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"the conflation of money and heroism"
July 10, 2014 7:59 PM   Subscribe

The rise and fall of Lance Armstrong is not simply a story of one man’s moral failures. To understand Armstrong you have to understand the people who use their money and power to shape the culture of competitive sports. And if you follow the trail of money and power in this particular case, it will lead you to Thomas Weisel, which is where the real story begins.
posted by the man of twists and turns (82 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cancer made Armstrong. By beating cancer, he got attention, which lead to money which lead to the drugs and the doctor which lead to winning which lead to fame and the money to afford more drugs, the doctor and the lawyers.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:34 PM on July 10


Cancer made Armstrong.

I sort of get what you're saying, but I don't know that I fully agree. What ultimately made Armstrong was an absolutely over-the-top, stop-at-literally-nothing level of competitiveness, combined with a capacity for pathological lying. Those are malignant character traits that had to have existed within him well before the malignant cells came along.

Lots of people beat cancer, including plenty of athletes, yet they never do what Armstrong did.
posted by scody at 8:48 PM on July 10 [30 favorites]


Im honestly curious about this, and I don't know enough about competitive cycling to find an answer. Did Lance Armstrong really cheat more or worse than everyone else? I kind of always assumed that pro cycling was rotten to the core and that once he got caught everyone just made him the scapegoat.

I mean I generally assume that in the MLB steroid scandals that everyone was in on it and just some people were unlucky enough to get caught and had the same line of thinking for cycling. Am I way off base on this?
posted by Literaryhero at 8:58 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


"Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing" (old-timey football guy), until we're tired of you (larry-darrrell).
posted by larry_darrell at 9:00 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


He cheated, but he was also damn good. And there's the tragedy.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:00 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


I'm honestly curious about this, and I don't know enough about competitive cycling to find an answer. Did Lance Armstrong really cheat more or worse than everyone else?
Lance Armstrong wasn’t just a cheater who used performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles, according to the explosive “reasoned decision” released by the United States Anti-Doping Agency on Wednesday – he was also a dope pusher who supplied banned substances to his teammates and threatened to replace cyclists who refused to juice.

Lance Armstrong was at heart of 'sophisticated doping ring' – as it happened

Armstrong said he never felt as though he was cheating, didn’t think he could have accomplished what he did without doping and acknowledged that he owed apologies to people he bullied and attacked during 13 years of emphatic denials.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:09 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


I recently watched The Armstrong Lie on Netflix and walked away thinking that everyone cheated and that Armstrong and his team were just the best at cheating. Which is probably what Armstrong wants everyone to think as he struggles to create another narrative that will somehow redeem him.
posted by peterdarbyshire at 9:17 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Yea wait there's people who actually think anyone who placed close to him consistently wasn't also cheating?

That isn't just some specious theory that covers his ass. It seems pretty damn obvious to me.
posted by emptythought at 9:21 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


What about Stretch Armstrong? He was always suspected of using rubber banned substances.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:22 PM on July 10 [50 favorites]


I'm certain he wasn't the only doper on those tours he won. There is only one moral lesson. If you break the rules you are disqualified. None of us are better or worse than this man.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 PM on July 10


Armstrong was very much of that moment in sport. Almost every champion of that era has now been proven or has admitted to similar levels of drug use.

Armstrong was a team leader and a harsh disciplinarian (and a raging asshole), but that's not unusual either for that level of competition.

He was amazing at the top level of his form. My guess is that, in a perfect world where nobody had access to drugs, he would have been just as dominant. Ability and drive together are what make an athlete great, and he has both.

For all that, he not only accepted the corrupt performance-enhancing drug system, he was part of actively developing it, and recruited his teammates into it. He was one of the ring-leaders, while at the same time one of the most out-spoken deniers. He deserves the labels of hypocrite and cheat. I think cycling is much better off without him.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 PM on July 10 [18 favorites]


Pretty much everyone racing at a high level was cheating: it was the only way to be racing at a high level. It's just that Armstrong was a very good cyclist already, and he was really good at running that operation.
posted by suelac at 9:37 PM on July 10


I must say I haven't coerced anybody into taking dangerous drugs (okay maybe save for a shot of tequila).

It sucks that cycling is a cheater's sport, and that the UCI is a sorry excuse for an overseeing body, but there you have it: the only good option was not to play.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:47 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I'm certain he wasn't the only doper on those tours he won. There is only one moral lesson. If you break the rules you are disqualified. None of us are better or worse than this man.

