Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance

It is hard when one of your heroes fall. They clime so high, which makes the fall so long and hard. So the fall of Lance Edward Armstrong is especially hurtful. The feel good story of a man that beat cancer, and then went on to win the world’s toughest sporting event a record seven times, was too good to be true.

I do wonder why Travis Tygart , the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, spent so much time and tax dollars going after Lance. I wonder what kind of burr got under his saddle? Maybe it is because Mr. Tygart can’t really do anything were the real heavy duty doping is going on; Football, Basketball, Hockey? He can’t do a blessing thing about any of those sports. I double dare the guy to start testing the NHL stars when they participate in the Winter Olympics, as is his right.

No, Mr. Tygart went for one of the easiest targets out there, professional cycling. Cycling began dirty (quiet literally, it was quite the mud-caked affair back in the beginning of the 20th Century) and has stayed dirty.

Part of this is the very nature of the sport. Professional cycling, especially for the grand tours, is a damn near impossible sport. Look at the courses, the topography and the times and just try to do that stuff without pre-loading with massive amounts of Advil. The mountains of France, Spain and Italy are not bike friendly. With grades of up to 20% (and then some) those mountains are notorious for eating up some of the greatest cyclists.

In the beginning, the only drugs used were the age old drugs of alcohol and tobacco. Both the Tour of Italy and the Tour of France were wine-drenched affairs in their early days.

But as the tours progressed, they became the cutting edge of testing out performance enhancing drugs. It was an open secret, to win the tour you doped. The drug of choice at first was amphetamines, speed. But then Tom Simpson died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux on the thirteenth stage of the 1967 Tour de France and attitudes changed.

It was the Festina Affair of the 1998 Tour de France that was the modern motivation for cracking down on doping. The Festina team, a sporting organization representing a watch making concern, was found to participating in wide-spread and systematic program of doping. The entire 1998 Tour became a badly run farce because of the fallout from Festina. There were work stoppages, full scale abandonments, and general chaos. A major sponsor, Coca-Cola, headed for the hills, dropping sponsorship from the tour.

Fortunately, in the next installment of the Tour,  the magical story of Lance Armstrong became not only the feel good story of the Tour, but the entire sporting world. But all you had to do was look under the surface to see not all was well. The sporting collapse of Marco Pantani, an Italian cyclist known for his slashing mountain riding, was ugly. Kicked out of the Giro d’ Italia for “health reasons” in 1999, he lost his way and died in 2004 from a cocaine overdose.

Since Festina it has been an arms race all along the way. Anti-doping agencies have refined their testing, catching cheats, ending careers. But the athletes have only responded by finding new, better, and harder to detect cheats.

I would prefer if the Lance Armstrong Story remained unsullied. But that would be childish. To ride the Grand Tours or the Classics, and to win, you have to dope. I’m not at all happy about that statement, but there you are. No human being, no matter what shape he or she is in, is going to be able to ride for almost three weeks, straight over hill and dale, without some kind of “assistance.” They can keep stripping the “cheaters” in the Grand Tours until they reach the lanterne rouge, the very last place competitor who finishes the race; and then what? What do they do when they find out he was doping?

Honestly, you are going to strip Lance and hand several of those Tours to Jan Ulrich? Jan was a product of the former East German sports regime, he has more artificial chemicals inside him than a Super Fund site.

I hope the UCI puts a stop to Travis Tygart’s little witch hunt. It is the UCI, The Union Cycliste Internationale, that actually can pull Lance’s Tour wins. The whole business needs to be put to bed. Tygart is nailing Armstrong via a campaign of hearsay and ex post facto testing standards. The whole sordid mess would die an ugly death in real court of law, and it did. The US Government dropped the case against Armstrong because the case was so weak. But in the Kangaroo Court of Mr. Tygart, Lance does not have prayer.

In the end though, I think that despite his denials, Lance did dope. He wanted to win, and to win at his level of the sport he had to dope. I doubt that even the smack-down he got so late in the game will deter anyone though. Athletes cheat because there is a reward to cheating. Unfortunately, no one is really serious about removing the rewards, so the cheating will continue.

Meanwhile I will still hold on to my image of Lance.  It was the 2001 Tour and it was L’Aple-d’Huez, one of those crazy, obscene, and ridiculous climbs that make the Tour the Tour. On an impossible grade, Lance gives his opponent “The Look” and begins to pedal away from Ulrich on that impossible grade. It was a magical moment, Lance won that day, he ripped Ulrich’s heart out and stomped it flat. That is my Lance and no idiotic and puritanical utterances from Travis Tygart will  change that.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdMdJAdzpYQ


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