Lance Armstrong is back in the news once again this week thanks to an interview he gave to the BBC. In that interview Lance talks openly about life after his ban from professional cycling – or competing in any sports for that matter – saying that the fallout from his confession to doping throughout his career has been “heavy.” But the part of the interview that continues to make headlines is when the former seven-time winner of the Tour de France admits that he would “probably do it again” in regards to using performance enhancing drugs while racing. This quote has of course let many shaking their heads, particularly if it is taken out of the context of the interview. But if you step back and take a look at what Lance is saying, his words really should come as much of a surprise.
During the interview Lance is asked if he had to do it over again, would he still use PEDs. His answer was “If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to,” In that statement Armstrong is saying he’d ride clean if he were part of the peloton today, because the sport is cleaner in general But he goes on to follow up that sentence by saying “If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again.”
The sport of cycling has come a long way since Armstrong dominated the Tour back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It is indeed cleaner, although it is far from perfect. But when Lance was winning races testing for EPO and other banned substances was either primitive or nonexistent altogether. Practically everyone who was riding at the time was using some kind PED to get ahead. When most of the peloton was taking part in the practice, riders had little choice but to either get with the program, or be completely left behind by the sport.
In the interview with the BBC, Lance is simply being very honest with his answer. Those who are shocked by what he said probably don’t understand the era in which he competed. It was a time when performance enhancing drugs were common. So much so that since Tour de France officials vacated Armstrong’s seven titles they have been unable to award the wins to anyone else because most of the other top riders have tested positive for banned substances along the way as well.
I have often contended that much like the “steroid era” of baseball, the results of that period in cycling should still stand as well. It was a different time when the use of PEDs were so predominant that it was more unusual to find a rider who competed clean than it was to find someone who juiced. That isn’t to say that it was right, only that the riders were mostly on a level playing field because nearly all of them were using something. Much like baseball, it is a good idea to compartmentalize that time period, recognize it for what it was, and move on with cleaning up the sport. Fortunately, there have at least been significant gains made in that area, even if there is still work to be done.
As for Armstrong, he is hoping to get his lifetime ban from sports lifted to he can start competing in events once again. There is no denying that he is a true competitor, and he would like nothing more than to strap on a pair of running shoes, or get back on a bike, and show us what he can do once again. He feels that it is time that we forgive him for his use of PEDs. But what he doesn’t understand is that for many of us it isn’t the revelation of his doping that has shocked us. Rather, it was the tactics that he took to cover up the doping that is most troublesome. When he was at the height of his popularity he made ruthless, systematic efforts to ruin the careers and lives of anyone who dared say that he wasn’t riding clean when he won the Tour de France. A number of people became pariahs in the cycling world, and the court of pubic opinion, thanks to Lance’s efforts to discredit them. It is that shameful behavior that is most difficult to forgive, and it will take an awful lot to reshape his public image as a result.
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