Lance Armstrong was such an important cultural figure — someone whose gritty determination in beating cancer became a metaphor for a record-breaking athletic career — that, with each painful revelation about his doping history, the public has given him the benefit of the doubt. First, denial; then, disbelief; finally, the sense that he was just following the crowd, doing what so many Tour de France competitors were doing.
Then, last week, the US Anti-Doping Agency issued a 200-page report detailing how Armstrong used just about every means imaginable to take the banned blood booster erythropoietin and then to conceal it. The facts are so difficult to deny, the details so sweeping, the evidence so persuasive that only one conclusion can be reached: Armstrong’s success was a massive fraud.
How, then, did Armstrong managed to elude detection long enough to win seven Tour de France titles? The report suggests why. Armstrong was not a victim of a system out to get him, as he continues to allege; he was not a guy who just did what everyone else was doing; he was the ringleader, silencing and bullying his teammates to support his victories. Armstrong has lost his titles and his reputation because of his ambition. As he continues to argue against the findings, it is clear that he should lose his stubbornness, too.
Armstrong fiercely denied any suggestion that he used banned drugs until August when, on the eve of a hearing, he suddenly accepted, without admitting guilt, the Anti-Doping Agency’s charges. He claimed he was too tired to fight any longer. This assertion preserved enough doubt for his devout fans to be able to defend him.
But last week, the details finally emerged. Through an examination of travel logs, computer searches, medical analysis, and the testimony of 26 friends and riders (including 11 former team teammates), Armstrong emerges as a bully with a severe doping habit. The testimony includes scenes of blood transfusions being administered in hotel rooms, of Armstrong eluding testing by dropping out of races, and of his former wife wrapping pills in foil and distributing them as if they were care packages. All the while, the testimony indicates, Armstrong was orchestrating the whole operation.
Armstrong’s friends seem pained to have finally spoken up against him. They are not blameless, but they have accepted the idea that coming clean is the only way to redeem the sport of cycling. “By looking at the mistakes of cycling’s history, we have an opportunity to continue to shape its future,” said Christian Vande Velde, a former teammate who was swept into Armstrong’s scheming. It is a lesson that Armstrong, who still denies any wrongdoing, should follow for the sake of a sport he helped make both famous and notorious.