“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain….Once; someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. ‘PLEASURE? I said.’ ‘I don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t do it for the pleasure; I did it for the pain.”
That was how Lance Armstrong once described cycling. In a time when he was hailed as super human, a man who had a come from the brink of death, fighting a violent battle with cancer and surviving, then defying everyone to become the greatest athlete on earth.
A man who was admired by millions worldwide, not only for what he did in the saddle, but for the millions of dollars that he raised through his charity, Livestrong, to help the fight against cancer.
He, and his little yellow wristbands, became a symbol of what could be achieved if you fought hard enough against the disease that has claimed so many.
Yet he always had his doubters, they believed that nobody could crawl off their death bed to seven straight Maillot Jaune (the yellow jersey awarded to the winner of the Tour de France), without the help of an illegal practice.
A USADA report labelled him with “running the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that cycling has ever seen”, even though he had passed hundreds of drugs tests throughout his career and came through an investigation by the French authorities into his performances when they were unable to find any evidence that he had doped.
Armstrong is being held solely responsible it seems for the doping epidemic that plagued the sport of cycling for many years. A majority of the testimonies that the USADA report is based on label him as the leader.
But was he? Or was he just following the crowd and got better at it than them? Or was he, as he still maintains, the victim of a witch-hunt and is indeed innocent?
Until any evidence is shown, or Armstrong admits it then we will never know.
The shame for me if he did dope is that he probably didn’t need to. Blood doping, as we have belatedly found out, was rife at that time throughout cycling. A large number of cyclists have since been found guilty of it, but Armstrong was so far ahead of these that in my opinion he would have beaten them all had they all been clean.
He was a hero of mine, a super human figure who had achieved greatness, reading his books would inspire me to push myself to the limits to see how far I could go. And whilst I’m considering if I believe that he is guilty or not, that doubt that he could be brings him down from the pedestal that he was on.
The good thing though is that I still admire the sport of cycling, and I hope that this is true of many, being in Esher, Surrey, as Bradley Wiggins flew past on his way to Olympic gold this summer was a moment that I will forever remember. And it would be a hell of shame for anyone inspired to follow in the footsteps of Wiggins, Cavendish or any of our other leading cyclists to be deterred by this scandal.