If you break the rules and are caught, you mean. He wasn't for a long time, seemed to be pretty good at not getting caught. I tend to look at these cases like the cockroach principle: every one you see, there's ten in the walls.
posted by JHarris at 9:49 PM on July 10


Maybe OT, but the worst thing about the Armstrong affair for us regular cyclists and cycling fans is that now everyone's a goddamned expert on cycling. I'd like them to go back to not giving a fuck.
posted by klanawa at 9:58 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Should We Allow Drugs in Sports?
posted by bukvich at 10:02 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


So, has the overall times of the big tournaments dropped back, or do they continue to get faster and faster, post Armstrong?
posted by valkane at 10:07 PM on July 10


None of us are better or worse than this man.

I think most of us surely are better. It's one thing to cheat on something minor, but this guy cheated on his entire prominent career and then set himself us as a denouncer of the very thing he was cheating with. That's an entirely different level from what most people do.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:12 PM on July 10 [20 favorites]


Ironmouth: I'm certain he wasn't the only doper on those tours he won. There is only one moral lesson. If you break the rules you are disqualified. None of us are better or worse than this man.

I disagree. If you didn't break the rules, you are better. I don't care if the first guy who wasn't doping was the 43rd finisher or what, that's the actual winner of those tours, and the most depressing thing about them is that person will never know he won. Everyone who doped truly just has a DQ, and has an equal standing in the finish - the same as someone who didn't enter it at all.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:17 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Since not a single comment so far has mentioned Weisel or people like Tyler Hamilton or Christophe Bassons, I can only assume everyone has read the first link in full and are simply processing the information in it that is highly relevant to this doping/Armstrong discussion.

It's a good article. The scenario presented is horrifying in a way that reads like an early Chuck Palahniuk novel.
posted by figurant at 10:23 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


The thing about rules and sports...

At the highest levels, a huge aspect of any sport is gaming the rules; skirting them; finding the edge cases. Figuring out exactly when you can hold on the offensive line. How many half-steps you can take without traveling. Diving to get a foul called.

What Armstrong did seems in this spirit.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:23 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I had started hearing more talk about the bullying and arrogance before his fall, but that article paints an uglier picture than I even imagined. This was Wall Street levels of corruption and unethical behavior.

Armstrong wasn't just a doper. He was the fucking gangster behind it all.
posted by kanewai at 10:47 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I can only assume everyone has read the first link in full and are simply processing the information in it that is highly relevant to this doping/Armstrong discussion.

I did read it. I just don't really know what to say. It seems like just another extension of the American cult of "success," and an inevitability at that: a bunch of greedy assholes got together and did what greedy assholes do. Armstrong didn't invent this system, but he gave it an opportunity it couldn't refuse. Without it, he would have been just another very talented jerk.

And people uncritically bought into the Armstrong story, mostly people who had no clue about cycling's long history of doping and corruption but did have the kind of native susceptibility to lifestyle marketing that keeps yellow-bracelet manufacturers profitable.

I guess the reason I'm not really surprised or outraged by any of this is that it's so pervasive in modern business. And that's what cycling is, a business, no more or less corrupt than any other. If there's a problem here, it's a problem with our culture in general, not with cycling specifically. I can't imagine why anyone would look to cyclists or their exploiters as paragons of ethical purity.
posted by klanawa at 11:00 PM on July 10


This doesn't touch on the off-handed bit of Hamilton's accounts that I found most horrifying: He'd get up, ride a long way before breakfast, have a protein shake, ride until lunch, have a small high-protein lunch, ride more, and then go to bed hungry with a fist full of sleeping pills in the hopes he could sleep through the need for food.

Institutionalized anorexia, basically, and even in his dish-the-dirt tell-all Hamilton didn't seem to realize this was disordered ... It was just how they kept their musculature up and weight down. He writes like, of course you take sleeping pills to miss dinner when you're starving, that's just how the world is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:19 PM on July 10 [16 favorites]


When you're defending a guy whose best defense is everyone cheated too, maybe it's a good moment to step back and reevaluate. Not just the guy, but the whole rotten thing.

Greatest cheat among cheaters is something, but it isn't something to admire or respect.
posted by notyou at 11:37 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Dustin Hoffman Joins Stephen Frears' Lance Armstrong Biopic
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 11:45 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I'm seriously awestruck at the magnitude of engineering outside of training undertaken make his seven victories possible. No nascent athlete can realistically anticipate the peripheral obstacles of a professional career. Kids start off doing what they enjoy. The concept of genetic limits, doping past those limits, politics, public image, sponsorship etc. doesn't enter the equation until they've invested a significant portion of their young lives. Armstrong was born with some clear physiological advantages, he won the genetic VO2 max lottery, trained hard for years, responded well enough to PED to secure his advantage and simply delivered. Who knows how he would have performed if he was a poor responder to EPO and steroids. Yeah, doping is culturally objectionable, against the rules, blah, blah, but the man seized every opportunity and strategically carved an empire out of incredibly nebulous circumstances. And no, I'm not a fan of Ayn Rand.
posted by dirtyid at 12:09 AM on July 11


