Unless you've been living in a cave for the last few weeks, hard to ignore the news that Lance Armstrong has been busted for doping and stripped of his seven Tour De France titles. Another massive blow to the credibility of pro cycling. This doping nonsense never seems to end and makes you doubt the results of any pro level race, especially any of the grand tours.
I was a Lance fan, even though I had my doubts, put them off until something was proven. Well, with the USADA report and testimony of previous teammates, there is no more doubt. To me, if George Hincapie says Lance doped - Lance doped. Then add in the other pros who've said the same thing - Hamilton, Landis, Andreu, Leipheimer - the list goes on. Incriminating themselves and taking Lance with them.
I enjoyed the hell out of watching those seven Lance tours, waking up bleary eyed for work after too many nights of late coverage. Then bike commuting to work, 34 mile round trip, inspired by what I witnessed. If pros can conquer mountain passes while battling each other at insane speeds, I can get my sorry ass to work via bike. Now, according to the UCI, those Tours never existed - or whatever crazy version of history they'll rewrite. It all leaves a lame, sour taste in your mouth.
Pro sports is basically the entertainment industry, so who cares - right? Cycling is different however, many pro cycling fans are cyclists themselves - especially in the U.S. So, we feel more of a connection to the sport itself, even if we don't race or do so at a grass roots level. How many football fans actually play football? I think you get my drift. That's why this kind of news stings us a little. Because we're cyclists and cycling fans, so it digs deeper.
With that background, I read Tyler Hamilton's tell all book a few days ago. Start to finish in one sitting, fascinated and sickened at the same time. Many of the incidents and stories I've heard before, but now laid out in chronological order with full details. I've always wondered how the mechanics of doping work, now I know. And it's less complex then I imagined. From shooting EPO to the creepy practice of transfusing your own blood, usually hiding in a nondescript hotel somewhere. Blood bags carried via cooler and taped to hotel wall. Somehow that scene never comes up during interviews or Tour coverage on cable. Also apparently easy to avoid getting caught, though eventually the averages put you at risk.
As a fan I always enjoyed watching and reading about Hamilton. Super tough guy from Massachusetts; from riding the Giro with a shoulder injury, to suffering to a 4th place finish in the Tour with a broken collarbone. All with a humble, low key style. Then after being busted for doping a few years ago - complete with "unborn twin" crazy excuse, the Believe Tyler crowd, endless denials - made you wonder, yet another weird chapter in pro cycling.
After reading the book, you realize to an extent, why Hamilton acted this way. From the don't tell pro culture, to realizing without doping, winning at that level would be next to impossible, at least during that era. It was all part of being a professional. It's easy to call these guys cheats and liars, 'cause in fact they all did just that. Still, if you were in their shoes at that time, you'd say no and head home? Or just become pack fill at a lower salary? That grays up the area a bit. I'm not condoning what they did, but it certainly puts more light on why they did.
Through Hamilton's experiences, you also get the impression that Armstrong is quite the ego manic, and the conniving all powerful jerk. You're either in with him or on his enemy list - complete with high priced lawyers, connections to the UCI, bike industry, and media - to insure you're dismissed as a disgruntled employee, nut case, or ironically enough - a doper. Huge piles of fame and dough at his disposal.
If you're anything of a pro cycling fan, this book will open the doors a bit - a peak behind the curtains - and it ain't that pretty. Names are named, pro culture split open to revel the bloody truth, dates and scenarios explained, no holds barred. Well worth the read and the eye opener.
Through it all, the silver lining, Hamilton comes across as the honest nice guy. The guy you originally thought him to be. With his book, USADA testimony, and other actions of finally telling the truth - maybe, just maybe - will start the path of a dope free pro scene. His response, along with other pros doing the same, deserve kudos and even forgiveness if you will. These folks are human, made mistakes - of their perceived own doing or not - and are now trying to make things right. Many fans will remain fans of pros doing just that, I know I will.
For all the pros, officials, team directors, and others to continue to play the denial game - Lance included - time to fess up. Cover has been blown, the jig is up, time to honestly move the sport in the correct direction, no matter how painful that may be. Do it now, we're all behind you.