The Upside of Lance’s Confession

A lot of folks are (appropriately) pretty frustrated about this whole Lance Armstrong confession deal. I know that a lot of people were holding out hope that Lance really was clean. If you’re one of those people, I have to say that I feel for you. It stinks to have your sports heroes admit being dirtbags, and it would’ve been nice if Lance—cancer survivor, father, activist, etc.—could’ve been the exception.

But the truth is, some of us have been trying to explain this to the rest of you for a long time. It took me a half a decade to reach the conclusion that Lance was doping, and after that, I willingly told anyone who asked what I thought about the subject. The internet was different. If you bashed Lance there, you got hammered and flamed.

So, amid this “truth will set you free” rhetoric, I want to point out just a couple of the silver linings, the reasons why Lance admitting that he doped is a very, very, very good thing. There are more reasons than what you’ll see here. These are just what’s on my mind right now:

1. We can all stop trying to figure out how he did it.
Lance’s success never made any sense. He wasn’t built like a climber, and he was never an overwhelmingly good time trialist before 1998 or ’99. He didn’t have the strongest legs, the highest VO2 max, the largest heart or any other particularly outstanding physical characteristic that would make sense out of his victories. So it must’ve been his training, right? Everyone wanted to know what the secret session was, what the winning training protocol was. Well, now we know: it was EPO, cortisone, HGH, testosterone and a cocktail of other junk—actovegin, etc.

That’s a really good thing to know. We no longer need to have the argument “well, Lance does it, so it must be right” about how we ride our bicycles. Whatever the secret session is, Lance couldn’t have done it without the dope either.

2. We can give Greg Lemond his respect back.
With Lance’s admission, a whole host of people can have their credibility back: Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Stephen Swart, Prentice Steffen, and yes, even Greg Lemond.

Years ago, I wrote a post entitled Why Isn’t Greg Lemond More Popular. In the end, I concluded that it was because Lance told us not to like him. Same goes for all of those folks. Lance told us not to like them, and we, like lemmings, said, “Okay, we won’t.”

I remember hearing photographer Graham Watson describe Greg Lemond not as a jealous, bitter old man, but as an “outrageous character.” He was fun, he was a phenomenal athlete, and, in my opinion, he likely won the Tour de France clean. He was the real deal, and the greatest American cyclist in history.

3. We can all be friends again.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been pretty convinced about Lance’s PED usage for the last three or four years. I can’t remember exactly when I realized it, but I think it came down to physics: how does a rider go from being an average time trialist and a lousy climber to dominating all of the time trials and the climbs? Unless Lance had just never trained before, there was only one way.

But I quickly learned that if I shared my opinion online, the Lance faithful would rip me to shreds with senseless arguments and lines right out of Lance’s PR strategy. Well, the conflict’s over now. Lance did it, there’s no reason to believe otherwise, and there’s no reason to keep the argument aflame. You can now go back to arguing about other arcane topics like whether weightlifting helps you be a better climber.

Trouble is, some folks don’t know the argument’s over. They want to keep it alive with statements like “it was a level playing field,” “everyone was doing it,” or “he would’ve won seven Tours anyway.” Doping does not create a level playing field, everyone was not doing it, and the idea that Lance would’ve won anyway is patently ridiculous. As Kathy Lemond said after Lance told her and Greg that he was going to win the Tour, “How could he think he was going to win the Tour when he only finished once? He just wasn’t a Tour rider.”

4. Hero worship aside, cycling is still fun.
The one other benefit of Lance’s admission that I’ll mention here is that we can all get back to riding our bicycles because we enjoy it. Cycling is fun. Racing a bicycle is fun too, even when you don’t win. You get to meet cool people, enjoy the outdoors, exert yourself, break a sweat and feel like a kid again. Cool, right?

Random non-cycling-related memory …

Now that I’ve had a chance to look back on my experience on September 11th, 2001, it’s hard to think of any more indelible moment in our history. I was working as a construction worker when it happened. I recall drilling holes in a concrete wall directly under a mammoth steel beam back then. It seemed so many things about my life at the time were superlatives. It was about 9:30 MDT–11:30 NY time. My boss walked up and interrupted my drilling. He had me pull my ear plugs out, and then he told me about how some terrorists had flown planes into the twin towers. Initially, I didn’t register which ‘twin towers’ he’d talked about. But when I finally put the equation together, all I could think about was what noise the steel in those buildings must’ve made as they collapsed. I admit, I spent the rest of the day glued to the television, unable to believe what I’d seen.

In my Spanish 101 class, my teacher talked about how one of his teachers had been a grade school student during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Her teacher had started the class by mentioning the fact and then moving on to the subject at hand–math or grammar or something–because it was obviously more important to their futures (obviously–please note sarcasm). My Spanish teacher then said, "I happen to know that what happened today is more important than your understanding basic Spanish. So instead of studying, we’re going to talk about what happened." Heck, it still blows my mind.

I remember it took me a long time before I really felt like I had a handle on the facts of what happened. I’m glad the national news was toned down. I heard the news in New York City showed the body parts found blocks away from the scene. For me, it seemed like I wasn’t able to process the event until I’d seen it on TV.

I haven’t worked under steel girders for a long time now. My sister works in a building next to ‘ground zero,’ and, on a daily basis, the subject never, or rarely, comes up. But when it does come up, it seems like my mind is still processing the information in new contexts and through new paradigms. Now, I find myself looking into my daughters eyes and wondering whether the next generation will understand how we felt that day, or whether our experience will seem as foreign or distant to them like BBC seems to American viewers.

I don’t want anything to ever take the heaven I have now away from me, but I also don’t ever want to forget the hell that preceded it.