The fact that somebody can ride a bicycle really, really fast does not change my life.
Since I first got on that Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat and the chopper handlebars, I’ve probably spent several years of my life on a bicycle. In high school, I graduated to a 10-speed and rode all over and around my hometown.Even though I liked going fast on a bicycle, I never “followed” professional cycling. Riding a bicycle was a participatory, not a spectator, sport. (Ironically, I played my last organized baseball game at 13 and was never on a school team in basketball or football, but to this day I love watching all three sports, at any level. Go figure.)
But watch someone ride a bicycle? Poker has more appeal.
When Texas native Lance Armstrong won the world’s most prestigious bicycle race, the Tour de France (that’s French for “Tour of France”) not once, not twice, but seven times, he earned at best a half-hearted “Way to go!” from this former sports writer.
The fact that along the way, he battled and overcame testicular cancer and started a foundation to raise money for that fight, netted some genuine admiration.
All along, Armstrong was accused of “doping” – using banned substances and blood transfusions – to achieve excellence. But in spite of numerous and frequent tests, he never tested positive for any such substance.
I always figured all the accusations were just jealousy. In the back of my mind, I believed maybe something he took to overcome cancer caused him to have ridiculous stamina – either that, or he was just more dedicated to training, more motivated and more talented than the others.
But last fall, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of his Tour de France titles and banned him, for life, from further competition in any event they sanction. They issued a 202-page report stating that Armstrong’s career was “fueled from start to finish by doping.” He lost millions of dollars in endorsement deals with Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek bicycles, Oakley sunglasses, RadioShack and other sponsors.
He steadfastly denied it all. And I was still kind of pulling for him until I heard a former teammate on the radio this week, saying Armstrong had threatened him and his family if he testified against him to USADA. Not only did he dope, this guy said, he coerced teammates into doping or he would have them booted off the team, and bullied them into maintaining a ring of silence around his illegal activities.
Ultimately, they all ratted him out.
Anyone who’s been around very long has seen some hard falls. I saw Richard Nixon resign and watched Bill Clinton twist in the wind. I remember Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart and other high-profile preachers who fell from grace. But you seldom see a harder fall, from higher up, than the sad tale of Lance Armstrong.
Last week there was talk of a confession and an apology. That would be great for Lance’s soul, but it might land him in jail, since he testified repeatedly under oath (including to the U.S. Congress) that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Which brings us to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame voters this week elected exactly no one into its 2013 class, passing up home run king Barry Bonds and ace pitcher Roger Clemens.
Bonds, a seven-time MVP, and Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young award winner, can now join seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong in a different Hall of Fame – the one that reminds us that cheating, and lying about it, can eclipse even the most dazzling achievement.
Bob Buckel is the Messenger’s executive editor.