Armstrong’s confession disappoints

With his brand in tatters, Lance Armstrong’s chance to redeem himself missed the mark.

Published in the Edinburgh Journal 20 Jan 2013.

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It’s all a game, the further you venture, the  deeper you fall,  the harder it is to pull a U-turn and tell the real truth. Armstrong was particularly gifted at this game. He shouted the loudest, he sued the most, threatened and mocked the doubters, ruined lives, dished out bribes and one by one he brought them down. The game has reached a precipice, but either route pursued this game is far from over. With a partial confession on Thursday nights interview with Oprah, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong kept up the façade and played on. From hero to villain, his reign has come to an end in spectacular fashion.

For all its build up the two-part interview did disappoint. Instead of a heartfelt apology, the audience got what appeared to be a carefully choreographed delivery. He did confess to doping but no names were named, no mention of LeMond, Bruyneel, Kimmage etc. A hesitant apology to David Walsh and Emma O’Reilly. A ‘no comment’ on Betsy Andreu. Some more denials; he swears he was clean for his comeback and a rejection of the claim that he paid UCI to make positive tests go away.

There was a certain lack of conviction to his words. He’s lost everything; sponsors, titles, medals, millions of dollars, and his right to compete in sanctioned races. Now backed into a corner, he relents just a little bit with a limited admission of guilt and an ‘I’m sorry’ delivered via Oprah, who is no longer a journalist but a talk show host, who knows nothing of cycling, and who he knows will turn this into an emotional programme with a moral instead of getting down to the nitty gritty and forcing him to face the hard questions that we, the cycling fans want to know the answers to. You follow a sport your whole life and in one of the biggest moments in it, you’re forced to get up at 2am in the morning on two consecutive nights to watch two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Armstrong, in yet another marketing stunt tried to appeal to our emotions, forgetting that although he is charismatic and we have always admired him, he has never been a particularly likeable character and this time no amount of PR is going to convince us otherwise.

This is an athlete that even the girly girls – whose only interest in sport lies in commenting on how fit  footballers are – have heard of . In hindsight it all seems laughable now, the toughest most brutal race in the world and he won it seven times. An apparently impossible task riding only on bread and water. But people love an inspirational story and this was the cream of the crop. He knew how to play the audience time and time again, and we followed along mutely, tongues lolling from our mouths, drooling over the fairytale. Now, the Armstrong brand is dissipating in his hands. The cancer survivor, that went on to dominate the world of cycling. When all along, behind closed hotel doors, stood Ferrari, painted as a creepy medieval doctor, performing blood transfusions and dishing out white lunch bags full of goodies. “That is a guy who felt invincible, he was told he was invincible. He truly believed he was invincible,” says Armstrong of himself during the interview.

Armstrong was arrogance personified – the Nike commercial jeering the ones who claimed he was on drugs, the tweet of him laying on his couch surrounded by his seven yellow jerseys. “Fame magnifies whoever you are”  says Oprah during the interview, and Armstrong was not a nice guy, he was a bully. A guy who loved control, and is not used to defeat. You could see it in his eyes and as he fiddled with his hands, he was at a loss without his precious control. If he cooperated with USADA back in May he might only have received a six-month suspension according to ESPN reporter  T.J. Quinn.  But to him it never felt like cheating, just a ‘level playing field.’ He says only now is he beginning to see outside his bubble; “I am beginning to understand that. I see the anger in people. They have every right to feel betrayed.”

He was the man who epitomised the American Dream and now faces the nightmare. He yearns to compete again and thinks he deserves to be allowed. He faces the death penalty, a lifetime ban on competing. Armstrong needs to learn it is not all about winning and he needs to step away from all sport for a while to allow it to heal. If he can’t do that for cycling than I fear he is not really sorry and his words are once again, empty.

Poster boy’s fall from grace

Published in the Journal newspaper – 25/10/12

Another legend stumbles, and he falls as he raced- hard and fast. Lance Armstrong is no longer the unstoppable hero of a sport; he is human and he is a cheat.

Former US Postal Service cyclist Lance Armstrong received a lifetime ban on 24 August this year after an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of doping. His offences include using the performance enhancing drug EPO, corticosteroids, growth hormones, undergoing blood transfusions as well as helping his teammates do the same.

