This month may be the cruelest ever for cyclist Lance Armstrong. That’s saying something for an athlete who faced cancer in the middle of his career.
In August, Armstrong announced he would no longer contest the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s prosecution of his alleged misconduct, a move the agency took as an admission of guilt. At the time, Armstrong continued his denials of wrongdoing, a posture he has maintained through his career and up until today.
However, October 2012 is when the dam broke on Armstrong.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a detailed report on its findings in the Armstrong case. In it, a small army of Armstrong’s former professional cycling teammates told similar stories. To a man, they admitted that (a.) they cheated, (b.) Armstrong cheated, and (c.) under Armstrong’s leadership, each rider was pressured to cheat or face expulsion from the team.
Were these once-loyal teammates scrambling for cover under the intense pressure of an anti-doping probe? Perhaps, but their nearly uniform descriptions of Armstrong’s performance paint a damning picture, nonetheless.
Last week, more than a handful of major corporate sponsors, including Nike and Anheuser-Busch, announced they were cutting ties with Armstrong. Also, he stepped down from the chairmanship of Livestrong, the charity dedicated to fighting cancer.
Monday, the UCI, cycling’s international governing body, announced it was stripping Armstrong of his seven Tour de France victories. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme summed up the development bluntly: “Lance Armstrong is no longer the winner of the Tour de France from 1999-2005.”
Of course, these governing bodies should not escape scrutiny even as they add to Armstrong’s misery. The UCI’s rules prevented the use of performance-enhancing drugs and other methods of gaining an unfair advantage. Yet, this month’s exposure confirms that the overseers of the sport were woefully unprepared to police the rules. That doesn’t excuse the rule-breakers, but it certainly raises questions regarding the UCI’s seriousness during this period.
It’s quite telling that the Tour’s record books will remain blank for the years when Armstrong finished first in cycling’s most celebrated race. A major part of the reasoning has to do with the fact that so many of Armstrong’s competitors during this era cheated, as well.
While this scandal will leave a black mark by Armstrong’s name, the overall picture is more complicated. The Texan was clearly the greatest cyclist of his generation, clean or dirty; and, as the evidence is showing, it was almost completely dirty at the top. Armstrong’s work ethic and determination to excel stood out in a sport where suffering and sacrifice is expected from all competitors. He used his wealth and fame to fight the condition that so nearly ruined his career. He was an inspiration to many others fighting the awful disease.
In short, this scandal has created a complicated set of emotions and left very few heroes standing.