Friday morning, August 24, 2012, I woke up, looked at my instagram feed and expected to only find embarrassing photos of my friends from the night before and the current crop of bike porn from all the usual suspects. Instead I was shocked to see this NY Post cover story from @kingkog in NYC
See VeloNews on Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban in competiative cycling and loss of all 7 grand champion tiles from the Tour de France. Bike Hugger has a good transcription of events that are likely too detailed for anyone not already into the USADA case. As a member of the bicycling media in the US, I knew about the near encyclopedic history behind what must seem like a giant WTF for most people; who only know that he’s America’s great champion of cycling, cancer crusader, dodger of doping scandals for 10+ years, dated Sheryl Crow and did it all with one testicle.
But it was this 60 Minutes special that made it clear to me that United States Anti-Doping Agency and larger powers that be on the federal level were systematically acting to bring down the same heroes that have brought the love and glory of cycling back to the American public.
It’s a painful interview with Tyler Hamilton. In it he not only testifies that Armstrong (and everyone else) had ‘doped’ but looks to be so pained as to look coerced into talking. He blames himself, pleads for understanding. It’s horrible, if compelling, to watch. While watching the full interview a few things struck me: of all the governing bodies that have authority in professional cycling, the only ones who seemed intent on taking down not one, but all of the American professional racers and particularly Armstrong, were the Americans. Odd. Shouldn’t the Europeans hate the brash Texan?
Perhaps it has something to do with a difference in attitudes. There was a great article several years ago (pass along the URL/citation if you have it) that perfectly broke down the general differences in attitudes between the American and European public. Beyond visions of young schoolchildren knowing the names of races and their champions, it was hero worship in an older way: similar to boxing, knowing that a champion is willing to do anything, die early, suffer impossible pain, perhaps not even survive the contest in order to be the Grand Champion. A sacrifice.
But America is the land of puritanical, even sanctimonious, adherence to rules of power.
Or at least powerful lobby groups. Consider the re-develoment of Los Angeles into a car dependent metropolis. So widely acknowledged as to merit a Hollywood cartoon about it, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Though I generally am inclined to view conspiracy theories as science fiction or entertainment, it seems odd that this intense take down has happened 14 years after his first Tour de France Victory and 7 years after his last. Quite the delay and serendipitously just as cycling has re-entered the American public as a sport and a fashionable means of transport and political resistance.
Regardless of whatever lie behind the motivation of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, I’m surprised that USADA chief executive, Travis Tygart, hasn’t become enemy #1 for a backlash against the ruling. He’s been liberally quoted since the ruling came out:
“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”
“Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case,”
and yet particularly since the news broke (and even before) other governing bodies, including the UCI (International Cycling Union, the most senior authority in professional cycling) has issued a public WTF in the form of an inquiry as to why Lance should be stripped of his tour titles (after all, the USADA was not the ones who bestowed the titles, which seems a little like having your kid brother steal all of your high school sports trophies).
Tygart said the UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it” as a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code. And yet a day after the announcement came out the UCI quietly responded with,
“The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI even backed Armstrong’s failed legal challenge to USADA’s authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the U.S. agency.
“As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case, the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision” explaining the action taken, the Switzerland-based organization said in a statement. It said legal procedures obliged USADA to fulfill this demand in cases “where no hearing occurs.”
If Tour de France officials follow USADA’s lead and announces that Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.” +via Japan Times
On the homefront Joseph Lobato, a media expert and cyclist based in San Francisco, posted this the morning the ruling came out:
within hours dozens of people had reset their profile images with “LEAVE LANCE ALONE” proving not only Joe’s special genius for capturing the moment in multimedia, but that people don’t want to see Lance removed as a great hero. All of this is less about “cleaning up” the use of illegal doping in the sport (if it was why are there no investigations into any other teams/nationalities?) and more about destroying something. Or just confusing people.
What do you think?