"I think it is just terrible and disgusting how everyone has treated Lance Armstrong, especially after what he achieved, winning seven Tour de France races while on drugs. When I was on drugs, I couldn't even find my bike." -- Willie Nelson
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:16 AM on July 11 [17 favorites]


I love how everyone talks about "beating" cancer, like you can take take a cluster of SNPs out behind the woodshed and pummel it with force of will.
posted by benzenedream at 12:20 AM on July 11 [18 favorites]


None of us are better or worse than this man.

Speak for yourself...
posted by John Cohen at 12:25 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


What's up with the whole apologia for Armstrong? Dude was a vicious prick who put everyone in the sport in danger. "But everyone did it! " He was a mastermind who brought it to a whole new level, on behalf of team USA. Why does anyone identify with this shitty individual? "But, he still would've won all things being equal!" Ask yourself why you think that has to be the case, why do you care. Fuck this guy.
posted by aydeejones at 1:00 AM on July 11 [19 favorites]


Apparently a lot of folks just haven't read enough about this, with the assumption that he just cheated "equally" and ended up "being better." No, he cheated as much as he could, from as early in his career as possible. The cheating allegations started when he was asked by his doctor about possibly taking steroids (as a contributing factor in his testicular cancer) and his friends overheard him. The sleeping pill story is a great example -- he was able to push his body to the very limits and as impressive as it may be that he didn't just up and die from depriving himself in this way, he's only a master specimen in so far as he managed to be born with or develop so many avaricious traits. He's not just some dude who also cheated, he was a total mastermind who maximized cheating at every stage, from training, to the middle of the events themselves. Like, doping up on the bus. During the race.
posted by aydeejones at 1:07 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Maybe it's ok to be displeased with the lying scumminess and also find something edifying in his amazing resolve and capability to suffer.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 1:07 AM on July 11


The difference between other doping cyclists and Armstrong is the difference between a regular drug user and a mafia boss who uses drugs. Not only did he "cheat better" than everyone else by getting the best doctor and being as Hamilton said "two years ahead of the rest of the peloton" in doping technology, he viciously went after anyone who threatened to lift the lid on everything - bullying, spreading rumours, getting people fired. It's this that distinguishes him from someone like Ullrich.
posted by kersplunk at 1:45 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Here's a list of some of the people Armstrong threatened. There are also suggestions he got French Antidoping Association head Pierre Bordry pushed out of his job via his friendship with Sarkozy.
posted by kersplunk at 1:53 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


Not forgetting how Armstrong went after Greg Lemond and tried to destroy his career and reputation.

Are all American readers complicit in Armstrong's cheating through support of the US Postal Service?

I think its worth remembering that all of us how now won as many Tours as Armstrong.
posted by biffa at 2:10 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


None of us are better or worse than this man.

Uh, no. I won't put myself above him, but I know plenty of folks with far more integrity than Lance Armstrong. Regardless of his accomplishments in sports, Lance Armstrong has a deficit of character. He seems borderline sociopathic to me, especially when he finally admitted to doping and did a round of interviews/damage control. He frequently talked about himself in 3rd person, and basically explained the doping as a result of Lance Armstrong always do it is his way (these are basically quotes from him). Not once did he express any remorse for his actions, just regret that he got caught. He may have actually apologized for the doping--but perhaps more meaningfully, the lying about the doping--but I missed it.
posted by zardoz at 2:35 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Eh, he is a sociopathic narcissist, but aren't those the qualities that caused him to be so successful? And aren't those the same qualities that many leaders have? I'm not on Armstrong's side, but the idea that there are these guys out there with hearts of gold that are at the top of professional cycling (or anything else) is just crazy. Riding a bike 12 hours a day sucks, and you need to fit into a certain personality type to be able to do it.

An all consuming desire to be successful isn't a trait that I have, but I have met several people who are ultra competitive and they are generally all dicks. So my feeling is that this pile on of Armstrong is a bit misguided.

I am also not convinced that he was the ringleader everyone makes him out to be. I am sure he bullied people and forced people off the team, but I think it was an easy out for a lot of other cyclists to blame it on the guy who was already caught.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:53 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The Armstrong apologias around here have always freaked me out- I just clicked one of the 'related links' below to see if it was like I remembered, and yeah, there's full-throated belligerent "he never doped and he never cheated and you have no proof so stfu" type of stuff. And now his apologists have smoothly shifted to "of course he cheated but everybody did so he was just leveling the playing field so technically he basically still won."

