The Death of a Professional Cyclist

News & Results

10/16/2012| 0 comments
by Neil Browne
Lance Armstrong Fotoreporter Sirotti

The Death of a Professional Cyclist

Showing character doesn't mean you are perfect.

To say that the cycling world has been turned upside down is an understatement. No longer can anyone preface an introduction to Lance Armstrong as “accused of doping.” Any introduction should now be “disgraced professional rider Lance Armstrong.”

When the USADA report was released journalists and pundits studied the USADA report like it was the Dead Sea scrolls in an effort to interpret any and all nuances of information, whether it was text or video. The home video that Kevin Livingston shot during the Tour de France, in hindsight is creepy. The footage, shot innocently enough, shows the Postal riders as young and eager. George Hincapie looks relaxed as he shows off his hotel room with music blaring from a boom-box. Just a young guy with endless potential enjoying life. Livingston's footage includes the post-Tour de France party with the Postal Team doctors in attendance. With a wink and a nod one of them tells Livingston to see him later so he can help him recover. That statement made partly in jest after probably a few celebratory drinks says a lot.

After reading USADA's Reasoned Decision and affidavits from Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie it was once again a mix of repulsion and feeling sad for the riders.

All of these riders had the raw potential to be accomplished riders. Would it have been enough for them to ride at the World Tour level they're at now? I don't know.

What I do know is that they were faced with a hard choice and they, of their own admittance, chose poorly. They lived with the secret, which I can only imagine caused some degree of guilt, shame and embarrassment to some or all of them. The one person I don't think felt any of those feelings is Armstrong. I believe that deep down he knows he cheated, manipulated and ruined people's lives, but still believes he did nothing wrong.

Each of those riders to some extent issued an apology letter that seemed to come from the same template. I'm sorry, these were my own choices, I feel bad for my family, friends and fans, and I'm riding or did ride clean since 2006. Some of the riders might have stopped doping in 2006, but I have a hard time believing they all had a “come to Jesus moment” and stopped. Why should they? They had a routine, they were keeping their places on whatever team they were a member of and the excuse “everyone was doing it.”

Following the USADA report release, as the days went by people I know called or texted me asking if I felt vindicated. Honestly - no. I had lost writing jobs and money. Some teams black-listed me so I couldn't interview any of their riders or ask even the most innocuous questions like early season goals or how did they feel about the upcoming Tour.  Living here in Greenville, South Carolina - home of Hincapie - friendships became strained.

My hardships may seem small to you the reader or small in comparison to those of some pros who spoke out, which resulted in them losing their jobs. I'm not trying to make it all about myself - but at the end of the day people who spoke out got squashed. I wish I could say it isn't continuing, but it still is.

Nike is continuing to back Armstrong. Not a huge surprise as they continue to sponsor football player and convicted felon Michael Vick. Oakley is taking a wait and see approach to the situation as Armstrong's endorsement sold a lot of eyewear for that company.

Some journalists are taking a hard look at themselves, but a few are still making excuses for themselves or have their heads jammed into the sand, as they continue making excuses for Armstrong. This is just as bad as the coaches, directors and wives who covered up this disaster.

I know I come off as angry, but this is a sport I sat down with as a kid and watched together with my dad. It's a sport that I loved and I watched it grow from a fringe sport here in the United States to something larger when Greg LeMond won the Tour de France for the first time in 1986. It continued to sit on the periphery of America's vision until Armstrong came along. From there the sport's popularity grew exponentially. The general population recognized what professional cycling was. I loved the sport and was proud to be a part of it during its growth.

So where does it leave the sport now? It will rebuild, but the fallout isn't done.

If you've read the riders’ affidavits you see some names redacted. These names will start to come out during Johan Bruyneel's hearings. At this point, and with overwhelming evidence against him he still wants to go forward. Some of those blacked-out names are already becoming public, like Matt White who rode for Postal and is now a director at Orica-GreenEdge. While the tidal wave might have passed through, there are still some strong waves heading to shore.

With all this damning evidence you have to wonder what Armstrong's end move is going to be. There is no way he can stand in front of a crowd, like he did just a couple of weeks ago and introduce himself as a seven-time Tour de France winner. He'd be laughed off stage. These are my thoughts on what the disgraced rider does next.

Armstrong still has sycophantic writers. In a couple of years Armstrong will have one of them ghost write his side of the story and through personal stories of coming back from cancer, the pressure to perform and how he substituted training hard for a father's approval he would never get. It will present a sympathetic character like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”

I hope that's not the case - it's just a gut feeling.

In response to Ryan Trebon's tweet, “You know what takes more courage to do than coming forward and admitting ones mistake? Having the fortitude to not do it in the first place.” David Zabriskie replied, “Show me the perfect human.”

What Zabriskie fails to realize is that while none of us expects the other to be without fault, we do expect people to show some character when the chips are down. That's not being perfect - that's just being a (I had written something different earlier, but I'm going to quote Adam Myerson instead) “courageous” person. That said, some riders did make the right choice and I hope Zabriskie knows the cost that befell them for it - lost jobs and income. And no, these people weren't "perfect."

Having a high VO2 is something only a small percentage of the population has. Having the courage to do the right thing is in all of us. It doesn't require human growth hormone or revitalized red blood cells. It requires knowing what you stand for.

I'm not trying to take the moral high ground myself, but I think if these riders gave back to the sport in some capacity it would be a huge step forward. Perhaps taking some of the earnings from the “dark period” and help fund a development team? I'm sure there are people out there way more creative than I who could think of possible ideas of how to right this listing vessel called professional cycling. Share your thoughts and ideas here.

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