8.02.2010

Go gently into that good night (and please stay gone)

"In four or five days... Lance Armstrong is over." -- Lance Armstrong, after stage 16 of the 2010 Tour de France.

"You can't pray a lie." -- Huck Finn

The 2010 edition of the Tour de France ended a little more then a week ago. For the first time in my life, I had cable coverage (on the Versus network) of the race, so I spent quite a bit of time watching the race live on television, instead of watching blurry, pirated online video streams of European broadcast coverage.

The race was, on one level, a somewhat exciting duel between Alberto Contrador and Andy Schleck, and was very close, as only seconds separated the racers even after multiple tough stages in high mountains.

On another level (especially on Versus, the defacto LANCE/team radioshack channel) it was Lance Armstrong's last appearance at the Tour de France. A succession of mishaps and errors meant that Armstrong did not figure in the race and rode quite anonymously. The coverage, however, still focused extensively on Armstrong and his team, which did suceed in winning the 'best team on GC' competition.

I have followed, with varying degrees of interest, the Tour de France since the late 1980s and I can state with certainty that the amount of coverage lavished on the team competition in 2010 was unprecedented -- and highly annoying.

Returning to Lance Armstrong, I hope he retires and stays retired. I personally believe that he -- and his teams -- engaged in doping practices, cheating and intimidation and that at least some of the Landis allegations are true. I wouldn't mind, either, if litigation forces some secrets out into the open and if stories about what really went on during Armstrong's career become common knowledge.

I rest assured, however, in the knowledge that pro sports (not just cycling) are not pure and I don't doubt that lots of cheating went on at other teams and by other riders during the Armstrong era. I look out on the economic ruins of early 21st century America (and the obscene wealth and continuing freedom, of those responsible) and I really don't think that much would be served by the US Government engaging in a long drawn-out court case to uncover what went on. I think it would be bad for the sport to have Armstrong tossed in jail like Marion Jones.

I never saw Armstrong race except on television/video (he was supposed to race in Burlington, VT in the early 1990s, but missed his flight... story here). Two stories I'll remember involving Armstrong are:
  • Back in the mid-1990s, when I was participating in the Killington Stage Race, the club I was involved with, would stay in ski condos at at the mountain - lots and lots of bike racers (10+ people in one unit). In this crowded, communal (and sometimes stressful) environment, a VHS tape of Armstrong's 1993 Worlds victory was the smuttiest of smutty bike porn, something furtively passed around, and watched repeatedly. This was in the pre-Internet, pre-YouTube era, when information still struggled to be free. Now you can watch obscure events like the Tour of Poland live online and video highlights are available the day they happen.
  • After Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 there was a giant homemade "Get Well Lance" poster at the now defunct Craftsbury Mountain Bike* race for the assembled riders to sign. This was coordinated (if memory serves) by local MTB pro Audrey Augustin and Daria Bishop, wife of one of Armstrong's former teammates.
*My palmares are pretty thin (non-existent) but I did win the Masters category of this race three times. Just sayin'.

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