But as others have pointed out- and as the article lays out in incredibly damning detail, so you really should read it - it wasn't like that at all. He cheated, he paid the best cheating-doctor enough to price him out of everybody elses' reach, that doctor fed him details about the testing procedures, the testing organization fed him dates and details of future tests, repeatedly, and he still failed the tests, and all of that was covered up by and for him.

He all but bought one of the organizations who tested him, paid in one case half a million to make a positive result go away, and then he lied about all of it, perjured himself about it, ran people out of the sport for telling the truth about it, and was, moreover, just a gigantic self-righteous d-bag about every single bit of it, all the time.

So yeah, if it was just a matter of 'literally everybody is cheating so what the heck," then I would kind of get it but as it really is, fuck this guy.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:54 AM on July 11 [30 favorites]


An all consuming desire to be successful isn't a trait that I have, but I have met several people who are ultra competitive and they are generally all dicks. So my feeling is that this pile on of Armstrong is a bit misguided.

I'd say that virtually every competitor in the Tour de France is every bit as driven as Armstrong, but not every competitor a) doped and b) lied about it for years. I'm sure most of Armstrong's peers wanted to win as much as he did, but choose to not take drugs. That sets them apart.

Unless everyone in competitive cycling dopes...is this the general consensus, or?
posted by zardoz at 3:14 AM on July 11


That's where I am stuck at, zardoz. The first article talks about the doping being everywhere even prior to Armstrong being on the scene (at least that's how I read it, I'm not familiar enough with the dates to be certain), so that was the point I was pushing above.

However, I don't actually care for Lance Armstrong and don't want to waste my energy defending him just for argument's sake, so I'm leaving it at this.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:18 AM on July 11


I can acknowledge notoriety and be impressed by it at the same time. There's no degrees of cheating that's permissible in competition. He committed to doping like many of his peers but excelled at it, while elevating himself as a cancer spokesperson, posturing successfully to influence at an institutional level and accruing ridiculous wealth compared to his peers for riding a bicycle (Thank god he chose sports as a career). That's Escobar level of mastermind/insanity, except Armstrong also had to personally execute repeated world class performances. He was the mob boss and the hitman. He did the wrong things terrifyingly, sublimely right. And then he was caught.
posted by dirtyid at 3:27 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Yes, almost everyone doped(/s) in sport but it's ludicrous to single out cyclists + it's just as ludicrous to claim all pro cyclists are dicks.
posted by Kosmob0t at 3:29 AM on July 11


Actually, we don't know. We don't know who uses banned substances in sports. That's one of the problems with forbidding something; it makes people who do it anyway not want to reveal themselves. Throwing around terms like almost everyone is dangerous, because it makes a problem seem a lot worse than it may be. It certainly makes those people who don't use steroids feel like fools for their integrity, and so is corrosive to the idea of fair play.
posted by JHarris at 3:49 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Even before the cheating scandal, Lance Armstrong seemed like a major dick to me. I wish there had not been a cheating scandal so the conversation would be about why we worship people who are narcissistic sociopaths simply because they are winners.

Although, in fact, Armstrong probably overreached in his nastiness and that may have been what really caused his downfall, since people close to him would no longer cover for him.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:28 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Note also- he probably wouldn't have won all those Tours anyway. Before the cancer, he was seen by many as a talented classics man (a specialist in one-day races), and a fair-to-middling domestique who had picked up a couple of Tour stages.


It was after his return from cancer treatment, which we now also know was the period in which he began taking EPO, that he really emerged as a GC man. This was during the fallout from l'Affaire Festina, which led to efforts to drive doping out of cycling entirely. Lance (and Ferrari) brought in new techniques that could not be identified at the time (certain diuretics, micro-dosing, blood-doping).


He was also a huge dick to everyone, which is what ultimately brought him down (Floyd Landis).


Cheryl Crow testified against him last year.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:31 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Yes JHarris, I did paint with a too broad brush but I do believe that in certain sports (especially those sports needing endurance and power like athletics, tennis, cycling, biathlon etc etc) doping is very widespread. I do not state this as fact but I'm pretty sure of it myself.
posted by Kosmob0t at 4:47 AM on July 11


If you're into this story, I would suggest reading Wheelmen and Cycle of Lies (the former's more about Lance's career, the conspiracy and the larger culture, the latter more about Lance-the-person and the people surrounding him--though there's a lot of overlap between the two, and, if you're into the story, I would suggest reading both).
posted by box at 4:59 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I read 'Cycle of Lies' and it led me to believe that:

- Every prominent rider dopes, and every prominent rider vehemently denies it until cornered. If you disqualified every participant who doped in cycling, the eventual winner would be near the last results, assuming he even exists. While fending off lawsuits from cheaters insisting on their innocence.

