Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Going Postal

The news is full of all this stuff about Lance Armstrong and I have a thought about it. He has confessed to Oprah that he doped and the interview will be broadcast tomorrow and Friday. I'm not sure of the contents of that interview and frankly don't care all that much about it. Instead, I'm focused on something closer to home.

I used to ride bicycles a lot. I loved it. I would ride with my friend to places fairly far away just to have that adventure. We pushed ourselves and were better for it. Prior to that I used to ride my bike from Pawtucket to Providence, Rhode Island every work day. Bicycling was freedom, it was excitement, and it was the right kind of work.

Along the way I started following the Tour de France, reading Bicycling and VeloNews, and cheering for Lance Armstrong. It was easy to do. The guy had come back from cancer, was an American winning in a sport that Europeans owned, and doing it for the US Postal Service team. Alongside him were people like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, not to mention the quiet power of George Hincapie. I even liked Kristin, Lance's wife and the stories about his kids.

There were rumors of doping, but I didn't want to believe. Then Lance and Kristin divorced. Then Tyler was busted for doping. Then Floyd. Worst of all were the stories of how Lance not only protested those who called him out for doping, but how he absolutely destroyed their lives.

I remember now the moment when I stopped believing and admiring Lance Armstrong. It was after reading a profile of him and coming across a quote that I initially found inspiring and funny. Lance was around his son and asked him, in relation to what Lance was all about on the bike, "What does Daddy do?" and his son responded, "Daddy makes them suffer!"

Cute story. I can see the kid mugging for the reporter, Lance smiling and proud of his boy, the reporter scratching in his notebook that little nugget of gold.

Except it's not cute. It's a symptom. What it shows me now is that he was then and remains to this day a bully. This is what bullies do, they teach their children how to bully. Lance might have been alluding to leaving competitors in his dust, but he was also saying to his son that winning is about crushing others and enjoying their suffering.

I don't buy it.

Lance did make his competitors suffer. His teammates too. Oh, and the people who believed in him. Everyone who rushed to don the yellow of the maillot jaune. He did it by taking performance enhancing drugs. Yeah, but that's just the beginning. Lance didn't just take the same drugs everyone else was taking. He went nuclear. He hired the best cheating doctor in the world, Michele Ferrari, and together they pioneered the art of doping. They were far out on the cutting edge of doping, beyond what anyone else was doing. And each person who wanted to race on that team was told to dope or get out.

Now, it's easy to say that those people should have gotten out or come forward, but getting out of Team Postal meant Lance would go postal. You wouldn't ride for anyone. And if you did, Team Postal would bury you on the roads because they had the best drug regimens.

And as for coming forward, then Lance would go even more postal. He did everything short of killing people who came out against him and offered what is now proven to be the truth. Lance devastated people without pity.

Lance's only concern is to promote Lance Armstrong. People talk about the foundation he started. That's fine, but the foundation was created to promote Lance Armstrong. It also serves cancer patients (though not through research as so many believe). Lance is apologizing now in order to resuscitate the Lance Armstrong brand. He may apologize to those he has destroyed but it will be to reboot Lance Armstrong and create Lance 3.0.

See, there was once a bike racer named Lance Armstrong 1.0 who was an obnoxious, undisciplined kid who had a good though not stellar career. Lance 2.0 was the 7-time winner of the Tour de France who had battled and beaten cancer. That guy was a mean-spirited, win-at-all-costs, ego-maniac and destroyer of worlds. It remains to be seen what Lance 3.0 will be, but here's my guess: he'll be an angry, bitter man, looking to serve his self-interests by appearing to atone for crimes he doesn't believe were wrong in the first place. He won't be worthy of anything more than contempt.

I stopped riding bikes shortly after my daughters were born. It was too selfish to go for four-hour rides while my wife was home with the kids. I run now, but it doesn't take as long or require the gear that bicycling demands. Bicycling for me is tainted forever by that man. Hell, I can barely stomach the sight of the color yellow now.

Write on.