Lance Armstrong recently said in an interview that if he had his time again, he would probably take drugs all over again. People have been shocked and outraged by these comments. How dare he say he’d cheat all over again? Has the man no remorse? Well maybe he doesn’t but he is at least a realist. He famously admitted to doping during his seven Tour de France wins in an interview with Oprah Winfrey confirming what the whole cycling world already knew. It was a landmark event, historic, but in reality not surprising or a particular shock to most people who took a keen interest in his exploits. Every sign was there and if people looked past the romanticism it was pretty obvious. Having said that though, as someone who was sure of what was in his drink bottles, I still remember exactly where I was when the interview was screened. And I was still as shocked as the greater public. So of course his latest comments have re-galvanized the hate directed towards this once revered sporting icon.
Now he’s said he’d probably do it again, and really, of course he would. He was racing in a time when he had no choice. It’s easy to rebut that point and say that doesn’t make it right, and of course it certainly doesn’t, but it certainly makes sense. He had been a world champion and a winner of a stage of the Tour de France before his famous testicular cancer, and that was a good effort, but suddenly he was struck down with a life threatening illness. He beats it, and a drive inside him compels him to prove that he’s really beaten it by coming back to the level he was before the cancer. Then miraculously he does, but not with the same results. He came back as a pro and did well but he wasn’t as good as he once was. Here is where he takes drugs. He suddenly realises he’s now a different body type and can win the Tour de France. For someone who has this absolute need to beat everything, he just did what he could to beat everything and everyone again. He was not alone though.
Cycling has been progressively getting cleaner, each year gets a little better. So it holds to reason that the ‘cleanest’ year of Armstrong’s career was his last. Nine out of the top ten from that year have since been caught doping; the only one who has not been is Australian Cadel Evans, who finished eighth. Even scarier than that stat, in all of Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins, Cadel is the only person in a top 10 to have not been caught in a drug scandal. It was simply not possible to win the Tour de France without drugs. So for someone who wanted more than anything to win the Tour de France, it was a necessity.
So when everyone gets enraged at Armstrong, it’s misdirected. Within the rules of cycling at the time, he didn’t do anything wrong. The rules are changing but they’re not anywhere near what the public believe they are. The problem extends through every chapter of cycling. Four years ago I was racing on the amateur circuit of Belgium and watching my team leader shoot up for drugs. My team doctor was offering rather unconventional treatments for ailments. People were coming prepared to cheat the drugs testers at races, and this wasn’t the top level, young kids were either on their way up or old guys were on their way down. Despite the relatively small level of importance, drugs were still rife. This is only four years ago. With a sport like this, how can anyone blame Armstrong for saying he’d still cheat racing 15 years ago?