Friday, January 18, 2013

History of drugs, cycling, Lance


Since this blog has always gone all fanboy around Tour de France time in July, I feel obliged to take some notice of the Lance Armstrong events.

I'm glad they got him. (Screw the confession to Oprah -- they had him already.) I wish they would get all of them.  If race times (continue to) decline in the Tour, well, good. And with Armstrong, the horror was not just the doping, but the way he took so enthusiastically to denying the doping, leading the conspiracy, suing, vilifying, and ostracising anyone who raises any doubts or was not complicit.  Okay, he had too, but he seemed made for it too.

But I also want to say ... Lance Armstrong was one hell of a bike rider.  Watch him in a long race and you had to marvel at his strategic and tactical gifts as well as his physical skills -- dishonestly enhanced but still huge. Let some nobody or group of nobodies break from the front of the peloton, and Armstrong, cruising in the pack, would glance at them and know in a split second not make a move.  But if there was one guy going ahead who might conceivably become a contender, bam, Armstrong had calculated the times and the chances instantly. If he had to make a move, he moved.   Let a group of his rivals gang up to test him on the longest steepest Alp, and he gave it back to them surge for surge, always just at the calculated moment, until they each faltered, and he got the result he needed without blowing himself up for the next day.

When he moved, I never saw him fail to execute, at least until the last couple of years when he attempted a comeback and, still drugged as proficiently as ever, got himself seriously whipped. In his prime, Armstrong always knew exactly what the huge complicated race demanded, and he always delivered  Sure, he was juiced to the gills.  He was still a damned good bike rider, and it did not all come from the drugs.

That said, he deserves to go to jail, and it would be very good for cycling if he did. If Ryder Hesjedal is using, toss him too, though I do kinda think he ain't even with his early days in US Postal. For a perspective on what drugs did to cycling, read this conversation with British rider Nicole Cooke, who competed clean in the Women's Tour de France.  When there was a Woman's Tour de France.