It must be about ten years since I read ‘It’s Not about the Bike’, Lance Armstrong’s amazing autobiography. In the book he details how he overcome cancer and not only returned to professional cycling, but won the sport’s ultimate prize – the Tour de France.
Of course, his reputation is now in tatters. The seven victories in Le Tour have been wiped from the record books following the revelations from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that Armstrong not only took performing enhancing drugs, but also ‘encouraged ‘ his team-mates to do the same.
With former team-mates lining up to testify that Armstrong was heavily involved in doping, it seems that the weight of evidence against him is overwhelming. It’s not only the cycling community who have turned their backs on the man from Texas – long-term sponsors, including Nike, have also now distanced themselves from him.
However, some people refuse to accept that Armstrong is guilty: some fellow riders have denied any knowledge of drug taking, while loyal fans claim that their hero is the victim of a cover up and that there is no real hard evidence against him.
Of course, Armstrong’s fanbase was not built solely as a result of his ability on a bicycle. Following his illness, Armstrong created his own foundation, Livestrong, which provides assistance and support to anyone who is affected by cancer. The organisation is non-profit making and since 1997 has raised nearly $500 million in order to aid cancer sufferers and their families.
Amongst Livestrong’s fundraising ideas was the sale of yellow wristbands. What initially appeared to be a very basic way of promoting the organisation and raising awareness of the illness, became an enormous success – 80 million bands were sold worldwide, with celebrities and politicians desperate to be seen wearing them.
Now, for Armstrong, it appears to be all over: despite maintaining his innocence he has publicly stated that he won’t fight the allegations against him. He has been banned from cycling for life by the sport’s governing body (UCI) and he has stepped down as Livestrong’s chairman.
In cycling terms, he’s finished. Not only did he cheat, but it appears that he encouraged, and in some cases used his status to coerce other riders to break the rules. Those who didn’t toe the party line were ostracised.
It’s easy to suggest that other cyclists didn’t have to follow Armstrong but if you’re a young professional and the team leader, who also happens to be the biggest name in the sport, tells that you’re going to join an organised doping programme, then it may prove difficult to say no.
When it comes to Armstrong’s other role however, the position is less clear. Regardless of his cheating on the bike, his contribution to the fight against cancer is huge. Thousands of sufferers and their families have benefited in some way from the funds raised by Livestrong, with Armstrong being very much the face of the organisation.
It would be therefore be unsurprising, and understandable, if many of those who have been recipients of his charitable works still view Armstrong as a hero. They won’t see him as a dishonest cyclist – instead they will view him as someone who did everything he could to help fellow cancer sufferers. So many people have been aided by the good work of Livestrong, and with Armstrong removed from the picture, so many more should be in the future.
In this whole sorry episode Lance Armstrong and a number of other cyclists are the guilty parties who deserve whatever punishment comes their way. Let’s hope that their actions do not lead to scores of innocent people also being penalised.