- Lance Armstrong is a major narcissist. He was no different from his peers, except that he was more successful while being an asshole.

- People don't like to acknowledge personal responsibility. If I had been an aspiring cyclist, I may well have doped when I realized it was absolutely necessary for success, but I wouldn't blame my moral failure on anyone who didn't strap me down and inject me with EPO.

- Being successful AND a huge dick is a good way to ensure that you will get exposed for your wrongdoing.

Conclusion: be excellent to each other, play fair, take responsibility for your actions, and don't bother following pro cycling if you want the riders to be clean.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:24 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Armstrong wasn't a 'mastermind' -- running a conspiracy takes a lot of time & effort that an active pro cyclist does not have. You can certainly look to him for qualities of ruthlessness and overwhelming competitive drive, to Wiesel for financial backing and arrangement of sponsorship, Ferrari et al for the know-how, but if you're looking for one person more than anyone who was responsible for making the whole thing happen, then you're looking for Johan Bruyneel, who only in April received a 10-year ban from USADA.

Articles revisiting the whole sick thing are plentiful about now, which I guess is to be expected as the Tour goes on. This (pathetically indulgent IMO) Esquire profile is nicely offset by an earlier piece on the Outer Line -- a site, btw, that I can't recommend enough if you're interested in the sport and where it might go from here.

These coals certainly ought to be raked over, for some time to come I suppose, but I do look forward to the day when July occasions less attention to Armstrong, who in the end is not a very interesting guy, and more pieces about the amazing work Jonathan Vaughters and Slipstream have done to redeem American road racers and the sport as a whole. A new generation of riders are over there right now competing at the highest level with a level of transparency heretofore not known in the sport.
posted by $0up at 5:29 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]



- Every prominent rider dopes, and every prominent rider vehemently denies it until cornered.


There is a difference between denial and suing-till-bankruptcy, calling others liars, defaming and destroying their reputation and costing them their jobs and sponsorship and families.

This guy was MUCH MUCH WORSE than other cheats.
posted by lalochezia at 5:32 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Everyone did it.

Oh, except for the people who were run out of the sport, who tried and tried and lived out of their car for years, working and hoping for a pro contract that would never come because they wouldn't endanger their health and cheat. And because the money was going to guys who would.
posted by entropone at 5:40 AM on July 11 [20 favorites]


Armstrong wasn't a 'mastermind'

True enough in that he didn't organize doping, but he was a recruiter of others and a major enforcer of the culture of silence and hypocrisy in the sport. As an athlete, going against Armstrong meant getting shunned and losing sponsorships.
posted by bonehead at 6:04 AM on July 11


> Are all American readers complicit in Armstrong's cheating through support of the US Postal Service?

Sponsors should crash and burn with the things they sponsor.
posted by jfuller at 6:05 AM on July 11


Are all American readers complicit in Armstrong's cheating through support of the US Postal Service?

The USPS is our national postal service. I don't know of, nor can I really imagine, a single person who used the USPS simply because they sponsored the biking team.
posted by OmieWise at 6:10 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Also, for anyone who thinks that cycling is full of cheaters, what about every other sport? Since the Armstrong affair, cycling has done more to bring doping into the light, and has been at the forefront of anti-doping techniques. The "biological passport" that has lately proved highly effective in catching people using doping techniques that would be otherwise undetectable was an innovation from cycling.

The World Cup is on right now, and Wimbledon just finished. During either of these events, have we heard anyone mention "Fuentes" or Operación Puerto? Because they are certainly relevant to both those sports.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:23 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I guess the reason I'm not really surprised or outraged by any of this is that it's so pervasive in modern business. And that's what cycling is, a business, no more or less corrupt than any other. If there's a problem here, it's a problem with our culture in general, not with cycling specifically.

I think it is a profound problem with our culture in general right now. You see it in everything from the Chris Christie bridge scandal to the recent news about how Blackwater threatened to kill State Department Employees investigating them and got away with it. We've become a primitive, power and domination oriented society. And tactics like playing the refs and violating the spirit of the rules while observing their letter are textbook sociopathic behaviors for social control and manipulation. I'm not saying they're sociopathic at the personal individual level, understand--the cultural and social pressures to behave in such ways are structural and hard to avoid (particularly, as you say, in the business world, and the increasing political and cultural dominance of Wall Street culture has helped and is still helping to push American society more generally in the direction of normalizing what would have been regarded as sociopathic attitudes and behaviors by some earlier cultural standards).
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Good writeup, but I've read so much abut Armstrong that he seems one-dimensional now, that ruthless pursuit of domination drove everything else, and all of these stories begin to seem the same. There's nothing new about Armstrong to reveal.

