I've kept silent on the blog about the Armstrong affair, mostly because there's been a lot written on it by people far more eloquent than I, and because I don't want to offend anyone, so keep in mind that this is just my personal opinion and doesn't reflect the shop or anyone affiliated with Blacksmith Cycle. Bikepile.
I get asked a lot about the Lance Armstrong saga, the bottle service girls at the bar want to know my opinions on the matter, how I feel about it, what it means for cycling. They peer into my shaved leg wisdom for guidance, how should they feel about Lance? What should they tell people around the proverbial water-cooler (which is usually more like a bottle of Belvedere). These are usually people that don't know how to pump up a tire let alone fix a flat. People that might have three gears on their bike but only use one, ever. Their brakes are shoddy, their bar-tape ratty, their chains squeak and their saddles have a rakish tilt to them indicative of improper saddle height or super-human taint strength. They've never heard of "the Rules" and are constantly asking how fast my bike goes. But they want to know. Perhaps they read an article on the third page of the sports section or saw a news ticker flash by that says Lance has been banned for life and stripped of all his tour titles, and that's all they know of the situation. They know that he's doped, and they know that that's bad.
I tell them I don't care. It doesn't mean anything. Both Travis Tygart and Lance have handled this whole affair in such buffoonish manner that it doesn't matter. There's no decipherable message coming from either camp. Anyone that ever got caught sneaking a peak over a classmate's shoulder knows that cheating is wrong, so why does it matter? I tell everyone it doesn't matter because my opinion won't make them learn the rules, or fix their brakes or get a tune-up. They'll still ride their beaters and get nervous around cars and fall in the streetcar tracks whether Lance was doped to the gills or a superhuman gladiator with a dominating spirit and ego to match. What matters for me is that they are asking at all, and maybe I should give a more poignant answer, but I don't have one that would make sense for the average joe or the non-cyclist.
It behooves the cycling industry to get this out of the way quickly and quietly so that we can all go back to selling bikes and hopefully making some money, because really that's what professional racing is. 190 very fast billboards competing for the recognition of your dollars. Those of us that are passionate about bike-racing, whether as spectators or participants tend to look past that and use equally passionate words like suffering, panache and HTFU, but rarely mundane words like advertising, sponsorship, and sales, and that's where the passionate arguments get interesting. Armstrong certainly brought what was once considered an archaic European sport to North-Americans like nobody else could. His feel good story and sheer dominance has secured television rights for the tour in the US and Canada almost single-handedly, not to mention the Giro and the Vuelta as well. He did us all a lot of good as cycling enthusiasts, and now we have to look at whether or not we want to lose all of that as cycling gets Hoogerlanded into another barbed wire fence. Lance has clearly stated that he's not the one to bring us back (nor should/could he). He's brought us this far and that's all he can do. It's up to us individually to decide whether or not we get back on the bike and somehow manage to finish with the group to ride another day. Will it stop people from buying bikes? Probably not. Will it turn off the casual spectator? Probably a few. Will the sun come up tomorrow? All evidence suggests that it will.
Cycling seems to have borne the brunt of the anti-doping authorities as far as harshness of suspension and even the tone of the edicts from above. It's as if to suggest that cycling invented doping in sport, or at least perfected it. Somehow the fact that the All-star game MVP in MLB just got busted isn't that surprising nor offensive, or that the reigning league MVP somehow escaped suspension by the skin of his teeth. I'll admit that I've never been so enthralled with baseball as I was when watching Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa continually smashing baseballs into the cheap seats and destroying every slugging record known to man. Did we for one minute believe that any of them weren't juiced to the gills? Did we care? Were we not entertained? I still watch baseball just as casually as I used to. All of Lance's great moments, the look, the off road cruise through the switch backs, the Sheryl Crows and Ashely (or MK, I have no idea) Olsens, the cancer comeback, the Contador rivalry, did any of us really believe that he wasn't doped to the gills? Were we not entertained? I continue to watch just as passionately as I used to.
We pick our heroes in the moment, when the ball leaves the park and the buzzer beater swishes through the net. When the birdie putt sinks on the 18th hole and enforcer rallies the crowd into a frenzy with his bloodied fists and face. It is all too easy for us to claim that we were somehow cheated out of the experience when the allegations come out. That we deserve a refund of emotional content. This emotional content is what compels us to watch, drives us to be better ourselves as cyclists and selects our hero of the moment, and it is what we can use to keep cycling great. Lance doesn't matter that much to me personally because there are Ryder Hesjedals, Peter Sagans, and Bradley Wiggins' (more for the sideburns than the riding) out there for me to love. There's Voeckler's faces and Voight's sound bites to laugh along with and Vaughter's twitter feed to look forward to. There's our own races in Canada to get close to our heroes and rally them into great performances that rebuild our emotional cache.
Doping is in the hands of the authorities, and if there's a lesson to be learned from Lance I hope they glean something positive from it. That they are making progress into the science of doping and how to control it, because it is our emotional bank account that suffers the most. When that passion is all used up and there's nobody left to cheer for then I'll start to get worried. Cycling is in our hands as the consumer base that supports pro-racing and drives the industry, and our passion often turns into the dollars that keep the billboards rolling. I still feel good about professional cycling, I still love riding my bike. I am entertained.