The yellow jersey. Dignified, noble, imposing – the embodiment of the golden boy whose back it so proudly adorns. The golden boy climbing to the top of the podium at the end of the Champs Élysées, proudly clutching a bunch of flowers knowing that he has the collective pride of a nation behind him. The kind of image that every athlete aspires to be at the center of; the kind of image that Lance Armstrong is clearly desperate to cling onto. In Monday’s interview with the BBC’s Dan Roan, Armstrong shamelessly sits amongst the seven yellow jerseys he has collected since 1999, and suddenly the bright, glowing shirts begin to look garish and cheap, as poor Lance Armstrong goes on to detail the full two years of suffering he has endured as a result of being exposed as potentially the sporting community’s biggest letdown.
Poor Lance, with his greying hair and hollowed cheeks. Poor Lance, the fallen golden boy surrounded by jerseys to match. Poor Lance, poor Lance, poor Lance. At the risk of coming across like an unforgiving sadist, I took such great pleasure in watching this shell of a man try with all his might to drum up one last ounce of sympathy from a well-intentioned sports fan. But as pathetic and cowardly as he is, one thing struck me - he just won’t give up.
This struck clear when Armstrong announced, “I would want to change the man that did those things… the way he acted. The way he treated other people, the way he just couldn’t stop fighting.” However, the issue here lies in the truth that he is still the same self-assured, egotistical liar that dishonestly won so many titles. If he is so intent on the fact that he would have wanted to change, then why hasn’t he? This statement comes in the same week that Betsy Andreu, the wife of one of Armstrong’s former teammates, revealed that “Frankie was called [for the currently ongoing whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong and the other defendants]… Lance claims he wants to show he is sorry? Well, he does so by having one of his lawyers call Frankie and apprise him he will be getting a subpoena for a deposition...”
Evidently, Lance Armstrong is still the same conceited, selfish man intent on physically and mentally bankrupting anyone who dared speak out against him by disguising his purpose behind a court case that could potentially see him and his fellow defendants being forced to pay a penalty of $100million.
His justification for doping is that in 1995 it was entirely pervasive – you know, absolutely everyone was doing it. Except that Armstrong was the relentless bully of the cycling world. If his team didn’t do well, he would have less chance of being supported to more and more stage victories. His solution? Manipulate and coerce his teammates into firing EPO through their veins too. Of course, I’m not suggesting that every drugs cheat circa-2000 was only so as a result of Armstrong, but it is telling that 11 of his former teammates were willing to testify against him in USADA’s investigation in 2012, describing in vivid detail the way hotel rooms were transformed into blood-transfusion clinics, the way they met regularly with Armstrong’s notorious EPO savant, Michele Ferrari. All fine and well, some may say, but surely there’s the potential for resentful inferior riders who never basked in the limelight of the top tier of the podium. But these are 11 riders so intent on revealing the truth behind Armstrong’s victories that they are willing to tarnish their own names, their own successes, by admitting that they too were a part of this scheme. These are 11 riders who were continually oppressed by the true bogeyman of cycling, tormented by his prolonged denial of any wrongdoing.
And it’s true that the world simply didn’t want to believe it. Cycling’s most-loved fairytale was imploding in front of our very eyes. This was the man who had overcome a ferocious battle with testicular cancer, which at one point had left him with less than a 20% chance of survival. This was the man who had previously lay withered and drawn in his hospital bed, an image made even more shocking when compared to that of the golden boy with a triumphant grin plastered across his face and his arms thrown in the air as he crossed the line in Paris only three years later, the champion of the world’s toughest road race.
The guiding light for cancer patients across the world, Armstrong proved that it was possible to not only overcome the disease, but to stamp it deep below the ground beneath the success that followed. The Livestrong Foundation, launched in 1997, has raised over $500million in the fight against cancer. Without Armstrong’s success, there is no doubt that this fortune would have been possible, but unfortunately this is the only favourable result of his career. Of course, this amount of money has, and will go, a long way towards improving the lives of patients and the quality of care that they will receive, and this is only commendable. But the fight against cancer is arguably as much about inner strength as it is the advanced treatment on offer. Armstrong’s story provided hope to so many sufferers who otherwise would not have much chance – much like he hadn’t. Yet suddenly, 15 years after its launch, the previously stellar reputation of the Livestrong Foundation was one of high contention, with donors left wondering whether their money could be trusted under the name of such a compelling liar. Looking back at the countless pictures of his visits to children’s cancer wards and the sheer delight on these poor kid’s faces, I feel nothing but contempt for the man. He lied through his teeth again and again, either too naïve to realise the strength of his words, or too arrogant to care. How any person can lie to a sick child and their distraught parents, or to a dying mother with the same gaunt appearance as was previously pictured etched across his face is no more than a tale of sheer depravity.
And yet, here he sits today, whining about how he has been made a scapegoat for an entire generation of drug cheats. Griping about how his lifetime ban is too harsh, and how he believes the time for forgiveness is imminent.
No, Lance, we don’t forgive you. You may not have been the only drug cheat, and there may have been others who received much more lenient punishments than yourself. But this isn’t about the cheating – in fact; I almost commend you for getting away with one of the biggest doping scandals in history for so long without so much as a flicker of uncertainty in your own ability to do so. No, this is about the flames of destruction that continue to blaze in the path you tore through the sporting world. This is about the countless lives you have ruined, the relationships you obliterated, the millions of dollars that you drove out of the sport, which could have gone to riders far more deserving than yourself, and the demolition of the hope you built up in so many people. You compare yourself to a child on the naughty step pining to be pardoned, because the boredom of no longer being able to go out and play is now beginning to get to you. Well, Lance, I think it’s high time you found a way to get comfy on that step.