There is No Santa Claus

I will fully admit that Lance Armstrong is what got me interested in cycling.  I bought the Lance story hook, line, and sinker, and every July as a high schooler I glued myself to the TV after early morning swim practice in time to catch that day’s stage of the Tour de France live.  I continued to believe in the miracle all through his “Comeback 2.0” with Astana.  I suddenly realized that there were other cycling races besides the tour, and followed Lance as he “got in shape” by riding the Giro d’Italia.  Around this time, I started riding my own bike a lot more, and sure, I pretended I was Lance climbing the Alps whenever I got out of the saddle to dance on my pedals, but who hasn’t?  At the 2009 Tour, I still fully cheered for Lance, and felt miffed when Contador proved to be the stronger rider and went on to win.

Fast forward to last May, when Floyd Landis’ emails got leaked and he decided to come clean.  I was shocked a bit by his confessions about his doping past and what he experienced in the peloton, but I was initially unfazed.  “Here was a man trying to desperately grab at the Lance money train”, I thought.  But there was something about his stories that just seemed to work.  Everything fit in place.

I bought a copy of David Walsh’s 2007 book From Lance to Landis and read it over a weekend.  All of the sudden, all of the “crazy allegations” from the French always trying to bring down Lance, America’s hero, started to seem a lot less crazy.  In the span of a few days, the Story Of Lance had crumbled, in my eyes at least.  Santa Claus was not real.  That a 3 year old book could shed so much light on the doping problem in cycling today was an epiphany of sorts for me.  With the internet at my disposal, I obsessed over doping and read everything I could find on the subject.  The evidence against Lance only multiplied (at least from my starting point of near-complete ignorance).

There were urine samples with EPO in them, backdated steroid prescriptions, monetary “donations” to the UCI, and even suspicious public blood samples from Lance’s 2009 comeback, just to name a few.  Even ignoring all the accusations from former riders, or the fact that nearly every single one of Lance’s challengers at the Tour eventually got busted for doping over the years, there’s a sizable stack of evidence that is already clearly pointing in the direction of “guilty”.

Where stories and memories fail, there’s YouTube to the rescue.  When Lance made his heroic climb on Sestriere in 1999, the first year he won the Tour de France, everyone in the press room laughed.  Embedding is restricted because of some copyright, but watch it here (and ignore the techno music):]

It was the year after the Festina scandal, when the sport was supposed to clean, and all of the journalists laughed at Lance scaling the mountain like it was a flat country road, because they all knew the performance was too good to be true.  But the die was cast, and the decision to sell the story of a cancer survivor overcoming all odds to win was made, and, well, you know the rest.

(BTW, there are a hundred details that I’ve skipped over for the sake of time and my laziness at re-hunting down sources, but if you ever want to discuss doping in sports, I can go on for hours)

So back to Floyd.  Here was this renegade that decided to break the omerta, to name names, and little by little, I found myself buying into every detail of his side of things.  His story was an Occam’s Razor or sorts – sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.  No need to explain away problems with intricate stories and complicated scenarios.  Today, a very lengthly interview (~31,000 words) with him was posted, and I highly recommend you read the entire thing.  Do it now.  It shows the human side of Floyd, the one that was very often hidden in his trials, and as I read through his story, everything made even more sense.  Not only were all of his doping stories reiterated, but they were told through a lens that made them seem like completely logical decisions to make.  We, as spectators, often can’t comprehend what would drive an athlete to dope, but when broken down to its bits and pieces, it’s hard to imagine not doping in the same situation that Floyd was in.

Currently, there’s no happy ending for Floyd.  His life has been utterly ruined.  Cycling is probably cleaner today, but it’s still broken, thanks mostly to the corruptness of the UCI.  I can certainly understand the rhetoric of “burn it all down and start over”, but that kind of solution would obviously take too many innocent bystanders down with it.  I continue to be a huge fan of cycling year round (anyone else want to join our fantasy league?), and I’m well aware that Contador most likely doped, but maybe Andy did too, and the truth post-Floyd probably isn’t coming out anytime soon.  So it goes.

But I truly believe Floyd is telling the truth and is trying to make things better.  Lance, you’re dead to me.

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