By Bryan Perkins
How long will it take the public to regain confidence that the riders in the Tour de France are pedalling clean? And not pumped on sophisticated performance enhancing juice. It’s like a bad relationship; any trust and goodwill has long gone, and now any rider who performs extraordinarily well (e.g. Chris Froome flying up the the last mountain climb on stage 10) is questioned, if not villified (urine splashed in his face stage 14) as to whether he’s pedalling on bagels, cream cheese and beef slices, or his doctor’s very clever micro doses of EPO, just enough to keep his blood levels off the testing radar. Even I have lurking doubts. I love road cycling. I want to believe Froome is clean, & he probably is, but there’s that small but pestering prick of doubt.
Because we’ve been here before. Our love and faith flicked to one-side in a performance that brought wearing yellow into a vitriolic one man pantomine. But come on! You bought into the Armstrong fairy-story lock-stock-and barrel, just like me and virtually everyone else. OK, we sheepishly had to acknowledge that he was in fact a cheat and a naughty boy, but this combined sense of moral outrage is tempered by the reality that everyone – from the UCI cycling bosses to the freckled kid buying his Livestrong wrist band – was on the Armstrong bandwagon.
Has there ever been in the history of sport anything quite like the Lance Armstrong saga?
Even the worst saccarin Disney treatment or maybe the gravitas of a Cohen brothers masterpiece or a Peter Jackson spectacular couldn’t make up something so utterly fancible. For Jesus Christ – God did (for seven glorious years) wear yellow, shave his legs and date struggling pop stars named after a squaking bird.
In hindsight, we secretly loved it. This delicious potopurri of cancer survivor, comeback champion played out over the magnificent French countryside. Who needs Hollywood?
But this only sharpens the moral conundrum. Nor would we have cared if Armstrong had come 10th on his comeback Tour in 1999? Do you know the name of the rider who came 10th in the 1999 Tour De France? No, we wouldn’t give a toss (just like our beloved All Blacks who succeeded at failing at too many World Cups). And in case you are desperate to know who got 10th in the 1999 Tour it was Italian Andrea Peron, riding for ONCE. If Armstrong had come 10th, riding nobly on water and bread he would be a footnote (if that) on the history of cycling. Instead he won and become one of sports and pop celebrities biggest phenonmena. If Armstrong did indeed finish 10th he might be a humble (yeah right!) cycling commentator, owning his own local cycle mechanics shop, and actually still be with his first wife, (that is until Lance’s ego began to match the amount of EPO he was infusing).
Ultimately we loved Armstrong because he won. Sport is actually about winning, and society’s moral compass is always being pulled between the absolute desperate desire to win, and a sense of moral justice that we should do it fairly, within the ‘rules’ and for the greater good.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m struggling up a hill, snot all over my face, my lungs exploding just before my eyes pop with my bursting heart rate, playing ‘fairly’, within the ‘rules’ and for the ‘greater good’ can get stuffed.
PS And for those who haven’t read these great books on the inside of drugs, professional cycling & their impact on the Tour de France; these give a fascinating insight:
Willy Voet’s: Breaking The Chain: Drugs and Cycling – The True Story
Tyler Hamilton’s: The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
David Millar’s: Riding Through the Dark
Daniel Coyle: Lance Armstrong Tour de Force (a great insight into the life of Armstrong – before the drug allegations were substantiated)