If Armstrong didn't use performance-enhancing
drugs, he not only won seven Tours, he did it against cheating
athletes. Even if the doping allegations are true, though, that isn't
what makes Armstrong so annoying. A big-name athlete using PED's is
about as shocking as the gambling at Rick's Café Américan.
Also? Armstrong seems like a kind of a jerk. Daniel Coyle, author of Lance
Armstrong's War, was asked to name the public's biggest misconception
about Armstrong. Coyle said, "That he's a nice guy."
Yes, he survived cancer, and he has performed tremendous amounts of
life-saving work on behalf of people fighting the disease. The
embodiment of superhuman perseverance, he fought off death to win the
world's toughest bike race an astonishing seven times. He bested the
Europeans at their own sport, becoming an American icon and inspiring
millions. But that still doesn't give you the right to be a jerk.
He left his wife for Sheryl Crow, then broke an engagement to her for
flings with Ashley Olsen, Kate Hudson, and, seemingly, Matthew
An avowed environmentalist, he was cited by his hometown of Austin, Texas, for using more water than anyone else in the city —as much as 300,000 gallons a month. A construction project on his property polluted a swimming hole he
shares with several neighbors, and they had to file complaint with the
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before Armstrong would pay
for the clean-up.
But Armstrong's crimes are far greater than
a little green-washing or standard celebrity selfishness. His great,
unforgivable sin is dominating, and so popularizing, such a
fantastically goofy sport.
Cycling fans, of course, will
counter that bike-racing is the most punishing sport on earth,
demanding a triathlete's stamina, a skier's grace and the tenacity of a
pit-bull. All very true. But so what? Just because something is hard to
do, that doesn't necessarily make it fun to watch. Reciting Hesiod in
the original Greek is hard, but try getting anyone to watch you do it.
Archery is hard too, but when was the last time you saw 80,000 people
pack a stadium to see it?
At heart, bike-racing is about
endurance. Specifically, the endurance of physical pain. Loads and
loads of it, all self-inflicted. For hours on end, day after day,
cyclists endure the sort of agony that makes normal people cry for
their mommy in ten seconds. The Tour itself—21 days of racing
across more than 2,000 miles—is a celebration of self-torture
perversely set within some of the most breathtaking landscapes on
earth. Marquis de Sade would love it. There is no question that pro
cyclists are magnificent athletes—even without doping. There is
also no question they tend to be solitary, even grim, and that there is
something creepy about any sport where the best masochist wins.
Not only did Lance make watching this theater of cruelty popular in the
United States, compelling otherwise sensible people to use "peloton" in
casual conversation. He inspired an entire generation of new cyclists,
making him almost single-handedly responsible for the vast hordes of
adult men wearing skin-tight, multicolored cycling jerseys with spandex
bike shorts that roam this nation like a blight upon the land. For
that, Armstrong can never be forgiven.