I'm one of those people who name their bikes and my last road bike was called Lance. A group of us traveled to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under in 2009 to witness his comeback and I did his Twitter ride last year. And yes, I own a Livestrong cycling jersey.
I haven't worn it for a while though. And probably not likely to ever again. At the risk of sounding like a lover scorned, in light of the USADA charges, I want Lance to get what he deserves, so that all of us can have a life after Lance.
It sounds like a big turnaround, and some ways it is. Let's be real though. I, like millions of others, have been cheated by a master of deception. When I look back now though, it might just be that I've always had a love/hate relationship with Lance.
By the time I got into triathlon and cycling he was already a multiple Tour de France winner. So I've never questioned that Lance was a remarkable athlete. I don't think too many people have.
When I read his book "It's Not About the Bike" I admired his bravery and courage for overcoming cancer, but more importantly I admired his drive and determination to get back on the bike. Niggling away there somewhere though, was the knowledge that he wasn't all sugar and spice and all things nice. While I admired his drive, I wasn't so sure about his single-mindedness. That and his insistence on perfection was a little unnerving.
He of course always struck me as arrogant, but I forgave that. You need that to be at the top of your game right?
Perhaps the thing that captivated me most was his outstanding talent for image control. With Lance I believe it is a talent rather than just good advice along the way. He's always been good at spin, and has deflected allegations of drug use rather effectively. Until now of course.
As one by one those who came second, third, fourth, and so on fell to drug scandals, over the years it seemed increasingly incomprehensible to me that he was clean. As more and more action was taken, by USADA, by former team mates, and by Lance himself, I prepared myself for the eventuality. As I processed all of this and read articles and opinion pieces, I also became swayed by others' experience of the man. Probably the most insightful for me was Edward Pickering's opinion piece for Cycle Sport magazine about how Lance Armstrong bullied him throughout his career of reporting and writing on cycling.
So the USADA documentation of Lance being at the centre of a well-organised, systematic and successful doping scandal is not shocking to me. The testimony from team mates that he led his team with intimidation merely confirmed what I had already come to believe. Lance Armstrong is a bully.
When I was a fan, I always felt that it would be a sad day when Lance was finally caught out. It isn't. I'm relieved, and with some of the initial fallout, I'm also optimistic.
As other riders come out and teams start taking action, it reaffirms my belief that the UCI right now has the best possible situation in which to clean up the sport. The Festina affair and Operation Puerto were just preludes to the real deal.
I'm far from an expert but here's my "To-Do" list for the UCI:
- Strip Lance of his titles, but rather than rolling them down to the highest placed "clean" cyclist - declare no winners for those years.
- Draw up new punishments for doping that are serious. I'd love to see lifetime bans. I can't see that happening, but really, two year penalties and retrospective punishment (such as in the case of Contador, who was only absent from competition for six months) is little more than a joke.
- Extend drug related punishments and bans to all team staff.
- Declare an amnesty period in which retrospective testing won't be pursued, and announce a date six months down the track at which time the new punishments will come into play. Give those riders who are still doping a chance to clean up their act, and confess without persecution. (They should be encouraged to confess, in my opinion, to clear up doubt so everyone can move forward together.)
- In order to achieve these things there probably needs to be a change at the top so the Board or Management Committee needs to sack McQuaid and find someone else.
I'm ready for life after Lance. I hope the UCI are too.