The Trouble With Lance: Good, upper-middle-class progressives everywhere were devastated when Lance Armstrong got slapped with a doping charge. They value their fitness and disease charity work as major self-definers and Lance is the guy who has bravely taken both activities to the limit. He is a driven, clean cut, well-spoken guy with all the right credentials to be an icon for suburbanites looking to have it all and be appropriately socially conscious while doing so. Plus, he has an awesome brand name. It's unthinkable that there should be a cloud over him. What will we do with all these yellow wristbands?
What we know (sort of): He had a suspicious positive test back in 1999 but nothing came of it upon retest. The same sort of thing seemed to happen in 2001. Tests from '09 and '10, according to the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), are indicative of "manipulation of his blood", although those tests are not completely reliable and who knows what counts as "blood manipulation". The evidence is suggestive but tenuous, especially when you consider that throughout his career other riders had been getting caught all around him. If he's such a big juicer, why'd it take so long? The guy has retired, un-retired and re-retired -- now suddenly we're worried about 1999?
What we do have now is about 10 other riders, including former teammates, who ratted him out as part of a plea deals. Former teammate Tyler Hamilton is hawking a "tell-all" that is the 900 lb. gorilla in this room. And this is really the heart of Lance's problem. Whether they are being truthful or they are just grasping for mercy in their own interest, it's safe to say that they don't like Lance. In fact, it turns out very few people who know Lance, like Lance. He is surly. He has a history of bullying anyone he perceives as doing anything that might interfere with his legend. (Here's the latest sample of that.)
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Well, there is of course, but we all have personal shortcomings. It doesn't change the good his charity work has done. And it doesn't make him any less of a cycling phenomena. Even if he was juiced he won the TdF all those times over other cyclists who were juiced. So in relative terms, there is no questioning his athletic bona-fides. Note that the folks who would be in line to assume Lance's vacated titles are, to a man, convicted or accused juicers themselves. Frankly, considering the number of riders that are doped, pro cycling should probably just roll with it and make it legal.
Lance says he's quitting the fight because he doesn't believe he can win; in other words the USADA is on a witch hunt. He is either being truthful about his motives or he is getting out of the fight with some plausible deniability before it turns against him. I suspect the latter because he doesn't seem to me like someone who would ever back off. On the other hand, it is entirely possibly that any further publicity, even in his favor would be a negative for his life and earning power and charity work and since he's already retired it might make sense for him to just back out.
And what of the motives of the witnesses? Plea deals are always suspect. Are they being honest, or are they angling for a break or just a chance to punch back at a bully? There is certainly a whiff of comeuppence wafting through the proceedings.
Unless some new facts appears, all we'll have to guide us is our best guesses about the motives of those involved. In other words all we'll have to guide us is our own biases.
Dismantling illusions to reveal the truth is a noble endeavour, but if you never find the truth all you're left with is the hole the illusion filled. In this case the illusion did an awful lot of good -- the truth just resolves a bicycle race. I don't see any winners.