Live strong until proven guilty
Monday morning in Geneva, Switzerland, Lance Armstrong officially became the first cyclist in Tour de France history to be stripped of 7 Titles and that my friends, whether you enjoy or even follow the sport, is incredibly sad on numerous levels. The International Cycling Union (UCI – because ICU was ironically already taken!) unsurprisingly ratified the ‘recommended’ sanctions of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) whose 15 year French media-inspired witch-hunt of Armstrong culminated in former team-mates at US Postal Service and Discovery Channel baring whatever souls they had not already sold. Tour stalwarts such as Levi Leipheimer, Tyler Hamilton, Christian Vande Velde and Frankie Andreu as well as “I Ain’t Hanging Alone” Floyd Landis and former shoulder-man George Hincapie told their stories of the “sustained and highly professionalized team-run doping conspiracy.” It is the kind of damning 200 page testimonial evidence that makes Armstrong’s public denials of positive doping tests seem trivial and shallow. Somewhere, Jose Canseco is laughing like the maniacal moron he is, ESPN’s “9.79*” is playing on a loop and editor’s are splicing the ending of “Scent of a Woman” so we can all understand that Charlie’s silence in the face of the Headmaster’s blackmail is the kind of hideous crime punishable by death in the court of public opinion. Hooah…
The travesty of the situation is not Armstrong’s guilt or innocence. When he rose to prominence cycling had less relevance in North America than even soccer. He almost single-handedly revived a sport on the brink of extinction in the wake of the 1998 Festina Affair which illustrated ironically how wide-spread doping had become. This is the juncture where Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa sadly nod their heads in unison and we notice that neither of their busts, despite what they did for the game of baseball, will ever adorn a pedestal at Cooperstown. Armstrong, for his part, has steadfastly and somewhat arrogantly, refused to admit to his role in the doping conspiracy but the pundits and public have simply accepted his guilt when he made the decision to no longer fight the process. “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say enough is enough.” Excuse me Lance, Roger Clemons is on the phone… he’d like to know when that is?
Quick pause here to consider the statements made by UCI President Pat McQuaid – 2 of which I now provide for your perusal… a) “I was sickened by what I read in the USADA report.” and b) “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling.” Cue Colonel Slade slamming his cane on the desk and in Al Pacino Oscar-winning style, with Chris O’Donnell watching meekly… “What is your motto here? Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide. Anything short of that, we’re gonna burn you at the stake… You’re building a rat ship here – a vessel for sea-going snitches.” I’m not saying that Armstrong’s refusal to acknowledge what appears to be mounting evidence is right or wrong – like Clemons, like McGwire – they have a right to choose a path that they are most comfortable with, one that allows them to sleep at night and play Mirror Mirror during the day. What is most unacceptable to me is the downright hypocrisy of McQuaid and the UCI who somehow found the time, while jumping off the Armstrong bandwagon to throw the sports’ Saviour and most recognizable face under the wheels. Someone please ask McQuaid at the next character assassination/press conference if Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s PR Department is still on speed dial.
In a remarkable show of humble pie though, the UCI has made the incredibly intelligent (please insert an asterisk * here) to not crown a Tour de France winner for the years 1999-2005 in the wake of stripping Armstrong of his existence during said period of time. Why, I hear you ask? It appears that 20 of the 21 podium finishers during this time have been tainted in some way by the Tour’s Doping Lifestyle, and rather than launch a Sherlockian Search for Mr. Clean, the Tour and UCI are quite prepared to go on, in an NCAA-style super-vacuum, like those years and victories never existed. As a Sports Fan I find this a tad insulting to our collective intelligence and so without further ado…
The year is 2000… Lance #2 that never was. In 2nd place that fateful year – Jan Ullrich, as dirty a rider as ever hit the Pyrenees and brought down by the infamous Operacion Puerto (OP), a Spanish investigation into Tour Doping by one Dr. Fuentes. In 3rd place – Joseba Beloki who was implicated in Puerto but cleared in a “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit” kind of way so we’ll move to 4th place… Christophe Moreau – nope, Festina found plenty of steroids on his Island. In 5th, Roberto Heras got caught with EPO in 2005 and in 6th we have another Festina graduate in Richard Verenique… France weeps. In 7th we have Santiago Botero… Puerto again and in 8th is the 2004 implicated though un-convicted ‘systematic doping specialist’ (sounds familiar) Fernando Escartin. Let’s pass on him… 9th is Francisco Mancebo, a good solid OP guy and that brings us to 10th place – Daniele Nardello…The Winner of the 2000 Drug-Free Tour de France…Well unless you recognize that he was implicated in the Telecom/T-Mobile doping scandal and that would leave us with suspended positive tester Manuel Beltran in 11th. I’m exhausted Dr. Watson but I believe, emerging unscathed in 12th is your new Champion, a mere 23 Minutes, 13 Seconds behind… drum roll please… Pascal Herve… Wait, really… Wikipedia says he tested positive for EPO in 2001! Onwards… 13th is Javier Ochoa, same scandal as Escartin, 14th is Festina’s own Javier Garcia-Casas and 15th is professional doper and infusionist Alexandre Vinokourov who may have actually tested positive for vampirism. And so we arrive finally at our destination – 16th place Roberto Conti whose crowning achievement before right now came when he won his one and only Stage in the Tour at Alpe D’Huez in 1994. Someone please send him his Yellow Jersey if you know where he is… but may I humbly suggest you don’t use the US Postal Service.
Until next time Kelowna…Live Strong…that message is still of the utmost…
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