Win at all costs.
Lance Armstrong said it to Oprah several times during his first interview since being stripped of his seven Tour de France victories.
That’s what it boiled down to for him. That’s what fueled him. Fueled him to cheat.
Yes. He’s a doper. And a liar.
Armstrong admitted to being both. He also admitted to being a jerk. He did it all while looking pretty comfortable sitting in a chair next to Oprah. After almost 20 years of lies, how could he not be?
But, is it all behind him now?
Armstrong seemed genuine and forthcoming. I’ll also admit the public relations strategy worked on me. Just a little. I’m a bit of a sucker. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel bad for Armstrong. He made those decisions. He has to live with them.
What am I having trouble with is trying to figure out if any of this matters?
Here’s why I ask that question. Some form of ‘cheating’ or ‘doping’ has plagued cycling for almost a century. The Tour de France is perhaps the most grueling competition in sports. The course runs 2,000 miles covered in 21 days with elevations changes, as the New York Times wrote,’ equivalent to climbing three (Mount) Everests.’
Writing in The National Geographic, cyclist Roff Smith, points out that ‘Fausto Coppi, the great Italian road cycling champion of the 1940s and 1950s admitted to he too did ‘whatever’ was necessary to win the Tour de France.
He also writes five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961-64)…famously remarked that it was impossible “to ride the Tour on mineral water.”‘
As the latest chapter of the sorry Lance Armstrong saga unfolds, it is worth looking at the history of cheating in the Tour de France to get a sense of perspective. This is not an attempt at rationalization or justification for what Lance did. Far from it.
But the simple, unpalatable fact is that cheating, drugs, and dirty tricks have been part and parcel of the Tour de France nearly from its inception in 1903.
It seems doping is part of cycling’s culture. Almost everyone seems in on it or at the very least didn’t really mind that it was going on. After all, it makes the sport better. Jonathan Maler writing on Deadspin says:
The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) is little more than a catch basin for hustlers and opportunists who know exactly what’s going on inside their offshore enterprise zones and see no reason to stop it. As Hein Verbruggen, the UCI’s longtime leader and current “honorary president” (presumably for life, unless Armstrong takes him down with him), is reported to have said: If the public were satisfied with the Tour de France riders going 25 kilometers an hour (15 miles per hour), there wouldn’t be a doping problem. But it wants 42 kilometers an hour, and there’s only one way to get there—by doping.
He’s right. Performance matters. The stakes in sports are very, very high. The rewards are great. As long as they are, expect athletes to try and find the edge. Any edge. Steroids and HGH in baseball. Performance enhancers and Adderall in the NFL. It’s just the way the games are played.
Perhaps we should either accept this as fact or stop attending the games.