Why Lance matters a lot and not at all

The lines split clearly: Leave the guy alone vs. Hang him from the neck until dead. Great arguments exist on both sides, and not because Lance is “polarizing,” as the media love to say. The lines split because The Lance Problem is really two problems. The camp you fall into depends on which question you’re trying to answer.

The sporting question

Cycling has rules for two reasons. The first is so that everyone knows how the game is supposed to be played. The second is so that people who deviate from how the game is supposed to be played can be punished. When a cyclist breaks the rules, his punishment will generally be determined in large part on whether or not he intended to break the rules or didn’t intend to break the rules. Hence, André Mahé lost his 1949 victory and was ruled a “co-winner” of Paris-Roubaix with Serse Coppi because Mahé had gotten off course in the last kilometer and had to enter the velodrome from the press box’s back door. At the other end of the spectrum, Riccardo Riccò and Tyler Hamilton were kicked out of the sport for the next 10,000 years for repeated intentional doping.

The sporting question has little to do with doping, and has everything to do with getting caught. You can cheat and break every rule in the book in order to win, and as long as you don’t get caught, you’re the winner. Sports like NBA basketball institutionalize intentional rule breaking as a key strategy. If a good scorer happens to be a poor free throw shooter, you foul him often to limit his effectiveness. In the early days of cycling, classics were won when the victor hopped in a motor car for a few miles over the roughest patches of road. It’s not cheating if you’re never caught.

People who think Lance should be left alone believe that for purposes of the bike race he was never caught cheating. He never tested positive according to the rules in place at the time. After-the-fact accusations about cover-ups and forged TUE’s and pressure from high places and eyewitnesses to team doping will never overcome the fact that during the window of time to protest his performance in the race, he cleared all the hurdles.

Whatever rules he did or didn’t break, your time to catch him is over. The game clock has expired, dumbshit. Move on. If you’re so fucking concerned about the sanctity of clean sport, why don’t you run a few tests at the local USA Cycling masters races? You’ll catch a lot more cheats and inspire a lot more confidence among participants that there’s an even playing field.

The justice question

People in the other camp view this as a matter of justice. If Lance cheated, then he defrauded a lot more than a few bike racers and their fans. He built an empire of philanthropy on a lie. He exemplifies the morality espoused by the most evil people in history, that the end justifies the means. He is a tyrant, and the things he has done on and off the bike strike at our most deeply held convictions of justice and truth.

For these people, Lance’s Tour victories and the way he achieved them are beside the point. The way he has relentlessly attacked, defended, bullied, vilified, and ruined the lives of his accusers makes him one of the truly despicable fraudsters of the 21st Century, especially since he has done all of these things under cover of being a cancer warrior while amassing a personal fortune and cult following in the process. If his actions were part of a conspiracy, so much the worse for us who were wronged, and for him who broke the rules with impunity.

These people can never lay down arms. A fraud and injustice this great goes to the core of who we are. Those who would lie and cheat on a global stage deserve a global noose.

Can we please stop talking about Lance now? Please?

If you’re a sporting type, you stopped caring long ago. You stopped caring because as soon as we began declaring non-winners and putting second-place Pereiros and Schlecks into the yellow jersey long after the race ended, the silliness of system was exposed. We’re supposed to follow the Tour on the edge of our seats for three weeks, celebrate the victor, and then wait for a year or so to see if he gets stripped of his jersey, and if he does, we’re supposed to laud the dude who got dropped on all the climbs and finished second?

You also stopped caring because at this point doping is factored into your view of the pro peloton. You know some people are doing it. You know that extraordinary results from ordinary people are suspicious. You know that just like in every other sport, some people will cheat and get away with it. And you know what? Who cares? Catch them if you can, but please let me sit back and enjoy the freak show and don’t remind me every ten minutes that it’s professional wrestling on bikes. And grab me another beer while you’re up.

Can we please pursue Lance to the ends of the earth? Please?

If you’re a justice type, or, Dog forbid, one of the people named Simeoni or Basson or Betsy or any other of a long list of people who’ve wound up in the Armstrong crosshairs, you’ll keep turning over stones and reading the news with glee and dissecting the battling legal memoranda forever. Someday you’ll write a book. You’ll never watch another bike race again, let alone enter one. You’ll die bitter and angry, even after Lance is sentenced to death by stoning, as you reflect on how he snatched the best years from you, when you were in your prime.

Let Wankmeister help

I believe that we can have the best of both worlds. We can keep following the sport that fascinates us and we can keep acknowledging that some of the feats performed by professionals are truly remarkable. We can pay some homage to the freaks, and sniff the occasional jock when the opportunity presents itself. We can also laugh at the athletes a little bit, knowing that, like you and me, they’ll cheat from time to time.