I liked reading more about Hamilton. I'd really like a story that focuses not on Armstrong, but on all of the rest of the peleton, the domestiques, whose moral and other struggles under / next to Armstrong must collectively be more interesting: the Andreius, Hamilton, Landis, Zabriskie, Hincapie. Le Mond.

Armstrong is a one-dimensional human, but these other folks probably had many more aspects to their personalities and lives that would collectively make a MUCH more interesting story.
posted by Dashy at 7:04 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I wish there was a way to say this without being an asshole, but maybe if we could care a bit less and spend a little bit less of our hard-earned money on who can play a game a little bit better than the next person, they wouldn’t have so much motivation to be such lying, doping, cheating pricks. Giving an attention-seeker attention only makes the problem worse.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:47 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Yeah - that does make you sound like an asshole who hates that people care about professional sports. I think you need to recognize that any performance field is going to have its more than fair share of psychopathic narcissists - just how that manifests itself changes. I'm sure you have something you enjoy that's filled with terrible people.
posted by JPD at 7:50 AM on July 11


Yes, almost everyone doped(/s) in sport but it's ludicrous to single out cyclists + it's just as ludicrous to claim all pro cyclists are dicks.

I don't see anyone saying "all pro cyclists are dicks." From reading the article, it's clear that the USPS team were initially not doping, nor was their domestic competition. They dominated in the US, but were consistently crushed in Europe, where many of the other teams doped. So I won't "single out cyclists," but as it's practiced in Europe, it's fucked. I don't believe that almost everyone in sports dopes. I believe that certain personality types are more likely to risk it, and that lots of pro athletes are that type, but I also believe that a lot of them won't do it.

As for the argument "aren't lots of leaders and successful people dicks?", so what? People shouldn't be dicks, even if they're successful. Leaders shouldn't be dicks. If they are, they're not heroes, no matter what they win.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:55 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Also, for anyone who thinks that cycling is full of cheaters, what about every other sport? Since the Armstrong affair, cycling has done more to bring doping into the light, and has been at the forefront of anti-doping techniques. The "biological passport" that has lately proved highly effective in catching people using doping techniques that would be otherwise undetectable was an innovation from cycling.

The World Cup is on right now, and Wimbledon just finished. During either of these events, have we heard anyone mention "Fuentes" or Operación Puerto? Because they are certainly relevant to both those sports.


Yeah. The Blizzard had a really nice article on this a few issues ago. Anyone who is a fan of any major professional sport who doesn't accept the fact that doping is probably common is kidding themselves. IIRC Fifa is implementing a biological passport - but the way they've rigged the timing it basically means it won't matter until 2018 - which is OK I guess?

One of the more disturbing things in The Blizzard piece was just how far people will go. There was a compound they mention that does some really amazing things to performance that is fundamentally undetectable. The issue of course is that it almost certainly causes some really nasty organ cancers that will kill you. And yet people are using it. I googled it and found a bunch of first hand reports from discussion forums dedicated to using substances like this (there is a term of art they use for it, but I can't remember it off hand). I was pretty fairly horrified and I was pretty cynical going in.
posted by JPD at 7:56 AM on July 11


> Armstrong is a one-dimensional human

Not really. Watch The Armstrong Lie. He clearly has remorse and is trying to move on. It isn't necessary to be an apologist for the guy to appreciate his human struggle, especially against himself.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 8:03 AM on July 11


I hate Lance Armstrong not because he was a cheater or because he doubled down and destroyed lives and cycling careers in order to protect himself while defrauding a public agency. I hate him because he has now 'let himself go' and just runs five miles a day.
posted by srboisvert at 8:03 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Watch The Armstrong Lie. He clearly has remorse and is trying to move on.

Until the last ten minutes of the documentary when he goes back into Old Lance Armstrong mode and vehemently denies ever doping in his 2008-2010 comeback, which sports physiology blogs looked at his numbers and said it was a 1 in 10,000,000 chance he wasn't just blood doping again.

When they filmed the interviews, he was trying to get into the world tour of triathlons, and he had to insist he was clean in order to get his status OK'd, so he showed zero remorse and lied through his teeth again. LA is a self-serving sociopath jackass and I'm glad he's out of all sport.

