The effect of the release of USADA’s “reasoned decision” and the accompanying documents has been rather like a Hollywood special-effects explosion. Debris has been raining down from the sky long after the explosion itself has ceased to reverberate. Some of us continue to wince and duck because we know there’s more in the sky than just blue. With a single download George Hincapie has gone from one of the United States’ most beloved riders, to one of its most vilified. Johan Bruyneel has gone from genius mastermind to evil genius. So many characters from the heyday of American cycling have been thrust into the role of criminal that Tyler Hamilton’s one-time team director Bjarne Riis—an enigmatic figure if ever there was one—has the enviable position of occupying a kind of moral purgatory where people aren’t really sure just how to feel about him.
Reams continue to be written about the USADA case, Travis Tygart and, yes, Lance Armstrong. Some of it, like Charles Pelkey’s recent Explainer, will be reasoned and objective. Some of it, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s piece for Business Insider, will get the conclusion wrong due to a lack of understanding of the facts; simply put, Gladwell doesn’t understand that the public wants a clean sport. Unrestrained doping results in deaths, and deaths are bad for the sponsors. Others, like John Eustice’s piece for TIME, hails from an outlook of such moral ambiguity one would prefer he didn’t speak on behalf of the sport; his attitude is a great example of what got us into this mess. This is no time for more of the same. The biggest surprise came from Competitive Cyclist’s “What’s New” blog, which is the most unapologetically ambivalent piece I’ve been able to find. Unfortunately, cycling fans don’t seem to be willing to entertain negative capability where Armstrong is concerned. As a result, no one I know is ready for nostalgia.
One wonders about the curious silence of Sally “Lance Armstrong is a good man” Jenkins, the Washington Post columnist and Armstrong biographer who has been known to take on a sports icon directly, such as when she wrote, “Joe Paterno was a liar, there’s no doubt about that now.“ And then there’s the astoundingly politician-like flip-flop of Phil Liggett who has been far more effective as a PR agent for Armstrong than Mark Fabiani was. His statement that he finds it “very hard to believe Lance Armstrong did not dope” falls rather short of the more definitive, ‘I believe Lance Armstrong doped’, was nonetheless a shocker for those who watched him on the Four Corners program on Australian television, and re-broadcast by CNN in the U.S.
No matter what faults readers may find with the print media, they cannot compare to the sin committed in the orchestrated slander of Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis by Liggett and co-commentator Paul Sherwen. In allowing Armstrong to join them as an investor in an African gold mine, they gave him their short hairs, and the last vestiges of their objectivity.
The outrage about Armstrong is really understandable. His seven wins in the Tour were a Ponzi scheme that even Bernie Madoff would admire. How Armstrong managed to do what he did, why he did it, why others aided him, all of that is easy to process. It’s a word I keep coming back to: coercion. At some level, everyone who succumbed felt pushed by forces outside their own will. What has been harder to understand is how the reception to the Armstrong story changed over time.
In 2001, almost no one wanted to hear any suggestion that Armstrong wasn’t clean. For a long time, David Walsh was treated as if he was running around in a tinfoil hat. Even in 2005, once the allegations were out there more firmly, the cycling world still seemed to have their hands at their ears, collectively yelling “la-la-la-la I can’t hear you.” But by 2009 it was apparent, based on—if nothing else—comments here on RKP, that a great many serious cyclists had come to the conclusion that Armstrong wasn’t clean. It was also apparent by that time that a great many stories had emerged of just what a domineering personality he was. I’ve often wondered just how much peoples’ dislike of Armstrong greased their ability to conclude that he was a doper. Once a villain, then why not all-in?
So while the Friday Group Ride is a few days away, I’d like to pose a few questions to you readers: When did you come to the conclusion that Armstrong was a doped athlete? If the tipping point for you came before the USADA Reasoned Decision, what served as your personal tipping point? Also, if your change of opinion came before the Reasoned Decision, did the release of those documents change anything for you, even if it was only to cause you to hate Armstrong even more? Finally, for those of you who have been outraged by what was detailed in the Reasoned Decision and its supporting documents, why did it anger you in a way the same allegations made previously did not?
Now, having asked all that, I’ll make a final request: This is meant to be a conversation, not an occasion to vent self-righteous spleen. We want to hear from as many readers as possible, so we ask that you try to keep your comments both brief and civil. Thanks.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Since Steve Jobs’ recent death I’ve learned more about the iconic leader of Apple Computer than I ever wanted to know. I admit I was curious about him. Based on my read, he and I shared some basic traits: creative, big-picture thinkers on the intense side. So that made him interesting to me and even, on occasion, a north star to stay true to my personal views and beliefs.
His taste was impeccable, even if he did tend to dress day-in-and-out in the same wardrobe. I wish I had his taste. But as I’ve read more, I’ve learned other, less attractive features about the man. He could be tone-deaf to others’ feelings; I’ve suffered that at times. He could be both cruel and petulant. He could be a bully. I’m relieved those aren’t mine.
Malcolm Gladwell has called him the ultimate tweaker. It doesn’t seem to be a job title many of us would want, but Jobs turned it into something memorable. He seems to have been a man of extremes. His complicated nature make me more curious about him, even if I wouldn’t want to share more in common with him. I may have to read Walter Isaacson’s book.
The bike industry is full of complicated figures, too. Mike Sinyard of Specialized burns with a holy light for cycling. He rides more miles each year than plenty of guys I know half his age. He can be generous and warm. I’ve also heard that he can direct his wrath at employees who don’t measure up.
Friends in the industry who have worked with the Bikes Belong Coalition have told me that the great unsung hero of bicycle advocacy is Trek’s John Burke. People say that Bikes Belong wouldn’t be as well funded or as effective without his involvement. Yet from the sources I have, Burke never rides and he is known for being callous. One former employee told me that the wife of a staffer made a wistful comment about how she wished she saw more of her husband, to which Burke replied, “Get a dog.”
Cycling just lost one of the most interesting guys in the sport: Bob Stapleton. By all accounts he had vision, was both organized and disciplined and even ethical. The sport’s loss.
Then there are guys like Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles, a guy whose business acumen seems as natural as Michael Jordan’s basketball talent, but whose personal life couldn’t be more shielded from public view. No one seems to know if he rides or not, if he does anything other than work. As a public figure, he’s unfortunately two-dimensional. On the other hand, we have Richard Sachs, a frame builder who has had more words devoted to his work than all other frame builders combined. Hmm.
The question today is: Who interests you, and why? Do you like the principled monastics like Sachs or do you find the complicated figures like Burke interesting? Or both?
Naturally, this leads to yet another question: Are there figures we ought to turn the spotlight on here at RKP?