I also believe that we can recognize that the Lance Affair is something that has taken on a life of its own. Its scale and scope, the sheer number of people affected, and the arenas of sport, policy, healthcare, law, and politics that are involved mean that it has transcended the small, insignificant, and inbred world of competitive cycling from whence it came. The Lance Affair is now about the grand movements of the legal armies, the USADA armies, the cancer survivor armies, the political armies, the media armies, and the army of public opinion.

Life has finally gotten around to imitating fiction: Lance’s story is truly not about the bike, and hasn’t been for a long time. Long live the greatest Tour rider ever, RIP Lance.

30 thoughts on “Why Lance matters a lot and not at all”

  1. Wanky,
    Lance took drugs! No surprise there? I don’t condone it nor support it! My cynical point of view and question is this “If everyone is taking drugs is it still cheating?” I believe a lot of people are pissed that an American (Texan at that) kick the shit out of the Euros using their own game! Love him or hate him, he is a smart motherfucker that knows how to use our legal system to get his job done. So when/if the ass hats at USADA get their vengeance, who the hell are they going to give the 7 jerseys to? The top 10-20 of every year have been busted or implicated? Fucking nonsense????

  2. Peter Schindler

    Brilliant. When are you going to write the definitive book on cycling?

  3. As long as people are trying to build careers they’ll use big names like Lance to try and build them on…

    On that note I strongly believe Kobe “doped” to play with all those injuries over the years…sorry I digress…

      1. I meant Kobe Bryant – since you used the NBA reference I thought I’d digress a bit. Apologies…I know this is a cycling blog…

  4. Dude, you always kill it on your articles. They are always entertaining. You should really write a book!.

  5. Count me in both camps. But for the justice seekers, they seem to forget that almost all criminal violations have a statute of limitations. It’s time to drop this mess.

    You know what would shock me about the bad old doping days in the peloton? If more than 5% were NOT doped up on drugs or added blood (their own or someone elses). The biological passport and testing from day one in the neo-natal ward are cleaning up the professional side of the sport as much as it can ever be cleaned, so move along and let the past remain where it is, buried in the past.

    Wanky, all those Lance pics and not one from his days with the Olsen Twin? WTF?

    Here you go:


    1. This is awesome. I didn’t even know what an Olsen twin was. Or a turkey whisperer.

  6. You should be writing editorials or a column for some major paper or mag; what a gift. Having said that, who knows … maybe you already are!

  7. WM: you have done a masterful job of synergyzing the Lance affair into easily understood prose. If you care about cycling…..and why you care about cycling…..you need to read this to understand yourself!

  8. Lance is an enigma (censored), he embodies the good and evil in all of us and one’s moral stance for or against him says more about we than he. Paz y Amor.

    1. We can say that about most people–they have qualities we admire and qualities we rather dislike. People seem to judge Lance based on how they came to know of him. I think that’s less because of what he embodies, and more because the vector from which you approach him determines the facts to which you’re exposed. As a cancer patient perhaps he empowers and strengthens and encourages people. As a cycling fan perhaps you’re first impressed with his ability, then skeptical about how he achieved it. As a Joe Public perhaps he seems like some dude who’s being unfairly targeted because after all, who gives a rat’s ass about cycling?

  9. “…awaiting moderation.” Really? This can’t mean moderation in the sense of the moderator checking said comment for decency, not on this blog. Say it isn’t so, Joe Wanker?

    1. No one has ever been moderated for indecency. In fact, it’s encouraged. I have, however, edited one comment out of the hundreds I’ve received that was borderline sexist, even though it was from a friend who certainly didn’t intend it to come across that way. Wild and woolly this blog may be, but no hate speech makes it through the censor. Unless it’s directed at me in which case it’s rewarded!

  10. Roberto Pascani

    Hey, Hwy. 39. Wasn’t even 2% of the peloton, in major races. Usually just a couple of neo-pro’s, or a small 2nd or 3rd tier team, that got invited because of their nationality, or friendship with the race director. Lance beat them at their own game, and then here came Floyd, and they just couldn’t take it anymore. I think it’s possible Floyd was completely set up, because none of it made any sense. I don’t actually condone cheating, but everyone has heard the saying. “When in Rome”………

  11. man that tux in foto one is a REALLY bad fit !way to short and a tux with a regular tie puuuleeeeezzz! cant see a belt or cummerbund either.no shirt cuff displayed …just rong looks like rong side of tracks skool formal outfit ///guess thats texas white trash for you !

  12. You should write for the consumption of more than just us wankers. I am still awaiting your move to Colorado to write for Bicycling mag as promised/threatened (dated reference that I am a loser who has nothing else to do but stare at my computer. Like Fireman says, I’d be faster if I wasn’t online so much). Is Zap still waiting for you to get your ear pierced?

    I contribute to a [mountain bike] blog myself. I have been wanting to address the Lance issue but have been too lazy to type out all that needs to be said. Thanks for giving me plenty of quality material to cut & paste from.

  13. Pingback: Why Lance matters a lot and not at all « turnings :: daniel berlinger

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