Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lance Armstrong

Earlier this summer, friends, both American and French, often asked me what I thought of Lance Armstrong and his performance in the Tour de France. Among American friends and acquaintances there seemed to be an unparalleled awareness of the Tour de France this year.

Today’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe was “Le Mensonge Armstrong” (Armstrong's lies). The articles inside tell a disappointing story. The French laboratory that analyses the urine and blood samples of professional cyclists saves samples for a considerable period of time. Using technology not available at the time the samples were originally taken and analyzed, they retested 1999 samples for EPO. Lo and behold, six of the 12 samples that tested positive turned out to be Lance Armstrong’s. Lance won his first tour de France in 1999.

I am saddened but why am I not surprised?

As some of my readers know, I used to be an avid cyclist. I have done some short-distance racing and some long-distance endurance riding, along with lots of touring in between. I’ve seen the Tour de France several times, in the mountains and on the Champs Elysées, in regular stages and in time trials. Once the Tour passed directly behind my mother and father-in-law’s house outside Lyon, and we saw them there. But since the doping scandals of 1998 and 1999, which tarnished the image of professional cycling in general and gave rise to doubts about Lance’s power plant in particular but no real action from the company that runs the Tour and its what-me-worry president, Jean-Marie Le Blanc, my interest in the Tour de France has waned. The last time I saw a stage was on July 14, 1999 at the storied mountainside resort of l’Alpe d’Huez, where I saw Lance go by, less than a mile from the finish line, in his usual, unperturbed state. One of the tainted samples was from that stage.

I have a great deal of admiration for Lance Armstrong, what he has accomplished, his determination, his courage and his generosity. But the doubts I have had about him have never gone away, and they have made me a less-than-enthusiastic supporter. It’ll be interesting to see how this new revelation plays out. Lance Armstrong and the sympathy he enjoys in the US are not to be underestimated. L’Equipe shows him today on a ride last Saturday with his friend George W. Bush.



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