I’m enjoying the Tour de France. There, I’ve admitted it. The euphoria of a first British success twelve months ago could only partially mask the fact that it really was a rather dull procession. Not this time; we have another home rider out in front but a little more precariously so, despite what might seem and should prove to be an unassailable advantage going into the crucial last few days. Of course you don’t want it to be easy, you want to see Chris Froome suffer all the way to Paris. But not predominantly for the spectacle itself. You want to see human frailty, weakness and fluctuating levels of performance as that’s how you feel it should be. On Mont Ventoux the ghosts were all around, and not just because Tommy Simpson breathed his last on its slopes. He killed something that Armstrong bloke, and what he killed was innocence.
As confessions go it was neither laden with contrition nor comprehensive in its scope. It was largely what we might have expected. Lance Armstrong was still calling the shots, doing things on his own terms and manipulating the agenda. I don’t care what he has to say until he says it in front of a judge, not on a cosy sofa with one of his celebrity acolytes. Too many in cycling feel this is some sort of cathartic moment, a chance to rebury the skeletons and consign the whole sorry chapter to posterity. I have already heard his period of dominance referred to as the EPO era, as if it were just another link in the chain of the historical narrative the sport so reveres. We had Coppi, we had Anquetil, we had Merckx and we had blood doping, but it’s alright now. Actually, it may never be alright and it’s time a few more people woke up to the fact.
The evidence is damning, yet still a part of us is in denial. Systematic doping on a scale unparalleled in professional sport and, yes, we knew, deep down, that it was happening. We are all accessories, all complicit, and that’s why we still cling to the forlorn hope that they’ve got it all wrong. In a previous post, It Never Was About The Bike, I expressed my concern about the unfolding Lance Armstrong revelations, not because I was attempting to defend what I already suspected to be indefensible, but because the process of ascertaining guilt was deeply flawed, and in fear of the wider ramifications this would inevitably have for the sport of cycling. Even now, it is not enough to accept the case against and move on, as some are already trying to get away with. A seven times Tour de France winner cannot be airbrushed from history, and nor should he be.
The decision of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and expunge his remarkable record from cycling history should not come as a great surprise. Armstrong has lived amid a constant fug of rumour and suspicion for years now. An undignified witch-hunt has been conducted unceasingly and with often dubious motives. The man himself has finally had enough. But that does not make him guilty, nor do the supposed witness testimonies of embittered former team-mates and rivals override the fact that he never failed a drugs test. If we accept this whitewash, and neither I nor anyone else truly knows whether illegal methods underpinned the achievements of this supreme athlete, we can no longer regard anything we see as sacrosanct. The cheats have won and we might as well pack it all in tomorrow.