This Group Ride is about Lance Armstrong, sort of. I’m telling you now, so you can unplug, log-off, go rider your bike if that topic turns you off.
I’m writing about Lance, because an odd thought occurred to me the other day, and I thought we might just be far away from the Reasoned Decision now to consider it without descending into froth-mouthed, howling fantods.
The quixotic Texan popped onto my radar again while making my daily stroll through the cycling news. Apparently, he’s been out training with Lawson Craddock of the Cannondale – Drapac team. Really, without even thinking about Lance, I was gobsmacked that any current pro would be seen riding with the Vader/Voldemort of the modern peloton. How could ANY good come of that for Craddock?
If you were his team manager or a sponsor’s liason or his agent, this is the sort of thoughtless, self-destructive move that sends you into apoplectic fits. This is the kind of crap that requires a phone call, not a text, to straighten out. A young, ambitious pro doesn’t ride with a disgraced former legend, the guy who wrecked the sport. It’s like having lunch with mobsters. It doesn’t mean you’re in the mob, but do you really want people to wonder?
It was only then, after I’d rolled my eyes and chuckled at the naivete of youth, that I began to think about Lance. Poor, old Lance. The boogie man. The pariah. Chris Froome said he has “no legacy.” But is that right?
Here’s what I think: Lance Armstrong had a net positive impact on cycling.
And here’s why I think so: 1) Through his brash and unabashed lying, his simple, dumb, devotion to doing things the wrong way, he became the one face we came to associate with modern blood-doping. Classical villains aren’t a little bit bad. They’re thoroughly bad, and Armstrong is a classic. This is a good thing, in the final analysis, because it allowed us to perform the sacrifice (lifetime ban) necessary to convince ourselves that era was over. It wasn’t/isn’t completely, and maybe can never be, but cycling performance had been on a collision course with morality for decades, and I think Lance crystallized the essence of cycling’s dark side so that we, the fans, finally had to see, acknowledge and condemn it.
2) At the zenith of his popularity, no other rider was responsible for getting so many butts onto saddles. The middle-aged, middle manager verging on life crisis bought himself a Trek, inspired by the all-conquering American. Most, if not all, of those guys and gals are still riding, and the miles they’ve ridden have led to better bikes being made, better infrastructure being installed, and a better place at the table for cycling in the nation’s transportation policy meetings.
3) He was the cancer angel. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. This isn’t an end to justify the means. But, it is undeniable that many cancer patients took hope and inspiration from Armstrong’s story. It’s hard to put a value on hope and inspiration, even if you discover later, once you’re in remission, that your faith in the prophet has been misplaced.
To be sure, there is a long list on the debit side of the ledger. Today’s pro teams are finding it harder to sign sponsors. They ride under constant suspicion. That isn’t wholly Armstrong’s fault, but he remains the poster boy for cheating. He let so many people down. Hurt so many through both malice and carelessness. I am not arguing for even a second that we should let him back into the club, such as it is, or diminish our revulsion at his behavior.
But, forgetting the person, the individual named Lance Armstrong, just looking at the net impacts, most of them unintended and unforeseen, and with the benefit of considerable hindsight now, I think more good came of his actions than bad.
This week’s Group Ride asks, am I crazy? Is the scope and reach of his moral transgression too big to consider a possible upside? Or, acknowledging the injuries, is it fair to say that the good might possibly outweigh the bad, you know, in an actuarial sense?
Image: Jarret Campbell