Saturday, August 25, 2012

After Lance

A friend asked how I feel about the Lance Armstrong thing now that he has been stripped of the Tour victories and all but admitted his guilt. There was a time when I would have been upset. When Tyler Hamilton (another bicycle racer) admitted doping, I felt betrayed. How could he? I wondered. But now, as the big domino falls, I find myself not feeling much of anything.

I stopped riding years ago. I used to ride a lot and logged four-hour rides, rode centuries, and learned to work a pace-line. I loved bikes. Steel, aluminum, carbon fiber. This was before I had kids, when time was more than plentiful. Fatherhood pulled me off the bike. A one-hour run bought me the same workout as a four-hour ride. That and it had become clear that professional cyclists were all dopes. Racing was a corrupt and worthless sport. I let it go.

With two kids to play with, professional sports of every flavor (and college sports too) became of less and less interest. I stopped finding reasons to care and found hundreds of reasons to look away.

A few years ago, when Tyler Hamilton came out as a cheat, I got thinking about it. I imagined myself as a young racer, making small change doing what I loved. It was enough for a while, but I knew that I could ride with and outrace anyone. My team knew it too. They brought me along and invited me to join the elite team, to go to Europe. In my hotel room that day is a brown bag from the team. Inside are syringes and supplements. Dope. A teammate shows me what to do. He's been doing it for years and rides all the European tours. His salary is five times mine. I hold the syringe in my hand and...what?

I'm a teacher. If there was some substance I could take that would guarantee me five times my salary, if it wouldn't harm anyone else, if every other teacher was doing it and there was no way I could compete without it, would I take it?

You bet your ass I would.

I'm not mad at bike racers who doped. It was the sport. I'm not mad at Lance either. He is a pompous ass, angry and bragging, a true son of Texas. He's a fighter always looking for a fight. He's the antithesis of who I want to be. I enjoyed his races. I loved that he came back from the dead to be a champ. I respected his work ethic. But I was always troubled by his bravado.

There's a good article on Slate saying that Lance lost everything yesterday, except his righteous indignation. That's the truest thing I've heard. He reminds me of his friend George W. Bush. These guys will never admit that they made mistakes, that they did bad things just to advance their own agendas and fortunes.

Lance has guaranteed himself the legacy of a small man. I feel a little sorry for him. I feel better not pinning my hopes on some star, no longer believing things I see on television, no longer waiting for someone else to inspire me. I feel better inspiring myself through simple acts such as writing on.