OPINION COLUMNS

All about that bike: Love him or hate him, Armstrong still significant to sport

By David Talley | Published Saturday, January 28, 2017
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This weekend I will race my bicycle against Lance Armstrong.

For at least the last five years, the Texas Chainring Massacre bicycle race has taken place around the city of Valley View on mostly gravel roads. It started as a pretty small event but has steadily grown into an annual tradition for the small town. Local musicians, restaurants, breweries and vendors turn out to show off their products to an entirely new audience and, for a day, the town of 757 people grows well past 1,000 in celebration of cycling.

David Talley

David Talley

Elite racers from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex take time off from their training schedule to drive north up Interstate 35 to visit somewhere they wouldn’t normally go. This year, Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times before having the titles stripped for cheating, will also attend.

No two cyclists will have the same opinion on Lance. I got into the sport in 2012 through mountain biking, so I never really followed his rise through professional road racing. I joined a cycling team in college mostly to make friends and grew first to love bicycle racing as a social endeavor, rather than an elite athletic contest. The result of that is a casual indifference to the former world champ’s admitted cheating. I can enjoy riding my bike regardless of what controversies are brewing at the sport’s highest level.

Following televised professional cycling events for the first time in the spring of 2013, Armstrong’s name was hardly mentioned. While he’d just admitted cheating publicly in January, most cycling commentators, journalists and racers would only refer to the impact of his scandals, not his name. He was (and still is) like the Harry Potter villain Voldemort, who is referred to indirectly as “he-who-must-not-be-named.” If Lance is Voldemort, I’m Dudley Dursley – Harry’s cousin who isn’t magically-inclined and doesn’t really ever become aware of the threat posed to the world by the Dark Lord.

I came in just after the Armstrong era when no one wanted to talk about it, so I never really heard the coverage that made me want to hate the guy. That said, I feel Lance’s punishments and bans are appropriate. I understand the “everyone was cheating at the time and he just did it better” excuse, but that doesn’t make it OK. While other dopers haven’t been hit with weaker penalties, Lance’s lawsuits against whistleblowers and generally vindictive attitude warrant the added punishment.

But unlike Voldemort, Armstrong hasn’t been banished from competition altogether. While he’s banned from races that follow the World Anti-Doping Agency code and most of his wins from before 2011 have been stripped, he’s still competing in venues that aren’t governed by the agency. It wasn’t at all hard to find articles about his latest foray into trail running and ultramarathons, like the Woodside Ramble 35-kilometer trail running race in California in December 2015. He made headlines before even toeing the line in Woodside, and the controversy has only grown since he won it.

The two schools of thought here differ on whether cheaters can be redeemed. While some would hold that every race director should refuse him entry, others feel it isn’t fair to stop a guy from riding his bike. I’d side more with the latter. At this point, his participation in the sport’s lower levels isn’t forcing anyone out, and his notoriety is actually helping draw participants for events like Saturday’s race.

Armstrong announced his participation this week on social media, posting a photo of the $7,500 gravel-specific bicycle he plans to use for the event. Most of the comments are from other Texans and Oklahomans, both fans and detractors, expressing interest in signing up for the race because they know he’ll be there. His name can be found near the beginning of the event’s online registry, next to the nearly 400 others who have signed up in advance.

For me, racing the event was part of my New Year’s resolution to compete in one endurance event per month in 2017. The 66-mile mountain bike race I had planned to race in last week was canceled, leaving me to consider this alternate event. Many others make the race a tradition, while still others will go just this year for a chance to see Lance in person.

If I see him anywhere, it’ll probably be the parking lot before the starting gun goes off, because there’s no way I’ll be able to keep up for very long. But if I do get a chance to get a word in, I plan to thank him for showing up.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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