As a young man I fell in love with cycling watching the Tour de France, in particular the epic mountain stages. Watching the supermen attack, attack, attack, every day in the Alps and the Pyrenees was one of the most thrilling sights in sport. The riders involved were absolute beasts. They were doing things that scarcely seemed possible, even to a naïve stripling like junior Mambo.
But I, like millions of others, suspended our disbelief as we wanted (and in some cases needed) to believe it was real and that these guys had got where they had just by training hard and being the best.
So while I am loving watching the narcissistic bully Lance Armstrong’s reputation being blown to bits, I have to acknowledge that we all as cycling fans are partially complicit in what he (and many others, lest we forget) did over those years. We never really questioned the absurd performances these guys were producing day after day, or if we did we usually internalised our disquiet. We never reflected on that wild look in their eyes and unnaturally bulging muscles.
We just wanted to be entertained and the entertainers did what they thought they had to do. Most of them weren’t and aren’t multi-millionaires like Armstrong. It was a just a living. A means to an end. Cycling’s direction of travel over the years has been the consequence of it ultimately just being a job for the people involved, blended with a toxic mixture of expediency, money and over-competitiveness.
If I’m totally honest what Armstrong did was nothing worse than many others at the time. Behind the success stories of most competitive riders during that period there is a trail of injections, supplements and transfusions. He deserves to be stripped of his titles but so do many others.
It was the bullying and intimidation of Armstrong that crossed the line in my mind. The way he dealt with his critics and the lives he has ruined pursuing them over the years. The journalists who wouldn’t let the matter drop who were the subject of spiteful, destructive vendettas. The critics in the Peloton who were driven out of the sport they loved when their only crime was the desire to ride cleanly (and who in their right mind would want to pump themselves full of all that shit anyway?). The self-righteous condemnation of other ‘cheats’ by Armstrong when they had only made the mistake of being caught, and when anyone other than self-deluding egomaniac would have just kept their mouth shut and thanked God it wasn’t them who had tested positive this time.
But in order to do all that and silence so many people Armstrong needed the willing complicity of many, many people. People who turned a blind eye or joined in when Armstrong was playing at being Al Capone.
Some of those have done the right thing by testifying against him, finally. It should have been sooner though.
Others need to ask themselves a few awkward questions. If professional cycling is to get its soul back its now time for full and frank disclosure. The idea of a truth and reconciliation committee that has been doing the rounds seems like an eminently sensible idea.