Archive for the ‘Livestrong’ Tag

The world needs to LiveStrong, more than it needs a guilty Lance Armstrong

The crusaders against seven time Tour de France winner and cycling legend Lance Armstrong claim they want to pursue justice in cycling as well as in worldwide professional sport. However, there is something more important at stake: the future of the LiveStrong foundation

In a simple straightforward world in which justice would be based on looking at facts, nobody would bother accusing Lance Armstrong of using doping. With over 500 drug tests in his career, all negative, it is hard to argue he ever used performance enhancing medication. Or in other words; it can not be proven in a scientific manner.

However, there is a bit of a problem. It is called professional cycling. From the hay days of Tom Simpson, who died attempting to beat the mighty Mont Ventoux on dope, and cycling legend  Eddie Merckx, till the era of Alberto Contador; the sport has always been surrounded by rumours, conspiracy theories and indeed evidence of dope users.

After the ‘Festina  scandal’  during the mid-nineties,  we thought the peloton learned its lesson. But the new millennium proofed otherwise. Cycling aces Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Alexandre Vinokourov, Roberto Heras, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, were all caught with the finger in the cookie jar of biscuits that make you cycle a bit faster.

Although a few of Armstrong’s former team mates were proven dopers (Heras, Landis and Hamilton), they were not racing with the Texan in the same team at the time they were caught. However, this makes it undeniable that Lance was active in a peloton in which his main rivals used or were accused of using dope. So let’s make a bold statement: Armstrong lived in a culture in which ‘go-faster pills’ were normal.

As said before, ‘The Boss’ never failed a drug test, so despite the existence of dope around Armstrong, there is no scientific evidence for cheating. However, things were and are about to get a lot uglier after dope users and former teammates Hamilton and Landis accused Lance of using EPO and blood transfusions.

Why should we believe Floyd Landis? The short answer is we should not. For years he maintained he was innocent after winning the 2006 Tour full of dope. He asked people for millions of dollars to pay for his legal proceedings before finally ‘unburdening’ his mind by confessing he used forbidden drugs. But instead of taking the blame like a man, he cowardly drew all attention to Lance. Is it the act of a desperate man, a bitter rival, or a broke man looking for some media attention to cash in on?

If there is one thing we can learn from Landis, it is that we cannot trust cyclists for the their word until they are actually proven (not) guilty. Which brings us to Tyler Hamilton, who on CBS’s 60 Minutes ‘confessed’, he saw Armstrong use EPO when they were teammates, and even more controversial, he said the Word Cycling Federation (UCI) concealed a positive test belonging to Armstrong. This claim has been denied by the governing body.

So why does Hamilton bring out these statements regarding his former team captain? Also, why is he not he accusing other riders? Does it have something to do with Hamilton’s soon to be released book or because a federal investigation concerning Armstrong’s career is going on?

Again, like with Landis, it is Hamilton’s word against that of Armstrong and why would we believe two ex team mates who where caught after they left Armstrong’s team to ride for their own success? Both have lied for years and decided, after their careers derailed, to ‘confess’ their sins, or more so, Armstrong’s.

Another twist in the tale could be former teammate and friend George Hincapie, who remained Lance’s most loyal servant throughout all seven Tour de France victories. He allegedly confessed to federal officers of using EPO as well as helping seeing Lance take it. Unlike Hamilton, Hincapie was not interviewed by CBS. However, the show claimed he made the confession. He responded saying:  “I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information.” At the moment it is unclear if and what Hincapie revealed. Thus Armstrong remains innocent, denying all claims made by his former team mates.

What if (a dangerous question to raise in a column) he is found to be guilty? What if they do find evidence? As I said earlier, it is not completely unthinkable that the best cyclist of the past decade who beat all his rivals, many of whom were accused or punished for the use of dope, used performance enhancing medication. So would proof of cheating make Lance any less of an athlete?

I do not think so. You cannot win seven consecutive Tours de France without being the best. You can argue that a single win, like Landis or Heras, could be the direct result of their drug abuse, since they were caught immediately during the height of their success.

However, winning de toughest cycling event in the world seven times in a row means you have a lot of talent, physical and mental strength. Undeniable, dope can enhance performance but not the amount that makes you beat the 200 hundred best cyclists in the world, year in, year out. So for me, Lance’s status as one of finest cyclists and indeed athletes of all time, will not be affected if he is convicted for dope use.

Am I worried about cycling, if its biggest star  of the past decade turned out to be a cheat? Again, no. As said before, cycling was, is and will be a sport of people searching for their physical limit, and thus crossing the line.

Eddie Merckx, seen by many as the best cyclist that ever, was accused and proven guilty of using dope. Yet, his reputation as a legend remains. Also, there seems to be an awareness, over time, that the best athlete will always win, despite the use of dope. And judging by the thousands of spectators along the Tour’s stages (after the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup the best watched sporting event in the world), the legendary bike race should not need to worry about its popularity.

Would I be worried about The Boss himself? Of course not, he is a wealthy man who has the means to retreat behind safe walls to protect himself as well as his family.

Although, he probably needs to flee the country since Americans, more than any other country men, hate people cheating in sport. However, I do not really care what happens to Lance. As longs as he stays out of jail (unlike Marion Jones) he will have to bear the consequences of his actions, like any other human being.

Nevertheless, I do worry about Lance’s legacy. I am not talking about his professional cycling career, but his role as founder and role model of the LiveStrong foundation, which has raised $80.000.000 worldwide, to battle cancer.

Armstrong, like no other, took his social responsibility. Wherever he went, with or without the peloton, he visited hospitals, talked with cancer patients, parents and survivors. He tried to help, listen pray and inspire them. It is easy to lend your name to a foundation but the way Armstrong became the face of the battle against cancer, makes him a role model for other athletes and powerful people in society who have the means to change things.

Armstrong is the first to admit that the success of LiveStrong is not down to him alone, despite beating cancer and/or cycling fast through France. Livestrong was build on the many members of staff and volunteers dedicating their time for the good of the foundation. However, all of this would not have been possible if it was not for the Lance, who by beating cancer and becoming a successful athlete, became a symbol of inspiration triggering a response from society which enabled the rise and success of LiveStrong.

If Armstrong’s reputation is to be damaged, the symbolic foundation on which LiveStrong is build will be destroyed. So let us hope, not so much for cycling or Lance himself, but for the sake of  his wonderful foundation, and the millions of people it helped and inspired world wide, that the Texan remains not guilty. Because it is vital that people are aware of the message LiveStrong spreads.

Stef Meens

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