He won't be forgiven until he restores the lives of the people he destroyed along the way.
posted by mathowie at 8:15 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


Armstrong was unscrupulous, and destroyed the careers of many in the industry who threatened him or refused to go along with his deception.
But not all those who doped were so pathological. Now that they have been exposed and ostracized, many others, like George Hincapie, have rationalized their doping as a necessary evil to maintain their career. and that is true to greater or lesser extent.
I think David Miller and Levi Leipheimer have been the most candid and self-reflective on their decisions during that time.
posted by TDIpod at 9:03 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


So, has the overall times of the big tournaments dropped back, or do they continue to get faster and faster, post Armstrong?

There aren't really very many comparable "overall times" for the kind of racing we're talking about - The Tour de France route changes every year, and road racing includes a million variables.

That said, there are some rough metrics - average speed (over 2,000 miles it tends to smooth over some variables), and, more importantly, climbing rate. Climbing rate can be roughly compared, because the TDF will hit certain famous climbs every couple of years so there's a rough ability to compare the speed from one race (on one climb) to another.

Climbing speeds HAVE gone down since the EPO era.

There's definitely still doping but it's not the kind of extremely effective, game-changing doping from the EPO era. It would be more marginal-(at-best)-gains doping.

Furthermore, now there are tests for EPO and the culture is steadily changing.
posted by entropone at 9:37 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Conclusion: be excellent to each other, play fair, take responsibility for your actions...

That's exactly the opposite of the conclusion I got from your post, which was "Hey, everybody does it, so it's A-OK to do whatever you have to to win. Nobody should complain about people lying or being other people to succeed."

But that's what I get from a lot of the Armstrong apologists: nobody should complain, no matter how underhanded the winner is."
posted by happyroach at 9:37 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


You have to admit that running a scheme like this, and lying so brazenly for so long, takes a lot of ball.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:38 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


I'd like to think that savvy people believed that Armstrong was doping for a long time. As I've written here before, at the time Armstrong was competing, the test for EPO was just a hematocrit test. (EPO is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates red blood cell production.) Anyone doping with EPO who had an ounce of sense would simply dope enough to reach the legal limit for hematocrit. Similarly, the steroid THG was also in use before such use was detectable. Perhaps things have changed now, but at the time of Armstrong's dominance, it was not difficult for a sophisticated doper to elude detection. Drug tests were chasing new doping techniques.
posted by exogenous at 10:21 AM on July 11


That said, there are some rough metrics - average speed (over 2,000 miles it tends to smooth over some variables), and, more importantly, climbing rate. Climbing rate can be roughly compared, because the TDF will hit certain famous climbs every couple of years so there's a rough ability to compare the speed from one race (on one climb) to another.

Weren't there some concerns about Froome's power output on some of the climbs last year?
posted by JPD at 10:52 AM on July 11


Drug tests were will always be chasing new doping techniques.
posted by JPD at 10:54 AM on July 11


Yes, Froome's time up Ventoux was on par with doping era numbers and raised a few eyebrows. It's probably the fastest clean time up the mountain. Assuming he was clean at the time, it's probably the best non-doped time up that route.
posted by cmfletcher at 10:57 AM on July 11


Is it weird to be somewhat in awe of him, in a strange way, for being such a colossal, spectacular asshole? This article and the many others before it make it clear that Lance was not at all just another top guy doping. He was on another plane of total and complete commitment to winning at the cost of every ounce of decency. It's breathtaking. So I don't at all admire him. Or want to emulate him, or excuse him. But his display of pure ambition is so extraordinary that it is kind of amazing and interesting in its own terrible way.

That said, I always liked Landis more.
posted by bepe at 10:59 AM on July 11


Thanks for those kinds, TDIpod.
posted by Dashy at 11:14 AM on July 11


What gets me is that Armstrong made the claim that Thom Weisel was the most competitive person he had ever met. Can you imagine the drive in Weisel, especially as he's described by Armstrong? Weisel s 73, has been married four times, currently has 1 or 2 kids under 3-years, has had knee and hip replacements (both sides), still bikes, is starting up a new career in art collecting, etc. etc.

Last, it's a bummer that Armstrong cheated, and he sure does appear as someone who would just as soon throw a peer under the bus rather than hurt his prospects in any way. He doesn't sound like a "fun" person to be around.

That said, his athletic prowess can't be understated. I think he deserved to lose his titles, but if doping had not been a part of the scene (wishful thinking) he might have won, anyway. He reminds me of another unlikable athlete-doper - Barry Bonds, a real jerk who doped and makes a claim to the all-time home run crown in baseball (year, and lifetime). I wish the same had happened to Bonds; his record should be stripped, period (along with all the other dopers), with no asterisk. Just make it disappear. What's good for Armstrong, is good for Bonds.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:17 AM on July 11


biffa: "Not forgetting how Armstrong went after Greg Lemond and tried to destroy his career and reputation."

Oh god this.

