change the fact that he decided he wouldn’t die? Does cancer give a shit if he doped? And before you talk about how his inspiration was fueled by deception lets just remember that World War II was ended by an lifelong alcoholic and a rampant philanderer. They did know a thing or two about great quotes though.
So while it seems that so many of you are so happy with this decision and relieved that we can finally move forward I sit here (in a Hermes scarf and Dolce slippers of course) sad. Sad for the sport and sad for a great champion. Because this embarrassing USADA charade masked in “unbiased fairness” has done nothing to clean up cycling. It has sullied it further. It’s the frothing at the mouth, pitchfork wielding mob who upon finally burning down the subject of their ire are left standing around a smoldering pile of smoke and ashes that lies on the front steps of their own house. Nothing will change because of this and if so many of you are so happy to see this outcome then I suggest you quit watching professional cycling altogether. It’s not cleaner now than it was, the sport will always have cheats and the science will always be one step ahead of the piss cups. This is a black eye for cycling, let’s just hope there’s enough ice to stop the swelling.