I said I would believe Lance Armstrong doped when I heard it from George Hincapie, one of the best-loved athletes in cycling. Well, I’ve heard it from George Hincapie.
On Wednesday, for whatever reason, the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a report putting Armstrong at the center of what has been described as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program (cycling) has ever seen.”
The report included damning testimony from the rider lovingly referred to as “Big George,” who rode his last Tour de France in July after announcing he would retire at the end of this season. The last stage before the ride into Paris was a time trial. As Hincapie crossed the finish line for the last time, he gave a tiny wave to the crowd.
It was sad and ominous.
Cycling fans speculated on the reason behind his retirement and his decision not to participate in the London Olympics. We expected exactly what has happened: Hincapie has been outed by Armstrong’s doping mess.
On his website, Hincapie admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs. He said he did it because everybody was doing it, and a rider couldn’t compete at the highest levels without the drugs. He said he has ridden clean since 2006. (Armstrong “retired” after the 2005 Tour de France, but returned in 2009.)
I haven’t read the USADA report yet, but the information coming out of it portrays Armstrong as a cycling gangster surrounded by faithful lieutenants who held to a code of omerta. Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Frankie Andreu were the first to break the code. Armstrong’s lawyer has called Landis and Hamilton “serial perjurers.” I simply refused to believe Andreu when he said Armstrong admitted to doping.
In the back of my head, however, was a quote from a British gentlemen who said something like: “If you believe those boys ride up mountains on salads and fizzy water, you’re quite mistaken.”
I don’t defend them; I can’t. But the Tour de France is an impossible race. An introduction to one history begins: “the line between insanity and genius is said to be a fine one, and in early 20th-century France, anyone envisaging a near-2,500-km-long cycle race across the country would have been widely viewed as unhinged.”
It’s a freakin’ epic journey those crazy boys embark upon each July, pushing themselves to the limit and beyond every single day. I love it, I really do. And I am not surprised that some riders exceeded acceptable limits in their desire to win the greatest race in the world.
But, no matter how you slice it, it’s just wrong. “Everybody does it” is a reason, not an excuse.
So, blah, Lance Armstrong: Look what you’ve done to yourself, your teammates, your fans, your sport. Just go away, please, and let us start over.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.