Lemond had some of the best consumer bikes and was on the cusp of standardizing disc brakes on road bikes for the average bike buyer.

Lance killed it because Trek, his sponsor, owned the Lemond brand, and as part of the take-down, everything had to go.
posted by wcfields at 11:41 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


>Everyone did it.

Oh, except for the people who were run out of the sport, who tried and tried and lived out of their car for years, working and hoping for a pro contract that would never come because they wouldn't endanger their health and cheat. And because the money was going to guys who would.


QFfuckingT

I was a minor local official and race promoter during the big Lance heyday; my partner at the time and I were on the 1998-99 USAC Elite Nationals committee and got involved with the upper eschelons of the sport by association. As such we were friends of friends of these guys and their teammates and so on - elite / pro cycling to this day is a pretty small and incestuous fishbowl, especially at the very top. I was also direct friends with a couple of the guys back in the mid to late 90s that ran afoul of the Weisel Partners and Armstrong wrecking crews while trying to make a go of it in the sport. Even before he got cancer, Lance was already famous within the sport for being a party boy, a massive womanizer, an incredible dick to people, difficult to work with, borderline uncoachable... the ONLY thing he had going for him was his undeniable talent and drive, oh, and he was spookily charismatic. Get the right press agents to muzzle the guy and give him a decent script and you had absolute pop culture media star power right there.

Even more so after the famous cancer recovery; a cancer that was arguably brought on by the amount of corticosteroids he pumped through his body during the course of his early career. I shit you not, this was one of the biggest open secrets in cycling, but because he was the absolute poster boy of the Eddie B club and the USA Cycling Team's darling golden child, no one wanted to hear it.

I got an ear full the day I drove a good friend and former junior teammate home from the airport after he quit the sport and came home from Europe in utter disgust because he couldn't succeed under twisted rules and he couldn't stomach cheating. I knew for years; many others in the sport knew for years, and no one with the power to do anything wanted to hear about it. Greg Lemond and Marty Jemison? Come on, those dudes are just washed up no-talent hacks who don't know what they're talking about. Sour grapes, man.

the one watchword in pro cycling for about fifteen years was: whatever you do, you did NOT piss off Lance Armstrong. Didn't matter whether it was hooking him in a sprint or ratting him out to the press, you DID NOT piss him off, because he and/or the Weisel empire's goons and legal mafia would just wipe your career off the face of the earth.

I'm not really even that bitter anymore because fuckery on that level invariably eats its own and karma's a bitch. I am sad for my friend, who claimed he never doped (and I believe him) and managed a respectable list of minor palmares clean. Sad for Emma O'Reilly, the soigneur who had her career utterly wrecked and got treated to an abominable public shaming by the gross misogynists in the Euro cycling press, all because of Lance and his toadies. Sad for Frankie and Betsy Andreu who were good people and kind to everyone and didn't deserve the shitstorm they got. I'm even sad for Tyler Hamilton, despite everything, because he has never been anything but unfailingly kind, gracious and supportive to me and everyone else he's ever come into contact with, and he was a wonderful talent with a fragile and addictive personality that got utterly consumed by the cartel of win-at-all-cost. He lost his career, his reputation, his marriage, his house up on Fourmile Canyon, his dog, pretty much everything that mattered to him. Not all winners are monomaniacal dicks, and Tyler and Frankie and Jon Vaughters still make my list of decent guys despite everything, mostly because of how hard they've worked in the intervening years for a cleaner sport and to advance junior and developmental elite racing within realms they still have any influence in.

in the end, I'm just absolutely over the Lance Armstrong cult of personality that continues to this day. seriously, fuck that guy.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:13 PM on July 11 [28 favorites]


Esquire: Lance Armstrong In Purgatory

tl;dr: Sure, Lance may have sued and gone after people and destroyed livelihoods for telling the truth about him, but he feels pretty bad about it now, and he's done so much good with Livestrong, and really, aren't we all flawed in some way?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:18 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I read that article and it sounded like a pretty damn comfortable and pleasant purgatory.
posted by srboisvert at 6:12 PM on July 11


Hell, my brother knows him from Austin for being a huge dick in contexts entirely unrelated to cycling.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:46 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I'm even sad for Tyler Hamilton, despite everything, because he has never been anything but unfailingly kind, gracious and supportive to me and everyone else he's ever come into contact with ...

I talked to Tyler a few times (way long ago, in his early racing years) and can personally reiterate this statement, and from many people who knew him better - yep, a good, gracious gentleman through and through.

It's definitely a part of the Armstrong story, that Hamilton just got ... steamrolled, as did so many others, and paid dearly for it.

Hope he's doing well.
posted by Dashy at 1:01 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


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