The seven times Tour de France winner chose not to fight the charges pressed against him. He will be disqualified from all competitive results after 1 August 1998 and forfeit any medals, titles, winnings, finishes, points and prizes. The US Anti-Doping Agency’s report describes it as “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong’s story is legendary, a mere mortal who survived cancer and went on to win the greatest race in the sport; the Tour de France a total of seven times. A man who built an empire out of his tale and branded it Livestrong, not to find a cure for cancer but to raise awareness of it. Armstrong is a master of marketing.

However this fairytale had a sell-by date. One by one his former US Postal teammates stepped forward and outed him for what he was- with it they sacrificed their own reputations and admitted their own guilt. Among them stood self-confessed dopers Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

500 drug tests were all clean, as his advocates roar. But this, his primary argument, falls short as the tests were apparently impossibly easy to evade or pass. There was no test for EPO until 2000, blood transfusions continue to remain undetectable and teams frequently knew in advance when testers would be coming. The solution to that was saline drips which would cover up any evidence of the crime.

Armstrong is not to be pitied for falling prey at the hands of other dopers, and caving under pressure. He has been described by USADA as the “ringleader of biggest doping conspiracy in sporting history.” Every day the story thickens, another element added to the ever-growing jigsaw. Recently, the UCI admitted accepting a donation of more than $100,000 from Armstrong in 2002. They deny that it was connected to any cover-up of a positive doping test.

The question is; will the sport of cycling ever be credible again after this poster boy’s fall from grace? Perhaps cycling journalist Paul Kimmage was on to something all along when he referred to Mr. Armstrong as the “cancer” of cycling.

Book Review: The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle

All the press releases, the articles, the tweets, the news bulletins and the radio presenters mumblings. Everyone shouting the news at you, pushing it into your face. Stacks upon stacks of information to process. I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t get it. Who was the bad guy; Armstrong, the UCI, USADA, all pro cyclists, the spectators, who? Can someone just tell me? Tell me who to believe and who to reject?

But that was then, and since then I have read; ‘The Secret Race’. It took me two days. I barely put it down. Now I get it. I get the tweets, the subtle jokes, I get to laugh and nod along. I understand the articles, I know who the professionals are, know who to believe and who to question. Now that this book has provided me with the unedited background. Now that It has provided me with the knowledge of which I was quietly ignorant. And what It has taught me above all, is that I was not there, I will never truly understand and therefore, I cannot judge.

The big secret  is out and I hope it will not be embroidered and stamped as scandal because this is a sad story, a lament about the reality of the world of pro cycling. The one the roaring crowds don’t get to see, the tale that perhaps we always knew but never asked, because if being honest, we never wanted to find out the truth.

Self confessed doper and former procyclist Tyler Hamilton and writer Daniel Coyle join forces to spill the beans on the reality of what a cyclist must face if he wants to get to the top. The Secret Race of needles, EPO, blood bags, and red eggs.  The competition off the bike, the need to be the best at all costs, the bullying, the training and all the lies.

It’s the classic tale; a story of the bad guys versus the good guys, and the ever pressing question of who will prevail?

A hard story to tell but one that needs to be told.

I suggest reading it.

Review: “It’s Not About the Bike”

“I want to die at a hundred years old screaming down an alpine descent on a bicycle at 75mph.”

This is how it begins, with his end. This exhilarating pace doesnt waver an inch throughout this pumping novel. Lance Armstrong’s, “It’s not about the bike” tracks the cyclists life before he finally climaxed winning the Tour the France a total of seven times. It deals predominantly with his battle with testicular cancer and his eventual triumph over it and over the odds.

I was a critic, a doubter, he is a man who has always been shrouded in controversy. However, after  reading this autobiography it is not easy to stay mad at him. Armstrong surprisingly has writing abilities that have the power to convert the pessimists. So be warned before reading this you may find yourself warming to him. At the beginning , he comes across as an arrogant stubborn youth, but he redeems himself as the reader sees how cancer transforms his mindset on the world and by the close, he emerges a hero in all sense of the word.  Through his delivery of the lines, his passionate speech about the bike, the pain, the hills, the fight for his life, the fight to dominate the road. Its thrilling. Every cycler, every competitor, every person who wants more out of life, should read this book. It is a pusher.

It’s one of those rare finds when you are in a room alone, sitting and reading, just mulling over the words in your mind. Then suddenly, It makes you stop and look up from the book, to take a second and process the idea of what this ordinary man from Texas has accomplished, and the realisation that nothing is stopping the reader from doing the same.

For now at least, the man remains a superhero.