It’s Not About the Bike was the title of his autobiography, or should we call it a work of fiction? He described the struggle, determination and tenacity that enabled him to come back from life-threatening testicular cancer and win the most grueling event in sports a record seven consecutive times. It wasn’t about the bike; it was about Lance and his journey, a beacon for those reading the book during chemotherapy sessions or while lying in a hospital bed.
Turns out it wasn’t about the bike, or the purity of Armstrong’s will. It was about breaking the rules and relying on synthetic substances to beat everybody else.
The most damning revelations come from 11 of Armstrong’s teammates. He has depicted Floyd Landis and Hamilton as ax-grinders, but he cannot discredit the poignant confession and apology of George Hincapie, his trusted lieutenant through every mile.
When Dave Zabriskie succumbed and took his first injection, he went home and cried. He had pursued cycling as a healthy alternative to a troubled upbringing by his drug-addicted father and pledged never to take drugs. Other riders endured similar soul-searching but made the same choice as Armstrong.
The deceptions went drip, drip, drip like blood into veins, until they were absorbed and accepted as a necessary evil.
Of three common defenses of Armstrong the first asserts all pro riders were doping and a doped Armstrong was still the best on an “even playing field.” You could use the same rationalization to cheat on an exam or loot during a riot, but unethical behavior is still unethical. And Armstrong had more means (including funds from the postal service) than many teams to acquire drugs and hire doctors.
The second excuse, Armstrong’s refrain that he never tested positive, is bogus. He did at least once, and lied about a saddle sore that never existed. Positive tests aren’t necessary to prove doping. Bonds, Hincapie and Marion Jones are among those who never tested positive, either.
Third, Armstrong has helped raise $500 million through his foundation. He visits patients. He lobbies legislators. Give him a pass.
Armstrong is not a villain, and he has done more good for people than harm. But remember that Bernie Madoff gave millions to charity. A Ponzi schemer depends on suspension of disbelief by investors. Armstrong was not robbing people’s life savings. But he did spin a phony narrative. He adamantly denied that he used drugs. He bullied or sued whistle-blowers.
He raised many millions on the pretense that made him famous — overcoming cancer and applying his will to survive to the Tour. Except that those inspirational alpine climbs — a French cyclist once described his shock at seeing Armstrong speed past him as if he was descending rather than ascending — were fueled by a will to cheat.
A truly courageous Armstrong could have confessed, used his high profile to pull cycling from its overdosed depths and waged a global campaign against doping.
Instead, he punched his reeling sport in the gut. Instead, we observe the fall of another American hero. Wasn’t it last autumn that the Joe Paterno legend began to rot?
Perhaps Armstrong will persist in his denials, as the pitiful Pete Rose did, and end up a Las Vegas casino greeter. He’s banned from his goal of winning Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon. Anheuser Busch no longer wants him for commercials. His brand is as useless as a flat tire.
The long con is over. Americans are always eager to forgive a repentant sinner. He should do what he chose not to do as an athlete: come clean.