Back in the day, in a period I don’t like to discuss very much, I was quite a good cyclist. I won a few races (metric centuries and centuries, mostly), worked in a bike shop as a mechanic, not because I needed the money but because I just loved handling bikes. They were – and are – one of the most elegant machines ever made, poetic in their simplicity and awe-inspiring in their muscle and speed.
Occasionally I’d head up to Austin for a nice long ride, and once in a while, I’d glimpse Lance Armstrong powering up Bee Caves Road. At the time he was a Texas phenom but I’m not sure he’d done anything huge yet. He had just turned pro and there was buzz about him. Yet, out there on the long flat roads, he seemed accessible, normal. Just some average dude out there trying to stay in shape.
I don’t remember when I fell in love with him. I don’t remember when I became a fan. But one day, I simply was. And since that moment, my admiration never wavered. When he won the first Tour de France, I lost my mind with joy. The fight with cancer had been epic; his recovery and ensuing cycling victories seemed like the stuff of legend.
By the seventh Tour de France victory, I felt exasperation and anger at those jerks who would make up horrible lies about him. Lance Armstrong doping? Whatareyou, crazy cakes? There was just no way. The purity of my belief cannot be questioned.
When he admitted earlier this week that he was, in fact, winning those races with assistance from banned substances, I felt dull shock. At first there was a little defense attorney inside me, screaming he NEEDED testosterone because he had only one testicle. And, by the way, it was his own blood.
Yet there is no excuse for the EPO and cortisone. He swore to compete by the rules of the game and he failed to that.
I still marvel at his athletic prowess. Even with every drug in the universe I couldn’t compete in the Tour. (It had been a dream, at one time, to try. Even today no women have ever come close to qualifying.) I remain convinced that he was on an entirely different level than the rest of us, drugs or not. I don’t think he won those races fairly, but I know that to even get to that point, he had to be so far ahead of even elite athletes that the advantage was miniscule. It was just enough to get him over the line.
That much is real. That’s what I will chose to remember about this tragedy.