Tuesday, September 20, 2005

the vicious cycle

Winning Le Tour seven times in a row takes a lot of, er, balls

Summer of ’98. I will never forget it. Both my kids catch chicken pox from their playgroup. Daddy, of course, never had it. For the first time in my working life, I was struck down for two solid weeks.

If I had somehow been pre-warned that I was to be ill “during the summer”, I would have been rubbing my hands with glee, as it was a soccer World Cup year. Alas, it was to transpire that the darn thing was just finished when I started to itch all over.

SO what did I have to fill my days while I was laid up? Bear in mind I was determined not to get into the Ricky Lakes and the Sally Jesses. I was equally determined not to get into the Australian soaps. SO what did that leave me for daytime television fare?

Le effin Tour de effin France. Please pardon my French.

Before those two weeks, I thought cricket, horse racing and Formula One were boring sports. Not only does cycling take the biscuit, it takes the whole goddam packet and dunks each one into a grande latté.

What kept me watching at first was a challenge I set myself to work out what a “pelaton” was without using the internet. I eventually worked out that it refers to a big group of about a thousand cyclists who are jostling for positions for the first three hours of a stage before the final sprint when two or three manage to emerge from the pack to actually produce some kind of competition for the spectators to try to enjoy.

Unfortunately for me, by the time this came along, I was desperately wishing for even more sores to scratch to occupy my time. I even came THIS (makes hand gesture indicating a very small distance) close to switching over to Ricki Lake.

The ’98 Tour was the last one before Lance Armstrong began his unbelievable streak.

Now I use the word “unbelievable” guardedly. The suspiscion surrounding his seven Tour wins in a row – an achievement that anyone with even a passing knowledge of the sport must appreciate – has all the hallmarks of a classic tale highlighting pretty much every tension that exists between Western nations in the modern age.

In fact, on its own, Lance’s transformation from cancer patient to perennial champion intself has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood movie!

So let’s examine the players in this particular drama.

On one side, we have Lance himself, your archetypal All-American hero who has overcome adversity to become a world superstar in his chosen sport. To cap it all, he’s from Texas. Surely Paramount Pictures have already assembled their cast.

On the other side, we have The French, or at least to listen to Armstrong’s supporters you would think he actually was up against the entire Fifth Republic. Le Tour is a national institution for them, and after the whole Iraq disagreement saga where restaurants all over America took the petty step of renaming chips “freedom fries”, they would hardly be big fans of Uncle Sam.

I guess I don’t know enough details to make an informed opinion either way, but what the hell it’s my blog so I will anyway.

I really, really, want Lance’s story to be true. It really makes one to pass on and inspire younger generations all over the world.

Les detractors, however, have raised some questions which although they may not be conclusive, do make you wonder.

Just check out this paragraph from an article on Wikipedia. There’s enough in even this small piece for both sides to use in their argument.

An accusation was made in 1999, when Armstrong tested positive for corticoids. Armstrong explained he had used an external ointment in order to treat a rash, and produced a prescription for it. Use of the ointment broke cycling rules which state that while such external corticoids are legal, prescriptions must be shown to sports authorities in advance. However, sports authorities accepted the explanation and cleared Armstrong. Use of prescriptions unmotivated by medical needs, particularly external corticoids which cannot be distinguished from (prohibited) injected ones, has been described by some cycling insiders as a widespread trick.

And so, here’s my final (if not very conclusive) verdict on the matter.

If it were me, and I had been diagnosed with a deadly disease, which I then conquered, to then go on and achieve the previously unachievable, WITHOUT transgressing the rules, I would be immensely proud, and who wouldn’t. Given all of this, if a bunch of begrudging xenophobes started writing articles and publishing books and giving interviews left right and centre suggesting that my success was based on lies and cheating, I would have them up before a judge somewhere ANYwhere before they could say “sacre bleu!”.

It appears to me that the longer he goes without publicly proving the accusations to be false, the longer it appears that he is hiding behind both his nation’s patriotism and its dislike for the French. The stories circulating that he seems to have changed his mind about entering the political arena don’t help his credibility either.

In fact, you have to wonder if BOTH sides in this debate are hiding behind both the language barrier and tribal animosities.

So I say to Lance : if you have nothing to hide, then get together the best lawyers you can, take this gutter press to court, sue them for every Euro you can squeeze out of them, and donate the proceeds to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

A final humiliating triumph like that over the French would make him a bigger hero back home than if he won twenty tours on the bounce … he could probably even walk (or cycle) straight into The White House.

To summarize, my take on the story is that there is as much a smell of fish on Lance’s side as there is one of sour grapes on that of his accusers.

The question we the public must ask ourselves is : do we want to fall blindly behind our national stereotypes or do we want to actually know the truth?

I really do not believe this argument is going to go away until it is settled once and for all in a public arena with all the evidence on display.

Please note that I managed to get this far without a pun on the word “spokes-man”. I’m quite proud of myself for that.

PS : According to my statcounter I have a regular visitor to my blog from Plano, Texas, Lance’s hometown. Whoever you are, I hope I haven’t caused offence.


Buffalo said...

Speaking only for myself, I don't give a damn one way or another. The idea of grown men riding bicycles for days on end stikes me as a bit.......something.

I can see why he wouldn't bring suit. How can it be proven one way or another? The detractors would believe it rigged. (Remember how the right decided the Shiavo autopsy was rigged?) The supporters don't believe it. No one is going to win.

On the other hand, I think it would have been more interesting to watch grass grow.

Anna said...

Wouldn't it be something if the regular from Plano was Lance himself? Six degrees and all that...

JL Pagano said...

Buffalo : I can't see anything in your comment I disagree with, but I can add this - a trial would not necessarily have to take place in an American or French court. Both sides could agree on a place to air the dirty linen. Maybe then one side or the other will crack. All I am saying is that unless this step is taken, they can all be accused of hiding behind their flags. I for one would never want to be accused of that.

Shan - that thought did occur to me, but then again, maybe it's Sheryl Crow, in which case I wouldn't mind so much ... ;-)

Alan said...

I try to make a point of avoiding all sports which require the participants to shave their legs for aerodynamic reasons.