I was pretty shocked to hear, back in mid-August, that Lance Armstrong decided to end his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) case against him, and would therefore be unceremoniously stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles. I'm no cycling junkie, but you'd have to be living under a rock not to know who Lance Armstrong is and all that he has accomplished. I even pitched a program about Armstrong on The Agenda. Not a discussion about cycling, doping, and the Tour, but about how one survives such a devastating blow to their personal brand, because that's what Armstrong has become: a brand that fights cancer and wins against all odds.
And, so, when the news came out on Wednesday that more than one of Armstrong's teammates had confessed to using performance enhancing drugs and that they'd witnessed Armstrong doing the same, my interest was once again piqued. What would be the tone of the public discussion that always follows news like this? Would his biggest fans stand by him, even after confronted by such damning evidence? I just so happen to have a few cycling-fanatic friends, and sent one a quick email. Subject: "Lance." Body: "Your thoughts?" This was his response:
Armstrong is and remains a demi-God.
I have been appalled by the actions of the USADA, which amounted to a witch hunt against Armstrong. Given that he is a U.S. citizen, this is somewhat puzzling, or is it just because he is an icon in an "effeminate" euro-centric sport? By contrast, my understanding is that baseball players receive a 100-game suspension after getting caught twice for doping, and only get a lifetime ban after a third offence. The double standard speaks volumes; especially as the USADA sanctioned Armstrong on his unwillingness to participate in their witch hunt any longer, rather than any evidence of positive drug tests per se. That the USADA chose to give a retired cyclist a lifetime ban from competition cycling speaks of their pettiness. I am not sure of the legality of the USADA stripping him of his seven Tour de France (TDF) victories, given that the competition is sanctioned in Europe, not the USA.
Did he dope or not? Given the era when he was at his top, he likely did, but was never caught. Who do you give his TDF titles too? Jan Ullrich (convicted doper)? Ivan Basso (convicted doper)? Alexander Vinokourov (convicted doper)?
The bottom line is that the TDF is the most grueling competition on the planet and, for most competitors, just winning a stage would be a career highlight. To win the whole race is beyond but a very elite group of cyclists; i.e., out of 200 entrants there are typically only two or three who have any real chance of winning the overall race. For Armstrong to win it seven times puts him in a class above everyone else, dope or no dope.
And there you have it, folks. A fan who remains a fan despite the fact his hero cheated. The brand, I dare say, will survive.
Image credit: The Telegraph.